Wellness

Teaching Clients with Scoliosis 101

HOW TO BEGIN TEACHING CLIENTS WITH SCOLIOSIS

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Keep it Simple

This always helps you get started, no matter your goal 

My suggestions on approaching scoliosis:

While working with a client with scoliosis it is important to remember that everyone is different. What will communicate best to each client will be very individually based on their curves, spine spiral, and muscle reactivity. And of course personality, just like you do with all your clients. But there specifics you should adhere to for safety and to achieve progress in their body. 

 I would caution you to consider carefully if you should  teach side bending, twisting, or heavy springs on the equipment. Most scoliosis clients do not tolerate these movements well in their bodies. That said, with beginning students especially take it slow and ask lots of questions before embarking on the bending, twisting, or heavier spring use. 

Be sure to check in and keep track of clients movement history as you build a repertoire together. To create that repertoire you need to learn their individual muscle imbalance patterns.

These imbalances  will show up as tightnesses and lack of mobility throughout their body, mainly the legs and feet as well as shoulder girdle. The human body seeking balance will create the "proper imbalances" to makes sure that a person can be upright and walking ect. These patterns you discover will dictate their exercise protocol. These tightnesses are a map. They will show a client how to gradually unwind their patterns. 

Avoid typical pilates pitfalls: 

  • Historically pilates instructors without knowing it, have caused more harm rather than good by increasing tightnesses in the body with the understanding they were strengthening that area of the body.By starting systematically and gently teaching clients to contract their TA and spinal erector muscles with their breath is the best place to start. To emphasize my point on the tightness patterns I'll share that the spasms and over tightening that can occur as a result of this lack of anatomical strategy can send a person with scoliosis into horrific spasms. I have had this happen to my body when I was first learning pilates and recovering from an injury and also from over stretching. So be calculated and seek balance. My goal is to train bodies from the inside out to discover their true spine and be able to go back to it. 

  • Being mindful, gentle, and aware will help get the client  past the first phase of training and make sure they are ready to begin strengthening. 

  • Do not ask them to lay on their back with a foam roller! This is a terrible practice that several modalities have instituted for scoliosis. It's not safe for unstable vertebrae , not to mention the twisted vertebrae and vulnerable spinous and traverse processes in such a position. 

Focusing on what makes the body feel good as a whole, like proper stretching, proprioceptive focused movements for knowing their spine, good scapular glide, proper bone rhythms through the hip knee and foot, will set the stage for proper spinal relief for your client.

 

Goals:

  •  As an instructor, the best goals would be

    • Good postural analysis and creating a muscular assessment (what is tight where, and why based on structural rotations in the body)

    •  Considering why patterns are occurring, and perhaps if they are necessary and shouldn't be released

    •  Focusing for a long period of time on a clients core connections (as defined by Marie Jose Blom) and helping your client breath their way to finding them. Help your client notice the mindfulness thats involved in pilates, not just the impressive positions or movements. 

The Mind is Best Teacher for the Spine :

The mind body connection is so powerful in pilates. The feeling of having your body perfectly balanced and being hyper focused is what builds new neuropathways for scoliosis clients. This is the best skill you can offer a client.

This is achieved by asking multitasking of your client in reasonable ways. For example, cuing their core connections and their self corrections while doing movements with lighter springs, pushing in and out slowly on the reformer, using the push through bar to begin to learn to articulate their spine forward, bridging, using an over ball at the mid back for an ab curl....the list goes on... 

 Simply do movements that allow balanced sitting bone alignment all the way to their head and slowly, gently, helping them find their spine. 

Props:

  • HOW TO PROP: You want to prop until the body looks neutral, that keeps things simple. You will know right away when they cant lay down prone or supine comfortably.Or if they sit to heavily on one side of the pelvis... it should cross your mind like this   ( hm, if I prop them on this side then.... or if I cue them to find my touch on their spine here and length up, and let the other sit bone release , then.... ) And go from there. ---> Odds are you are an anatomy nerd & training enthusiast if you are reading this and I have hope that you know your anatomy and you can help a client get into neutral with props ;)! -- But all the same I will share a video soon. 

  • what you prop will either even out the body or make the unevenness worse.... and there you have it, seek out neutral ;) Just like your training taught you. 

