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The Shoulder Girdle – A Somatic Approach

Here’s some feedback from one of the workshop participants…
What most stood out for me after attending this workshop was how much
more clearly I could visualize and understand the positioning of my
shoulder blades, the bones of my arms, my ribcage, and my spine – both
at rest and during movement. I especially appreciate how this has
enriched and improved the familiar movements I typically use in ballet
It has been very exciting to apply the tools Danielle shared to my
dancing. I now have a deeper knowledge of how to control and work with
the movements of the shoulder girdle. I am finding I can create more
symmetry in my arms and more freedom from tension. This workshop
cleared up a lot of the clouds in my proprioperception of my shoulders.
It also gave me many new, and better choices, on how to approach
port de bras. Jane Hamaker, dancer and Movement Studio client

The Movement Studio is excited to be hosting Trish Kazun this Fall for a workshop on Gait and Running Injury Free. Trish is a physiotherapist at Envision Physiotherapy here in Vancouver and an expert on gait.

The Importance of Running Technique, by Trish Kazun

As some one who didn’t run for years because “I have bad knees”, I can state firsthand that that is a lousy excuse. Once I became a physiotherapist and started learning about the biomechanics of movement, I realized that it wasn’t that I had bad knees…it was that I had bad technique. The following is a discussion of some of the common problems that give people shin splints, knee pain, Achilles tendon problems, etc (the list is endless!) when they run. read more….. http://envisionphysio.com/blog/category/running/

New class for parents AND babies!

We’ve got an exciting new program starting up at The Movement Studio — Danielle is offering a new workshop called MUMS & BABIES! Developmental Movement Patterning. (Don’t let the name fool you, Dad’s are welcomed, too!) Continue reading »

Chemicals and the skin

There is a growing awareness about the amount of chemicals used in cotton production. According to the Organic Trade Association, “cotton is considered the world’s ‘dirtiest’ crop due to its heavy use of insecticides, the most hazardous pesticide to human and animal health.” And “cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop.” And as cotton makes the transition from field to fabric, more chemicals are used in the process, including “silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde.”

The skin, the body’s largest organ, naturally absorbs toxins in the air, lotions, deodorants and chemical fragrances that we lather on. The skin also absorbs chemicals from the clothes we wear, especially when we sweat while exercising or doing Pilates.

There are several new clothing companies like Prancing Leopard  and Vancouver’s own Skyler clothing that are  coming  out with lines of work-out clothes made exclusively from organic cotton. These products go a long way in helping everyone — from the farmers who are working with the crops, to helping keep watersheds and groundwater clean to taking care of our own bodies.

The Movement Studio encourages people to subscribe to as healthy a lifetyle as possible, whatever that includes. It’s important to remember that being healthy differs from person to person — Pilates is a great way to help keep the body toned and supple while helping with mental focus and clarity. Give us a call at 604.732.9055 to book an assessment to make Pilates a part of your routine.

Pilates gets coverage in the Sun

The Vancouver Sun ran an article last week on the benefits and history of Pilates. It mentions some famous names that were early pioneers of the practice in the 1920s:

“Dancers, George Balanchine and Martha Graham… spoke of ‘going to Joe’s’ to strengthen their bodies and ease their aches and pains.”

Joe, of course, is Joseph Pilates, founder of modern-day Pilates. The practice is still used by many dancers today, partly because the movements help create a “dancer’s long, lean body”.

The article goes on to discuss how the practice can help change the way your body looks, moves and feels. “Pilates strengthens and lengthens muscles at the same time, so it’s different from weight training, which only works concentric muscles. In Pilates the muscles get really long.”

Letting Go and Engaging

Letting go is such a funny thing. Our minds have mischievous ways of trapping us in this ever-changing life. What does it mean when we say someone is in control, under control, out of control, or taking control? Was there anything to control to begin with? My thoughts about control came to me in a workshop 5 years ago with Salique Savage.

We were in partners and were holding each other’s wrists. We were to engage in a movement dialogue where one person would input force the way they wanted, the partner would receive it in the way they wanted and send force back. It was a sort of dance. Salique asked us to move our bodies like sails. Sails use the wind to move the boat.Picture 1The wind can change and we are not in control of what the wind will do, but we can use our sail to make the best out of what the wind is giving us. We had a very hard time finding our sails. Our mind habits, I discovered are also our movement habits. Habits as we all know are very hard to break, so it was not “smooth sailing”.

