Archives For Fitness & Primal lifestyle

Annus Novus/Terra Nova

January 17, 2017 — 1 Comment
Or, a middle-aged person’s guide to Tomislav English’s ‘Ferus Animi’
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Anoushka (my wife, business partner and favourite person to practice movement with) and I first encountered Tomislav during Rafe Kelly’s Evolve Move Play workshop on Hampstead Heath last Summer. We were both very attracted to the way he moved – the easy grace that speaks of tons of strength and control – and to his quiet humility.

I had vowed that after a year of lots of workshops, 2017 would be about consolidating what I had learned, and laying off the workshops. However, Anoushka saw a date announced for Tomislav’s ‘Ferus Animi/Terra Nova’ 4 day intensive and immediately asked him if we could sign up. My mild anxiety began as soon as he agreed – the text in red in the picture reads: “Experienced Movers: The workshop will be highly physical and often highly complex.”

Never mind, after Christmas in Thailand, spending the first week doing a highly physical and complex workshop has to be a great way to get the new year going. I don’t know if it was the ‘intensive’ bit, or the knowledge that most participants would be dancers and more capable than I, but I’ve never approached any workshop with as much trepidation.

Before we began Tom mentioned that he had not refused anyone who was interested in the workshop, so we were a diverse group. I particularly appreciated his point that we might all learn from each other, whatever our skill level might be. We were also encouraged to think of the 4 days as our own research into our own physicality and, if we were carrying injuries, to take the opportunity to better understand the cause and explore ways of working with it, rather than relying on external help.

I’m sure that he only spoke for a few minutes but so much of what he said resonated with the way that I’ve been thinking about movement, anatomy, injury etc over the last 12-18 months, so most of my trepidation was forgotten.

The 4 days followed the same structure: a morning class, of about 3 hours, and partner work in the afternoon for 2 and a half hours or so. The 3 hour class was great, full of interesting ideas, challenges that I’d never considered before, and extraordinary demands (several times I found myself thinking “CrossFit is nothing” as I wilted into the floor after trying another new crawling pattern).

Why did I call this ‘a middle-aged person’s guide’? I’m generally highly resistant to the idea of age putting limits on any activity, or being an excuse/explanation for incapacity and/but being in my 50th year, I’m increasingly aware of some naivety in pretending that age means nothing. I am gradually drying out, and my tissues change as a result. When lunchtime arrived the typical scene (in my memory, at least) was of Anoushka and I barely able to get off the floor but needing food, and everyone else grabbing the opportunity to practice handstands, or far more elaborate acrobatics. It seemed that, for many, a cigarette was sufficient for lunch, and that’s when it’s hard not to rationalise with “Well, we are at least twice as old as most of them..”

In spite of this it was remarkable to both of us that everyone there seemed very happy to be paired up with anyone else – I don’t think I’ve ever been to a workshop before this where I haven’t felt that there were one or two people that I didn’t want to work with. This was the nicest group of people I’ve shared a workshop with, ever (and if you happen to be reading this, Thank You). Another notable thing was that everyone got on with what Tom asked us to do – no antagonism, no ‘I was taught this another way’ or ‘I’ve been told I/we shouldn’t do that movement’ that I’m used to from the Pilates world.

The class looked very similar from one day to the next, but with added elements each day, or twists on things we’d done previously. Much of what we did in the morning on our own was relevant to the partner work in the afternoon. It’s easiest for me to describe those sessions as ‘playing games’. Some of them were familiar from other workshops, but always with a new twist. What might take 10 minutes to play can be developed into something that we could play for the whole day, if we keep subtly refining things, or asking each other slightly different questions (What happens if you have one hand behind your back? What happens if my eyes are closed but yours are open? Can your body be even softer? etc).

To be honest, after the class on day 3 we were both so tired that we were ready to skip day 4, but we had so much fun in the afternoon that we had both decided we weren’t missing the last day.

I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of great movement workshops in the last few years, and learned a lot – drills, skills, progressions, theories etc. but I don’t think any have felt as much of a personal exploration of my own physicality as Ferus Animi. It may be that I’ve become a more embodied or inquisitive inhabitant but I think a lot had to do with Tom’s emphasis on the journey of a movement, rather than the destination. We weren’t learning patterns, or exercises (tricks, stunts, moves…), rather we were researching how our bodies responded to these challenges, and recognising where we needed to spend more time to refine things. I’ve also immediately applied one of Tom’s teaching principles to all my Pilates teaching, which is an exciting and unexpected bonus.

Before the workshop I had wondered if calling Ferus Animi/Terra Nova a ‘research vehicle’ wasn’t a little bit pretentious, or self-aggrandising. I’m sorry that I ever entertained that thought – as Tom acknowledged, we were really being invited into his own practice, working on the things that he is interested in working on himself, so we were all doing our own research. I was studying my own body and also researching/learning, through working with others, more possibilities for myself. I think this is why, of all the workshops and seminars that I’ve done, and loved, this is the one that I’d be quickest to sign up for again.

 

You can find more info (and video) about Ferus Animi/Terra Nova here

 

 

 

 

Loco.motion

September 7, 2016 — Leave a comment

My wife, and partner in movement adventures, Anoushka, and I were on our way to Turku, again. It’s become a ritual in the last few years – we go to Turku for Ido Portal’s seminars. This was trip number 3 for her (seminar no. 5), and number 4 for me (seminar no. 6). The same flight to Helsinki, drive to Turku, the same hotel next to the Baltic (great for end of the day cooling off and/or nervous system reset), the same restaurants in the evening. Maybe it’s an age thing but I like this routine, especially when punctuated with moving and learning.

