Pilates and Lower Back Pain

Do you have lower back pain and have tried everything, but still got no relief? Have you read newspaper articles that have given curl ups and twists for lower back pain and ended up in even worse pain?

Lower back pain is endemic in our society (it is estimated that 80% of all adults will suffer at least one episode of “severe” lower back pain in their lifetime (the true figure could be closer to 100%). Well our sedentary lifestyle, posture and limited movement patterns all contribute.

Well below I have listed 7 Pilates based exercises that in my experience have really helped clients.  Remember always work with awareness and listen to your body.

  • Pelvic Tilts (1 minute)
  • Knee Folds (2 minutes)
  • Swimming from Kneeling (1 minute)
  • Side Bend/lateral lift (3 reps on each side)
  • Shoulder Bridge (10 reps)
  • Supine Hamstring Stretch with Belt (hold for minimum of 1 minute)
  • Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch (hold for minimum of 1 minute)

Really important is to remember what NOT to do when you have back pain. Avoid forward flexion, straight leg lifts and all twists.

The 5 Tibetan Rites of Yoga

Could 5 simple Yoga exercises really provide a thorough and challenging workout to maintain or health and wellbeing?  Well the famous Five Tibetan Rites of Yoga claim to.

The 5 Tibetan Rites are a form of Tibetan yoga said to be more than 2,500 years old, which were first published as “The Eye of Revelation” in 1939.  The author Peter Kelder claimed this 5 Yoga exercises were more than 2500 years old and had been developed by Tibetan monks in the Himalayas to develop mental and physical strength.

Kelder claims he was told of these exercises by a British Army colonel who had lived with Tibetan lamas and had been initiated into their practices – one of which are the 5 Rites.

Many benefits are postulated including – including weight loss, better memory, improved physical strength, enhanced sense of wellbeing, even a reduction in the speed of the aging process – for this reason, these exercises are seen as a Foundation of Youth.

Want to give them a go?  Providing you are reasonably fit they should present no major problems and can be completed in about 10 to 20 minutes.

To download the programme click here – happy practicing!  Remember  to listen to your body and you will make progress.

Food Allergies and Intolerances

The Difference Between Allergies and Intolerances

The symptoms of both conditions may be very similar and can even confuse the experts, as both cause unpleasant symptoms and inflammation!

Generally food allergies are triggered by a protein and cause the body’s immune system to over react – with serious systemic symptoms (maybe life threatening).

Food intolerances generally only affect the digestive tract and are less severe than allergies. They are caused by –

1. absence of an enzyme
2. psychological stress
3. IBS
4. Sensitivity to food additives
5. Inflammation of gut when exposed to gluten

Common Foods Causing Allergies

• Milk (and dairy produce) – mainly seen in children
• Peanuts
• Tree Nuts
• Soy
• Eggs
• Fish
• Shellfish

Common Foods Causing Intolerances

• Dairy – usually caused by a sugar called lactose
• Gluten – a protein found in many grains, especially wheat, barley. Gluten intolerance may present as Coeliac Disease or the less severe Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance.
• Caffeine
• Alcohol

Dealing with Allergies and Intolerances

Allergies –

• Total avoidance of allergen
• Desensitisation via oral immunotherapy
• Anti histamines (mild to moderate reactions)
• Adrenaline injections (severe reactions)

Intolerances –

• Remove or reduce consumption of foods causing symptoms – an exclusion diet may be required to identify the culprits
• Improve gut health generally via dietary changes and improving gut flora
• Treat chronic gut infections eg H Pylori or candida
• Add supplements to diet – especially Glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG), Quercetin, Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL)

The Dangers of Belly Fat

We all think “fat is fat”, wherever it is in the body and the thus all fat is the “enemy”! Well that is just not true, the real villain of the peace in terms of our health is the deep fat that wraps around our organs.

There are two types of body fat –

1. Subcutaneous fat – the fat we can pinch/wobble, generally not dangerous to health.
2. Visceral fat – generally deep, covering the organs. THIS FAT IS LINKED TO METABOLIC DISTURBANCES – including cardiovascular problems, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, breast cancer and gallbladder problems.

