Anatomy Moment: the shoulder girdle

Shoulders have been on my mind lately.  Sometimes in the rehab and movement world we see themes in our clients, and lately our clients have been bringing us lots of shoulder puzzles.  So thank you all — you know who you are! — for the inspiration of this Anatomy Moment.

What is the shoulder girdle?  Let’s start with that often confusing word “girdle” – we’re not talking shape-wear here.  Merriam-Webster’s defines girdle as “something that encircles or confines.”  I LOVE this definition, in particular the image of encircling, as that is exactly what the bones that make up the shoulder girdle do: they cover a  360 degree range, encompassing the front, sides, and back of our trunk.

The bones.  This picture is looking down on a skeleton, with the head and neck bones removed.  The white bones in at the top center of the image which poke up are the vertebrae which make up the spine.  The long white circular bones are the ribs.  The shaded grey bones, with the exception of the central hexagonal bone on the bottom (we’ll get to that one later) make up the shoulder girdle.

The shoulder girdle is officially made up of six bones: a right and left clavicle (or collar bone), a right and left scapula (or shoulder blade), and a right and left humerus (or upper arm bone).  These bones sit on top of our ribcage, much as a queen’s cape would sit on top of her torso.  Imagine the collar bones as the strings which tie the cape in the front, and the shoulder blades and arms the heavy velvet which make up the cape.  (Most of the cape is behind the queen, while some of it wraps around her sides.  The side parts of the cape are analogous to our arms, the back of the cape to our shoulder blades.)  Because the cape is one unit, any movement of one part will effect the rest:

  • If you tug the cape down in the back, the strings will pull upwards towards the neck.  If you place your fingers on your collar bones, and then gently drag your shoulder blades downwards towards your hips, you should feel the collar bones gently rolling up towards your neck.
  • If you pull the sides of the cape forward around the body, the fabric on the back of the cape will stretch taught.  Reach your arms as far forward as you can – really stretch them out, like you’re trying to grab something just out of your reach!  You should feel a gentle stretch in your upper back.
  • If you were to lift the back of the cape up towards the back of the head, you would get a lot of scrunching of the fabric around the neck, and you may start to feel a connection between your “shoulder girdle cape” and your neck musculature.

Joints: the place where two bones meet.  As mentioned in our foot post, where we have bones we have joints, and where we have joints we have movement.  The joints of the shoulder girdle are unique, as they allow for a huge range of motion unseen anywhere else in the human body.  The simple movement of raising your hand above your head actually involves movement at three joints!

The first and most obvious joint is the glenohumeral joint.  This is where the upper arm bone (or humerus) meets the shoulder blade.  (Gleno- comes from the fact that the part of the shoulder blade which is in contact with the humerus is called the glenoid fossa.)  If you raise your arm from your side to shoulder height, that’s a movement at your glenohumeral joint.

The next joint of the shoulder is the acromioclavicular joint, where the collar bone (or clavicle) meets the shoulder blade (particularly the acromion process of the shoulder blade).  If you were to wear a coat with epaulettes — or maybe just a really good blazer from the 80s with some fantastic shoulder pads — the widest part of your coat would be about where your acromioclavicular joint is.

The third joint of the shoulder girdle is the sternoclavicular joint.  If you find the widest part of your shoulder (right under that fantastic shoulder pad), and then trace the long, thin collar bone inwards towards your midline, right where the collar bone ends is the sternoclavicular joint, where the collar bone (or clavicle) meets the breastbone (or sternum).

Did anyone notice that we have another bone in play here???  The sternum, or breastbone, is the long flat bone in the center of the chest.  It’s located about where a necklace would hang.  Going back to this picture from earlier, it’s the hexagonal bone shaded grey in the center bottom of the drawing.  It’s not an official part of the shoulder girdle, instead anatomists consider it part of the torso.  Thus, this spot where the collar bone meets the sternum is where your shoulder girdle attaches to your trunk.

Find your sternoclavicular joint again, and then move your arm around.  Raise it all the way up above your head, and then put it back down.  Trace a big circle with your hand, all the way in front of you, all the way, up, all the way behind you and back down.  You should feel some movement at your sternoclavicular joint.  While the degree of movement is much less here than all the way out at your hand, you should feel some:  the collar bone will raise and lower with the arm.  We often don’t think of our shoulders starting this close to our midlines, but they do!

NOW!  I would like to come back to the point that the sternum the ONLY boney connection between your shoulder girdle and your torso.  That’s right.  While the arm bone and shoulder blades have muscles which attach to the torso, the only boney connection your arm has to your trunk is that tiny sterno-clavicular joint.  Amazing!

Why is this important?  A boney connection, or joint, is supported by ligaments.  Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissue which bind one bone to another.  While they are designed to allow movement, their main job is to stabilize and support the joint.  For the shoulder girdle, we only have one tiny joint — and one small set of ligaments — to support the wide range of motion our arms are capable of.

This wide range of motion our shoulders are capable of, supported by such a tiny boney connection, puts more of the jobs of stabilization and creating balanced movement on to our muscles.  This is why balanced strength and flexibility throughout the musculature of the shoulder girdle is important, and why Pilates upper body strength work incorporates not just movement of the arm, but full range of motion of the shoulder girdle.  We talk a lot about how to best position your shoulders for optimal muscular control, and what muscles you should be feeling when.  Check out our Arms & Abs: Pilates for Upper Body Strength class on Tuesday mornings if you’re ready to build your strength.  If you’ve been dealing with a shoulder issue and need to restore the health of your shoulders first, try our Therapeutic Pilates Springboard on Tuesday evenings.

