Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Body & Mind, Health, Interviews, Pilates | 0 comments

A Pilates-Art-Creativity Dialogue

A Pilates-Art-Creativity Dialogue

How did you become an artist?

Art and beauty have always been my passion. My first words as a child, was to ask for the moon, as I wanted to bring its glowing light down to earth!  At the age of 4 my parents brought me to a Kandinsky exhibition at the Guggenheim and I jumped around with joy! I was magnetically drawn to art to explore and express the beauty and rhythms I felt through being alive. I trained at Camberwell College of Art and Goldsmiths College during which time I was fascinated by sculpting the human form in clay, at a time when everyone was very political and writing on canvases. I wanted to make creations that were beauty-filled and I felt out of place in that era, so I took a year off. It took me 30 years to return, this time to the Art Academy in London to complete my fine art training.

In between, I trained to be a State Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, captivated by the body and how to help people transform their experience of life on all levels. I then worked for UCL’s Health Behaviour Unit focusing on psychological methods to change lifestyle behaviours, and subsequently applied my learning in the NHS in a wide range of contexts.

As Lead Mental Health Dietitian/Nutritionist for a Borough in London, I initiated a Food and Mood Group in which we helped patients to identify their life passion, connect to this and then substitute this for unhelpful or self-harming eating behaviours. We encouraged physical activity, singing, writing, painting, sculpting, anything creative connecting to their individual passions, to transcend their problems.

During this process I reconnected to my own passion for art, and realized that I actually wanted to be doing it – focusing on nutrition of the soul, as well as the body.

So after over 20 years as a clinician, I went back to college and retrained as an artist.

Why did you decide to practice Pilates?

I have always been interested and explored integrating the physical with mental, emotional and spiritual levels.  More recently, I was interested in developing core strength and this was particularly important after a knee injury.  I find it easy to connect to non-physical ethereal realities but I know that to be truly integrated we must fully embrace the physical level, to express the subtler forms.  I love a challenge and now I am applying that to inviting my body to be as fit as it can be and be truly grounded.   In the same way I challenge myself to be the best I can be, and work towards transforming areas of resistance to this.

What is the effect on your body of Pilates?

I feel stretched, elongated, more centred and grounded and I am really enjoying my physical body in a way that I had not been able to previously.   I feel more present, more alive and more expanded.   My body tends to be hypermobile and I easily overextend without realizing it.  Pilates is helping me to learn to bring myself into a more balanced stable state physically.  Simultaneously I work to apply this experience mentally to bring extremes of experience to a central balance.

What impact has Pilates had on your art?

My initial passion in art was sculpting the human figure with clay, then painting icons and oil painting.  My most recent focus has been on light art, creating optical sculptures with thermoplastics and then uniting this with newer low energy light, projection, digital and interactive technologies.  The result is a versatile kinetic art medium that transforms architectural surfaces into live performances with dynamic light effects that respond to peoples’ movements. The resulting installation creates an infinitely changing, interactive, immersive light and colour experience.

Working with light is one extreme and quite ethereal and since starting to do pilates and focusing on the physical, to counterbalance this I have been feeling a renewed interest in working with clay. Below is a model for a larger sculpture that I am currently working on.  Although it is in clay it is about lightness!   My light art is about the heavens, the clay work is about the earth and in time I aim to unite these two polarities.  I am gradually bringing the elongation, opening and balance that I experience during pilates into expression through my artwork.   By becoming more aware and present in my physical body, I hope to express the connectedness and openness to both the heavens and the earth.  By doing so, I hope my pieces will become a source of contemplation and inspiration for others.

Both within my own art practice and my workshop facilitation, I seek to inspire, enable connectedness and illumination through aligning with the invisible, interconnected rhythmic communication that permeates all things. Movement, emergence, and discovery may be facilitated, potentially enabling expression and connection where it had previously been disabled.  For me, Pilates reinforces this process.

What are your aspirations for the future?

As I become increasingly attuned to my body and being fully here now, I hope to increasingly transmit this via my artwork, in whichever form I am working in.  Also I plan to increasingly facilitate creative workshops, which I already offer at the Art Academy, and throughout the country by invitation.