Fats found below the navel are subcutaneous fats, whilst those found above the navel are visceral fats. This can be seen in the “apple shape” (caused by an accumulation of visceral fats) and the “pear shape” (chiefly caused by subcutaneous fats).

Why We Develop Visceral Fats

Cortisol is produced by the body as a stress hormone when we are physically and psychologically stressed as part of our “flight or fight” mechanism.

Research shows that high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are linked to the development of visceral fats. It should also be remembered that the abdominal fat cells are metabolically active, producing chemicals called cytokines (interleukins and tumour necrosis factor) – these affect our endocrine system (the hormones) by stimulating the production of cortisol as the body identifies us as being under stress.

Thus over time the arteries become more “furred up” and the body develops insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes). The body sensing all is not right, then secretes even more of the stress hormone – CORTISOL.

Cortisol then –

• Suppresses the immune system
• Heightens memory and attention
• Increases blood pressure
• Decreases pain awareness
• Increases blood sugar (due to raising insulin resistance)
• Decreases serotonin levels
• Increased HDL (bad cholesterol)
• Decreases testosterone
• Interferes with sleep

However unlike adrenaline and noradrenaline (hormones also produced by stress), cortisol takes a long time to get metabolised from the system and IS ITSELF A STRESSOR!

All this leads to significant inflammation in the body. Inflammation stresses the body and stimulates the release of glucose from the liver and muscle into the blood – the response to this is then to increase insulin levels, leading to fat deposition around the abdomen. We then also crave high energy foods in this state. HIGH CIRCULATING LEVELS OF INSULIN ARE ASSOCIATED WITH INCREASED RISK OF MANY DISEASES!

How to Reduce Cortisol Levels
1. Remove processed foods from your diet
2. Increase omega 3 consumption
3. Reduce caffeine consumption
4. Practice good sleep hygiene
5. Increase lean protein and complex carbohydrates
6. Increase plant oils in diet
7. Increase exercise levels, especially cardiovascular exercise
8. Learn to relax and practice meditation

Depression and Inflammation

The traditional view of depression is that it is caused by a dearth of neurotransmitters in the brain – this in turn leads to lowered levels of serotonin and endorphins in the body (the feel good hormones) – hence depression.

However there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests the chronic depression may be linked to low grade inflammation in the body.  Inflammation is essentially chronic over stimulation of the body’s immune system.  Inflammation can be caused by low level infection, smoking, excess alcohol, chronic stress, medication, poor sleep, reduced physical activity and a poor unbalanced diet.

Studies have linked depression with higher level of inflammatory blood markers compared to people who are not depressed. A marker of inflammation called CRP (C reactive protein) is typically noticeably elevated in depressed people.  Also it has been found that people given proinflammatory cytokines, people experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Moreover imaging of patients with depressed often show neuroinflammation.

However there a number of clinically proven ways we can reduce our inflammation levels –

  1. Reduce stress levels – try to find ways to take more care of yourself – slow down and ensure you get into a pattern of healthy, restful sleeping (8 hours per night).  No one benefits from poor/short sleeping despite what famous people may say!!
  2. Eat less inflammatory food – fried food, salt food, sugary food, animal fats/transfats, processed food and red meat.  Increase your levels of fruit, vegetables, good quality plant oils/fish oils, nuts/seeds and fibre.
  3. Try to exercise 3 to 4 times per weeks -anything is better than nothing.
  4. Take up a mind body exercise – Yoga and Pilates are brilliant at relaxing the stressed.
  5. Practice meditation and breathing exercises, these have a massively powerful impact on bodily inflammatory markers.

The Importance of Neutral Spine

As a Pilates and Yoga teacher, the alignment and use of the spine is central to my teaching.  Also a personal trainer the use of the spine is important in helping clients work the correct muscles and avoid injury.  Neutral Spine is the alignment of choice for a healthy spine.

A quick definition of neutral spine would be –

“Maintenance of the 4 natural curves in the vertebral column”. 

