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Posted by on Sep 25, 2013 in Anatomy & Physiology, Body & Mind, Stress | 0 comments

Just Breathe

Just Breathe

Without getting too personal- last Monday I was in a car accident. I’m fine (!) however, the process I went through really gave me reason to pause and consider breathing (among other things of course).  This consideration is nothing new- most of us know how important our breathing is but it was only after reflecting on how my body responded to that stress that I experienced the relevance.

Without thinking about it- to calm myself down I was taking long exhalations… through my mouth. Now- having just spent a long 18 months doing my Yoga teacher training where the use of breathing through your nose is the key, it made me think… is teaching an exhalation through the mouth more calming for someone in a stressed lifestyle such as an addict- could it be more effective and indeed more relaxing?

Perhaps I’m asking a simple question and I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to support all types of breathing to be of benefit but it just got me thinking and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Breathing has numerous effects on the body, in particular the central nervous system, this is due to the encouragement of deep breathing which helps to lower the heart rate: implied in newer research which suggests that by slowing the breathe one can ‘have a significant impact on the heart rate variability’(E. Jovanov2006 University of Alabama) thus synchronising the homeostasis of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.

By supporting the education of a positive coping strategy one could aid the recovery of addiction (at the appropriate stage) or at least the underlying reasons for a person’s addictive behaviours such as depression or anxiety.  Also, as discussed by Donna Farhi in The Breathing Book, pg 6, “Correlations between breathing and the state of our body and mind have been made for thousands of years”.

By educating individuals on the benefits of relaxed breathing could greatly reduce the detrimental effects of the stress response often exacerbated by daily life. This could work to support the recovery of addictive mentalities and also act as a preventative method. Not only would this benefit the body in terms of its physical structure but it would “enhance the cellular, hormonal and psychological processes” ( P.B.F Nixon, Human Functions and the Heart, 1989). Through breathing, neurotransmitter secretion is controlled which in turn develops the nervous system. It can also increase GABA and serotonin levels, positively impact the hypothalamus and successfully increase the ability to control the sympathetic function (Kumar, A. 2012. The Research and Development Institute Journal).

Additionally, let’s think about the relevance of Vagus nerve stimulation. At least 80% of the Vagus nerve fibres are afferent, meaning the body sends messages to the brain. Therefore one could assume that by encouraging deep breathing, one would then have the ability to further induce relaxation (Porges, S. 2001. International Journal of Psychophysiology).

For me, the interesting point in all of this is that exhaling through the mouth could be a more instrinsic, natural response and proof to be a greater link in relaxing and therefore inducing a more consistent parasympathetic response amongst those living with addiction.

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Posted by on Sep 10, 2013 in Beginners, Body & Mind, Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates: A Good Exercise for Every Desk Employee

Pilates: A Good Exercise for Every Desk Employee

Working in an office environment poses certain health risks. Sedentary desk jobs can cause back pains, muscle aches, and joint problems. There is an increasing number of work-related illnesses because people ignore these symptoms and fail to remedy it. Aside from physical illness, working in an office can also cause stress. Office pressures such as a looming deadline or a demanding boss are damaging to the mental health. A good way to help the body fight and cope against these ills is by practicing Pilates.

The Risk: Office Desk Job

Studies show that prolonged sitting can disrupt metabolic functions resulting to increased cholesterol levels. That is why people living a sedentary lifestyle are at risk of heart-related problem. Bad and rigid posture can also hurt the muscles and bones around the back and neck. Here are a few of the health problems that office workers often suffer from.

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – People often suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome because of too much. The repetitive action of their hands can cause damage to the nerves, muscles, ligaments, and bones in the wrist. The illness can cause pain, numbness, and itching to the affected area.
  • Lower Back Pain – Prolonged sitting can injure the spinal column and lower back muscles. It is the usual reason for absences by older employees. Aside from prolonged sitting, bad posture can also cause backaches. These factors can create stress in the muscle and bone areas in the lower back that will also affect other parts of the body.
  • Joint Pain – Being stationary for a long time will decrease the efficiency of the joints. A particular joint, the hip flexors, will experience tightening and shortening if they remain static for too long. This will create stress and pain on the lower region of the body.
  • Stress – Work-related anxiety is recognized as a medical condition that can have long term consequences. It can lead to debilitating illnesses such as stroke, fatigue, and restlessness. Common factors that result to stress, are deadline, workload, management, colleagues, and even the physical environment.

The Solution: Pilates

The most practical solution for this problem is to allot a time for exercise or an active recreational activity to give the body the necessary strengthening that it needs. Pilates is a popular form of exercise that can help in strengthening stabilizing muscle cores. These muscle cores are responsible for providing the correct alignment of the spine. It is a form of physical therapy that stretches and strengthens major muscle groups while promoting good body balance. Here are some of the significant benefits of Pilates.