This trip was tinged with a bit of sadness – maybe this would be the last. We were on our way to attend ‘Locomotion’, the Ido seminar that we had both wanted to attend the most after our initial exposure to the work in ‘Movement X’ two years before. After this we might not have a reason to return to Turku, and the ritual would come to an end.

Never mind, focus on the present: who will it be presenting this time? Ido? Probably not. Odelia? Maybe. Or John, or Joseph, or… Honestly it’s just idle speculation, everyone that we’ve met presenting Ido’s work has been exceptional, and we’ll be happy to see any of them.

Driving to the venue on Saturday morning I was surprised to be feeling a bit anxious. Trepidation is the right word. Usually I’d just be feeling like a child on the way to the sweet shop on this journey but my lizard brain somehow knew this was different – maybe the sweets will be on really high shelves, or something.

We arrived at the venue and….Great, it’s John! And a (for me) new Jonathan assisting him – from Israel, not Dubai. Also great to see some familiar faces – the graceful Italian beast (‘Upper Body Strength’ seminar), and the senior (her word) Norwegian yoga teacher (‘Hand Balancing’), amongst others. Maybe my trepidation was explained when, while talking about all the seminars we’ve done, John let slip that Locomotion is “the most physically demanding”. Actually, he didn’t ‘let it slip’ – he said it plainly, with a big grin that you’ll be able to picture if you’ve met John.

After some quick intros, and joint prep, we get moving, traversing the room in a many, many different ways. Funny how, in spite of reinforcement of the standard of “start touching the wall, finish once you’ve passed the pull-up rig” quite quickly became practiced as ‘touch the wall, step one or two meters into the room and then begin’. Does the desire to be first impede hearing, perhaps? Piece by piece we were building patterns (“atoms” of the Locomotion practice), with a resting squat as the endlessly recurring linking piece. I can’t speak for every single person, but everyone I could see, me included, was dripping with sweat before long. Everyone, apart from John and Jonathan, of course. I have been ruminating for ages on the weirdness of dressing ‘properly’ for exercise – as if your outfit is a symbol to say ‘see, I work out’. So I loved that Jonathan was dressed in a turquoise wool jumper while demonstrating handstands, cartwheels etc. – dressed to meet friends for coffee, not to exercise! (I think this may mark the difference between a mover and someone who works out).

I was already physically smoked by lunchtime, but revived somewhat by the Pure Hero guys delivery, and a little more by the game we started the afternoon session with. Ido and his team have the best games – brilliant for warming up and mobilising without noticing that it’s what you’re doing. I’m easily tricked out of my belief that I can’t do more squatting, handstands or whatever else it might be by playing ‘the farthest limb’, for example.

The atoms are building, the patterns get a little more complicated, and this is more mentally taxing than the other seminars I’ve done. We start to join atoms together in sequences, and always trying to refine the details – foot/hand placement, weigh shift, timing. As John says: “We recognise efficiency as beautiful.” (Damn I’m IN-efficient!) It is so amazing to see John, and Jonathan move. Yes, I’m a little tired of hearing about how nice John’s feet are, and how amazing his skin looks, but only because I know Anoushka is right. While you can see the muscles at work, there is not tension when John moves, no strain visible – THIS is how I’d like to be able to move myself. And watching Jonathan at work when they show us how to play another game where the object is to find the line between the possible and impossible for our partner’s capacity I realise how hard they work. He’s set a target that to me is clearly impossible to meet and he does not give in, contorting this way and that to make it. Okay, there’s a bit of strain visible now, but the combination of agility, strength, mobility, imagination, and determination is profound.

When we finish on Saturday (I’m so thankful that, unusually, that’s only about half an hour past the advertised finish time) I’m truly, totally fatigued. Driving back through the woods to our hotel my body feels at least 80% jelly. I only look in the rearview mirror for a moment and, thanks to Anoushka’s very loud and sharp intake of breath, the deer somehow bounds from certain death into the ditch beside us. Body is now 96% jelly.

We follow instructions and get some good food (just as well this may be our last time – we learn that the always reliable steak house is closing in two weeks). I should sleep like a baby, tired as I am, but my body will not get comfortable and morning comes without feeling as rested as I’d like. Squatting feels like a very remote possibility.

I knew John would be a stickler for timing and, one minute past ten, we’ve missed the start. First activity of the day is…wait for it…..Squatting! Of course. Relief comes with some more wrist prep, and then we get back to building blocks for more atoms. Lots of building blocks, creating 10 or 12 atoms in total for the two days. Every so often I feel that I can do something relatively well, which is a welcome relief. We all meet the goal of improvising for two minutes, sequencing the atoms we’ve learned. I feel as lithe and fluid as Ido looks in the floreio videos on YouTube like, to an untrained eye, I may look competent for a few of those 120 seconds. We also all manage some semblance of the low lizard crawl, and while some of us really struggle, there are as many doing very nicely.

