Have you ever felt like you were “in the zone”? It could have been during running, dancing, engaged in a hobby, or (maybe!) practicing Pilates. Some people report finding unconventional, creative solutions while fully immersed in the shower. Others find clarity and peace from hearing the the right song at the right time. No matter the situation, with the right state of mind, stressors melt away easily, and you are focused.
Our brain consists of 5 different types of brain waves; Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma. While they happen simultaneously, we are often in one dominant state and experience its effects to a greater extent. The brainwave states map to all the way from a sleeping state, Delta, to the highly awake, active Gamma. Since we’re talking about getting “in the zone”, we will address the ways that we can go from Beta (our everyday state) to a more Alpha (the creative, relaxed state).
The Beta brainwave state is our day to day brainwave state. It includes a rapid fire frequency, where stress hormones often kick into action. Activities that map to this state include driving and paying attention to traffic, but also concentration on tasks, problem solving and reasoning. It’s a very useful state to be in, and utilizes much of the left side of our brain. With the Alpha brainwave state, you feel relaxed and alert at the same time. This is where you tap into your creative power. Often, we spent too long in a Beta state of mind, which is why meditation and exercise can be so helpful to help your to brain and body to change pace. In an Alpha state of mind, awareness of the mind/body connection is enhanced, learning is in supercharge mode, and creative visualizations have greater effect. The right side of the brain becomes more active, helping you find balance in mind and body.
Next time you are in class or a Pilates session, take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and slow down. You are changing your brainwaves, breath by breath, and reaping the rewards of a relaxed and creative state of mind.
A painful neck, sore upper back and tight shoulders are common complaints. Many Pilates people ask for neck release and stretches to relieve tension, which can help temporarily. In order to find long-term relief from neck pain, you need stronger abdominals and back muscles, proper spinal alignment (including the cervical spine), and healthy breathing patterns. It’s been showing that doing Pilates exercises regularly can be very effective for improving neck pain and creating better posture.
Strong abs and back
Your neck could be doing the heavy lifting if your abdominals are not doing their job. The head weighs around 8-10 pounds, and your abdominals need to be strong enough to support your upper torso and head. Without proper support your neck can tense to “help out”. For instance, with weak abdominals, you might have compensate by lifting the shoulders and flexing the spine for support, which can exacerbate tension. However, if effort is connected down to the core instead of lifting up to the neck, it will be safer and much more sustainable all around.
Strong abdominals with a strong upper back helps keep the head in alignment because there is support from front to back. Often, with desk work or long periods of sitting, the entire posterior chain becomes weak and the body gets out of alignment. Back extension exercises, such as swan or swimming, creates back extensors will support the spine, and will relieve the neck from having to do all the work.
You can spot neutral spine in the upper body by looking at a person from the side: When upright, the center line of the earlobe should be right over the shoulder. If the ear is forward of plumb, it’s considered out of alignment, or “forward”. This can happen to anyone, especially if they are frequently using a mobile device or a computer. Over time this posture can create tension in the tendons, muscles, and ligaments that support your head. Work on finding neutral spine to strengthen the muscles that are weak, and support your bones efficiently.
Photo cred: FlickrN00/5399695527/">The Shared Experience”>
When inhaling, keep the shoulders low and notice if you are tensing your upper traps. Take slow breaths downward into the diaphragm and pelvic floor instead of up into the ears. Over time, this subtle habit of keeping shoulders depressed and relaxed can help lessen the tension in the upper trapezius and scalenes.
Pilates can help
Strong abdominals and upper back, finding neutral spine, and building better breathing habits can all help lessen neck and shoulder pain. If you are experiencing discomfort during Pilates, use modifications such as using a yoga block behind the head for lying down exercises on the mat or reformer. Doing Pilates, especially with a qualified professional, can be adapted to each fitness level and targeted to help keep you feeling great.
Did you know that over 54 million Americans are affected by osteoporosis and low bone mass? Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by too little bone formation, excessive bone loss, or a combination of both, leading to bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures. Since May is Osteoporosis Awareness Month, let’s take the opportunity to learn about, and celebrate, bone health.
Protecting your bones
You’re never too young or too old to improve the health of your bones. The National Osteoporosis Federation (NOF) recommends:
- Getting enough calcium and vitamin D and eat a well balanced diet.
- Engaging in regular exercise.
- Eating foods that are good for bone health, such as fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid smoking and limit alcohol to 2-3 drinks per day.
Safe and effective exercises
Exercise is very effective for osteoporosis. These low bone mass safe exercise are grouped into two forms: weight-bearing and muscle strengthening. After all, bone adapts to the load put on it. More activity tells the body that more muscle and bone are required; less causes muscle and bone to decrease.
Weight bearing (high impact): dancing, hiking, jogging, running, stair-climbing, tennis
Weight bearing (low impact): fast walking, stair step machines
Muscle-strengthening: lifting weights, using weight machines, lifting your body weight
Pilates exercise for bone health
Several Pilates reformer exercises are great for strength, flexility, and bone building. It’s important to be aware that some exercises could increase the chance of broken bones. For instance, bending forward is generally not considered safe for anyone with spinal bone density issues. Here are some safe and effective Pilates exercises to strengthen muscle and bone (great for those with or without osteoporosis):
- Overhead press
- Standing side splits
- Pulling straps
- Footwork (and many more)
If you have osteoporosis, you can take steps to live a healthy and active life. Move safely while indoors and outdoors to rebuild bone density. If you don’t have osteoporosis or any bone density issue, you can help prevent osteoporosis by engaging in regular exercise and maintaing a well-balanced diet.