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6:22 pm

Why should a Yogi learn Pilates?

by Lisa Wells

Short Answer: Pilates is all about the core and building strength from the center out.  Pilates builds strength in places that are often neglected in a traditional yoga practice. Core strength and awareness can help heal and prevent back pain.  Core strength that will help prevent you from injuring yourself as you push toward more complicated yoga postures.

Long Answer: Some 17 years ago, a few years after a spinal fusion, still dealing with neuropathy, pain and instability, I asked myself: What was my yoga practice missing?  What needed to be trained and developed in my physical body for better overall health? There were a few answers: 1) I needed more direct core strength; 2) I needed more rotational movement; 3) I needed more freedom of movement, outside of the strict protocols and alignment principles of Iyengar Yoga.

I addressed the first issue by adding Pilates training to my personal fitness regime.  The answer to the second two questions will come in a later blogpost on dancing.  We’ll stick to building core strength in this one.

In the ‘90s, when I started practicing yoga, a common Iyengar cue was ‘soft belly.’ No matter the pose, we were taught not to restrict the breath from moving into our abdomens.  Basically, we were un-training our core muscles. And for someone with my spinal condition (spondylolithesis), this was a cue that may have set up the ultimate failure of my spine in 1997. A few years after surgery, postoperative PT, and continued Iyengar Yoga, I realized I needed a different approach to training my body. My core wasn’t strong enough. And Pilates was the ‘new’ (not really, but new to me) way to strengthen core muscles.

I added Pilates to my weekly movement experiences. The Pilates principles and exercises taught me how to engage and stabilize core muscles as I moved my limbs. I became stronger and more able in everything I did.  A variety of yoga poses became accessible that I could never do before. I had less pain, my sciatica disappeared, and my neuropathy lessened.  Pilates is fairly simply in theory, build strength close to center of the body, in the center of the torso and particularly in the region without bony support between the pelvis and rib cage. When the core is strong, then the limbs can move freely. The core is challenged to hold stability while movement of the limbs provides the challenge to that stability.  Effectively, the limbs become the free weight to train the core. To use a construction analogy, far from perfect but a decent visual, to stabilize a cantilever you need a strong and stable support, like the foundation to which a diving board is attached.  If you build strength in the limbs without building the stable core, failure is inevitable, the diving board will fail if its foundation isn’t true. Pilates exercises and cues give you access to that strong stable support from which to move your limbs safely. 

Done well, Pilates exercises eccentrically train the muscles of the torso. While the cues often sound like classic situps or crunches, the contraction phase of the movement is not the hard part. For example, a Pilates double leg lift starts out looking like a crunch: lie on your back, extend your legs toward the ceiling, place your hands behind your head and curl your head and shoulders off the floor.  The first challenge of this exercise is to hold the abdominal and pelvic floors muscles strongly and force the breath into the lateral rib cage.  The engagement of the deep torso muscles then allows you to hold your spine stable as you begin to lower the legs toward the floor.  The lowering of the legs necessarily lengthens the abdominal muscles, thus requiring a strong eccentric contraction to prevent the spine from extending and the breath from moving into the belly. Often, particularly with newcomers, the motion of the legs will be quite small if the attention to the core stability is honored.  One thing about Pilates, it’s easy to cheat and to do the exercises wrong.  To build eccentric core strength requires the attention to detail that Pilates was famous for.

While Pilates honed some brilliant exercises and principles, clearly drawing from yoga, gymnastics and calisthenics, he was also a bit of a brute and disciplinarian. I do not teach or practice the way Joseph did anymore than I teach the way BKS Iyengar did. I adapt Pilates with the mindset of modern yoga best practices: use somatic cues to develop inner awareness, include anatomical education, both western and eastern, offer balanced spinal flexion and spinal extension, add rotational and range of motion movements, and best of all, never skip on savasana.

Overtime, my classes have become a mash-up of yoga, Pilates, resistance stretching, trauma releasing exercises and somatic awareness. I still call the classes I teach yoga, because I bring what I believe to be a yoga world view of integration and wholeness to the approach. I doubt my students know where one modality begins and another ends. But as Yogis and Yoga teachers, I think it is incredibly important for us to look at what is missing from our yoga practices and to supplement and fill in the physical gaps for ourselves and for our students. 

