Archives For March 2014

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I learned about using ‘jump stretch bands’, or ‘pull up bands’ from Kelly Starrett, and have found them useful in a range of applications in the Pilates studio. I hope this will be the first of a few video posts around this subject.

Achieving ‘clean’ hip flexion, not involving some pelvic motion, can often be a challenge – and this is, of course, a movement theme that crops up in a lot of Pilates repertoire, on all of the equipment.

The obstacle usually seems to be anterior dominance, leading to a hip joint position that ‘closes’ and restricts that isolated flexion.

More and more, in our studio, we’re using bands to create distraction of the joint, allowing for a better ‘fold’ of the leg into flexion. After a fair amount of experimenting, we finally arrived at a set-up that allows for strong hip distraction without the band slipping off when the athlete is reaching toward hip extension.

Unprincipled Pilates

March 23, 2014 — 3 Comments

previewI’m afraid that I can’t find the original comment, so am unable to quote precisely (even if I had permission) something that I read in the thread of a Pilates related Facebook forum. The comment was written by a teacher, who appears to be considered something of an expert on all things Pilates related (in the particular forum, at least) and was along the lines of ‘Joseph Pilates did not teach principles, he taught exercises, in a specific sequence.’

This is a fascinating idea for me, not because I have a special allegiance to the ‘Whole body health; Whole body commitment; Breathing’ that I believe the PMA refer to as Joseph Pilates’ own guiding principles for Contrology, nor to the 6 principles that Friedman and Eisen presented in their ‘The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning’, published in 1980. I think all 8 of these ideas have a valid place in the practice and teaching of Pilates. It is a fascinating idea for me more because the act of teaching almost seems dependent on principles, or is doomed to be rather dull, if not pointless, without them.

Ironically, I attended a class a couple of days ago that reminds me of this. It wasn’t a Pilates class (a more recently developed movement practice) that was distinctly unsatisfying because, it now occurs to me, it appeared to be devoid of principles. It seemed more like nice, but aimless choreographed movement (the teacher led the entire class with her back to the participants – viewing the room in the mirrored wall), and I’d rather save that for when I’m drunk on music and good company, perhaps with a little less choreography.

I’m not suggesting that principles of any sort need to be explicit in anyone’s teaching, but rather that there need to be some fundamentals, something that underpins the exercises/movements being taught. I think of all Pilates exercises fitting into (or straddling a couple of) three basic categories – Stabilising the trunk while moving the extremities; Sequential spinal articulation; Transferring load from the extremities to the centre (which, to me, is part of a circuit with the idea of working from the inside out). These, for me, (because they are invaluable movement skills) form the basis for teaching people to move (or position themselves) well.  And that is what Pilates is, to me, in a nutshell. Of course, this is personal, and I know that the practice of Pilates adds up to more than that for many people. For me, moving well and eating well are the ‘secrets’ to excellent health.

I’m very willing to believe that Pilates did not speak of principles when he was teaching (and perhaps this is what the post on Facebook I referred to was indicating), but I do not accept that they weren’t there. Perhaps that was part of Joseph’s genius – that he didn’t need to be explicit, because the work made it obvious. Whether you’re explicit about some underlying principles of your work or not, I would suggest that they need to be there, if what you teach is to have any meaning for your clients beyond the time they spend in class, or in the studio.

Just Do It

March 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

UnknownI’m currently reading an extraordinary book, called ‘Endgame’, by Derrick Jensen. Jensen paints a very bleak picture of the world, and I’m not sure that I’d recommend it, unless your optimism is of a very robust nature. He’s certainly no fan of multinational corporations, so it’s ironic that a chapter in the book made me think that Nike have the greatest advertising slogan ever. It also made me think that the iconic poster of the first Obama presidential campaign was, unpredictably perhaps, strangely anticipating what seems to have been widely regarded as a disappointing presidency.


How are the two related to each other? One could argue that the sentiment of the Nike slogan is the exact opposite of hope. Your hope won’t cause a situation to change, but your action might. Whilst ‘Just Do It’ is a call to action, hope is a reason (excuse?) to remain inactive. (It reminds me of a landlord I used to have, back when I had dreams of turning a Brooklyn warehouse building into two wonderful live/work spaces. The roof was leaking and his typical response to our requests for him to get someone to fix it was: “God willing, it will get fixed.”)