The truth is that I’m not having as much fun as I’d like to – and Locomotion was the seminar we’d been looking forward to the most. I guess I was feeling over-exposed. There’s a lot of material in the two days, and it comes at you pretty fast. Working in pairs, John often set us the task of “you do 10, I do 10, you do 8, I do 8, you do 6 and I do 6” of a new movement. Perhaps some of the young guns were getting through the reps, but Anoushka and I were usually managing “you do 6 and I do 6 and you do 2 and oh it’s time to move on to the next thing”. There are not many peaks and a few troughs when I feel pissed off: ‘I can’t do X yet and already you want me to do X + Y, and seamlessly progress into Z.’ I hate the idea that age limits anything but I have to  keep pushing the thought of being one of the ‘seniors’ out of my mind. One of the strong points of the seminars I’ve done previously is that everything you’re introduced to can be scaled, so there is always something to work on and everyone can participate all the time. Locomotion involves more complex movements, and more brain power. If you’re going to learn the atom you need to get all the pieces, and there were times when I needed more time. In adult education, at least in the UK, you are required to ‘differentiate’ – to accommodate different degrees of competency in your classroom. I wanted them to differentiate, but it’s not really possible. I also wondered if there shouldn’t be pre-requisite skill levels for signing up for Locomotion. Or maybe it could be three days, instead of two.

As I write this a few days have passed. Looking through my notes it seems as though we didn’t do quite as many different things as I remembered. Maybe what felt like flaws in the structure or delivery of the seminar were simply signs of my frustration, or disappointment in discovering that I’m far behind where I’d like to be (because I haven’t put the work in). I’m already looking back at the weekend with more fondness than I did two days ago, and picturing John going from Crow to Cossack Insertion, to Shinobe to the Low Lizard like there’s no gravity, no friction, no hard edges. I will definitely work at all of the atoms we practiced, and I will get better at their execution, but I won’t reach his level, because I know that John will always be working harder than I am.

So you should definitely sign up for Locomotion. And, just in case you don’t already, get a pistol on both legs, for reps. Do what you need to get very comfortable in a resting squat. And spend some time at the bottom of a push up, bit like yoga’s chaturanga. That won’t cover everything, but it’ll be a reasonable start.

And, in case you read it, John and Jonathan, you were great, and if I wasn’t always as appreciative as I might have been, that was just me being mad at not reaching the sweets on the high shelf.

PS. Our host, Marko says he’s thinking about hosting The Corset again next year, and it’s changed from two years ago. So maybe the ritual’s not over yet.

“Motion is Primary”

June 16, 2016 — 1 Comment

More thoughts on Evolve Move Play,

inspired by an interview with Jaap Van der Wal.

I love it when two apparently distinct activities or experiences in my life seem to converge into a coherent whole. It seems to happen so frequently that, even though it’s all under the umbrella of Movement, it might be evidence of a subconscious communication (‘morphic resonance’, anyone?) Very often it reinforces or I learn something new about teaching Pilates, or movement generally.

Five years ago I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Dr Van der Wal (“Not by muscles and ligaments alone: The importance of fascial architecture for understanding the locomotion system”). My interpretation of the content was much simpler than the title, and it transformed my view of anatomy completely – from the mechanistic view that I’d first been taught, to what I now recognise as a “process” view of anatomy.

This morning, the day after writing about Rafe Kelly’s ‘Evolve Move Play Movement Experience’, I was listening to an interview with Jaap, and everything started to feel connected.

Based on his study of human embryos, Jaap says “Motion is primary, form is secondary.” We move before we have a brain, apparently. Much as I enjoyed the Daniel Wolpert’s TED talk, I’m drawn to Jaap’s assertion that the brain is our organ of awareness, not of control. How else do you explain the reality of movement before we have a brain?

As I was listening to the interview I was reminded of Rafe talking about excessive verbal coaching lighting up our cognitive brain and thereby drawing focus away from the sub-cognitive part of our brain, which controls movement. We probably all know this already – thinking too much constipates movement. Rafe also talked about crawling, and the common phenomenon of adults adopting an ipsilateral pattern when trying to crawl (I’ve seen this many times in gyms and studios). His experience is that if you ask someone to crawl along the branch of a tree they never adopt an ipsilateral pattern – the conclusion being that a natural environment stimulates natural movement patterns. Motion is primary. Our bodies understand how to move if we provide the right environment.

How does this inform my Pilates teaching? While I won’t be teaching Pilates in trees, it reinforces my belief that the apparatus teaches, by providing an environment (much less daunting for some than the great outdoors) in which our bodies know how to move. It’s not about muscles, it’s about movement.

There’s more of a theme, too, when I think of the play-fighting we did with Rafe, and the film of Pilates (outdoors) wrestling with his friends. I think we can better understand Pilates, and teaching Pilates, by learning from a wide variety of sources.

 

Playing with Rafe

June 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

Reflections on The Evolve Move Play Movement Experience13417541_10154055668085041_3195942729181525650_n

I’d first enquired about this seminar in December 2015, so I’d been looking forward to it for a while. When the day came, and a group of us began to assemble on the edge of Hampstead Heath (like a minimalist footwear convention – Vivo Barefoot just edging Vibram Five Fingers in popularity) I realised that I had really no idea what we were in for. Rafe Kelly, the creator of Evolve Move Play, was quick to introduce himself but that was the only thing that set him apart from the rest of the group – no pedestal here.

We were a disparate group, from (I guess) mid-20s to mid-50s, and a mix of everything from complete novice to seasoned outdoor natural movers. The only parallel that I have for this seminar is Ido Portal’s ‘Movement X’ and already it was a very different experience. Part of that was the environment, for sure, but it was less businesslike – not chaotic at all, but less orderly. I love the structure of Ido’s seminars, and the authoritative delivery works well for me, so this is not a league table of seminars at all. Rafe (my computer is delightfully determined that his name should be corrected to ‘Safe’) certainly speaks and teaches with clarity and great conviction but there’s something else – I’m trying not to write “chilled”, or “laid-back” because they’re not the right words – perhaps it’s a lack of ego.