Register HERE for Pilates of Yogi's

6:35 pm

Firecider, oh my!

 by Lisa Wells
Ayurvedic medicine is all about balance. Taste and sensation are medicine in this somatic system of well being: to fight off the viruses that proliferate in the stagnant cold wet-dry of winter we are advised to add heat, bitter and astringent flavors to our diets. Firecider, although not a traditional ayurvedic medicine, fills the bill.  Firecider is an immune system booster, a deterrent to viruses and bad bacteria, a source of good gut bacteria, with a bonus of the apple cider vinegar base being an standard traditional remedy for arthritis and the pains of aging.

We’ve purchased Firecider (firecider.com) from Shire City Herbals in Pittsfield, MA. You can read about the recipe here (firecider.com/pages/our-story). I was introduced to Firecider at Standing Rock. Shire City donated enough Firecider to camp to keep everyone healthy through the winter. So, each day, people would come by the Med yurts and pour themselves a shot glass of firecider to ward off ill health. I’ve been drinking it daily ever since my journey to Standing Rock, and in spite of the broken arm, have never felt in better health.

Finally, you’ll get to learn what it feels like to be a fire-breathing dragon. We all need a bit of fire-breathing dragon in our minds and bodies these days. Be prepared for a bit of a shock to the system when you try Firecider. It will warm your belly and your mind.  You’ll feel it dousing out any bad bugs hiding in your body. And, you’ll be prepared to fight any battle on your horizon.

12:07 pm

January 20th: Yoga on a General Strike Day

By Lisa Wells

On January 20th President Obama becomes former President Obama and President-elect Trump becomes President Trump. Many things are happening to mark the day. As someone who finds the President-elect’s misogynistic and racist rhetoric to be unacceptable in ‘my president and the leader of the free world’ I have a strong desire to join the General Strike that has been called for on Inauguration Day. However, I also feel the need to be at the studio and hold a safe place for others who may feel threatened by the incoming administrations agenda and whose spirits can be held safe with yoga. Having talked with Koa and Mona, the other teachers who are scheduled to teach that day, they have similar feelings to me.  So, we’ve made a plan.

1)   Lisa’s 10am Gentle class in the morning will be free to all comers. If you’re on a class pass, I won’t be charging you. If you bring a friend or two or three, they’ll get in free.  I personally don’t want to generate income to feed the economy that day.  I will also be contributing $5/person who attends my class to the Civil Liberties Defense Center (https://cldc.org). The CLDC is a non-profit legal firm out of Eugene that defends cases where civil liberties and constitutional rights are threatened as well as providing civil liberty trainings for activists of all ages.  The CLDC are the lawyers for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, ND.

2)   Koa (7am and 5:30pm Flow Yoga) and Mona (12pm Pilates) will be donating the profits from their classes to local and national non-profits that defend civil liberties and stand up for women, the indigent and people of color.

I intend to take the spirit of the strike with me into the world on the 20th as a personal ‘buy nothing day.’  And perhaps you’ll join me at the ‘Inaugurate Eco and Social Justice’ (https://www.facebook.com/events/384709295212168/) event and march which will convene at 3:30pm in Central Park and end with tabling and cider in the Odd Fellows Hall around 5pm. I’d love to see you there!

7:12 pm

What to do when you are injured: RICE vs. MEAT vs TEA

I’m writing this blog post with a broken arm.  Last Wednesday I took a hard fall on the ice.  I was taking out the garbage and getting the mail. I stepped away from the garbage can, took a single step toward the street, and in less than a blink of an eye I was on the ground.  It happened so fast, there was no possibility of catching myself or falling gracefully.  I sat there for a moment and took stock: Can I move my limbs? Yes. Can I stand up? Yes. Can I walk? Yes. I moved slowly out to the mailbox. My wrist hurt, but I could move my fingers. When I got back in the house, I knew that I wasn’t okay. I was shivering uncontrollably. I was nauseous. My vision had narrowed.  I was having difficulty articulating myself. I realized that I had broken my arm. Jay took me to the ER. An x-ray confirmed the break. Luckily, it was a clean break of the left radius (thumb-side forearm bone) and there was no need for surgery. I left the ER with a cast-splint, a prescription for opiates (that’s another blog post) and a referral to an orthopedist. Luckily, the orthopedist swapped the big splint that limited my finger and elbow motion for a forearm cast.  It’s so good to have use of my elbow and finger again.