As well as seeming to say ‘Stop procrastinating’, or ‘Stop making excuses’, “Just Do It” seems to me to be saying ‘It’s down to you, and you only. (Yes, we can sell you fancy apparel and products to help, but) you’re the one that has to get this done.’

If we hope for a better life/body/world etc. it is as though we pass the mantle of responsibility for that betterment on to someone else, perhaps ‘someone’ supernatural, if we are hoping that God will make things better. In taking action we can claim responsibility for our future, and have a real chance to shape it the way that we would wish it to be. Perhaps President Obama would have done better to borrow Nike’s slogan for his election campaign – maybe that would have given his presidency a little more momentum.

Jensen includes a quote in ‘Endgame’ on this subject, that he attributes to Gringo Stars:

“Hope is the real killer. Hope is harmful. Hope enables us to sit still in the sinking raft instead of doing something about our situation.”

Get out of the raft, and swim. Just Do It.

150px-PET-imageA recent, soon to be published study by the prestigious Centre for the Understanding of Nutritional Technology and Science has found that consumption of more than two servings of tofu (a soybean derived food product) per week may lead to a loss of IQ.

The study, conducted over a number of years, looked at the effect of varying degrees of tofu consumption on subjects’ scores in standardised IQ tests. Even when allowing for other factors that have been previously indicated to negatively effect intelligence, the results were “damning”, according to the study’s conclusion. In an interview, a representative of the Centre declared that he and his team are satisfied that they have achieved a significant breakthrough in our understanding of tofu, and have proven beyond doubt that, when consumed in greater than normal amounts, it does make humans more stupid. He added: “We have yet to prove a link between tofu and obesity, but our research continues.”

I’m sure that you will be aware of a number of stories that have made the news in recent years, linking consumption of certain foods, particularly red meat, to various diseases. If you want to read rebuttals of news stories like Red Meat Causes Cancer, or the more recent High Protein Diet as bad as 20 Cigarettes per Day, or simply to read about the problems inherent in these kinds of studies, you can do so here, here and here. This is the territory of people with degrees in medicine or biochemistry, neither of which I have. Instead here are a couple of questions that we should all be asking ourselves when faced with news stories that make these kind of alarming food related claims.

The first is, what’s the agenda? As the articles I linked to above point out, epidemiological studies (that look for patterns, or associations) almost inevitably start out looking for specific patterns – in other words, researchers don’t set out to see if they can spot any patterns at all, they go looking for a specific one. If you go looking for a specific pattern the chances are that you will lean towards finding evidence to support it. Epidemiology might support a hypothesis, but never proves it. T. Colin Campbell, one of the authors of the “China Study”, is well known as an advocate for a vegan diet, and (to quote Wikipedia): “The authors conclude that people who eat a whole-food, plant-based/vegan diet—avoiding all animal products, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk, and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates—will escape, reduce or reverse the development of numerous diseases.” 

So, if I write a story about the link between tofu consumption and reduced IQ (let’s be totally honest, and in case you didn’t guess, I made that up), you would need to ask yourself why I went looking for such an association in the first place. Perhaps I’m some kind of omnivorous fundamentalist who thinks that soy products are rooted in evil….

The second, and perhaps more significant question is, (to quote Robb Wolf) “What is the mechanism?” Unless there is a viable explanation for why heavy tofu consumption causes a loss of IQ (I just had a thought – imagine if my made up story turns out to be true!), then it’s simply an association that may be a complete coincidence. A favourite analogy is ‘Fire engines cause fires’ – because studies show that there is a strong association between buildings on fire, and the presence of fire engines. Or even better, if you didn’t follow the link to Dr Briffa’s article above: ‘ice cream causes shark attacks’.

Who can blame researchers who want to catch some headlines? Both of the UK broadsheet newspapers that carried this story had some caveats, if you read to the end, but the headlines and the accompanying pictures are what stay with you (do you think tofu seems more sinister when I include a picture of a brain scan?) It’s too bad that the news media we appear to want is that which scares, rather than informs.