Sign up, or see our full group class schedule.

Group Class F.A.Q.

What’s your group class schedule?
We currently have group classes six days a week.  Our most up-to-date schedule is on our Group Pilates Classes page.  If you want to be notified of when we add new group classes, I recommend joining our mailing list.


group Pilates classes, Pilates classes in OaklandDo I have to come to the same class every week?
Nope!  Our classes work on a drop-in basis, meaning that you are free to come to whichever class matches your ability and schedule.

That said, most clients find that coming to the same class(es) on a weekly basis works best for them as they build Pilates into their life.  If you’re going out of town or have a conflict one week, you are free to come to a different class or skip a week.  We want you to build a Pilates practice which works with your life, and while most people find they do that best by making a consistent commitment, we don’t hold you to it – that part is up to you!

How much does a class cost?
Springboard classes start at $35 for a drop in, and then have packages of:

  • 4 for $120
  • 8 for $220
  • 12 for $300

We offer one mat class on Wednesday mornings, and rates for that start at $30 for a drop in, or:

  • 4 for $100
  • 8 for $180
  • 12 for $245

Please note that the packages are promotional, and they will expire if you don’t use them within a given time frame.  See the rate section on our group class page for specifics.
– Why the difference in cost?  The Springboard equipment costs more to maintain, and we can accommodate one less person in a Springboard class.

group Pilates classes, Pilates classes in OaklandIf I buy a package, do I have to come every week?
Nope!  We build in some “cushion” to our promotional packages to allow for the occasional week out of town or scheduling conflict.
–  What happens if I’m going out of town for an extended time?  We are happy to extend the expiration date of your package.  The expiration date is meant as an incentive to help you take care of your body while you’re in town, not to punish you for taking some time away.

How big are your classes?
We pride ourselves in keeping our group classes small.  All Springboard classes are a maximum of four attendees.  Our mat class is slightly bigger at five.  This allows us to keep an eye on everyone, and offer individual attention in the group setting.  We care about helping you make real changes, so this small class size is very important to us.

I’m new to your studio.  Can I start with a group class?
We’d love to have a conversation with you first – give us a call at 510-463-1473 or email info@corpokinetic.com.  Bodies and experience levels come in all shapes and sizes, and we like to make sure that the class you’ll be trying out is a good fit.

In most cases, if you’ve done Pilates before and are injury free, there shouldn’t be a problem with you starting off at Corpo Kinetic in a group class.

I’m new to Pilates.  Can I start with a group class?
We’d also love to have a conversation with you first!  (Give us a call at 510-463-1473 or email info@corpokinetic.com.)  We do have some group classes which are more appropriate for the beginner, including our Thursday evening Therapeutic Pilates Springboard, and our Monday and Wednesday morning Basic Mat and Springboard.

Some beginners really prefer to start their Pilates journey off with a few privates.  If you can take advantage of our Pilates Intro package (3 sessions for $240), you may find that you start your group classes feeling more confident, better able to follow the cues given by the instructor, and getting much more out of the group experience than if you started without private instruction.

I’m working with an injury. Is a group class right for me?
Guess what!  We’d love to have a conversation with you.  (In case you didn’t catch those digits yet, call us at 510-463-1473 or email info@corpokinetic.com.)  Our Thursday evening Therapeutic Pilates Springboard group class was designed for people working with injury, and moves at a deliberate pace, with extra attention to form and proper muscle firing patterns.  However, many factors may influence whether starting with this group class is right for you or not.  Even if you don’t do private instruction long term, you may benefit from both the familiarity your instructor will have with your body if you do a few privates before joining the group, and from knowing what modifications you need specific to your body.

What if I can’t keep up with the group?
I get different forms of this question all the time!  Let me start out by saying: most of us in Copro Kinetic group classes are not athletic-wear fashionistas – feel free to get yourself a fancy new Pilates outfit if you wish, or come in your favorite old t-shirt.  We don’t do Pilates 5 times a week, and we haven’t been doing Pilates since we were teenagers – we’re still learning.  Most of us have discovered Pilates later in our adult lives, and use it as a way to keep ourselves healthy and pain-free.  Many of us started off on our Pilates journey with an injury or pain.  We’re looking to progress in our own journeys and feel better, not to impress anyone.

group Pilates classes, Pilates classes in OaklandNow that that’s out of the way, let’s get a little more technical:  in some cases, an exercise which the group is doing won’t be right for you. While we as instructors do our best to program classes so that exercises are appropriate for those attending, we won’t be offended if you let us know an exercise doesn’t feel right or you’re not sure how you’re supposed to be executing it.  Often when one person asks a question in a group class, the rest of the group is wondering it too.  They’re probably thankful you spoke up!  If your questions is more specific to just you, the instructor may ask you to hang tight for a second while she gets the group moving, and then can come over to you and answer your question or give you a modification if you need it.  Remember, we keep our group classes small so that we can do just this type of thing.  Our goal is to make group classes work for each individual who is there.

