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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


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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.


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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 🙂

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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


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Posted by on Aug 22, 2013 in Body & Mind, Featured, Health, Nutrition | 0 comments

Understanding Menstrual Pain & Natural Relief

Understanding Menstrual Pain & Natural Relief

Most of us dread that ‘time of month’ where we feel fatigued, hormonal and worst of all incredible pain. I always try to understand feelings of discomfort as messages from my body trying to tell me something is imbalanced.

A basic understanding of menstruation

  • Menstrual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus. During each menstrual period, if there is no sperm to fertilise the egg, the uterus contracts to expel its lining.
  • It is these uterine contractions that cause much of your pain. Contractions inhibit blood flow to the lining of the uterus. When the uterus contracts too strongly, it presses against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus. Pain usually results when part of a muscle briefly loses its supply of oxygen.
  • Conventional pain medication is potentially effective but can have negative side effects on your digestive, nervous and cardiovascular system. Hormonal birth control is also regularly prescribed but interferes with your normal hypothalamus/pituitary/ovarian hormonal axis to prevent ovulation, aka not natural.

Natural prevention & remedies

  1. Hormones. Most menstrual conditions – cramps and heavy bleeding – are caused by an imbalance of hormones. When you are deficient in certain nutrients, your hormonal health can suffer. Start by implementing whole, plant-based foods into your diet and you’ll certainly notice a difference.

  2. Toxicity. Environmental toxins and stress can also play a part in your hormonal imbalances. If there are toxins in your bloodstream, your body will use any opportunity of an open ‘wound’ or menstruating uterine wall to expel as many toxins as possible. Removing toxic conditions involves a series of cleansing periods with a diet rich in raw, plant-based foods, fresh vegetables juices (link:, fresh, organic fruit, sprouted seeds and nuts.

  3. Acidity. Over-acidity is another condition that can exacerbate menstrual pain and heavy flows. If you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, chemical sensitivity, food allergy or candida, your metabolism becomes inefficient and produces too much acid. This causes increased pain, inflammation, bleeding and swelling. Alkalising your body with fresh fruits and vegetables is a great start.

  4. Oxygen. And of course, anything that helps bring oxygen to your muscles is going to be a soothing remedy for menstrual cramp pain. This can include anything from exercising, acupuncture, massage, warm baths, yoga, sleep and heat pads.

If you still suffer from menstrual cramps and you follow a healthy, plant-based diet, another thing to consider is your digestive health. When I refer to digestion, I’m talking about your body’s ability to break down the food you eat and convert it into usable energy. Normally, we should eat food one day and the waste from it should be expelled the very next day. More commonly, it takes three days on a typical western diet.

Restoring digestive health

  1. Healthy fats. Incorporate healthy fats into 30 – 50% of your diet. Some examples include coconut oil, nuts, seeds, flax and chia.
  2. Chlorophyll. Increase your intake of chlorophyll (link: It has high levels of vitamins A, C and E, has a strong antioxidant capacity and has also been found to help reduce inflammation.
  3. Bioflavonoids and carotenoids. These are the yellow, orange, red and purple pigments in fruits and vegetables. They strengthen the capillary walls and ensure rapid wound healing.
  4. Fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatories that can help with cramps as well as bloating.
  5. Magnesium and calcium. They are two nutrients that help reduce muscle soreness, tension and can help lessen menstrual symptoms. Magnesium helps to deliver much needed oxygen to cells and tissues, bone formation, nerve and muscle function. It’s also critical for your cardiovascular system, digestive system, nervous system, muscles, kidneys, liver, hormone-secreting glands, and brain.
  6. Maca root. A cruciferous root found in Peru, it has been traditionally regarded as providing strength and endurance, enhancing fertility, and supporting pregnancies and menstruation.

Do you suffer from painful menstrual cramps? Are you willing to try some of these remedies?

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Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Body & Mind, Health, Nutrition | 0 comments

Juicing 101

Juicing 101

When my clients ask me what they can do today to improve their health, I tell them to start juicing! Juicing allows you to get all the necessary nutrients from your fruits and vegetables in a quick and convenient way. Juicing also improves immune function, digestion, allergies and chronic dis-ease. Learn more about the health benefits of juicing, the type of juicer that is best for you and an easy green juice recipe!

Here are some of the reasons why I prescribe ‘a juice a day’:

1. Weight Loss. Rich in antioxidants and vital enzymes, juicing can cleanse your body of stored waste and toxins that interfere with proper organ and cell functioning.  Often, people struggle with losing weight (even when they follow a super healthy diet) because their systems are backed up with toxins. Antioxidants in raw vegetable and fruit juice bind to toxins and flush them out of your body. During this process, the body is able to release fat cells that were storing toxins to protect tissues and organs. Drinking two glasses of fresh fruit and vegetable juice in addition to following a whole, plant-based diet can not only detoxify your body but also gives you the required nutrients to help you shed weight.

2. Nutrient Dense. Juicing offers an abundance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and antioxidants – nutrients that increase the micro-electric potential of your cells. This improves the body’s use of oxygen, so your muscles, tissues and brain all feel energised.

3. Disease Prevention. When you consume fresh raw juice, along with eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, your whole internal environment shifts to a healthy, balanced state. When your internal system is healthy, your cells, organs and systems are able to do the jobs they were designed to do. A healthy bio-terrain is key in preventing a dis-eased body and improving digestion, cell growth and immune function.

Ready to give it a try at home? Here’s some help on choosing the right juicer for you.

Centrifugal juicers are typically the most common type. They use a fast cutting blade that spins against a mesh filter, separating juice from the fruit or vegetable’s flesh (via centrifugal force). Thereafter, the juice and pulp are separated into different containers. One of the downsides of centrifugal juicers is that their fast-spinning blade generates heat, which damages vital nutrients and enzymes present in your fruit and vegetables. The heat also oxidizes those ingredients, making them less nutritious.

Masticating juicers extract juice by chewing, crushing and then pressing the fruit and vegetables for the highest, most nutritious juice yield. Because they produce minimal heat, they maintain more of the original nutrients of the fruit and vegetables. The juice you make from a masticating or cold press juicer is more like the juices you’ll get from a professional cleanse company like Plenish. The L’Equip Omni Juicer ( or the Hurom Slow Juicer ( is great as well.

You have the knowledge, and now you have the juicer. How about a simple, delicious and super healthy green juice recipe?

1 large cucumber

1 handful of kale

1 handful of spinach

1 green apple

2.5 cm of ginger

½ a lemon

Juice, stir and enjoy!


x Natalie

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