  • Increases Flexibility – Pilates enhances spinal flexibility. The spine should be able to curve and twist smoothly. There are Pilates’ moves that rehabilitate and increase spinal movement.
  • Strengthens Core – One of the main targets of Pilates is to increase abdominal and torso strength. It trains the body so that the core muscle groups will coordinate efficiently.
  • Decreases Stress – Stress is a chemical imbalance that is often characterized by fatigue. Through Pilates, the body would be able to take more pressure and be more resilient against external influences. It is proven that Pilates is effective in coping with anxiety.
  • Promotes Correct Body Posture – Pilates help in increasing awareness towards body posture. The exercise teaches correct body posture for sitting, walking, and standing. It provides a more intrinsic appreciation towards different parts of the body.

Exercise is necessary to create a more balanced lifestyle, and Pilates is a good start in living and promoting a healthy and meaningful work life.


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Posted by on Jul 9, 2013 in Body & Mind, Featured, Pilates, Stress | 0 comments

Stress – In The Long Term

Stress – In The Long Term

My previous blog Stress – Can It Be Good? described the stress response and how it is ideal for short-term, immediately stressful occurrences nowadays most stress is psychological and long-term rather than physical, and short-term. Think worrying about your child growing into a rebellious teenager versus escaping a lion.

In long-term stress, the stress response remains switched on for extended periods which is not good for your health.

The stress response increases heart rate and blood pressure which can cause damage to blood vessels, this, over time, increases the risk of blood vessel blockages, heart disease and stroke.  The excess energy provided to the blood in response to stress needs to be burnt off or you risk developing type II diabetes.

Stress decreases digestion and immune function, leading to increased risk of stomach ulcers and digestion issues, plus more chance of become ill and succumbing to infection. Additionally, pain perception and inflammation is decreased. This last one may sound great at first- but consider the fact that pain is there as a warning that you may be damaging yourself, and if you do hurt yourself then inflammation is a necessary step in the repair process of your body – so you might actually want to hold on to both of those.

It is enough to make you stressed about getting stressed!

Thankfully, there is something you can do about it – and it isn’t just about removing what is causing you to be stressed – though that would be the most useful thing to do, so you may want to try that first. However, if you can’t remove or get rid of the stressor- after all no matter how stressful your kid may become you probably want to keep them – then Pilates can help.

Pilates can help with burning up the excess energy released which can be problematic if not used. It can also increase the production and circulation of immune system cells- helping to rectify the decrease it’s functioning due to stress.

Pilates gives you an opportunity to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous which is responsible for slowing the heart rate, dilating arteries and resuming normal digestion. This is activated when exhaling, therefore encouraging lateral breathing and a slow, long exhale will allow the parasympathetic nervous system a chance to return the body (at least for a short time) to normal functioning. However, proceed with caution- forced breathing patterns may cause more damage than good, especially when linked to existing medical conditions.

Having to focus on a Pilates class may be enough to distract from whatever is causing the stress, which should switch off, or at least decrease, the stress response. But be careful of suddenly incorporating an extremely challenging exercise, as this may be enough to activate the stress response again. It is a fine line – enough of a challenge to distract, but not enough to cause stress!

Despite the benefits of exercise in dealing with the symptoms of chronic stress symptoms, these are often short lived. Exercise will blunt the stress response for up to a day after class. If the stressor is still present the stress response is likely to return to the level it was before Pilates. Therefore, where appropriate, encourage your clients to repeat some exercises outside of class and encourage clients to engage in other exercise.

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Posted by on Jun 22, 2013 in Becoming a Teacher, Body & Mind, Business & Education, Freelance, Owning a Studio, Stress | 0 comments

State of Mind – Still Busy

State of Mind – Still Busy

Since the last blog State of mind 2 fast I have taken the time to find solutions to slow down my life, be more efficient, less tired and have more time.  Impossible – right? well apparently not,  actually there are people out there who live like that ;).

I spoke to folks around me, reached out to a few professionals to seek advise and two words have repeated over and over: mindfulness and goal setting.

Mindfulness is (source Wikipedia)

bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis, it involves paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, and/or involves a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

..but more on that in the next blog, today is all about goal setting.  The most important thing to remember is, that a bit like with practicing Pilates or any other regular activity, unless you are very motivated and goal orientated you you are unlikely to succeed by yourself, at least initially.   You will need outside help and possibly the support of your friends.   Join local classes (best doing it with a group of people with similar circumstances) or find a programme on the internet.  My sources are The Personal Success Academy and Be mindful online.