I signed up for class, but [insert life event] happened, and I can’t make it!  What happens now?
Let us know as soon as your conflict comes up.  If it’s over 24 hours before the start of your class, all cancellations are free of charge.  Please keep in mind that, since we keep our classes small, the spot you reserve in class means that others aren’t able to take advantage of that spot.  Cancellations made with less than 24-hours notice are charged a “late cancel” fee of the equivalent of one class session.

That said, life does happen, and we understand.  If you’ve been coming to class consistently and cancelling with 24-hours notice or more when conflicts come up, when life takes you by surprise in the way of illness or emergency on the day of your class, please let us know as soon as you can.  Generally we can make an exception and waive the late cancel fee.

What if I’m late?
We ask that you make every effort possible to arrive to group classes on time.  If you are late, you’ll miss the verbal check-in we do at the start of each class, and your instructor won’t know if there’s anything she needs to be aware of with your body that day.  You may also miss the warm-up, which at worst could put you at risk of injury, and at the least means you won’t get the most out of the more advanced exercises which come later.

Sometimes we make every effort possible, and there’s still horrible traffic or an unanticipated tragic parking situation.  If you can make it to your mat within 10 minutes of the scheduled start time of class, please let us know you’re running a few minutes late and quietly join the class when you arrive.  If you can’t make it within 10 minutes of the scheduled start time of class, we ask that you skip this one in consideration of your safety and the disruption others in the class.

I’m ready to go!  How do I sign up?

Online scheduling for group Pilates classesThat link should take you to our online scheduling system.  You can also find this scheduling button on the group class page of our website – bookmark it for easy access!

Have a question not answered here?  We’re happy to help – give us a call at 510-463-1473 or email info@corpokinetic.com.


Top photograph on this page by Bénédicte Lassalle

The role of manual therapy in your fitness program

There went Thanksgiving!  December holidays are just around the corner, and if you’re a planner like me, you may already be contemplating what you’d like to incorporate into your New Year’s fitness and wellness goals.  Whether or not your personal thought process has taken you into next year already, at a time when many fitness advocates will be pushing for more time spent working muscle and elevating heart rates, I’d like to propose another idea:  include more constructive relaxation for your muscular-skeletal system by incorporating some manual therapy.  Receiving manual therapy can help you overcome or avoid injury, and can make the time spent working on strength and endurance more productive.

While most of us are familiar with massage therapy, manual therapy tends to be a less familiar term.  Let’s start with a definition.  What is manual therapy?  Massage and manual therapy use treatments which include kneading and manipulation of muscle tissue, joint mobilization, and stretching.  The difference between massage and manual therapy lays primarily in the intent:  generally speaking, the intent of massage therapy is relaxation, whether achieved through calming the nervous system with the soothing aspects of massage or by techniques which reduce muscle tension.  In contrast, the primary intent of manual therapy is addressing the cause of a specific dysfunction. Dysfunction can cause injury or pain, or in less extreme cases it can lower performance levels, making it harder to reach an athletic or fitness goal.  Manual therapy may include more orthopedic tests and evaluations than you would expect from a relaxation-based massage.  While massage is often done with sheets and oil, manual therapy is more likely to occur clothed, with minimal amounts of lubricant applied to the skin.  At Corpo Kinetic, we use both massage and manual therapy with our clients, as appropriate to each individual’s needs and goals.

Three reasons manual therapy can be a positive addition to your fitness program:

1)  Get an evaluation before you begin.  Want to start jogging, but not sure if that ankle you sprained last spring is up for it?  A manual therapist can evaluate the strength of the muscles you’ll be taxing, and make a recommendation for whether or not they feel you are ready to begin.  They can also help clear up any remaining stiffness or lack of mobility left in the ankle so that it’s less likely to get re-injured.

2)  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Getting excited to start something new, starting off strong, then getting sidelined by an injury not only can set your progress back, it’s absolutely no fun.  While safe training and good body mechanics can take care of a lot in prevention of injury, it’s a rare human who comes with no areas of concern in their body, whether it be the elbow broken as a kid, the knee which acts up every once in awhile, or the back which used to give you trouble.  Getting a manual therapy “check up” as part of your fitness program can make sure all parts are working at their optimal level.  If small areas of muscle tension begin to build up, a manual therapist can help discover what may be off, and help release the problem areas before they become something larger.

3)  Optimal performance comes from a balance of strength and mobility.  If your fitness goals include a “performance” goal, such as running your first 10K, biking up Skyline Boulevard, or improving your golf swing, you’ll need strength to get there, but you’ll also need mobility in your joints and muscles.  For example, your best running time will come when you can push off strongly with the hip extensors, and then have the length in your hamstrings and mobility in your hip socket for the leg to swing forward in your full stride length.  If you’re training enough to get the strength, and not seeing the increases you want in your performance, consider adding some manual therapy.

Anatomy Moment: take time for your fascia

fascia man, myofascial releaseIf you’re like many of us, you may have heard of fascia, but you may be somewhat confused about what exactly it is, or how myofascial release — as performed by a manual therapist or as a self-care technique with a foam roller or pinky ball — helps your body. This article, and our upcoming Roll & Release workshop, is meant for you.

Fascia’s family.  Fascia is classified as a “connective tissue.”  Connective tissue is a large, somewhat convoluted category which includes: bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, blood, lymph, fat, and fascia.  One of the main
roles of connective tissue is to provid
e physical support for the body, and the network of fascia is no exception.