I would like to thank Sharon Thompson of Essentially Pilates for her caring, supportive and excellent approach to opening the Pilates world to me.

Light Portal 1.  Limited Edition Print.  Photo of Light Sculpture.  © Lorna Carmen McNeill 2015

Light Portal 1. Limited Edition Print. Photo of Light Sculpture. © Lorna Carmen McNeill 2015

Maquettes for larger sculpture © Lorna Carmen McNeill 2015 Masking Tape & Wire

Maquettes for larger sculpture © Lorna Carmen McNeill 2015 Masking Tape & Wire

Maquettes for larger sculpture ‘Preparing for Flight’ © Lorna Carmen McNeill 2015 Wax & Wire

Maquettes for larger sculpture ‘Preparing for Flight’ © Lorna Carmen McNeill 2015 Wax & Wire


Read More

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in Anatomy & Physiology, Body & Mind | 0 comments

TENNIS ELBOW aka Lateral Epicondylitis

TENNIS ELBOW aka Lateral Epicondylitis

We all know of someone who has suffered from tennis elbow. Quite often this person will have had steroid injections into the elbow but the symptoms persist or return after a few weeks. It is well known that this condition can take a long time to heal, and conventional medical treatments can be quite ineffective. 

I have been asked to share some insights into Tennis Elbow from the perspective of my skills as an Osteopath and BodyTalk practitioner.


Tennis Elbow conventionally describes a nagging and persistent pain at the elbow, on the lateral side only that may radiate down the forearm into the dorsum of the hand.  The onset may be gradual or sudden.

There are thought t be several types of lesion for this condition – including:

1) soft tissue degeneration at the origin of the common extensor  tendons at the epicondyle, usually microscopic tears at the teno-periosteal interface at the epicondyle, and especially at Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis, which is a weak muscle and vulnerable to strain. Calcification may subsequently occur and be a further cause of chronic pain.

2) joint pathology  of the radio-humeral joint. Surgery has revealed that often there is degeneration of the cartilage at this site.

The mechanical picture is that of forceful overstraining of the wrist from flexion into extension, as in doing a backhand with a tennis racket. (Remember that the Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus and Brevis insert past the wrist, into the carpal bones). Also excessive repetitive pronation and supination can set it off.

3) The site can be exquisitely tender, with inflammation, crepitous, worse for activity, but when severe, can awaken the person.

The Osteopathic take on Tennis Elbow

Commonly, osteopaths will look at issues in the neck facet joints and muscles, and can get very good results from freeing up the nerve supply to the elbow via the segmental nerve roots and brachial plexus. This in turn encourages energy flow down the arm. Psychologically, the neck, if tense, indicates rigidity in attitude. By mobilising this rigidity, the patient is more able to let go generally, and this in turn will promote the eventual correction of the elbow symptom.

Soft tissue treatment to the relevant muscle origins and to the musculo-tendinous junctions can be useful. Also techniques like Strain-Counter Strain can be used to re-calibrate the muscle spindles. However Muscle Energy Technique would be contra-indicated since that approach tensions the already inflamed muscle. The radio-humeral, radio-ulnar, humeral-ulnar joints and the interrosseous membrane between the radius and ulna must all be balanced (this is best done with the cranial approach).

Lymphatic drainage of the arm and at the thoracic or lymphatic ducts is crucial to the healing at the elbow. This will enable a good drainage of the inflamed area, a reduction of inflammation, and encourage the immune system to heal the area. Lymphatic drainage can be effective without one actually needing to work at the pain site. Again, a tense neck and thoracic inlet will constrict the lymphatic drainage from the upper extremity.

The BodyTalk Take on Tennis Elbow

In BodyTalk we are able look at the consciousness of the elbow, and here it helps to note where the meridians pass through, and look at what the meridians signify. For example The three Yang  meridians that pass laterally are the large intestine, triple heater and small intestine meridians. These relate to the psychological concepts of being intellectually over-challenged, difficulties in deciding what is good and bad or right and wrong in one’s life, and difficulties in letting go and of forgiveness.

So with Tennis Elbow, psychologically, we may be having difficulty (via the colon meridian) in eliminating the wasted parts of our life, and problems in forgiving ourself or others because of some negative (or “wasted”) event. Also, via the small intestine meridian we may be struggling with discerning what is useful for our life or struggling with the ability to judge life in a positive way. Here we tend to develop negative beliefs and attitudes and our clarity of thought becomes muddled.

