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My neck, my back, ... my ... WAIT NO! NOT like that!

Week of May 27th

Hi my Oaks, Strong Sycamores, Whimsy Willows ... IMPATIENT PLUMS!

Last week we went into deep unchartered shaky shaky territory. Lunging, curling, planking, piking, crane kicking bosu balancing! Moving from angles and on surfaces that your muscles might still be recovering from. This week we will move like trees, but specific to YOUR tree. Just like our bodies, there are many different types of trees out there. Also just like our bodies, how a tree is shaped, pruned, naturally grows, makes all the difference on how much it can withstand in life. How well it can endure unpredictable outside forces. My goal is by the end of this week's workouts you will identify your type of tree, be proud of your tree (trunk and all), and start appreciating the places that have kept you standing and strengthening the places that need to be more resilient.

I'm not here to talk about trees though. I'm going to do something unprecedented and talk about the body. Like just facts about our body to inspire us to move our body. Instead of some metaphysical fantastical dreamscape journal entry ... or an except from everyday life and the absurdities of living with a 5yr old ... or my observation from deeply invested obsessive bird watching ... the neuroscience from behind an eyeball and what happens when a certain UV light hits it ... or how lice should only exist as fictional creatures in horror movies and NEVER on our actual heads!! Then somehow draw a ninja spiraled parallel to our pilates practice and tie it into our workout for the week. This time Im not going to waste your time mentioning any of that. I just want to focus on the most vital support and stem (TRUNK) to our body - the SPINE.

You hear many times how Pilates is core emphasized and will also strengthen head to toe. This is because essentially Pilates is isolating the belts and supportive muscles that run along the spine. That spine is LONG and the ultimate phone line that does go from head to toe. This is the neural stuff. A snake-like process of the nervous system that is one of the most important power cables in our body. It connects from the back of our eyes and brain stem, our central nervous system, and threads down through the vertebrae and discs, all the way into pelvic region. Off the main phone line you have these fast working operators, nerve bundles, connecting the callers to where they need to go. The neuro tissue is fragile and soft, and does not renew after damage. Which is why it needs serious bodyguards. Our body is smart in that it realizes how vital the spinal cord is and has quite the protective casing.

The skeletal track, you see running along the back of the hanging skeleton in science classes, thats the vertebrae. Basically the armor for the spinal cord. In between the vertebra are the discs. Soft tissue that makes possible for us to bend side to side, whip our heads around, or twist from the torso. It's squishy and also gives our spine some "give." Like a shock system installed in our body and allows for SOME compression. Now here's where things get interesting. We all have different sizes, ranges, and tolerances for how much our spine can load. Much like a tree trunk it depends on how well our spine is shaped, rooted, and what we are doing to strengthen and provide support around it.

Knowing this helps take the mystery and panic out of back pain. Once you understand the back, specifically YOUR back and what type of tree trunk you are, it's becomes a lot easier to understand what causes it to feel pain, relieve pain, and more importantly prevent pain.

Especially if you are in routine of repeated motor movements. For most of you, living in a tech driven city, that's SITTING. You know who you are. These are the folks that feel behind in their fitness goals and come in apologizing for not moving enough. However, this is a way simpler pattern to unravel and an easier canvas to work with. The stubborn ones are the ones who train and move a lot and have no idea their movements are actually making them smaller, slower, and limited. Because they have no variety in their movement. Their spine is being disciplined to squish and pull in the same direction, and because of gravity and impact over time it's just becoming more fused. These are the friends that claim they do not need Pilates, or any other workout, they are good. They already workout. However it takes that one innocent movement on a holiday weekend, pulling an ice chest from the car and "$&%@*!" You feel like something snapped, came off its track, or unfolded like an accordion that wont retract back. Everyone comes to me saying the same thing "something happened." Well we can finally figure what that something is.

Huberman has an excellent podcast breaking down herniated discs and back pain. He explained a big source of back pain is when the nerve bundles attached to our main cable, the spinal cord, gets impinged, inflamed, or loaded distally from the spine. This is what can cause a herniated disc. When the disc bulges out too much to one side of the vertebra. He talked about his own experience when he threw out his back at the gym. He was actually here in Seattle giving a talk about wellness, and here he himself couldn't even stand. He, along with most people, was so desperate he looked into pain medication to get through it. However he talked to his PT friend who gave him simple movements that will reverse the pressure on his back. IF done in the right direction it actually pushes the bulge back in place. So in Huberman's case a loaded forward flexion is what caused the injury, so any sort of sit up, getting up from a chair, or forward flexion made it worse - pushed the disc bulge back more. So he had him do extensions to move the bulge the opposite way and take pressure off the nerve roots. Obviously if the injury had the bulge pushed the other way, a forward flexion would have been more relieving. Pretty helpful insight on your spine if this ever happens to you, worth counter conditioning instead of immediately turning to medication or surgery.

He also explained understanding the direction of the spinal pull is important, but also what kind of body you might have that makes this injury more likely to happen. Why our body is weak with a specific movement. Yes it's our overall strength. It's also the shape we were born with, what our mama blessed us with. The spine can basically be categorized as thin spine or thick spines.  Then there are spines that are somewhere in the middle but lean towards one or the the other. NO, this is not thin or fat framed! It's the deep structural system, the columns inside you. You can basically tell what you are by looking at your wrists, ankles, and knee caps. If they look smaller, thinner, and bonier you are most likely thin spined. If you have stronger, thicker, broader joints you are thick spined.

The thin spines are like Willow Trees. They can usually bend more easily and retract back without much damage done. However if you hang something heavy from them they will be more likely to droop and snap. They can not load vertically very easily. I am more thin spined and do not love squatting with a load bench press. I really have to work on a wide sumo stance and lots of core strengthening prep to do just one. I also hate heading a soccer ball. Impact or loading vertically does not feel natural. Whereas I could hold a side plank with upper body twists all day.

The thick spines are like Oak trees. They do not recover well from side bends and twists and turns. However they feel very comfortable loading and holding vertically. It also explains why a thin spine might be more likely to hurt their back by carrying too much. Why a thick spine is more likely to hurt themselves because they twisted in a way that their spine was not prepared for. This does not mean we should avoid the moves that don't come naturally, but need to do them more. Condition our body to get used to do those unnatural movements. Thin spines need to focus more on vertical loads. Strengthening around the core and trunk of body to handle weights carried by the body. Thick spines do not have to do as much heavy strength work but they have to work on flexibility, balancing, side to side ranges, versatile moves.

The good news about all this is in the studio we are already doing a lot of this work and relief. We are providing relief for the back, room for the spinal roots to travel in and out of spine, so the communication from brain to body is seamless. Also space for the discs to breathe and move, twist, swivel with ease. Then, as you are well aware there is no mercy with our core strengthening moves. This creates stability around the spine. A sigh of relief from the vertebrae because they now have back up. They can only do so much to protect that vital spinal cord. Especially on these longer holiday weekends when we are out of our routines. I find it's after weekends like this people feel a little beat up - because they did "something funny." Trekking on unstable surfaces with unstable legs, sharp twists reaching for a juice spill in the back seat, hauling heavy ice chests, vertical loads carrying tiny tired bodies on top of your own tired body. If we're not conditioned we don't go into the weekend like a flexible Oak tree or strong Willow tree. Instead we have the delusional ambitions of my plum tree. Where even if we're not ready we go for it. We want to flex our muscles, show off our fruit, only for nature to laugh out us, blow our branches around, and throw our puny unripe plums to the ground.

I guess I did wind up talking about the trees afterall.

Excited to make your bodies sweat, smile, and be strong and sway!




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