What is fascia? Fascia surrounds all structures in our body.  It is a slippery material which reduces friction and permits easy movement.

For example, as you bend your arm, your bicep contracts, and as the muscle shortens it must glide easily across the underlying muscle and bone and the overlying skin.  If we didn’t have fascia, as we moved our muscles would rub on bone, nerves, skin, and blood vessels.  Think of an old track of carpet in the main passageway of the house which, after years and years of being walked on, has worn down to the threads.  Fascia prevents friction from causing a similar phenomenon in our bodies.

myofascial release with massage ballsWhat is an adhesion?  If there is a problem in the fascial layers and they aren’t gliding properly, the fascia layers will adhere.  While this does prevent friction, it can create problems down the line.  Imagine pushing a shopping cart easily down the aisles – all four wheels spinning equally.  Now imagine that one of the wheels is sticky and no longer gliding right.  Instead of an effortless stroll, you’d be contorted and working unevenly to get that cart to roll in a straight line.

An adhesion is kind of like a “sticky wheel” inside the body.  If one part isn’t moving due to an adhesion, other parts will be moving or working too much, and pain can develop.  Some people feel pain around the adhesion or stuck area, and others feel pain around the part which is overworking.

What is myofascial release? “Myo” stands for muscle, “fascial” is for fascia.  A myofascial release addresses fascial adhesions and tight muscles, working to release areas of tension.  Our rehab trainers use specific orthopedic bodywork techniques to facilitate myofasical release where you need it the most, and may give you techniques to do at home using a foam roller or massage ball.

Ok, I have a foam roller and a pinky ball… Now: How often should I use it? For how long? When will I feel better?  

Rmyofascial release with foam rollerolling doesn’t have to take long, and is actually more effective if you do it more frequently for shorter periods of time than less frequently for longer periods of time.  Keep it simple.  Aim for 5-10 minutes a day on the area you need it the most.  While the length of recovery depends on many factors, I’ve seen significant improvement with rolling every day for only two weeks.


What should I roll?  How do I roll _______?
 You’re in luck!  Just in time to get rid of some of that pre-holiday stress and muscle tension, we’re bringing back our popular Roll & Release workshop on Saturday, December 3rd.  This workshop will include a brief anatomy discussion – before diving into 55 minutes of pure rolling bliss.  You’ll leave feeling better, and will have tools for self-care at home.  Spots are limited – sign up today to reserve yours.

foot pain exercise

Anatomy Moment: 52 foot bones

Feet have been on my mind lately.  Many of my clients have foot pain, and just recently I got back to running after taking some time off due my own bout with it.   I like to start my interest in a particular area with the anatomy – if we don’t know what’s there, it’s hard to be able to treat it!  Way back in the beginnings of my anatomy geekiness, I was fascinated with the fact that a quarter of the bones of the human body are in our feet.  There are 26 bones in each foot, adding up to a total of 52 foot bones.  That’s a lot for such a small part of our body!  If you don’t count the foot, the legs have just eight bones in them – four each.  Quite the contrast.  This month, I share my fascination with the architecture of our feet with you.  The feet are our base, and as those of us living in earthquake-prone areas know, foundation is important.

  1. foot pain anatomyName dem bones.  Let’s start at the back of the foot, by the heel, and work forward, toward the toes.  Here we go!  If you grab your heel, you’re touching your calcaneus (1) – the heel bone is the largest bone in the human foot.  What are those two nobs commonly referred to as the “ankle bones”?  They’re actually part of the leg!  Above the heel bone and below those two knobs, sits the talus (2).  The talus is the true ankle bone, and is the only bone in the human body with no attachments to muscles.  Traveling a little bit towards your toes, you have a group of five bones which, along with the calcaneus and talus, are collectively referred to as the “tarsals.”  These five bones make roughly two rows, and form the majority of the arch of your foot.  They are the: cuboid (3), navicular (4), lateral cuneiform (5), intermediate cuneiform (6), and medial cuneiform (7).  Next up, we have the long bones of the foot, the “rays” which extend to the toes.  These are collectively named the “metatarsals,” and their official singular names are simply the first metatarsal (8), second metatarsal (9), third metatarsal (10), fourth metatarsal (11), and fifth metatarsal (12).We’re  only at 12, but we’ve covered most of the foot.  Let’s plow through the toes, and, amazingly, we’ll get all 26 bones named!  The structure of the big toe is a little different than the four smaller toes.  The smaller toes have three bones a piece, while the big toe has only two.  And yes, each bone has its own name.  They follow a tedious naming structure which describes not only what toe the bone belongs to, but where it is in regards to the other bones of that toe:
    —-> Big toe: proximal phalange of the first digit (13) and distal phalange of the first digit (14)
    —-> Second toe: proximal phalange of the second digit (15), intermediate phalange of the second digit (16), and distal phalange of the second digit(17)
    —-> Third/middle toe: proximal phalange of the third digit (18), intermediate phalange of the third digit (19), and distal phalange of the third digit(20)
    —-> Fourth toe: proximal phalange of the fourth digit (21), intermediate phalange of the fourth digit (22), and distal phalange of the fourth digit(23)
    —-> Little toe: proximal phalange of the fifth digit (24), intermediate phalange of the fifth digit (25), and distal phalange of the fifth digit(26)

    You’ve met them!  Those are your 26 foot bones.  Multiple by 2 for right and left, and you’ve got all 52.  Now that you know who they are, why in the world do you need 52 foot bones?