The movement dialogue often did not sequence well. Some of us moved and moved and moved into our partner seeking some pressure back to work with while the other partner buckled joints, unable to sequence information into them and give outwardly. This often happened when we were afraid to hurt someone or do the wrong thing. The incessant moving person was not waiting to get information from their partner. (Monologue versus conversation) Imagine that relationship. Or, the other thing that happened is that one partner anticipated and tried to help the other partner by moving for them.  This was also disastrous because if I could not take care of myself and let my partner know what I wanted, he had nothing to work with, but himself and my assumptions of him. I was neither taking in his input nor digesting it to form an opinion about it and act on it. Imagine that relationship.

So do we really need to “take control” or do we need to engage in the world in a mindful way that encourages to balance our taking and inner processing with giving and outer action. It can be very hard to stay true to ourselves and stay engaged or attuned to one person or a group.  When you take in information, digest it, form an idea, or impulse, act on it, and realize it didn’t work or it hurt someone, it can be discouraging. Conversely, when you receive information that is disagreeable to you, it may be hard to stay engaged or to fully take in the information and process. We may limit ourselves to new experiences in this way. Sometimes we stay engaged too long when we clearly need a break or a change even.

All of the phrases I had known came racing back to me. “Be with, not for”, “help others to help themselves”, “help yourself first so you may help others”, “it can be hard to live your truth, but there is a rightness to it”. The experience of how hard it was for me to do this in a movement experience was shocking. It felt like I could not stop trying so hard to be right and as a result, I couldn’t be myself. I had thought I was over it, but it was a lingering habit.

Salique did not mention any of this. I love his simple brilliance. It was my own little “aha”. I love how in somatic practice, the teacher can plant one little nugget of information that can vomit into a huge life realization. That is why I continue a movement practice. It keeps me developing myself and likewise those that interact with me and vice versa.

That brings me to the letting go part. I had this dream that a Lion was trying to approach me to eat me.Picture 2No matter where I went, it would find a way in. The dream woke me up, and then I was so much in an alerted state by trying to escape the lion that I couldn’t go back to sleep. In wondering how I would calm down so I could sleep, I though that I needed to get out of the fight state. So I tried to control the dream so that the lion would go away. That didn’t work. Then I realized that I was fighting my dream where it maybe was not necessary to fight. So I decided to let the lion eat me. It started at my legs and worked its way up and I don’t know what happened next because I fell into a very deep sleep. Well I do know what happened. The lion got what he wanted, and I got what I wanted.

Phrasing as Support for Movement

Within each Pilates exercise we can play with Phrasing which allows us to be responsive to clients day to day. In this sense, we have the macro phrasing of the session as well as the micro phrasing of each exercise. With Foot/Leg work we can change our tempo to put the accent at the beginning (Impulsive Phrasing), middle (Swing Phrasing), end (Impactive Phrasing) or have no accent at all (Even Phrasing). Generally speaking, with Pilates we encourage an even quality to movement to facilitate constant sensing as the intent. Especially in the beginning, this is an important quality for experiencing the support for and awareness of movement. Once a client is more familiar and confident with an exercise, we can introduce different phrasing to round out a richer exploration. We can observe whether a client is able to shift their phrasing or whether they are so patterned into moving with a specific style of initiation/action/recuperation that they are unable to make another choice. This is common with some beginners who require encouragement to spend time in preparation, as they tend to skip over this crucial time of having an intention and just want to ‘do’ the exercise.Swing or Even Phrasing may be best to focus on. In this way, preparation is included to maximize initiation and sequencing.

Phrasing in body movement is linked to breathing patterns. Noticing whether a client takes a quick and impulsive inhalation and never pauses at the end of an exhalation will give you information about their tension holding patterns as well as how their movement is sequencing. Bringing awareness to the inherent accents within the breathing cycle creates an opportunity for change in the dynamic rhythm of movement. Our breathing supports our intention as well as the exertion/recuperation cycle. If we are doing mid back series we may call upon an Even Phrasing of breath and movement, whereas if we are using the jump board we may want to access either Impactive or Impulsive breath and movement phrasing. What provides overall ease and efficiency for that client?

Phrasing is one of many rich components of the LMA framework and I particularly enjoy how we can become aware of our preferences and begin to explore other options. I have written about a session’s phrasing as well as how it can be applied to each exercise, but the concept can obviously expand far beyond this. We have phrasing throughout our days, months and years as well as within each minute and second. Our breathing is always a good indication of how we embody phrasing from moment to moment. Becoming aware of breath is an excellent inroad for working towards balance as well as range.


Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) uses the concept of phrasing to describe the how movement is organized via initiation, action and recuperation. In most Pilates sessions we are generally intending to facilitate our client’s experience through a choice of phrasing that resembles a classic arrangement of warm up, developing towards layering concepts and the progression of the material, concluding with a cool down and integration of the process. This would be called, Swing Phrasing in LMA as the preparation and recuperation are equal on either end of the peak of action in the middle.

As instructors, we may choose other approaches to our sessions. Perhaps there is a constant and steady development of the movement experience with no clear accents of exertion. This is called, Even Phrasing. It is an optimal choice for a client who has the ability to work with continued focus and appreciates the ongoing aspect of the work. However, it may not appeal to a client who requires a sense of developing towards an accomplishment. We can meet the needs of a more goal-oriented client by using, Crescendo or Increasing Phrasing which highlights the end as the accent, with all that has come before leading up to a final summation. For example, we may choose intention to work towards moving through Up Stretch on the Reformer in a clear and easeful manner. All that would come before this would prepare the client for doing so-in other words, there is a lot of preparation.

Perhaps our client feels stress and wants to relieve anxiety and restore some balance throughout the session. Using Decrescendo or Decreasing Phrasing would be useful. This might begin with getting them moving in order to sequence out some of that tension (Outer focus), and then progressing towards stillness and sensing (Inner focus). We could have them complete their time with some balancing work on the foam roller or by standing and finding grounding via their feet. In this case, there is a focus on recuperation.

These are a few examples of how we may structure a session based on our clients’ needs. We also need to be aware of our own preferences of phrasing (Do I always teach in a Crescendo manner because I personally find that satisfying?) and be capable to shift in order to accommodate meeting our client where they are that day.

Ski Season’s Here!

The mountains are calling, the highway is improving and ski season is here!Pilates programming focussed on ski conditioning and injury prevention is high on the agenda for avid skiers. We all want to ski fast, react well to bumps and moguls, negotiate deep powder, rebound from jumps, and learn how to best accelerate and decelerate through each turn to get that perfect run.ski

Educating skiers on proper core stability and the key muscles that often get tight, inappropriately recruited or overused due to muscle imbalances can go a long way to preventing injuries. Pilates can address the form, technique, strength and muscle coordination required to prevent compensations and injuries. Controlling the trunk through core stability allows us to respond to the rapid motion, speed and extreme mobility our bodies experience while skiing.

Training the adductors will help us recover when we catch an edge and assist us in keeping the skis under the centre of our body, reducing the stress on passive structures like our MCL (medial collateral ligament).picture-27

Knee injuries account for 1 in every 3 ski injuries, with ACL injuries involved in more than half!

Insufficient control of joint positioning puts excessive load on the ACL, subjecting it to possible sprain or tearing. Learning how to support and control the joints through Pilates will go a long way to preventing such injuries.

Research shows that women teat their ACLs 5-10 times more frequently than men. Many factors contribute to this stat. The predominant ones are imbalances. Women tend to prefer one leg to the other in terms of power and balance which creates single-leg dominance patterning. They tend to activate quads over hamstrings in an attempt to stabilize the knee joint and at particular angles of flexion this quad dominance stresses the ACL. Injuries to the medial or inside of the knee are also high. Appropriate tracking and stability of the knee and hip joints is required and Pilates uses exercises targeting the glutes and VMO muscles to help accomplish this.

The lower back is also often overused and injured. This is generally the result of poor core stability and fatigue. When we ski we need a strong, flexible, resilient structure to be injury-free. Proper abdominal recruitment will help you ski a full day comfortably, with enough energy to enjoy apres ski!

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace and Posture

Amazing Grace

Posture is the outward expression of our inner state.

We express ourselves most functionally when we have the most movement possibilities available to us according to the best use of ourselves.

Good posture is a dynamic balance between gravity and levity. It allows us to push against the earth’s gravity and reach up as an individual; to stand not too tightly and not too loosely. Our posture is programmed around our activities, emotional health and physical health.

Through Pilates we can increase strength, range of motion, better movement patterning, and breath. The practice emphasizes alignment and awareness in order to support the spine, promote optimal posture for each individual, and efficient, easy movement.

Danielle McCulloch and Karen Weggler

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