We all recognise good posture when we see it. The person who stands a little taller and straighter with ease and grace has good posture. Their spine is aligned, their shoulders are wide, resting down on the back (not up by the ears) and their chest is open. Their head moves freely at the top of the spine without tension and they are easy and agile on their feet.
Most of us were naturally like this, as happy confident children. We often start to lose our good posture as we take on the cares of adult life and become less active and playful.
It is not so obvious to the eye what core strength is. A healthy core goes hand in hand with good posture. Core strength is actually a concept first used by Pilates teachers to describe and explain the synergy of postural muscles and the deepest layer of abdominal muscles that support our torso. In Pilates we work on posture by first activating and training the core muscles. We use the breath to achieve this.
The core muscles are connected neurologically to the mechanics of breathing. We can train our core muscles by becoming aware of how they connect to our breath and learning to control and strengthen that connection.
Core strength supports good posture like the frame and foundations support a house. The better you build these, the stronger, straighter and longer the house will stand. Pilates gives your body firm foundations, great posture and flexibility with strength. It’s never too late to invest in some Pilates core building work to re-enforce your foundations and improve your posture.
Pilates is a ‘who’ and a ‘what’. The exercise technique called Pilates is named after the man Joseph Pilates.
Joe was a practical genius, an inventor and an outstanding teacher who had a big effect on the world of physical fitness training and exercise.
Joe faced adversity several times in his life. Born in Germany in 1883, Joe was an unhealthy child. He suffered from rheumatic fever, asthma and rickets. He was small, thin and underdeveloped.
Joe decided early on to change his life. He studied health and fitness, took up gymnastics and boxing. He learnt anatomy. He watched his pet cat and also analysed the way babies move. He often said later that he based Pilates on babies and cats.
From late childhood and into his teenage years Joe practiced exercises to change his bad health and weak physiology. By his twenties he was transformed; now fit, strong and healthy with powerful muscles and powerful confidence.
The Pilates Method (initially called Contrology by Joe) came from many different health and fitness approaches including self-defence, body building, and athletics. Its popularity has its origins in a twist of fate that found Joe imprisoned during the First World War. Joe taught rehabilitation and fitness routines to the injured, the bed bound and other prisoners, with amazing results. His most famous invention, a piece of fitness equipment he called the ‘Universal Reformer’, he created as a prisoner of war, working in the camp hospital, using bed springs and bed frames.
Today Joe’s Pilates classes are taught all over the world, which was his dream. Pilates mat work is available in almost every suburb and some places are lucky enough to have a Pilates Studio too, such as Turning Tide Studio in Titirangi. You will find ‘Reformers’ in every Pilates Studio and experience their therapeutic power when you sign up for classes.
The greatest threat to our health, in this age of the internet, computer and TV, is not moving enough.
Many people are doing less and spending longer in front of screens. Experts now consider that sitting is the new smoking, and it’s well-known that inactivity is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Sadly, it is not even enough to be a ‘weekend warrior’ if you spend all week at a desk. We need to move for a few minutes in every hour as well.
Our moving calf muscles act as pumps, squeezing the blood vessels and pushing the blood back to the heart against the force of gravity. When we sit, the blood pools in the lower legs. Vital organs, including the brain, are not getting the full flow of nutrients that they need.
Our muscles and joints pump lymphatic fluid around the body. The lymph is dependent on movement to carry toxins out and bring antibodies in.
We also need movement to learn. Our nervous system gathers and organises information physically. We learn better by doing.
The internal organs get a daily self-massaging effect from our diaphragm, core and postural muscles, but not if we sit. Our digestion, for example, can slow down without this effect.
Our bodies are designed to work beautifully with regular doses of movement so get up out of your chair and move ‘til you feel better.
Christmas may not be a time you naturally associate with health benefits, however there are some real up sides to this time of feasting and celebration. Christmas is a time when we gather together and connect with others close to us like family, and we connect more socially in the wider community, in our work places, with our friends and neighbours.