One of the causes of T.E. can be repetitive movements, eg racket sports, or work-related. This constant repetitive movement will eventually be interpreted by the mind as a chronic tendency to be inflexible in life, ie “life is in a rut”.

A physical implication of large intestine meridian involvement in T.E is chronic constipation. If this is the case, then colonic irrigation, and dietary changes, and abdominal massages can produce excellent results for the T.E.

John Veltheim (founder of BodyTalk) says that “The key word for the elbow is flexibility. Our elbows reflect our flexibility to life; an ability to adapt and be spontaneous without getting bogged down and constipated by life. The more flexible we are, the more we are able to flow with life, forgive, differentiate right from wrong, intellectually process life, and adapt to our surroundings. If our elbows are losing their flexibility through pain, swelling, arthritis or injury, then we are being told to look at those aspects of our life relating to flexibility.”

In BodyTalk we can address reciprocals in the body. These are parts of the body that have an intrinsic relationship with another part and are mutually supportive energetically. So for the elbow the reciprocal is the knee unless otherwise specified by Innate. Tapping out this reciprocal can be very useful in helping reduce the elbow pain. In fact the BodyTalker may be instructed to tap out the reciprocals for the whole upper extremity, for increased effectiveness.

I hope that I have been able to provide some insights into the physical, emotional and psychological implications of Tennis Elbow, and approaches to treatment. I am happy to talk with you individually about any issues arising from this.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in Anatomy & Physiology, Body & Mind, Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

Hypermobility – Keeping It In The Box!

Hypermobility – Keeping It In The Box!

Hypermobility syndrome or HMS as it is sometimes known covers a large spectrum of symptoms. Hypermobility comes in many forms from someone being able to place their hands flat on the floor and hyperextending their elbows and knees with ease to a more severe presentation effecting the vascular system, digestive tract, heart valves, bladder and many other soft tissues of the body.

Many people walk around most of their lives unaware that they have this pathology as to them having excessive joint range of movement is normal and in some circumstances (as in dancing) it can be an asset. It isn’t until they start to experience muscular skeletal pain that they may seek help and are finally diagnosed, however the condition is still not fully understood and its symptoms can sometimes be dismissed by the medical profession and mismanaged.

Compared to other pathologies hypermobility is a relatively new one as far as diagnosis is concerned. Most clinicians initially use the Beighton criteria to diagnose. This test looks at the flexibility of the spine, elbows, fingers, wrist and knees to determine their range of movement. They use these measures of joint range along with levels of joint pain, recurrent subluxation, levels of fatigue, bruising etc to lead to a diagnosis of a hypermobility syndrome. HMS can be separated into two forms; joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS) or Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) this terminology is often interchangeable with clinicians.

Symptoms can include:

  • general joint hypermobility
  • recurrent subluxation
  • joint pain
  • family history
  • skin involvement/fragility
  • arterial/ heart involvement
  • intestinal problems
  • fatigue
  • congenital hip dislocation • increased spinal curvature • excessive bruising
  • bladder problems

As you can see from the above list the symptoms can be vast and complex depending of the severity of the condition.

As Pilates teachers we have all had a client who never feels the end range of a stretch, presents with excessive joint range and never seem to be able to stabilise. Some of these clients are just hypermobile with no other symptoms, but others may report pain and problems with daily function. As teachers the type of muscular skeletal symptoms that we may see with a hypermobile client are:

  • laxity in joints
  • poor proprioception
  • fatigues quickly
  • subluxation – fingers, elbows, shoulders, patella
  • effusion following trauma
  • fibromyalgia
  • trigger points

When devising a safe and effective Pilates programme for these clients it is important to be aware of any of these symptoms to prevent over working or over stressing the joints as this can cause repetitive micro trauma to these type of tissues. Remembering that if this client has poor proprioception and a decreased awareness of joint position then you have to reeducate their sense of joint position by what I refer to as “keeping it in the box”! This basically means keeping the range of movement small and working where possible with a closed chain pattern to help reeducate this awareness and gain effective control of their movement patterns.