The weather determined the order of activities, so after a warm-up game of Zen Archer (my favourite, and especially fun on uneven terrain) we are quickly learning how to fall efficiently, and from there, how to roll. I should have been more sensible on my first real uneven ground outdoor training experience but exuberance got the better of me and I managed to mis-roll badly enough that my shoulder and arm were rendered fairly useless. Not good timing with the tree-climbing element about to begin. I do better than I used to, I think, but it’s still hard for me to hang on to a growth mindset and not feel that the world has effectively ended in these situations, so my thoughts on the remaining hours of our first day are a little clouded. I do know that Rafe and his team were great at enabling everyone there, from the high achievers to the injured novices, and great at reinforcing the underlying message that the activities we were engaged in were the things that we have evolved to do, thus our bodies instinctively respond to the environment. It’s easy to believe him when Rafe says that he’s seen people learn complex and challenging movements more readily in nature than in the gym. The philosophy of ‘moving like a human’ makes sense in my body, not just my head.

A sleepless night followed, unable to get comfortable for any length of time, and by the morning I’d decided that I couldn’t face being a wet and cold observer of everyone else’s fun. Happily for me my wife knows me very well, and forbids my self-pity. Our meeting point on day 2 is deeper into the Heath, and in a dark patch of woods. True to the forecast, it’s raining, and I understand why the higher tree climbing happened on day 1, it would be too risky in this wether. The tree branches are lower and we warm up moving through the trees at a low level, over and under branches (or just slowly along the low ones, in my case). I quickly realised that being barefoot was the best strategy and now wonder if that contact with the earth was a part of what lifted my mood.

We were split into groups to practice vaulting over branches, with Rafe, Ben and Rutger circulating and giving advice and encouragement. Lots of opportunities for practice and experimentation, and then the whole group being bought back together to add a new challenge, or to reinforce a coaching point or principle.

I’m loathe to get into describing everything that we did, so I’ll leave it at the rest of the day involved rough-housing (the British might call this ‘rough and tumble’) and edge of comfort zone testing play fighting; joint mobility; breath work; and meditation. Suffice it to say, if you’re contemplating joining an EMP seminar then go ahead and do it – I guarantee you’ll have fun. It was most fascinating for me to find how my mood changed, and the pain in my shoulder receded, as the day went on. I think was a product of the environment, the activity and also Rafe’s teaching style.

Rafe has clearly studied the art/skill of teaching in depth. He’s quick to acknowledge his own teachers, and especially quick to acknowledge his own flaws and vulnerabilities. I think this is the single thing that distinguished this from other workshops that I’ve attended – Rafe’s willingness to share his personal experience, and ability to acknowledge when his ego surfaced made for a liberated learning space. I’m used to discovering my lack of physical capacity, and having my (professional) world view challenged at Ido’s seminars, but this taught my something about myself at another level, and I’m very grateful for that.

At the end of day one, while feeling sorry for myself, I knew that I liked Rafe’s philosophy/idealogy, but didn’t think I wanted to embrace tree-climbing and outdoor training. At the end of day two both of us knew that we wanted to spend more time in nature, and to spend more time being playful. I’m sure now that we’ll be climbing trees in future.

Are You Human?

March 4, 2016 — Leave a comment
Still from 'The Brain That Wouldn't Die', 1962.

Still from ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’, 1962.

I’ve had conflicted feelings about civilisation for a few years – I enjoy the products of both agricultural and industrial civilisation as much as anyone AND I recognise that human civilisation has exacted a terrible price both on us and all the other species of flora and fauna on the planet. (It’s hard to read ‘Endgame’ by Derrick Jensen and stay blind to the negatives.)

There are a few fundamental factors that have driven our evolution as humans, including avoiding predators (see ‘Sculpted by Cats‘ by Frank Forencich – and buy the whole book, it’s great), finding food, managing environmental conditions, and gravity. Basically, moving about, and managing external loads and forces (thank you Katy Bowman).

I mention gravity in particular because it would appear, based on listening to an episode of the Tim Ferriss show recently, it appears that some smart people, from Stephen Hawking to Jeff Bezos, believe that the future of humanity will not be on the Earth alone. Not only will it not be on the Earth but that it would be most sensible to get away from gravity all together, so that human life would continue on space stations rather than on planets. Perhaps, like me, you find your internal alarm bells sounding at this – “What about bone density?”, “What about muscle mass?”. Further listening/research suggests that this might be a narrow view of the future of humans. Maybe the future doesn’t involve physical bodies at all. I love how science-fiction this becomes, because I like how sci-fi’s so often questions the nature of existence. Could it be that the future of humanity is as the gravity manipulating “intelligence” in ‘Interstellar’, who don’t appear to have a physical presence. It must be amazing to work in fields where this kind of thing is being contemplated.

Fascinating as this is, we remain physical beings for the moment, and at least for our lifetimes, shaped by our evolution and the factors mentioned before. Our physicality is central to our existence, and to our health. If you’re not utilising and enjoying your physicality it’s as if you’re preparing for this non-physical future that, if it comes, may be centuries or millennia away.

 

Image from Disney's "Wall-E"

Image from Disney’s “Wall-E”

I’ll be the first to acknowledge, if I haven’t on this platform already, that I tend to like research that reinforces my beliefs, and to dismiss that which does not. I know that correlation does not equal causation, yet correlation can still be attractive if it seems to hint that a belief may really be the truth.