  2. Why so many bones?  Why do we have so many bones in such a small area of our bodies?  The answer lies not in the bones, but in what exists in the spaces in between them: joints.  Each foot contains 26 bones, connecting to make up 33 joints.  While a bone is a stable, immobile structure, a joint is a possibility for movement.
  3. foot-pain-exerciseFeet like to move it move it.  Spread your toes.  Scrunch your toes.  Pull your toes up towards your head.  Point your toes to the right, to the left.  There’s a lot of possibility for different types of movement in our feet.  In modern life, unless your feet are doing they’re own private hokey pokey, the purpose for all this movement possibility is not immediately apparent.  However, if you think back to your latest hike and the variety of terrain you traversed, now there’s more of a reason for your toes to be able to go up, down, and side to side as your feet accommodate the changing terrain of the trail.  If you were a prehistoric person covering that same terrain to gather food for the day, your feet wouldn’t be wearing shoes, and they would have to mold to the ground to allow for balance and propulsion.  All of those joints in the feet allow us to walk over stones and sticks, clamber over logs, balance on river rocks, AND take long, romantic walks on the beach.  In fact, there are muscles in our feet which only work when we are barefoot. 
  4. foot pain exerciseHow does Pilates work with the feet?  Chances are, if you’ve come in to see us for foot pain, knee pain, hip pain, or even lower back pain, your instructor has had you do some exercises for your feet.  When we wear shoes all day and walk on flat ground, our feet don’t get much movement in those 33 joints.  The result is that they’re often stiff or immobile.  Stiffness in a joint due to lack of motion is often accompanied by weakness in the muscles which are in charge of creating that motion.  This means that most of us, just due to the standards of modern life, have both stiff and weak feet. If you have a great house on a poor foundation, things may not look so great after an earthquake, and if you have a strong core and legs on top of weak and inflexible feet, you may still feel pain or discomfort after putting your body through the stresses of a run or hike.  That ability of your feet to mold to the ground is critical for keeping stress out of the joints “up the chain” from your feet – your knees, your hips, and your lower back.    Thus, traditional Pilates repertoire views restoring the mobility and strength of the feet as key to restoring the alignment for the rest of the body.  The first thing you do once you come into the Pilates studio is remove your shoes, getting those muscles that only work when barefoot active.  Depending on your needs, your instructor may have you roll your feet on a pinky ball, stretch your calves, use the “Foot Corrector,” do footwork on the reformer, work on holding onto the straps in feet in straps on the springboard, perform some ankle isolation on the chair, and a myriad of other exercises.
  5. Don’t I just need better shoes for my feet?  What about orthotics?   In some instances, yes, shoe choice and orthotics can be helpful and can provide a temporary needed support or correction to help alleviate your foot pain.  However, if I thought that shoes would permanently fix the problem, I would be a shoe salesman.  Weakness and immobility in the feet is primarily caused by not getting enough movement during the day, a problem which is made worse by stiff or immobile shoes.  Unless you are working with an acute injury that needs support while it heals, I don’t think that orthotics or super supportive shoes are a solution which helps combat the original dysfunction which lead to the pain.  If we restore the natural mobility and strength of your feet, you’ll have your own muscular arch support, and you won’t need to pay for an orthotic or a shoe to do it for you.If you want to read more about how to restore your feet to better health, I strongly recommend Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman.
  6. foot pain exerciseWhat can I do at home?  Take your shoes off!  Spend some time barefoot to get those muscles workin’.  Roll your feet on a ball.  Put a small half roller in front of the bathroom sink and stretch your calves while you brush your teeth.  Spread and wiggle your toes around while you watch TV, or wear yoga toes.  Or, skip the TV and take a (barefoot) romantic walk on the beach instead.(These are not ads or affiliate links.  These are products I use, find helpful for many clients, and think are easy to integrate into daily life.  Get ’em if you want ’em, and enjoy!)

September Focus: Pre-natal Pilates

This month, I welcome Beth Sanzone to the Corpo Kinetic blog.  Beth is a Pilates practitioner and mamma of two with a third on the way.  She has an inside look at the benefits of  prenatal Pilates for the expectant mother.  Here’s Beth:

prenatal Pilates, pre-natal Pilates, Oakland Pilates, rehab, pregnancy, healthy pregnancyHappy September! Wow. If you’re like me, summer just flew by! That said, the spirit of renewal that comes with fall makes this time of year enchanting, so we’re ready to embrace this new season with open arms. Speaking of all things new, we wanted to shine a light on pregnancy and how prenatal Pilates can be a safe and wonderful way to move your body during this magical time in a woman’s life. Check with your provider first, but the current – and quite frankly, old – wisdom is that it is important to stay active during pregnancy.  In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommends that activities like walking running, prenatal Pilates, and yoga are all great ways to  keep your body moving through pregnancy.  We’re naturally partial to Pilates because it’s a great way to strengthen and lengthen your body throughout your entire pregnancy and there are dozens of exercise that meet the specific needs of your body during each stage. As expecting mamas know, your body changes and what you are able to do each week can change drastically. That said, the goal is to keep moving your body in safe and encouraging ways, to feel strong, comfortable and beautiful. And prenatal Pilates does that in spades.

