Why Structural Integration (SI) and Pilates make a great marriage

 

In 1995 I went through my 1st SI 10 series. It changed my life. The most joyful outcome was that I became a dancer. The most fascinating outcome was that I became a Somanaut ( think astronaut but in the intimate inner space of the human body and its movements). I love that term, coined by Gil Hedley https://www.gilhedley.com. If James Lipton ever interviewed me, my answer to “What career, other than the one you’ve chosen…?” would without hesitation be “Astrophysicist” ( In some alternate universe where I can do that kind of math). The awe I feel for the cosmos, that grandiosity that literally sometimes brings me to my knees I also feel when looking into that inner landscape which resides within each of our bodies and is expressed through our movement. I find it to be endlessly fascinating, and that has only grown over the last 28 years.

For the first 2 to 3 years after that first series, it was not uncommon to find me standing in line at the Olympia Food Co-op palpating ( curiously touching with an eye to understanding and visualizing the anatomy) my chest and arms. I’d shift my weight from left to right sensing how gravity was impacting my hip, knee, calf bones, tarsals, and metatarsals ( fancy names for foot bones). I was never bored! At “Town Tubs and Massage” where I worked I’d extend my arms above me on the wall and lean my chest through the frame of my humeri ( upper arm bones) to stretch like a cat.

I’m still “that guy” on the airplane who gets up several times on a long flight to walk “laps” up and down the aisle. I stand near the bathroom stretching my hip flexors and upper back or dropping my hips as I flex one foot and stand on the ball of the other then alternate back and forth. I have a whole seated routine that I do if the seatbelt sign is on. I’ll always choose a window seat if it’s open so “Sorry-not sorry” seat-row mates. It’s not good to sit for that long, especially in those scrunchy airplane seats. So excuse me for disturbing your 4th viewing of “Crazy Rich Asians” or whatever the latest Marvel explosion fest is but y’all could benefit from some movement too!

About a decade after that first SI series, I got turned on to Pilates and it was another “come to Jesus” experience. My instructor was as fascinated by all these subtle shifting movements and awarenesses as I was! Not only did I meet a kindred spirit that day but there were more of us. Lots more! All over the world, actually. In 2010 I started training and working as a Pilates instructor. 

A year later I attended a Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries (FAMI) https://kinectededu.com/fami/ in Manhattan. My Pilates teacher, who was now a friend, and I rented an Airbnb on East 96th a few blocks from Central Park. In the morning we would walk up to Mount Sinai Hospital and view and touch cadavers that had been meticulously sculpted to illustrate the anatomy we had just heard a lecture about. The speakers were world-renowned surgeons and anatomists like Dr. Jeffery T. Laitman Ph.D. https://profiles.mountsinai.org/jeffrey-t-laitman and Dr. Joy S. Reidenburg https://profiles.mountsinai.org/joy-s-reidenberg- who you may have seen on the Discovery talking about similarities between whales, humans, and other species.

 After class, we ventured around the city. We meandered around Central Park as the fireflies emerged at dusk. Like children under the spell of the pied piper, we were lured to a lovely nook by an Irish band playing a jig on fiddles and guitar. We encountered a few West African drummers busking on the Mall. I danced into their circle once I heard them play a break from a familiar rhythm. My friend had lived in New York for a few years as a young dancer, so we wandered around the city admiring the architecture and seeing her old apartment buildings. We went down to the village to meet up with some of her dance friends and shopped at boutiques in Chelsea. I still sometimes daydream about another chance encounter with one of the most handsome men I’ve ever seen who was kind enough to take a break from his daily run around the Jackie O Reservoir to give me directions in his lovely voice which was tinted by a Turkish accent.

Ok, at this point I was hooked. This was part of my JOB! And it was even a tax write-off!!! In the decade-plus since that first continuing education trip I’ve had dozens of others that have taken me to North Beach and the Presidio in San Francisco, the rolling hills of Marin and Sonoma Counties, the beautiful landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, and to the spot dearest to my heart- the midcoast of Maine.