  • I teach propping of various kinds depending on if I am using heated props, round props, and depending on what muscles you want to see effort or release.  

  • When using smart spines I place heated wedge into the concavity side to encourage a "dropping" of ribs on that side... it's as if they want to find the heat. I will sometimes have to use another wedge to balance the pelvis after doing this.

  • IF a persons doesn't respond to this ( most people do, its amazing to see) then yes, conventional science that comes from bracing techniques says you should prop the convexity. -- consider though that you are not dealing entirely with the rotation... you are impacting the side shift  aka translation. 

WHICH PROPS TO USE:

  • I highly highly recommend SmartSpine Wedges! They can be heated and used to prop (and they produce great results for teaching proprioception!)

  • My other favorite tools are yoga blankets, yoga blocks, over balls, and Spike balls for foot massages( I use them everywhere). 

  • Or get creative and cut up a yoga mat into triangles , or rolled up "sticky pads" that look like cabinet liners, or folded wash clothes. Experiment and try out different props on yourself. 

 

Above all, keep your scoliosis client focused and feeling and sensing. You just might find that you love working with people looking to learn more about their bodies and live with scoliosis! Because typically they are sooooo interested in learning more :)


The Zone: Discovering the Zone in Pilates as a former athlete

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   The way I experience Pilates reminds me of experiences of "the Zone" as a former athlete. The more I think about this, the more I consider that the mind body connections I find in Pilates are either incredibly similar to my experience with the "athletic Zone" or they are literally the same experience. I would say my experience of the Zone in pilates is more frequent.  A few reasons, outside my own experience , are drawn from the book Mind, Body, and Sport. I'm currently working through a reading list recommended by a  movement teacher I highly respect and I found myself reading Mind, Body, and Sport  by John Doulliard this month. I enjoy how he expands on the experience of the zone in various cultures, ancient modalities, meditation, and modern sports. I was more than curious as he wrote about the dynamic postures and Zone experiences through examples like archery, Vedic wisdom, and running. He conveys the Zone as something that relates to optimum health and access to human potential...  

He defines the Zone this way:

"The exercise high, in which dynamic physical activity coexists with the inner experience of composure and calm.”

And he goes on to explain...

"The most remarkable finding was the reproduction of alpha brain waves during exercise , indicating a state of inner calm. The mind is composed while the body is functioning in an efficient, relaxed way- in the midst of the most dynamic physical activity. The athlete, like mother nature, is doing less and accomplishing more. Our preliminary studies indicate that anyone can experience the Zone or " runners high" at will. This give us a new, uniquely challenging fitness goals. We're no longer content to see how much we can do; we want to know how effortlessly we can do it! "

     

     His description reminds me of when I first began pilates classes and private sessions. I would always hope to find the balance between challenging muscular movement in the midst of focus and calm that had surprised me my first few sessions.  I enjoyed the quiet studio and focus of the people around me. I left sessions feeling strong and relaxed at the same time. The amazing thing, was in almost every session I found that connected strength, movement, and calm. I wasn't sure what to call it. For people who have tried, practice, or teach Pilates I’m sure what I am describing is familiar. And while John Doulliard doesn’t call out Pilates specifically, I think it’s more than fair to say the words dynamic yet calm and focused describes Pilates extremely well.

I love Pilates equipment and moving using closed kinetic chains, the equipment is one of the primary contributors to the accessibility of the Zone in Pilates. It is truly a joy to learn the movements for kinesthetic learners.  I decided to study and completed my certification and soon teaching was amazing as well. I noticed I could encourage students by allowing them the space to focus & feel their movement with subtle cuing. The result was a glimpse of what I believe John is describing as the "the Zone" for my clients as well. The type of experience is not just relaxing it has a very positive affect on chronic pain and muscles that have deep compensatory patterns due to musculoskeletal imbalance. With my scoliosis it became vital to tune into my body while trying to exercise in a way that provide length and balance. Pilates and the Zone were the perfect balance for my body and mind.