prenatal Pilates, Oakland Pilates, rehab, pregnacy
If you need more convincing, here are five benefits of prenatal Pilates:

  1. Breath – learning how to connect breath to movement is one of Pilates core tenants. It’s the first principle and the most important for a reason. Breath powers us in amazing ways allowing us to connect our mind to the movement. It’s no surprise that improved breathing would be a natural benefit throughout pregnancy. It serves as a daily compass helping calm the mind that can be riddled with anxiety, stress and fear, which comes naturally with motherhood. And it could be said that breath holds an even more important role in labor and delivery. It’s what gets many women through the beautiful yet transcendent experience that is birth.
  2. File_005Strengthen While Everything is Relaxin’ – During pregnancy the body produces a hormone called Relaxin, which helps loosen ligaments. This hormone is essential in allowing our pelvis to expand during birth. That said, this loosening can also create problems: the combination of lax ligaments and weak muscles can lead to pain and injury. While the ligaments are preparing for birth, we still need to keep joints centered and happy, so it’s important to keep those muscles strong and working throughout pregnancy. Also, labor and delivery can be a process and it takes mental and physical strength to power through. Being active throughout pregnancy can lead to a more peaceful and joyous birthing experience.
  3. Abs, Abs, Abs – Contrary to what one might think, engaging your abdominals through pregnancy is essential. Of course, there are abdominal exercises that aren’t great – the series of five, roll-ups, etc. – at a certain point, but working the transverse abdominis (the deep core muscle that lives underneath the rectus, or “six pack” ab muschle) and pelvic floor can help with overall balance, reduce lower back pain and can help avoid Diastasis Recti (separation of the rectus abdominal muscles). It’s about both maintaining a strong posture during pregnancy and reducing pain that can come along with a growing uterus. It’s like giving your baby little hugs while in the tummy. So squeeze those abdominals, just make sure you’re doing the right exercises.
  4. Stronger Postnatal Recovery – It seems logical, but if you take nine months off from moving, it’s going to take much more time to get back into the health you desire once that baby comes. Not to mention you’re not sleeping and likely not able to exercise as much in the those early months. Now, it’s important to honor and listen to your body during pregnancy, but it’s equally important to incorporate slow, mindful moving. By moving today, you are going to make the postnatal recovery speedier and easier.
  5. prenatal Pilates, healthy pregnancy, strong mamaStaying Sane – Pregnancy is a magical experience. You are growing a human life. It’s beyond words in many ways. However, this experience also brings a flood of hormones and can be accompanied by anxiety, worry, fear, and a changing body and life that doesn’t look anything like it did before. Simply moving your body with mindful breath helps put our wandering minds at ease, at least for an hour or two. Medical experts, doulas and midwives alike all agree that movement is key to overall mind and body health in pregnancy.  Given the varying opinions around pregnancy, it’s a wonderful that’s there’s strong consensus around the value of exercising while pregnant.

Where to start? Start with the basics. Here’s a cheat sheet for some exercises you can do throughout your pregnancy, at home or on the road. That said, the optimal way to add in prenatal Pilates is to work with someone one-on-one or join a group class designated for expectant mothers. Given that you’re body is changing, it’s important to have someone watching how you move and provide manual tips and support. It’s also a great treat to you, your body and growing family. If you have questions about our prenatal programs, please contact us.

September special offer: Are you an expectant mama?  Book your first Private pre-natal Pilates session with us during the month of September, and take $30 off our Pilates Intro Package of three sessions.  Book a “Pilates Private – New Client”, and mention you’re taking advantage of our September pre-natal special!

Online scheduling– Beth

Anatomy Moment: What is sciatica?

Of all the clinical conditions we work with at Corpo Kinetic, sciatica is probably one of the most well-known.  Manifesting often as a literal “pain in the butt,” sciatic pain can be present in the lower back, gluteals, back of the thigh, or even into the lower leg.  However, the cause of the pain is not always the same, and treatment for your sciatic pain should match the cause – not just the symptoms.  

 

Sciatica, Pilates, rehab, nerve roots

A top-down image of a vertebrae, with spinal nerve roots exiting the spinal column.

The sciatic nerve: The sciatic nerve begins where multiple nerve roots exit the spinal cord through spaces between the vertebrae.  In the lower back and sacrum, the nerve roots merge into a thick cable which makes up the sciatic nerve.  This cable then runs through the gluteal region and down the back of the thigh.  Around the back of the knee, the nerve splits into two branches, one which runs down the back of the lower leg in the calf, the other which runs down the side of the lower leg and wraps around to the top of the foot.  The sciatic nerve is responsible for moving the muscles of the calf and side of the lower leg, and for sensation all along its pathway.

 

 

Sciatica, rehab, Pilates

The thick cable of the sciatic nerve as it exits runs through the gluteal region and down the back of the tight.

Some semantics: You may have noticed from our brief anatomical description that the sciatic nerve is long!  Nerve pain can be felt if a nerve is impinged at any spot along its pathway, meaning that pain in your sciatic nerve could come from an impingement way up in the upper back, in the gluteals, in the back of the thigh, behind the knee, or even in the lower leg. However, true sciatica refers only to compression at the spinal nerve root: way back to where the nerve originates and exits the spinal column.  Causes of true sciatica come from the spine, such as:

 

  • a bulging or herniated disc: the disc can press on the nerve root, causing pain
  • degenerative disc disease:  as we age, our spinal discs can lose height, giving the nerve less space to exit the spinal column
  • spondyloslistheses: in some individuals, the lumbar vertebrae can slip, causing compression on the nerve roots.
A intermediate exercise teaching stability of the lower back and pelvis when standing.