My love for work in this field has taken me far and wide on adventures across this beautiful country but the BEST thing about it is that the real adventure is a journey that you can have anywhere. It’s such a thrill for me to move my body, to touch other people’s bodies, and to watch them move. It’s an honor to work with a client who comes in with pain perhaps even with a surgery date scheduled and after 3 months of weekly hands-on SI sessions that pain has diminished and all but disappeared. That surgery is no longer needed. I have been moved to tears by watching women who come into my Pilates studio saying things like“ I don’t like the way my body looks.” “I don’t feel comfortable in my skin. “ My sex life is flat” “ I love to dance at home but I’m too embarrassed to go to a class” “ I remember how much I used to love doing yoga but I’m scared of getting hurt now” etc. After some months of Pilates private sessions, they feel confident going to those classes, they feel yummy and juicy with their romantic partners again, they feel confident and in love with their bodies and they FIND the time to prioritize movement because it FEELS SO GOOD!!!

I enjoy working with my SI clients as much as my Pilates students BUT the most satisfying experience comes from working with clients who do both. Some things just need the assistance of having hands-on work regardless of how much you work on them through your movement practice. I’ve seen “near miracles” ( surgeries avoided, incredible improvement with gait, fibroids shrunk and all kinds of emotional and movement patterns changed for the better). However, the progress is exponential when clients combine the 2 modalities. 

I’m so excited about my current professional situation. I teach 4 Pilates group classes a week just down the street from my office where I see SI clients. I also teach a few Pilates private sessions. Nicky Maloney is the owner of Heart and Soul Pilates https://heartandsoulpilates.com, the studio where I teach group classes. She is a fellow Somanaut, a great Pilates teacher, and a friend. She sends her students to me for SI work and I send my clients to the studio. Her life was also transformed by SI. We share the excitement of seeing our folks actualize their health goals. 

Properly executed Pilates requires developing a deeper and deeper awareness of subtle changes in the body. SI helps people to feel themselves, their bodies, and often their emotions more fully. They both allow folks to learn to trust their experience, befriend their bodies, and be curious about their movement possibilities. 

Some massage therapists and Pilates instructors have practices where they work with the same clients for years. They provide the service of helping people feel better and maintain their wellness. I have a couple handfuls of clients that come back for “tune-ups” after going through a series. Generally, these sessions are only needed a few times a year because we changed a lot of things that weren’t working. By introducing Pilates, my clients can maintain wellness while making progress toward goals of increased range of motion, keeping up with little grandkids, feeling confident rock hopping at the Yuba River, and such. 

It’s so satisfying to see clients come to my group classes. I witness the continued strides they are making. I see them setting new goals. I feel like the proud Mom who helps kids struggle through grammar school, continue on to high school and college, and then go off to create the life they’ve yearned for and earned through concerted effort.

I’m writing this on the Eve of Thanksgiving and reflecting on how grateful I feel for the honor of being able to work with people in this fascinating, intimate, and rewarding endeavor.  

 

Workout + Body Shaming = Bad Combo

Do you ever go to a Pilates or Spin class taught by a petite, fit ( maybe even underweight) teacher and walk out feeling like you got a good workout but you feel shitty about yourself?

 

Did she say things like: 

  • Let’s get rid of that spare tire
  • It’s tank top season, no one wants flabby arms
  • Push harder, Thanksgiving’s coming up

 

Have you been to a doctor ( or taken your teenage daughter) and been told that all your problems are because you are overweight? It’s widely accepted by most health practitioners and nutritionists who keep up with current research that the BMI scale is a poor metric for health. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265215. As a bodywork and movement teacher, I see clients who carry a lot of weight on their structure in a balanced way and thin people who have excessive head forward posture or other harmful alignment issues. I’m much more concerned with the thin person’s propensity for pain and joint/soft tissue dysfunction than the heavy person. Yet the heavy person is told again and again that they need to lose weight. While the thin person gets no commentary on their body. While fat and skinny shaming are both problematic, thin people have less exposure to medical bias. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/article/3136744/skinny-or-fat-shaming-hurts-either-way-only-one-leads?module=perpetual_scroll_0&pgtype=article&campaign=3136744.

 

Have you worked your ass off over decades to pull back from all the advertising and diet/fitness industrial complex messaging and love your body for what it is? Did your heart break when your 9-year-old came home from ballet classes crying because she thinks she is fat? Do you have a tight schedule and a hard time motivating yourself to exercise, so you go to that awesome boot camp class but you don’t want to go back because you feel like it’s a toxic, body-shaming environment?

 

Body shaming isn’t an effective motivator for creating healthy self-care habits- in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Here’s an article that backs this up with scientific research. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beauty-sick/201901/fitness-without-shame-resolution-backed-science. And yet we continue to find plentiful examples of shaming words in fitness classes and medical environments. It’s been proven that fat shaming also harms mental and physical health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6565398/-

 

So what helps get and keep us moving?