It’s always been easy to dismiss studies (I’m referring to studies on humans) whose results I might find inconvenient, because it’s so difficult to account for every variable in any human study, be it lifestyle, gender, size, weight, ethnicity etc. Then we have to consider the possible bias of the researchers, and possible massaging of the results to fit the desired outcome. So, ‘The China Study‘ may appear to show a correlation between plant based diets and reduced mortality rates, but it certainly does not provide proof of any such thing. It seems that, in general, interesting correlations are the best information that we can hope for from human studies.

I’ve recently had a debate, of sorts, via the comments section of a previous post, on ‘neutral spine’ in Pilates exercises, and the relevance, or not, of Stuart McGill’s research into low back disorders. Earlier this year I heard Ido Portal being summarily dismissive of this and other research, into diet for example, as having been conducted on ‘Homer Simpsons’. In other words, if the research subjects do not have a similar lifestyle or diet to his (and have not had for years), then what relevance would it have to him? Subsequently, I heard the excellent Katy Bowman articulating a similar position, in a little more detail.

Just as Erwan LeCorre refers to “zoo humans”, Katy describes us as humans “in captivity”. In effect, post-industrial lifestyles have made us captives of our own inventions. The comforts that have become so normal as to be invisible have robbed our bodies of the inputs that many thousands of years of evolution led them to expect. Many of us have feet that have not touched real ground in years, except through the (desensitising) cushioning of shoes. Frank Forencich wrote an essay that I particularly like, called “Sculpted by cats”. He writes of a time when big cats were far more widespread than they are now, and preying on our ancestors. Thus, those ancestors’ behaviour was in part dictated by sharing the land with their predators, and evolving particular traits or skills as a consequence. As Katy explains, we are now “sculpted by chairs” instead.

Nutrition inputs for most of us have changed almost beyond recognition from those that evolution led our bodies to expect. Simply, we don’t live, or eat in the way that humans have for millennia – we are almost a new species – homo sedentarien? Homo diseasus?. If you have seen ‘Wall-E’ you’ve seen this species depicted.
If you’re interested in being a Homo sapiens, and not being some sort of post-industrial, corrupted-by-comfort variant, then does research conducted on subjects that aren’t like you have much relevance to you? If you move and eat in a way that nourishes your whole body, if you avoid ‘foods’ that promote inflammation, will it fall apart on you? Do you need to be concerned that, like an IKEA kitchen drawer, your joints have a finite number of movements in them (dictated by your genetics, perhaps) before degeneration? Can science tell you much about how to live, eat, play or work if it’s looking in the wrong direction?

 

Epilogue

This post is really an acknowledgement of some of the ‘giants’ upon whose shoulders I endeavour to stand, to optimise my current world view:

Frank Forencich

Ido Portal

Katy Bowman

I do Movement

August 9, 2014 — 12 Comments

If I’m truly honest, I like to think of myself as a reasonably competent mover. That’s to say, I think that I’m fairly co-ordinated and able to move with a bit of control and grace. This is important to me not least because I believe, as a Pilates teacher, that my job is to teach people to move well. I consider that I’m on a journey to a better understanding of human movement and I’ve developed some strong (I was going to write ‘fixed’ but that would be inaccurate) opinions along the way about what ‘good’ movement looks like. (It turns out that I’d barely scratched the surface…) Anyone who is on a similar journey will most likely, sooner or later, come across the name Ido Portal, or more likely a video of Ido Portal doing something(s) extraordinary.

I started to follow Ido on Facebook a couple of years ago, and while I was amazed by his physical prowess, I was also struck by what seems like an uncompromising attitude that bordered on the obnoxious. One post seemed to aggressively dismiss (i.e.. don’t waste my f***ing time) anyone who was interested in online coaching but couldn’t commit less than 24 hours per week to the process. Wow! As someone who believed that my life makes it hard for me to find one hour per day to commit to exercise for myself (even though it’s my job) this appeared to be both crazy and elitist.

Nonetheless, something had piqued the interest of both my wife and I, and  I began to look out for workshops that we could attend. Back in January this year I saw two workshops scheduled back to back, in Finland. ‘Movement X’, and ‘The Corset’. Places on Ido’s workshops fill up fast, and I hadn’t seen many instances of 2 back to back, so we booked. If I try to crystallise what my overarching goal is, from a lifestyle, nutrition and fitness perspective then you might say it is to become ‘bulletproof’, or as bulletproof as possible. From this perspective ‘The Corset’ sounded particularly interesting, and as August got closer my anticipation grew. Just a couple of weeks before Ido was a guest on the Londonreal video/podcast, describing his philosophy, and what attendees of bios workshops might expect.

This definitely heightened my anticipation, but still didn’t make me feel much clearer about exactly what the workshops would entail. The main thrust of Ido’s description seemed to be “not what people expect”… It was interesting then, when telling clients and friends that we would be away doing this, to try to describe what ‘this’ would be. “I’ll let you know when I get back” becoming the stock answer. One thing that the interview did suggest is that Ido is less brash than I might have imagined, and not particularly interested in being a leader, “Walk beside me, not behind me” being a motif of the interview. Additionally, he is very clear that he does not want anyone in his workshops to feel stupid, inadequate or humiliated – so I was less concerned about my lack of gymnastic prowess.

Finland proved to be a beautiful, warm and sunny destination, and Crossfit Box 100 was an ideal venue. There was a nice mix of diverse backgrounds in the group for the first two days (we didn’t do intros in the 2nd workshop) and it was great to find that the big strong guys weren’t too gung ho when it came to the practical work. I’ve not always found this to be the case, and maybe it’s a sign that you have to be a certain kind of individual, or to have resolved some issues before signing up for this.