An intermediate exercise teaching stability of the lower back and pelvis when standing.

What do we do about true sciatica?  If you have pain caused by true sciatica, then I want to help you take pressure off the nerve roots by gaining stability and support through your low back and pelvis.  Proper activation of your intrinsic core can help maintain space between your vertebrae, helping keep the discs healthy and give the nerves plenty of space.  What that support, learning to move from your hip joint while stabilizing your spine and pelvis will further protect your spine and take pressure off the sciatic nerve roots.  These principles are central to Pilates, and I have been amazed at the difference they have made in the lives of my clients with true sciatica.  

What if I don’t have true sciatica?  If you don’t have true sciatica, you may still have pain associated with the sciatic nerve – for clarity, we’ll call this “functional sciatica.”  As mentioned above, that nerve can get compressed and cause pain anywhere along its pathway, and that pathway is long!  As the sciatic nerve passes from the lower back, all the way to the foot, it runs alongside, over, and in some cases under or through many muscles.  If these muscles are tight or not gliding properly with respect to the structures around them, the nerve may become impinged or compressed.  When advanced, this type of condition can be quite painful, and you might have what we call functional sciatica.

 

sciatic stretch, injury recovery, Pilates

A stretch which releases tight muscles in the hip which can compress the sciatic nerve.

What do we do about functional sciatica?  The first step to treating functional sciatica is identifying what place (or, more often, places) along the pathway of the sciatic nerve is causing the problem.  A massage therapist can use muscle testing and their experienced sense of touch to feel what structures are tightest, and then release them.  Once the muscles have been released by your therapist, stretches and some home exercises using the foam roller or pinky ball can help continue to keep the muscles loose.

As with all pain, our goals with our clients is two fold: to first, get you to of pain and, secondly, do what we can so that that pain doesn’t come back.  Once the tight muscles are released, we need to build strength in the surrounding muscles to create balanced support for the area.  Depending on where the tightness was that was causing your pain, your Pilates instructor or bodyworker may recommend exercises such as:

  • core work to support the pelvis
  • bridges and glute work to balance the gluteal muscles
  • footwork on the reformer to build balanced quadricep and hamstring strength, or to build strength in the ankles and feet

A final note:  We hope you find this information helpful and informative!  If you have pain which you think may be coming from your sciatic nerve, keep in mind that while your Pilates instructor and massage therapist can assess you and treat what we find, only a doctor can give you a diagnoses.  Please see a doctor if your pain is severe and book an appointment with us to help you get out of pain and back to your life.

Online scheduling

 

 

 

–  Julia & the Corpo Kinetic Team

self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation

Unwind for Summer: Roll & Release workshop is back

Roll & Release:

self-massage techniques for pain reduction and relaxation

If you use your body – and that’s all of us! – chances are you have a few areas of tension, be it hips, back, or neck and shoulders.  Our bodies need physical activity, and just as much they need to rest and restore.  Self-massage is a great solution when your body needs a little TLC.

Many of us have a foam roller, and you may even have a pinky ball or other massage ball.  However, most of us probably don’t use these tools as often as we think we “should.”  Reinvigorate your self-care and jump into your summer with a restorative intent – take a Roll & Release workshop!

This popular workshop is back for summer with one date only.  Space is limited, so sign up now!

Roll & Release: self-massage techniques for pain reduction and relaxation

Sun, Sept 10
11am – noon
Sign up.

$35 – single workshop
Current group class package can be used for rolling workshops.

self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation   self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation   self-massage, pain reduction, relaxation

  • Maybe you know how to use the foam roller on your legs, but you’ve been feeling neck tension these days and aren’t sure how to address that.
  • Maybe you have a full arsenal of techniques, but lately your roller has just been gathering dust and you need to remind yourself of the good effects of rolling.
  • Perhaps you are new to foam rolling and want to know what it’s all about!  Sign up and find out.

Regardless of your current relationship with self-massage, this workshop can help you reduce pain and muscle tension.  If you can’t make it on Sunday July 10th, contact us to request a workshop at a later date.

Instructor Spotlight: Meet Janet!

Janet Collard is a dancer, Pilates instructor, and all around fantastic person who I am happy to have at Corpo Kinetic.  Janet teaches group classes on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, and works with private clients as well.  Janet teaches complex exercises in such a way that her clients accomplish them with ease and grace, and her classes are challenging, fun, and feel so good!  Check out Janet’s group class schedule, or sign up for a private session with her.

Q:  How were you originally introduced to Pilates?  
In college, at California Institute of the Arts.  Our ballet teacher was certified and we also had a Pilates mat class taught by one of the Pilates elders, Jillian Hessel.

Q:  Do you have a favorite exercise or technique which you just love to do?  Why is it your favorite?  The practice of strengthening my core while remaining in neutral spine/pelvis is very powerful for me.  I get an activation of the pelvic floor and a real strengthening of my core front to back.  One of my favorite exercises is Carolla’s Breathing.  It always makes my back happier.