Do something you love– Discipline isn’t required when love is there. We don’t need to muster the motivation to do something that lights us up. I love to dance. It’s one of my favorite things to do in the world. I’ll do it almost anywhere when I hear music that turns me on. I’m not great at it from a technical perspective but I often get stopped at public events when I’m dancing and told what a great dancer I am or how much fun I look like I’m having while doing it. People also thank me for being the first one to get up and dance. Doing something we love makes us happy and brings out the best in us. It’s so needed in the world that we rise to our best selves. You never know how doing what you love might impact others around you.

 

Find a buddy– It can be really helpful to have an accountability partner. Choose a friend who you wish you spent more time with and make dates to go for a walk or hike. Is there something that you value in terms of maintaining your body’s health and movement capacities that it’s just really hard to motivate yourself to do on your own? For me, that’s lifting weights. I volunteered to pick up a strength training class at work so I’m locked into lifting at least one day a week.

 

Get Bodywork!– We go toward things that make us feel good. So schedule a massage especially if you start a new program and feel extra sore. I offer a 12-session Structural Integration bodywork series that helps folks to be more aware of their bodies-to feel them more deeply. Nearly every client who struggles with body dysmorphia or shame reports having a better relationship and more enjoyment with their body. We often treat our bodies like these things that drag our brains around. Many of our pleasure and peak state experiences happen through being more fully embodied.

 

Go to a class– Dedicate time in your schedule to go to one class a week. This also helps you to be accountable. Find a class with a teacher who doesn’t make the kind of comments mentioned above. Or if you feel comfortable, let the teacher know that you’d like to come to class but their comments discourage or upset you. As a teacher, I want to know if I’m doing something that is getting in the way of my students’ learning and feeling successful.

“Trick yourself”- on days when I’m really busy I’ll tell myself “ Just do 5 minutes”. Something is better than nothing. Often the 5 minutes feel so good that I stay for another 5 or 10 or sometimes do another set later.

 

Set yourself up for success– Keep your running shoes next to your bed if morning is your best exercise time. Have some kettlebells or dumbbells at the office so you can get up every hour and do a couple of minutes of strength training every hour or when you come back from the bathroom, lunch, or a break. Always have a pair of good walking shoes in your car so if you have a few minutes at lunch or arrive early to pick up the kids from soccer.

Work with a professional- Private Pilates sessions or personal training are great motivators. You’ll also have the confidence that you are doing exercises properly. With repetition, you’ll develop an internal awareness of your alignment so you can have great form even when your trainer isn’t in the room. Also, it takes all of the guesswork out of creating a balanced workout. As you progress, you can ask for homework to do on your own. I always ask my students how much time they will realistically dedicate to working out. Often I give them a 5-15 minute quick workout and a 20-40 minute session for days when they have more time and energy.

Work

Continuing Education

Since starting this work in 1996 I have been endlessly fascinated with human anatomy and movement. I have actively pursued knowledge and experiences to deepen my understanding and hone my skills. In 2010 I up-leveled my skills by adding a Physical Therapy based Pilates training to my tool box. I return to ATSI headquarters every summer to “fill my cup” by diving deep with my peers and mentors. In between those visits I study, play, enjoy my own movement and learn from each of my clients. I have set up multiple peer study groups and brought my mentors from afar to my community so we can soak up their wisdom and advance our craft.

 

 

 

Family Friendly Practice

Let’s face it, Mom’s don’t get the respect or credit they are due. Nor do they get the support they need. My work is tremendously helpful in rehabilitating women’s bodies after birth. This work can do wonders for any Mom AND there is a special window of time in the first 3-6 months or so when a postpartum body is very malleable, for good or ill (i.e. slumped shoulder and that hump that developed at the base of your neck and during the first year while you were nursing and caring for your little one).

On the bright side, your body is like supple clay under my hands ( or in my Pilates studio) during that window. I recognize how difficult it can be to do ANYTHING for yourself while your baby is so small but it can save a lot of discomfort/pain and work later on to address your postpartum body while it is still easy to manipulate. Toward that end, I strongly encourage you to do whatever it takes to get on my table, including bringing your baby to the appointment with you. If you have other children they are also welcome.

The youngest client I have worked with was 5 and the oldest 97. I love working with folks in all stages of life and I appreciate clients who bring the whole family in for treatments as they see formidable changes in themselves.