I was taught how to treat injuries with the acronym RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.  The overall lesson was, stay off the injury, reduce the swelling and limit the pain. It seemed to work. But I don’t think most of us ever particularly tried a scientific experiment to compare whether or not this treatment actually improved the rate or quality of healing. However with time, sports scientists have begun to question the RICE treatment protocol.  Asking the question: does avoiding inflammation, our body’s natural response to injury, actually help or limit healing?

After an injury the body floods the injured region with fluid that creates inflammation.  This fluid serves a number of important purposes: 1) it creates a natural splint to prevent you from reinjuring the tissues; 2) it floods the area with your own natural antibiotics and the materials and chemicals needed to heal and rebuild tissue; 3) it presses on nerves, causing pain to stop you from reinjuring the tissues. Recent studies suggest that preventing inflammation at this critical time can inhibit the healing process.  Ice, compression, elevation and NSAIDs are all intended to reduce inflammation and can inhibit the healing process as a result. NSAIDs in particular, while reducing pain, are believed to slow healing. So, what to do?

A number of physical therapists have shifted to the treatment acronym MEAT: Movement, Exercise, Analgesia, Treatment. I understand where these therapists are coming from, but 1) A few of these categories seem redundant and forced; 2) Treatment is rather self-serving, as it is encouragement to see a PT. Sometimes needed, sometimes not; 3) MEAT as a treatment protocol just sounds kinda gross.  So, I came up with my own acronym and treatment protocol: TEA

Time:  rest, give it time, have a cup of tea, take a day off, return to motion slowly as the pain subsides.

Exercise: start with gentle range of motion and isometric contractions of the injured tissues, gradually increase load and range of motion. Work with a professional as needed.

Analgesics: use pain relievers sparingly. Use the lowest dosage and the least invasive analgesic possible:  Arnica, peppermint and/or camphor, ice and/or heat, acupuncture, massage, Tylenol, Ibuprofen.

So, where am I personally on this journey with my broken arm? It’s been less than a week so…

Time: I’ve taken time off.  Because the bone is broken, I’m following the orthopedist’s advice. My forearm is in a cast to insure that I rest it. The bone will need 4 to 6 weeks to knit itself back together. I’m avoiding lifting or pushing with the injured arm. A month feels like a long time but I know it will go by quickly.  So, time feels like the first and foremost treatment protocol I need to pay attention to. Being patient with myself is hard for me. Healing is energy intensive. I’m exhausted at the end of my days even though I don’t feel like I have done much.  I keep reminding myself to give myself Time to heal.

Exercise:  I long to Exercise. Yesterday I went for a short walk. Today I walked a little farther.  It’s a mess of slush out on the byways of Corvallis, so that is a good deterrent from doing too much. At this early stage of healing, I’m carrying the cast around, moving my fingers and elbow, and doing simple isometric contractions of the muscles inside the cast. As I start feeling better, I hope to begin doing adaptations of my usual yoga/pilates/weight lifting/walking routines. As much as it saddens me, I’m going to stay off my bike until the doctor gives me the thumbs up to ride.

Analgesics: Here’s the reality, I don’t want to be in too much pain.  I took ½ of a Norco on the first night to sleep.  I don’t think that was a sufficient dose to do much of anything and I haven’t taken any since. For the first couple of days I took minimal amounts of ibuprofen, just enough to take the edge off the pain. I’ve been taking homeopathic Arnica Montana and Symphytum Officianale. I’m using essential oil of wintergreen, birch, lemongrass, white fir, marjoram, helichrysum and lavender 3 times a day. I’ve scheduled bi-weekly acupuncture at Corvallis Community Acupuncture. And I had a massage yesterday. I’m going heavy on the alternative therapies. Even if they are placebos, if I believe in them they might help. And if they don’t help I know they won’t hurt.

So, the next time you’re injured, have a cuppa TEA and skip the RICE and MEAT.

I’ll be back at the studio on Wednesday, 1/11/16. Hope to slowly work my way back into teaching over the next week while taking my time and not overdoing things.

Originally Posted at yogawells.com


NSAIDs and possible bone healing impairment: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3259713/

NSAID therapy effects on healing of bone, tendon, and the enthesis

Do NSAIDs Impair Healing of Musculoskeletal Injuries?