Stiff and Aching in the Morning?

Most people wake up feeling a little stiff and tight – then stretch to ease out their body.  Why should this happen?

Well when we sleep our spinal discs absorb water and “plump up” which reduces spinal mobility, but also cells called fibroblasts in the fluid between our tissue layers (extra cellular matrix) secrete a protein that acts as a glue to stick tissue layers together.  In essence these adhesions form between connective tissue bands called myofascia.

When we stretch, we literally flush this glue away and this allows the tissue layers to slide again.  If we allowed gluey fibre to stick our  myofascial layers together not only would it reduce movement but could quite possibly increase pain by impinging on nerves.  Many chronic pain conditions are thought to be linked (in part at least) to this “fuzzing up” of our myofascia.

The famous anatomist Gil Hedley explains this process brilliantly in the attached link (PLEASE NOTE CONTAINS IMAGES FROM A DISSECTION)

So get up and shake it out every morning! Just a few minutes stretching each morning will really help you feel more mobile and brighter.

Prehab – Fixing the Body Before Things Go Wrong!

As strong and fit as we think we are, things can and do go wrong with even the fittest of us.  Everyday living together with the activities and sports we enjoy all take a toll on the body.

Prevention as they say is better than cure – in the field of exercise future proofing our bodies (aka “prehab”) may allow us to avoid the pain, cost and uncertainty of fixing things (aka “rehab”) after they go wrong.

Research with top athletes has shown that a mixture of balance, cross body and functional exercises are the best forms of prehab.  Moreover prehab needn’t be difficult, require a lot of time or expense.

Click here for a short prehab programme – based on a more extensive programmes used in professional sport.  

Try to practice all the exercises on the sheet for 10 repetitions x 2 sets, 3 to 4 times per week.  Where weights are needed keep these low (5kg or less) and practice on a non-slip surface.  

As always if you have a medical condition, always seek advice.

Anti Aging Tips

Nobody wants to get old, but are there any simple yet practical things we can do that will at least slow down the march of time on our bodies and minds? 

Well yes there is – there is a remarkable scientific consensus as to what works.  So here is the list (simplified for the sake of brevity) –

  • Use moisturiser and sunscreen daily
  • Cleanse and exfoliate the skin every night
  • VitaminA/retinol serums really work for wrinkles
  • Avoid cosmetics/facial products which contain – SLS, propylene glycol, PEG,dimethicone, parabens, artificial perfumes, artificial colours and triethanolamine amongst others
  • Take a chelated vitamin C supplement (helps to slow and even reverse the breakdown of collagen) – which leads to wrinkles and sagging.
  • Goodsleep habits (8 hours per day – try to get to bed before 11pm)
  • Good diet – wheat germ oil, eggs, lots of dark green vegetables, avoid sugars, nuts (walnuts are very good for the heart),oily fish etc.  Don’t fry food and try to avoid processed food.  Purple foods are brilliant.  Stop eating when the stomach is 80% full.  Take 1000 iu of vitamin D each day – there is research indicates it may even kill cancer.
  • Stayactive – try to balance on one leg every day – 10 seconds per side x 3.  One of the strongest predictors of aging is aweakening thigh muscles.
  • Nap 10 minutes per day if possible.
  • Laugh every day.
  • Have sex!!!  The research indicates that once a day is the optimum.
  • Socially connection is important.

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).


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.


  • 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


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.