The emphasis of controlling range of movement and postural reeducation can be the key factors when devising a Pilates programme for this type of client. Of course they can also present with tightness, especially in the thorax. This area can get particularly locked up and breathing can be shallow and apical, as they may hold them selves from this region due to the general lack of stability elsewhere, In this instance breath work can be invaluable.

With a more extreme presentation of the condition the client may well fatigue quickly which could mean that a shorter session is required. Often they may not show this during the session as the fatigue could be a delayed reaction, so its alway best to start with a shorter session, then check how they where 48 hours later. Ideally seeing the clients for a couple of shorter sessions a week is best with some basic home exercises to follow through even if its just postural awareness.

Working with this type of client can be extremely rewarding as it can help manage their condition long term, but teachers do need to be aware of adapting and keeping movements basic. Remember, keep it in the box!

To learn more about how to adapt Pilates for HMS Mary will be presenting her workshop “Hypermobility: Keeping it in the box!” later this year.  To find out more contact

Read More

Posted by on Aug 22, 2014 in Anatomy & Physiology, Featured, Health, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates For Total Hip Replacement: What We Need To Know?

Pilates For Total Hip Replacement: What We Need To Know?

Due to changes in our NHS service more & more Pilates teachers are being referred clients following hip replacement surgery. Once, patients would have been on a hospital ward for at least a week receiving Physiotherapy daily. This ensured that they could confidently perform their post op exercise regime and climb stairs safely. However, these patients are now discharged after 2 – 3 days with an exercise booklet and a quick mobility check.

As a result many patients turn to Pilates looking for an alternative rehab programme to enable them to restore normal hip function and mobility. So what does the Pilates teacher need to know? There are shutterstock_94626565-e1368042178741several hip replacement procedures, the most common of which is the total hip replacement (THR).This involves the removal & replacement of the femoral head with a prosthesis and the acetabulum is deepened and resurfaced. These prosthesis’s are commonly made from metals such as titanium, stainless steel & polyethylene.

During surgery the hip is dislocated to enable the prosthesis to be fitted and as a result post operatively the hip joint will be more unstable. Therefore the main objective is to strengthen the muscles around the posterior & lateral region of the hip to help regain stability. As the muscles start to gain strength the clients balance and mobility also need to be restored.

Due to the invasive nature of this surgery you often find post op that the gluteas maximus & medius as well as the external rotators and abductors will be weak, and that you will also be presented with a protective shortening pattern of the anterior element of the hip around the TFL, rectus femoris and even the psoas. This tends to gives the impression of the ilium hitching and the head of femur sitting forward of the joint. This can often be observed if the client is lying supine with knees flexed, feet on floor & you will also be able to palpate this shortening.

Therefore, as well as strengthening the effected posterior and lateral element of the hip we also need to rebalance the pelvic and femur placement by careful positioning and cueing.

The biggest fear that many patients have is will their hip will dislocate after surgery. This is very rare and with the correct rehabilitation exercises over 6 – 9 months the hip will be as strong as it was before. However, like any recovery process it must be paced. Initially there will be vast improvements but then the pace will slow down as it reaches its potential. So it is important that the client be guided to reach progressive goals.

There are a few contraindications that need to be given attention initially after surgery to prevent dislocation, they are:

• Hip flexion > 90 degrees • Leg adduction
• Hip rotation
• Crossing legs

As a Pilates teacher it is necessary to be aware of these contraindications during the early stages of rehab. However, due to our deep understanding of movement, we are well equipped to take the client through a gradual rehab programme that will address the weaknesses that have arisen during surgery.

As I mentioned earlier the THR is the most common hip replacement available but in the instance of trauma or congenital abnormalities the procedure and contraindications may differ. It is extremely important in this instance that the Pilates teacher liaises with the patients Physiotherapist to check the safely precautions with that specific situation.

To learn more about the steps to follow after hip & knee surgery see Maryʼs workshop; hip & knee post op workshop.


Read More

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Body & Mind, Health | 0 comments

Summer, Sun and Vitamin D

Summer, Sun and Vitamin D

Are you as happy as I am that the sun is out? This is the perfect time to top up your vitamin D levels. Whilst many of us are so paranoid of sunlight these days that illnesses like rickets have made a reappearance in this country, sensible sun exposure can be a positive part of our health and wellness care.