When correctly aligned, the spine can be safely loaded and pain free movement facilitated.

Finding Neutral

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your spine should have two areas that do not touch the mat underneath you: your neck and your lower back.

To check slip one hand under the lower/lumber spine – you should just be able to get your fingers under!  Then place both hands on the pubic abdomen – this should be flat!  Another way to check standing up is to align the – earlobe > shoulder joint > greater trochanter (hip) and outer ankle bone.

Congratulations you have found neutral.  This means that the shock of standing, walking, running and jumping can be safely absorbed by your spine.  The say that when you are in neutral lying on your back, you should be able to balance a cup and saucer safely on the lower belly.

However please remember the spine is meant to flex, extend, rotate and move laterally – don’t feel you have to become a robot.  However neutral is the safely position for the spine when it is loaded (ie weight placed through it), such as when lifting a heavy weight (this includes your own body) or when engaging in a high impact activity (eg running).

 YOGA/PILATES EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS

If you have enjoyed our blogs you may also be interested in the events and courses we offer as day, weekend and longer Yoga and Pilates workshops in the north west and north Wales.  If you are interested please click on our Yoga and Pilates Events flyer.

Blankets and Blocks for Shoulderstand and Plough

Many Yoga students have difficulty with getting into and maintaining a comfortable shoulderstand (shavangasana) and plough (halasana).  Often there is a feeling of heaviness, the body drops and there is compression/pain in the neck.

The major reasons for these inversions challenging Yoga practitioners lies in the upper spine, neck and tight shoulders.  Most healthy adults can only flex their neck to between 70o to 80o, this forces the upper back to round even more when in plough or shoulderstand.  If we add in tight shoulders that reduce the ability of the arms/hands to lift the spine, we get the classic “droopy” shoulderstand or plough.

So what can we do?

First check do you need help.  Dog pose is a good “indicator” pose, so ask yourself this question, “when in dog pose is my upper back straight or obviously rounded”.  A rounded upper back in dog pose suggests you need help … so read on …

First we need to prepare

Folding two or more blankets/mats or use 5 blocks creates a raised surface for the shoulders to rest on – the head should rest off the lift.  If the shoulders are very tight a looped belt may help.

Entering the Pose

Lie on the lift with your shoulders supported and head off the lift, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor behind you, and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso, coming into plough (halasana) or half plough (ardha halasana).  Take your hands to your mid or (preferably) upper back and begin to lift the skin towards the kidney area.

Either stay in plough or continue by lifting the legs to vertical for shoulderstand.  Keep the elbows shoulder width wide or less.  Press the tailbone forward and thighbones backwards.  Relax the face and tongue.

Stay in plough or shoulderstand for up to 3 minutes.

Exiting the Posture

To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again come into halasana/half halasana for 30 seconds before rolling down OR just roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor. Rest on the shoulder lift for at least 30 seconds.

Contraindications – high blood pressure, neck injury, glaucoma, menstruration, detached retina.

Cautions – diarrhoea, headaches, lower back pain, RA, balance disorders, degenerative disc disease and pregnancy.

Benefits 

  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression.  Stimulate vagal tone.
  • Stimulates the thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs
  • Stretches the shoulders and neck
  • Tones the legs and buttocks
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Reduces fatigue and alleviates insomnia
  • Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, and sinusitis

YOGA/PILATES EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS

If you have enjoyed our blogs you may also be interested in the events and courses we offer as day, weekend and longer Yoga and Pilates workshops in the north west and north Wales.  If you are interested please click on our Yoga and Pilates Events flyer.

 

Quick Upper Body and Arm Workout

Many people think that whilst not happy with the tone or look of their arms or upper body – there is nothing they can do about it because –

  • They don’t want to bulk up and end up like muscle bound geek, or
  • Women (or older men) cannot effectively strengthen their arms and upper back

Both of these beliefs are mistaken and myths and EVERYONE can and should exercise their upper bodies regularly.  Not only is an upper body workout good for the body, there is some evidence that it may even help with low mood.