Ido warned us out the outset that there would be a fair amount of talking, and though there was a lot of talking there was never a moment in 4 days when I wished that we were moving more and listening less – for me, at least, he’s got the balance just right. One of the first things he asked of us was to call him out on his ‘bullshit’, on the basis that we can all grow more from this. It became evident though that Ido has done a lot of homework, and I mean really a lot. Between my wife and I we have a lot of books related to anatomy, physiology, exercise, movement disciplines, injuries etc. but I suspect we’re just scratching the surface of what he has studied, from an academic perspective. He is, as he says ‘The Movement Guy’, so he’s practised a lot of different disciplines – martial arts, capoeira, yoga – as well as weight lifting and gymnastics, and he backs up his physical ability with theory. Aside from a comment about Pilates, in relation to advising against abdominal hollowing, which suggested that he has been exposed to Pilates as influenced by physiotherapy, rather than Pilates as Joseph taught it, Ido made sense relentlessly.

I don’t want to turn this into a catalogue of the movements or exercises that we did, but rather to try to explain the experience overall. As much as anything else, writing this is to help me make sense of what felt like a transformative experience. I was sceptical when, in the London Real interview, Ido talked about receiving emails from people who’s lives had been changed by attending his workshops but I have to admit that, in opening a doorway to a bigger universe than I had previously perceived, he has changed my life.

We were lucky to have Odelia (whom he describes as his ‘right hand’) working alongside Ido. Their interaction bought something very special to the experience, like the embodiment of yin and yang. There is a pent up energy about Ido and on the few occasions that he demonstrated a movement it was as if this was a release, whereas Odelia is the epitome of focused calm (though super strong and ready to demonstrate anything, anytime). Their mutual respect is obvious, and the way that they work together adds to what they’re teaching. It feels slightly invasive to dwell on their relationship (which is none of our business), but as someone who works with his wife it was both a lesson and lovely to see.

I’ve just deleted several sentences that I’d written to describe Ido’s manner and teaching style – they were too long/too much. His teaching style is simple and clear, warm and funny, and sharp when necessary – but that was not the key for me. The London Real interviewer makes reference to Ido having a cult-like following, that he is seen as a Guru. Ido to idol, it’s an easy step. Now this is an area in which I have to watch myself, as it’s easy for me to raise people that I admire onto a pedestal. I found that, somehow, Ido does not invite this. It’s not that he says that he doesn’t want to be seem as a guru, rather it’s that he succeeds in being a messenger, instead of being the message. Perhaps this is why Odelia was there to demonstrate the movements. He is ‘the handstand guy’, but we don’t get to see him doing many handstands. He might also be the one-arm pull-up guy, but equally we don’t see much of this. Instead, he is ‘the movement guy’, and movement is the guru, if indeed there is one. One of the phrases that he used repeatedly was “You have abandoned movement, my friend.” And it’s true, I discovered that I had abandoned movement. Many of us were struggling with some of the wrist work “because you don’t touch the ground enough”, and again, it’s true. I can’t deny it – I had abandoned movement. So instead of Ido becoming guru (he remains the teacher), movement becomes my guru – I now worship at the alter of movement. It’s in me, it’s my heritage, or birthright, and actually what I think Ido does most effectively is to point out, over the course of the workshop, that this is the case. That I have the potential to be more human than I have been, to be much more alive, and to feel the same.

This is the life-changing thing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve had a few days to process things, and the fact that I can write this many words means that it’s becoming clearer. What I felt immediately after our four days with Ido was something like Fight Club. I knew that friends and colleagues would be asking me about the workshops, but I felt that I couldn’t talk about them. You could make a list of the drills, protocols and movements that we learned, but those are simply the tools. It seemed to me in that immediate aftermath that you just had to be there to understand what I’d seen for myself. Again, with a few days to mull things over it’s a bit clearer to me – the universe of movement is vast, way bigger than I had allowed myself to imagine previously, and it’s mine! With patience and dedication I can go far beyond the narrow confines of my primary discipline (however GPP I thought it was), toward my real potential. I won’t worship Ido, but I will remain eternally grateful to him for opening that door, and encourage anyone who hasn’t yet to take the same journey.IMG_1976 IMG_1978

courtesy of Pilates Style

courtesy of Pilates Style

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Courtesy of Huffpost

One doesn’t have to look far to find many testaments to the value of Pilates during pregnancy. Though it has not received a specific endorsement from any UK health authority (RCOG for example), I doubt that there are many Pilates teachers who would tell a mum-to-be that Pilates wasn’t a good idea. Searching for ‘risks of Pilates during pregnancy’ doesn’t yield many results.

Equally, though perhaps less numerous, there are a number of women who will attest to the value of (appropriately scaled) CrossFit during pregnancy. Indeed there is a website, and social media pages and websites for ‘CrossFit Moms’. In this instance the doubters are a bit more vocal. While they may be largely lay people, photos of a heavily pregnant CrossFitter doing weighted squats caused a storm of controversy, with commentators declaring that she was endangering her baby, and that this activity should be regarded as child abuse.

I am an enthusiast for both of these exercise modalities, but recently I’ve had cause to reconsider my beliefs around pregnancy and exercise.