Armed with a handy tool like the goal wheel you set up your main goals and rate them from 1-10, where 1 is not good and 10 you are exactly were you want to be in that aspect.  Next, based on the result of the goal wheel you set up goals to improve on the low scoring aspects of your life.  The goal wheel can be used for many different sets of goals, it can be your life goals, work goals or project goals.  The best practice is to start global and then break them down.  Here are some helpful tips from the Personal Success Academy:

  1. Goals must be written down – A goal that is not written down can easily become a vague notion a fantasy or a dream. If you think it, ink it (or type is in this day and age!) and this will engrave them in your subconscious.
  2. Talk about your goals – make yourself accountable to not just yourself but your friends and family or anyone else who may be able to help keep you on track and keep you in a positive frame of mind.
  3. Goals must be measurable – how will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? To set a goal without at least one measure of its achievement is like planning a journey without a destination. Establish a way to measure the outcome.
  4. Assess and review your goals regularly – re-visit your goals regularly to make sure that you still have them in your sights and that you are indeed on track to achieving them. Make this a habit.
  5. Goals must be specific – break down your goal until they became actionable and achievable within the next 24 hours. You should be able to describe your goal in a sentence that is clear and specific. For example a goal of wanting to see the world is too vague.
  6. Goals should be positive – although the subconscious is amazingly powerful, it is unable to distinguish between positive and negative. Concentrate on positive thoughts to help you make the difference when setting out to achieve your goals. For example, focus on what you stand to gain so – “I want to give up smoking” becomes “I want to enjoy the health, freedom and wealth of being a non-smoker”. Avoid the negative use words like “I do not want to fail my French language test” as that keeps the notion of failure in your thoughts, positive language will help keep you on track. “I will pass my French language test with 70% or above”.
  7. Celebrate achieving your goals – when a goal is achieved remember to congratulate yourself and celebrate your achievement!

“Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.” – who said that??

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Posted by on Jun 21, 2013 in Anatomy & Physiology, Body & Mind, Featured, Stress | 0 comments

Stress * – Can It Be Good?

Stress * – Can It Be Good?

You often hear that ‘stress is bad’ and ‘not good for you’, but what exactly is it, and is it always bad for you?

For many years ’being stressed’ was considered a ‘state of mind’ – Fortunately these days what happens when you’re stressed (the “stress response”) is now better understood! Stress may be good for you – but not for extended periods – read on…

Stress is unusual in biological terms – although the causes can, and do, vary between what people find stressful (think anything from first date to being chased by a lion) it usually results in the activation of the same physiological mechanisms- the “stress response” but the stress response can result in different outcomes. This extremely complex pathway involves the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

When we perceive something stressful (some people like first dates and lions…) the brain sends a cascade of nerve impulses through the body via the sympathetic nervous system. This increases processes in the body, through the release of the hormones adrenalin, noradrenalin and ACTH. Adrenalin and noradrenalin are partially responsible for the metabolic changes that occur during stress – including the rapid mobilization of glucose to provide instant energy to muscles (‘flight or fight’), and an increase in heart rate and blood flow. ACTH keeps the heightened response going via cortisol and glycogen. Cortisol initiates the breakdown of glycogen into glucose, and triglyceroles into fatty acids. Both glucose and fatty acids are used as energy sources, making the blood energy rich and ready for ongoing vigorous activity. Furthermore, cortisol inhibits inflammation. All of these responses are beneficial if a physical response is required (some people want to run from first dates and lions).

Endorphins are released and   – with an impact similar to morphine, opium and heroin – the perception of pain is reduced. For a brief period (approx. 30 mins) the immune system is improved (due to the release of ACTH) but digestion levels drop (due to a reduction in stomach acid and reduced blood flow to the stomach).

A small amount of stress appears to be beneficial to brain function. Although not completely understood, it is thought that an increase in adrenalin and glucose facilitates the formation of memories and increases alertness and danger recognition.

And there you have it – the “stress response” is many responses – some bodily functions are increased, while some – generally those that are not immediately useful are ‘put on hold’. The stress response is a form of efficiency drive – there is no point worrying about producing children and digesting a three course meal if you may not make it through the next 10 minutes!

So, stress in itself is not bad and neither is the stress response! It is probably even downright useful when faced with a lion, but the stress response is designed to help you tackle immediate physical dangers – not long term psychological or emotional situations. If the stress in your life is more long term issues this may result in the stress response being ‘switched on’ for extended periods, which is not what it was designed for and which can have detrimental effects. These effects will be discussed in the next blog – When Stress Goes Bad. 


Stress*- is ‘any factor that threatens the health of the body, or has an adverse effect on its functioning, such as injury, disease, overwork, or worry.’ (Oxford Medical Dictionary)

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