Go on give it a go!  Attached is a quick easy workout suitable for all – if you have any health concerns always consult your medical practitioner first.

Upper body workout – click here

Caffeine and Sleep

Of all the drugs available in the modern World, none is more available, cheap and potentially damaging as caffeine.  We consume caffeine in coffee, teas, energy drinks/soft drinks, over the counter and prescription medications.  Yet little is known of the long term effects on our physical and mental health of caffeine!

What we do know is that in a 24 hour World, caffeine can seem like a friend and harmless “pick me up”.  However there is scientific evidence that caffeine is a major disrupter of our sleep patterns – a disturber or poor sleeping patterns is linked to a much higher risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Why is caffeine so potentially damaging

  1.  Caffiene has a “half life” of between 5 and 7 hours in the average adult – that means for example 7 hours after you have that double expresso, at least half of the original “dose” is still in your body.
  2. Caffiene binds to adenosine receptors in the brain – preventing the hormone adenosine locking onto these sites.  During our waking day adenosine is produced by the Pineal Gland and accumulates until we sleep – this build up drives the desire and ability to sleep.  If adenosine cannot bind to it’s target cells in the brain SLEEP IS IMPOSSIBLE OR DIFFICULT (think of caffeine as the “cuckoo in the nest”).
  3. Adenosine is only cleared with quality sleep of sufficient length (normally about 7 to 8 hours for most adults) – so fractured sleep patterns mean that adenosine residues are always present in the brain of poor sleepers – leaving us feeling drained and tired during the day.
  4. To make matters worse we often deal with the tiredness caused by the incomplete flushing of adenosine from our brain by taking more … yes you’ve guessed it … CAFFIENE.

For a restful night’s sleep, try to take your caffeine fix before 12 noon or switch to non caffeinated alternatives.  At first abstaining from this drug can cause quite a withdrawal – but stick with it and your sleep (and general health) will improve.

 

Why Are We Unhappy – A Yoga Perspective

It can be argued that the mind is chief arbiter of all that happens to us – real and imagined.  Indeed it is often said that the whole of an individual’s life journey is a mental journey.

So why do so many appear to suffer so much mentally in their lives – this is a subject that concerned the earliest sages and rishis of Yoga, the majority of whom saw the mind as the chief source of life’s challenges.

In the East the study of the mind the first references are to be found in the Vedas and Upanishads (works developed by Rishis/seers) in the Indian subcontinent up to 5000 years ago. Later the great sage Patanjali spoke of these matters.

Mind (manas) exists as the most gross or physical level of consciousness and is a product of the nervous system and in it’s developed conditioned form could be called ego. However the higher level of mind or consciousness or “buddhi” is said to exist as pure awareness and is said to be the lens through which we glimpse our soul. The consciousness has no energy of it’s own, but through the practice of Yoga is purified so that the ego or mind can “remember” it’s itself! When the ego or lower self perceives the soul through the reflection of consciousness the PERMANENT AND IMPERMANENT ARE NO LOWER CONFUSED. It is said that all our suffering is due to us identifying with our minds and bodies!

The Vedanta philosophy has considered mind as the subtle form of matter where in the body and its components are considered the grossest forms. Consciousness although still part of mind allows connection to that which is deeper.

All mental suffering ends by getting rid of the ignorance (Avidya) that ‘I’ am different than the universal consciousness (Asmita) which is a perceptual error generated by attachment to the world by Raga (attachment) and Dvesa (aversion), which also results in Abhinivesa (fear of death or clinging to life).

Sage Patanjali an ancient seer had enunciated as early as 500 BC the practical steps of such introspection in his 196 aphorisms in the form of sutras. Patanjali maintains that the goal of existence is liberation from this ephemeral world of existence. This is trans egoic state going beyond the phenomenal world of smaller self which is at the periphery of awareness. This realisation of our true nature is revealed diving deep in to the self in the process of absorption (Samadhi). In Samadhi fear of death vanishes as this is linked to identification with the body and then frees the individual.