Most of us know that we need vitamin D for healthy bones; however, it is now known that most tissues and cells in our body have a vitamin D receptor and that it plays an important part in our overall health, including our immune system.

There are three ways in which we can get vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight (UVB), diet and dietary supplements. Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D. concludes in his review article of The New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2007;357:266-81) that “Unless a person eats oily fish frequently, it is very difficult to obtain that much vitamin D3 on a daily basis from dietary sources.” Dr. Holick recommends sensible sun exposure as well as taking a dietary supplement of at least 800 IU of vitamin D3 per day.

So what does “sensible sun exposure” mean exactly? The general advice is, that exposure of face, hands and arms without sunscreen between 5 to 30 minutes per day should be enough, but that depends on the time of year, time of day, weather, skin colour, where we are including what kind of surface we are on (concrete, lawn, snow etc.). Just a bit confusing, right? Well, if you’d like to narrow it down a bit, I have found a website where you can calculate how much sun exposure you personally need for healthy vitamin D levels: It even tells you how much would be too much. Nobody wants to get burned after all or increase their risk of skin cancer – eek! A good quality sun protection lotion is essential if you want to spend any decent amount of time outdoors in the summer.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which means that it is stored in body fat and released in the winter when we’re not getting any – sunshine that is. At this point I’d like to point out that low fat diets are doing our vitamin D levels no good at all, we need a healthy level of fat in our bodies, that’s just by the by. With fat-soluble vitamins we also need to make sure we’re not getting up to a toxic level, more is not always better. The cool thing with sunlight though is that any excess vitamin D is destroyed by sunlight so there’s no danger of intoxication.

I call that good news and you will find me henceforth on my sun lounger with a book in my hands  – wishing everyone a beautiful, safe and happy summer 🙂

Read More

Posted by on Apr 6, 2014 in Body & Mind, Featured, Health, Interviews, Pilates | 0 comments

Fighting Cancer with Fitness

Fighting Cancer with Fitness

The Beginning

“Can I go to Pilates tomorrow?”

Looking back, part of me can’t believe I uttered those words while lying on a table waiting for a doctor to biopsy the enormous tumour I found in my breast. The other part of me realises that question made perfect sense.

For the three years leading up to that point, I started almost every day in a boot camp Pilates class. The class made me happy. It was where I found peace and balance. It was where I got my head together. Of course I wanted to know if I could go to Pilates the day after my biopsy. It was my “normal” — something to hang on to — and I was never more desperate to know I still had it.

Understanding my emotional need, the doctor spoke gently and advised me to take two days off from any exercise. I took those two days off, and by the time I went back to Pilates, I had the news. I had breast cancer. The doctors thought it was stage 3a, but I had to wait for the mastectomy and pathology for the full details. Two weeks later, I had surgery and it was confirmed. On top of the mastectomy, I was facing 4 ½ months of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of daily radiation and two reconstructive surgeries. My adrenaline was pumping. I knew I could take on cancer and win, but I needed my established support system. A big question for every doctor I had was, “Can I continue my Pilates classes?” With post-op restrictions in place, they all said yes.

My primary treatments for cancer were surgery, chemo, radiation, love, smiles, honesty, diet and Pilates.

As the process evolved, I recorded my thoughts and experiences. I learned more about my body then I ever knew. Different foods and exercises spoke to me through different phases of treatment. Being able to identify what moves would help me through each aspect of treatment was a game changer. It was not only a physical release, but an incredibly empowering feeling that strengthened my emotions just as much as the workout strengthened my body.

Following is a look at how Pilates served as my lifeline through pre-op, post-op, chemo, radiation, and surviving cancer treatment.

Strength & Calm

My diagnosis was overwhelming and I knew the impact my coming surgery would have. I wanted to go into my mastectomy with as much physical and mental strength as I could. Emotionally, Pilates was grounding for me. I got to work out in a class that remained the same while everything else in my life was turning upside down. Physically, Pilates kept me where I needed to be for the surgery I was facing and the tests that led up to it.