I’ve also had cause to wonder, prompted by social media threads in particular, about the prevalence of pre- and post-natal sacroiliac joint problems and symphysis-pubis dysfunction. Of course, the release of relaxin, not to mention hyper mobility, will have an impact on joint stability. We know that relaxin is released for a reason, yet it seems a very inefficient (thus unlikely) natural response if it causes lasting problems. I don’t believe in the ‘we just spontaneously break’ model of health that we generally adopt in the developed world. Something about our inputs, or our environment causes ill health – whether it’s joint problems or heart problems, for example. If we are (symptomatically) hyper mobile I suspect it’s because something in our diets, or parents diets (inputs) led to changes in collagen structure leading to lax connective tissues. There appears to have been a variety of research around the subject of diet and collagen (a protein), particularly in relation to caloric, protein, or cholesterol restriction – here’s a study on rats, if you fancy it. Thus, pelvic instability is not a random luck of the draw occurrence, but has an underlying cause. This is not an attempt to lay blame on anyone who has suffered with this problem – rather, to suggest that they have been unfortunate in their genetic inheritance and expression; or have not received the best guidance.

To get back to comparing exercise, first off, what are the most important exercises, or important muscles to be worked during pregnancy? Pelvic floor, right? You’ve got to do your pelvic floor exercises, for heaven’s sake! I’ve certainly done my fair share of teaching PF contractions to pregnant clients.

And then, last year, I watched Jill Miller’s webinar on CreativeLive, which featured the excellent Katy Bowman, as she put it, ‘dropping the Kegel bomb’ (Kegels is the term used in the US). She asserts that the most effective, and balanced way of keeping one’s pelvic floor toned during pregnancy is to squat, and to walk. We might say ‘practice natural human movement patterns’….Her argument is that, while they may be appropriate for some women, isolated pelvic floor exercises may lead to excessive pull on the inside of the sacroiliac joint and consequent imbalance/instability. Squatting would give more balancing posterior support, and both walking and squatting would help to keep tone in pelvic floor muscles.

And what are the issues around Pilates and pregnancy? We encourage pregnant clients at our studio to work with the apparatus, rather than doing mat classes. We’ve had great results and have had plenty of women coming to class right up to the end of their pregnancy. That said, during their second, and especially in their third trimester, a lot of their class doesn’t look much like classical Pilates. We don’t encourage participation in mat classes largely because of the restrictions in lying down (though I’d be the first to agree that guidelines on this are heavy handed, and that a woman’s body will most likely have a way of telling her to stop if lying down is causing vena cava compression), and herein lies one of the fundamental drawbacks of Pilates, especially in the classical practice – there’s a lot of lying down. I know of Pilates teachers who have had terrible problems of pelvic instability during pregnancy. There was a heated debated on a Facebook forum recently about the rights and wrongs of allowing a pregnant woman to participate in a Pilates mat class. Another recent post on the same forum was from a Pilates teacher in her third trimester, unhappy that her workouts feel incomplete because she can no longer follow the sequence that she’s used to. Advice from her responding peers ranged from suggestions for standing (Pilates) work, to taking walks and enjoying nature. Great suggestions, yet I fear that they may fail to address the problem of the lady’s frustration – her workout has to change completely. Is there an issue with the scalability of Pilates? Or the scalability of a ‘classical’ approach to Pilates? Mari Winsor’s book, ‘The Pilates Pregnancy’ is a case in point, with a number of reviews on Amazon commenting that the sequence of exercises varies little from one trimester to the next, and that she doesn’t offer much in the way of modification. In the third trimester she suggests the Hundred with bent knees and feet on the floor, or kneeling up if lying down is too uncomfortable.

Lying down isn’t just a problem from the point of view of possible restriction of blood flow, but also because it doesn’t train the muscles and soft tissues around the hip joints and pelvis to handle to take the increasing load of the growing baby. Indeed, would it not be better to be loading these joints (hip & SI) before conception, and in the early stages of pregnancy, in order to have a strong/stable foundation for the certainty of increasing load?

Here’s where the CrossFit mums-to-be that I know of step in. (Firstly, let’s be clear – I’m sure that many women have had happy and healthy pregnancies and deliveries with Pilates as their exercise companion). The wife of my first CrossFit coach is due in a matter of days, and still doing pull-ups. Another lady that my current coach is training, who is expecting twins in three months, is still deadlifting and squatting with weight – and maintaining that her back has never felt better. The beauty of the exercise methodology that they are following is that it can be scaled to fit their changing needs, without having to change the exercises themselves, and there are articles, in addition to the website mentioned above, to guide mums-to-be and coaches alike. In other words, they can squat throughout their pregnancy – the load and the range needs to change but the activity remains the same. High intensity workouts can be left ’til later, so there’s no need for any stopwatches, but there’s lots of scope for strength work (indeed, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called CrossFit or strength & conditioning). A lot has been written about the community aspect of CrossFit, and one of the benefits of this scaleability is that it means that pregnant women do not have to miss out on their fitness community, and the potential disempowerment of ‘I can’t do what I used to’.

I’m not really advocating that everyone pregnant gives up Pilates and signs up at their nearest CrossFit gym. I just wonder if there isn’t (sometimes) something missing from Pilates that needn’t be. Or maybe there’s a middle ground. I’ve never seen film or photographs of Joseph teaching a pregnant woman, and I don’t remember any reference to pregnancy in his writing. Perhaps he never intended pregnant women to use his method. If, like me, you believe that Pilates is about moving well then many activities can be approached with a Pilates sensibility, perhaps to the significant benefit of women both pre-conception and during their pregnancies.