Surprisingly people who lack close relationships carry the same risk to their health as smokers and obese people. Loneliness is literally a killer. The benefits of spending time together and connecting with our loved ones are massive for our mental and physical well-being. Good strong relationships in the community and with close friends and family has been shown to give your immune system a boost and also to guard against the onset of age-related dementia and cardiovascular disease. So, enjoy all those parties and get-togethers, and improve your health as you party.
Another plus we can take from Christmas is that it is also a time of reflection. We tend to look back on our year and our health and our wealth and take stock of where we are and where we want to be. We often start the process of forming our New Year’s resolutions or at least making some plans. As we reflect, if we take a certain attitude, we can also benefit our spirit.
That attitude is gratitude! Counting our blessings, as we say. The habit of being thankful increases our happiness levels right there and then. All we need to do is pause and list for ourselves what we are grateful for in our lives. Doing this at a set time or keeping a gratitude diary helps establish the habit. Talking about the good in our lives with loved ones has the added benefit of increasing our closeness and connection, as well as our happiness.
Wishing you a happy, connected Christmas and a life full of blessings to count.
What are probiotics, and can they help us in our search for good health?
Probiotics are microbe-rich foods or supplements that help our digestion by encouraging the growth of "good" bacteria. We have millions of bacteria living in our large intestine and throughout our gut, and these microbes play an important role in processing the nutrients from our food.
Each person has a unique "biome" or microbial environment in their gut. Our biome is genetic and is also affected by diet, certain illnesses and medicines. When we have taken antibiotics or had a stomach bug the healthy balance of bacteria is lost and our immune and digestive systems are compromised.
Too much sugar and highly processed food in the diet favours certain unhealthy, yeast forming types of "bad" bacteria. These food choices are now known to have a detrimental effect on our ability to digest well and fight infections because of their effect on our biome.
Eating probiotic foods like sour dough bread, sauerkraut and kefir (a kind of yogurt drink) provides a rich source of "good" bacteria and including them in our diet will benefit our healthy biome. Taking probiotic supplements is recommended after a course of antibiotics or after having a stomach bug to restore balance to the gut flora.
The research around the biome is very exciting and may hold the key to whole new ways to fight infection and even control weight gain.
What is it exactly?
Mindfulness is a simple user-friendly form of meditation that is getting talked about a lot at the moment because it has proven health benefits. Studies show the mental and physical health of meditators improves. Stress levels decrease and the ability to deal with stress increases. Less visits to the doctor, less depression, alongside faster reactions and better memory function are all proven effects of meditation. This is a great way to make a positive contribution to your health, as meditation is easy to learn and requires only a few minutes a day to get results.
Although associated with traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is a simple training technique for the mind and is not in itself religious. It does not need to be practiced in any special yoga position or accompanied by music or chanting. It can be practiced simply sitting on a chair.
It’s based on paying attention to your breath. When you pay attention to your breath you will notice thoughts keep popping up and disappearing, replaced by more thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness training helps you see the changing nature of your thoughts and feelings and observe them without judgement. This “mindfulness” is the key to unlocking powerful benefits.
To get started sit on an upright chair, like a dining chair, with your feet planted on the floor and your spine gently lengthening upwards.
It’s good to close your eyes so that you are not distracted and sit in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Switch off your phone for a few minutes.
Rest your hands on your lap or on your legs. Now focus your attention on your breath.
Breathe in and out through the nose, pay attention to part of the physical experience such as the sensation of the belly rising and falling with every breath you take.
Or you can choose to focus on the slightly cold feeling of the air at the tip of your nose when you breathe in and the slightly warm feeling of the air when you breathe out.
Thoughts will interrupt and when they do, gently bring your attention back to the focus you have chosen.
You can start with as little as 2 or 3 minutes and build to around 20 minutes of meditation a day.
Sue shares her 25 years of experience as a professional chore-ographer and 15 years teaching Pilates, helping people to improve their physical health and fitness, correct faulty and painful movement patterns, achieve good posture, grow real core strength and increase their well-being.
Ph 09 816 8825
4 Southpark Business Centre,
South Titirangi Rd,