My favourite pre-op move was the Psoas Stretch. Tests, scans, appointments and treatment make for a lot of sitting and sometimes not in the most comfortable positions. For me, the Psoas stretch was essential and felt fantastic, providing a release to my hips and mid section that impacted my entire body.

Healing & Recovery

I was warned, but I never would have guessed how debilitating my mastectomy would be. In my head I was going to be ready for Pilates after a week, even though the doctors told me to wait six weeks. I wasn’t in pain, but I learned very quickly what I was up against. It was all I could do to get in and out of a chair or hold a fork. My biggest reality check was trying to open the refrigerator and not having the strength to do it. My Pilates background saved me in post-op on several levels. Having patience, strength, balance and being in tune with my body all came in to play.

My favourite post-op movie was the Plié. Breast cancer surgery typically comes with a lymph node dissection and the combination of incisions can leave your upper body out of commission. Engaging your Glutes and the muscles in your legs to Plié makes getting in and out of bed and up and down out of chairs much more manageable. The same engagement of these muscles and the ability to rely on my lower body in this way also helped me roll and upright myself from a position of reclining or lying down.

Release & Relax

Chemo is chemicals. It runs through every part of your body with the intent of killing cancer cells. But that’s not all it does. It’s a lot like having an out-of-body experience inside another body that is trying to exorcise you out of it. Everyone has a varied experience. For me, sometimes I thought I could feel my organs rotting. Often every muscle in my body felt tight. As things progressed, so did the fatigue. And then there was the psychological reality of what was happening. Pilates helped with all of it. My dear friend and caregiver, Isis, always says that during chemo, Pilates and food became my lifeline. She’s right.

The inspiration I knew I would get from my instructor and classmates helped get me out of bed. The workout itself was like a massage that released the poison from my organs while strengthening my muscles. It was my morning reset to remind me of what I was doing, why I was doing it and that I was going to successfully get through it.

My favourite move during chemo was the Long Spine Stretch. Chemotherapy is a dump of chemicals that is likely to stiffen up your muscles and cause stress. I found the long spine stretch felt like a mini detox massage and I did my best to start every day with it. It was both soothing and empowering.

Stretch & Awaken

In the beginning, I didn’t feel any different going to radiation. A few weeks in, I felt a tightening of my skin, the same feeling of tightness you might get with a sunburn. That, combined with my reduced range of motion from the lymph node dissection that accompanied my mastectomy, begged for a strengthening stretch to nurture my back, chest and shoulders.

My favourite move during radiation was Arm Circles. With daily radiation it was important for me to stay on top of it. Doing arm circles really opened me up and provided me with relief.

Rebuilding & Balance

Coming out on the other side of cancer treatment can be just as traumatic as going into it. It certainly was for me. Going into it was a fight for survival. Coming out has been a struggle to fully see the woman staring back at me when I look in the mirror.

Many people, myself included, approach finishing cancer treatment with the attitude of, “You made it, so everything is great.” It is great, but it’s different, and that takes some getting used to. My boyfriend refers to the pre-cancer me as “Allison 1.0” and the current me as an “upgrade.” The first time he said that, I thought it was sweet. Now I’ve come to realize that in his words, he is really on to something. I did get an upgrade. It’s wonderful, but like all upgrades, it’s new. I have to figure out my operating system and how it works and that doesn’t happen overnight. In the day-to-day of understanding how it works now, Pilates has been incredibly helpful. It’s one of the things that evolved with me through treatment so I’m not having to play catch up and figure it out. It’s actually helping me figure out who the new me is. Just today, I woke up a bit overwhelmed. But when I went to class, it cleared the path to give me focus on what I’m doing now and what’s important in this moment. It’s a beautiful day.

Allison attended SPX Fitness Pilates Plus by Sebastian Lagree for the three years leading up to her 2011 diagnosis. She continued her workouts through the process and is still there today. Having learned so much from each other, Sebastian is featured in Allison’s newly released documentary What The F@#- Is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It? They both will appear in Sebastian’s feature documentary The Future of Fitness, which is currently in production.

Please always remember to talk with your doctor about exercise during treatment. All of our bodies are different and we need to do what’s best for us.

Allison W Gryphon and Sebestian Lagree


Read More