Or, don’t have your feet on the ground

I admit to owning some MBTs once, so I understand the seductive power of shoes that are said to improve your posture (there’s a number of things about my past that I’m not especially proud of…). More recently I’ve used this blog to question the use of technology to ‘fake’ a natural situation in pursuit of a solution, rather than accepting the naturally available solution. Of course, there’s often money to be earned from this kind of virtual reality. In the case of shoes, the rationale seems to be: “There’s a problem with your body – your muscles don’t work like they should, because (unlike a Masai warrior) you’ve been disconnected from the ground. Don’t worry, we’ve come up with a way to make your body work better – by tricking it into action.” (For only X amount of £s/$s)

I think I was more eloquent last time I touched on this, so apologies. I was motivated to revisit the subject by someone that came to one of my classes today. She was wearing some brightly coloured Reebok shoes, that served to highlight the degree to which her feet pointed outwards (“Walking like a duck” in Kelly Starrett-speak). When I spoke to her, as a new participant in the class, she told me that she has knee pain. Unfortunately for her, not surprising at all – we’ve probably all seen similar: thighs rotated in, shins rotated out, and arches collapsed. Easy to imagine that she has lower back pain too. Perhaps that’s why she bought the Reeboks, that I discovered were ‘EasyTone’ (“our EasyTone Essential walking shoe features built-in balance pods that transfer air in response to your stride and create micro-instability with every step.”) There’s a great scenario – someone who is putting excessive rotational force through the soft tissue of her knee joint with every step, because of her leg alignment, wears shoes to increase the instability for her already collapsed feet.

Clearly there are many people wearing MBTs, Fitflops, Shape-Ups and Easytones (there are probably other brands too) who do not have the same structural/alignment challenges, yet the logic still escapes me. Why did I ever think that interfering with the interface between my body and the ground was a good idea? Why did I think that elevating my feet further from the ground would be better for my proprioception and muscle activation?

Just as Michael Jordan asserts in the video clip above, it’s not the shoes! The ‘secret’ is to get your feet on the ground – your hip muscles will work better (and give support to your spine) if your feet work better – It’s not the shoes!

When I was very young there was a radio programme called “Listen with Mother”. We didn’t have a television, and I listened to this nearly every day (with my Mum, of course). Without fail, the show began with “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” (I’m not sure whether it’s a positive or a negative that this is etched in some recess of my brain).

These days, with the increasing number of studies suggesting that sitting is bad for us, it seems to be a particularly interesting question. The answer may well be “Hell, yes!” (“I’ve got this fantastic well stuffed, reclining, cocooning, i-pod docking super-sofa and I’m as comfortable as anyone ever has been.”) Of course sitting is comfortable, or certainly can be. And, it turns out, it shortens your life, makes you fat, possibly metabolically deranged, possibly pre-diabetic – never mind the possible reduction in range of hip movement.

However, I’d like to leave the bulk of the anti-sitting stuff aside, valid as it is. It seems to be getting a reasonable amount of attention. Instead, I’d like to concentrate on the “comfort” part of the equation. A little while ago I saw a Tweet from @NocturnalOutpos: “Our lust for comfort is the biggest thief in our lives…”, which resonated for me. I think there can be no doubt that the technological advances that have given us easier access to greater comfort have also weakened us as a species, or at the very least made us less resilient (Nassem Nicholas Taleb would say ‘more fragile’).  (Back to) sitting =  more hip dysfunction & back/knee problems, for example. Controlling every aspect of our living environment makes us less well able to cope with the unpredictable. Can we survive without electricity and telecommunications. Most end-of-the-world disaster movies that I’ve seen assume that we can’t (at the same population level).

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa writes: “All living organisms in nature, including humans, are evolutionarily designed to reproduce. Reproductive success is the ultimate end [goal] of all biological existence.” So, yes, having children is pretty much our reason for existing as a species. The hunter-gatherer existence of our pre-agricultural ancestors would have had its own pragmatic population controls. It is simply not practical to live that semi-nomadic life with lots of children tagging along, and the food supply would have been a limiting factor.

When the agricultural revolution came along things became more comfortable, in that it was possible to stay in the same place, procuring food was no longer everyone’s task, and food became more abundant (though less nutritious). Consequently it was possible for the human population to explode – all the natural population constraints of the HG existence were lifted. Terrific. As a result we now enjoy all the fruits of civilisation, both positive and negative. Negative in that our numbers, ingenuity and technology have allowed us to overcome or resist many of (what I perceive to be) Nature’s attempts to maintain some balance by keeping our numbers in check.

I’m writing this sitting in a cafe on a Saturday morning, as it fills up with people, especially families. It’s noticeable how many couples have several children, clearly born in relatively quick succession, and the part of me that is certain that there are already far too many of us on the planet can’t help inwardly asking ‘Why?’ Why are you having all these children? (In this instance ‘all these’ denoting more than two). And the answer that I come back to is, we are too comfortable. It’s too easy to procure food, shelter, water and energy, so we trick ourselves into thinking that what may be sustainable in at a local, insular level is equally sustainable for humanity as a whole.

where-the-magic-happensOn a less ‘end-of-the-world’ note, it’s common to talk of one’s ‘comfort zone’ these days. It’s not an unusual idea that we need to leave our comfort zone to make changes, or to achieve more. Being uncomfortable thus is the route to progress, perhaps success, or becoming stronger. And the inverse is true. Comfort makes us weaker. Comfort encourages stasis. Comfort anaesthetises.

I’ll still be sitting comfortably on the sofa for a while this evening, but more fool me if I do so for long.