Q: Why did you decided to become an instructor, and what is your favorite part about teaching?
After getting an injury while dancing, I sought out Pilates for rehab and cross training.  It reinstated how great this work is for all people, which motivated me to want to teach it to help others feel better and stronger and more confident in their bodies.

Q:  Joseph Pilates is quoted as saying “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”  As a dancer and Pilates instructor,  you are quite fit!  Of all the ways to obtain fitness out there, what draws you to Pilates?
Because Pilates is a holistic form of exercise, it will work your entire body.  Often people think they have to move really fast and repeatedly to get in shape.  While we do need cardio in our lives I find that our obsessive workout culture can overdo it.  Pilates is a way to come back to the basics of alignment, form, and breath to be able to move forward in your workouts more mindfully and therefore keeping you healthy and active for longer.

Q:  And on that dancing note – when can we next see you perform?  I will be performing in the Bach Project in May at the San Francisco Community Music Center!  You can get more information at my website: www.janetcollard.com

Anatomy Moment:  What is the core, really?

“Engage your core!”  You’ve probably heard this over maxim over the course of your life, whether in a group fitness class, at your Pilates studio, or maybe from your doctor advising you on how to safely lift those heavy items.  Even in the Pilates studio, where we’re known for core strengthening, what exactly we’re strengthening can be misunderstood, which brings me to today’s Anatomy Moment.  What is this elusive core?

The Intrinsic Core.   The intrinsic core, AKA intrinsic stabilization system, is most often what is meant when fitness instructors yell out “use your core!”  While “core” most often brings to mind images of abs, the intrinsic core is actually a group of four muscles, and only one of those is part of the abdominals.

The intrinsic core is:
1) Your transversus abdominis.  The deepest layer of the abdominal wall.  These muscle fibers run horizontally, like a cummerbund around your waist.  Although they are an abdominal muscle, they don’t perform the typical sit up motion.  Instead, when they fire, they draw the abdominal contents closer to your spine, creating support and stability.  In your Pilates class, you’ve probably heard mention of “scoop your belly,” “bring your belly button towards your spine,” or “narrow your waistband.”  All of these are cues used to help you engage your transversus abdominis.2) Your multifidus muscles.  I love the multifidus muscles.  The are tiny muscles which run up your spinal column like stitching, connecting one vertebrae to the next (or in some cases to the second one above).  Like the transversus absominis, the multifidus are deep – they are very close to the vertebrae.  While the job of most back muscles is to create a back-bend, or extend the spine, when the multifidus fire they actually create support, holding space between the vertebrae.  This is a great thing for our spinal discs and nerves – space between the vertebrae allows for the nerves to exit the spinal column without impingement, and for the discs to remain healthy and plump, avoiding things like herniation or degeneration.  In simpler terms, multifidus are great for preserving a happy, healthy back over the long term, and I often see weak or inactive multifidus muslces when a client has back pain.  When you hear “lengthen your spine,” “sit tall,” or “elongate” in your Pilates class, these are cues to help the multifidus muscles fire.

3) The diaphragm.  The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration, contracting with every inhale to pull air into the lungs, and relaxing with every exhale.  In your Pilates class, you are told when and how to breathe, and here’s why: the diaphragm is an integral part of your core.  The diaphragm sits at the base of your ribcage.  In relationship to the instrinsic core, I think of the diaphragm as the ceiling, the transvursis abdominus as the front and side walls, and the multifidus muscles as the stitching up the back.  All we need now to complete this cylindrical support system is the floor, which brings us to:

4) The pelvic floor.  While I’m listing the pelvic floor last, it is by no means the least important muscle of our intrinsic support system.  While most of us are relatively unaware of our pelvic floors in day-to-day life, we use them every day.  Excuse the crude example, but if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic and really had to go to the bathroom, your pelvic floor was contracted and working hard until you finally made it to the safety of a restroom. In daily, less-dire situations, the pelvic floor works with the diaphragm, which is contracting and relaxing with every breath, to maintain a  healthy amount (not too much or too little) of intra-abdominal pressure.  Ideally, this pelvic floor acts as a “pilot light” for the transversus abdominis and multifidus muscles.  As the pelvic floor fires, the transvursis abdominus contracts as well.  In a healthy core, the multifidi will fire at this time as well, and again, I’m emphasizing in a healthy, functional system, all of this will happen and our intrinsic core will be engaged before any arm or leg movements begin.  Ideally, this happens unconsciously.  It is also important to keep in mind that the intrinsic core is a dynamic system.  The core doesn’t bear down, brace, and hold.  Instead it maintains an appropriate amount of muscle tone based on what you are doing.  Less tone should be present if you are sitting on the couch, more if you are hauling rocks out of the yard.
If you have had back pain, had an injury, or tend to sit a lot, chances are this may not be happening optimally for you.  This is why we spend a lot of time in Pilates with very explicit directions for very simple movements.  You might hear,  ” Inhale to prepare.  As you exhale, narrow your waist, engage your core, then float your leg to table top.”  All that just to lift a leg!  The reason being is that we are retraining the core to fire before movement happens.  That muscular anticipation is magical.  It protects our spinal nerves and our discs from injury.  It creates support through the pelvis and lower pack so that we can do big, powerful movements with our arms and upper body.  The core is a big deal.