   In reading Mind, Body, and Sport I'm grateful for the concepts he weaves together at the beginning of the book. Especially how he expands on the experience of the Zone. He has trained many people to flow easily through their proper ( meaning not over training)  amounts of training while challenging themselves and avoiding the " no pain no gain" methods. John attributes that method to the injuries that cause most people to lose enjoyment of exercise. He also expresses that the Zone is something attainable for everyone.  And could help to bring exercise enjoyment back to those who have lost it.  That is something I can really get pumped about! His ideas come together to create a picture that suggests breathing, awareness, body cycles,  body season type, seasonal eating, and choosing an sport appropriate for ones self are the largest contributing factors. In other words, we can affect our personal enjoyment of exercise and athletics by sticking close to nature.

    Consider a time where you felt you were achieving something in the Zone. It would be a time when the mental requests you made of your body were specific, focused, and flowed. Did you feel stronger and use less effort? If your an athlete maybe you out ran a personal record, scored shot after shot on goal, made that perfect three pointer, or felt that perfect swing as you spiked the ball over the net. Maybe it was more like  a yoga or pilates session seemed to be easier and you were reaching from the inside out to do each movement....

These moments stay with us, and they create new neurological pathways that help train out bodies to "tune in" and out perform ourselves. Remembering them is not just about the joy its about also about a state of being... its almost in describable. 

I have always had an underlying question that is answered by movement I didn't know how to "be" without movement or a sport. So " being" became training. I trained in several different sports at different times in my life. And fairly regularly I sensed a small phenomenon of personal flow and mind body achievement that was outside of average. One evening I served a shut out volleyball game where 15 points were aces. My team maintained possession of the ball and I serve 25 straight points....  I can still remember the feeling of "knowing" before my hand made contact with the ball that the point was going to be an ace. These phenomenal  experiences were things I didn't ever think to describe in those days. I do know I attempted to recreate those moments and would recognize when they were happening.  But acknowledging them was at the risk of loosing the moment... after years of these moments creeping into your athletic game you learn to just be one with it and have a ball at whatever you are doing! And DAMN does it feels good. 

I was one of those avid athletes that knew further sports past my joyful high school ideal wasn't going to happen. I'm 5'3" and my passion let me play the full court! But a bad back and lack of vertical height meant I'd be taking my gifts elsewhere off the court. 

I was ecstatic 8 years later when I began Practicing Pilates.  It has given me back this Zone in an attainable and repeatable way. It was meeting the modality of Pilates that made the connection with my body more clear and frequent, and now that I know Pilates I would definitely stand by Doulliard's opinion. He says,

"A primary cause of the zone experience is increased mind-body integration, the harmonious cooperation of mind and body. Second , the degree of mind-body coordination you develop through exercise is yours- that is, it stays with you all the time, so that you begin to carry that peak experience into your life. ... third, focusing on the process actually brings the greatest success. “ - John Doulliard -

The full body integration, when combined with counter tension and internal concentrated effort creates the zone for me every session. Hell , I can be walking and get into the zone. The amount of information we have in movement science now is incredible between fascia, musculature intelligence, and our ability to enhance the neurological systems effects of movement we are living in the Renaissance of movement!   Jon touches on this point in Mind, Body, and Sport with some detail. I really appreciated how each chapter has smaller segments within it that bring up different topics. Slowly he connects them all for the reader so you see the history of "the Zone" and mind body experiences through his mind. It's as if you are on a short tour to understand the physical factors that affect performance. And of course the main player is the Mind! I admit I opened his book most interested in what he would say about the mind. I was thrilled to learn his perspective on focus. 

“Winning from the inside out means being more dedicated to the cumulative development of mind-body coordination than to momentary victories.”

   My point in sharing all this is to convey the opportunities  that exist in Pilates and the potential it affords each person regardless of fitness level. I hope that more people consider looking to Pilates to learn how to move deeper, smarter, and use their imagination. Wouldn't it be amazing to discover as much potential in each person as possible! I'm excited to have another reference for influencing my approach to mindful movement.

Thanks to Jon Doulliard for his inspiration. Happy Reading. 

 

( side note: In Mind Body Sport , The Author does elaborate on plenty of other topics related to sport training that I didn't chose to write about in my little blog above. I am only trying to relate to the book and respond. Thus I found the main common ground I had with his musings and responded to that. There are suggested dietary needs and body typing was also apart of this book that didn't really grab me. )