EnVibe Life is excited to offer an exclusive two-part series of excerpts from Stephen and Cheryl Dunn’s book, Retrain the Brain to Solve Back Pain.
When Cheryl and I signed up to do our Pilates teacher training, we had also just signed up to do a marathon training to raise money for the American Stroke Association. Both programs started in January of 2002. As we started learning Pilates and applying Pilates to our day to day life, I wanted to be able to apply the breathing to my walking marathon training. Each month my breathing got better. My strength got better. My posture improved with training, as well as my day to day activities, like lifting my 75 pound boxer.
We had a practice marathon on Cinco de Mayo in Pacific Palisades, California. It was a gorgeous morning walking on the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This was also a distraction as I had a hard time keeping my breathing and my focus while performing my walk. I would breathe, inhale, exhale. Keeping my abdominals engaged on the exhale. Keeping my shoulders in a good position and would get into that for several minutes, then suddenly I'd see a whale out in the ocean and I would lose it all. I would start slacking and walking lethargically. Then I would remember, because of the new awareness that I had. And I would self-correct my posture and get back into my breathing and my rhythm.
Pilates Improved my Breathing
I was doing half marathons for this and for the next one, while Cheryl was doing marathons. So, the numbers I reference involved with my half marathons. Then on June 23rd, we went to complete a half marathon and marathon in Hawaii on the big island, on the Iron Man Course. It was very hot compared to the training we're used to in Los Angeles. And humid, humid, humid. But something had clicked from Cinco de Mayo to the middle of June. It wasn't that I had gotten better walking, or that I'd gotten stronger. But my awareness had improved and I was able to breathe, focus, and keep my intention on good posture and form the entire half marathon. No distractions, no lack of focus, I'm able to improve my time by 15 minutes over a seven-week period. By breathing and paying attention, and applying everything that I had learned over the previous six months with Pilates. That's when I knew I had to teach Pilates to all my clients. And that it could change things for them for the better in so many ways.
things were better than they were
At the same time in my life, I was playing softball on four or five different teams in Los Angeles. Most were competitive, one team was pretty pathetic. But I noticed that I was applying my Pilates breath. I was exhaling as I swung the bat to strike the softball. My core was also engaged. I had been playing baseball and softball since I was five years old. And here I was at 29 years old hitting the ball further and harder than I ever had in my life. I attribute this to my core strength and my new breathing technique applied to my softball swing. Then I noticed my snowboarding improving, my ability to play basketball, and all things recreationally were better than they had been over the previous 10 years.
I hope my story resonates with you. So, everything so far is to get to this point, to apply the mental training. The awareness training to our day to day activities, our recreation and our sports. Whether it's sitting at the computer, working out at the gym, playing golf or tennis, walking the dog, lifting a box at the house, or getting laundry out of the dryer.
We will break the next home exercise program into two parts. The first part is the dowel program, and the second part is what we're going to call basic Pilates mat work. You will need a three-foot, wooden or plastic dowel, about the size of a broomstick, or you can use a broomstick.
Dowel Standing Exercise
Standing, you're going to place the dowel behind your back. You're going to use both hands to hold the dowel with one hand above your head, and one hand holding the dowel in the small of your back. Place the back of your hand towards the lower back. Inhale to prepare, exhale and lift your toes, keeping the toe balls on the ground. Lean slightly back on your heels lifting your spine by keeping your lower back, mid back, and head in contact with the dowel as best as possible. This creates length and decompression of your spine. Inhale relax, and you will notice your weight shift forward slightly. Exhale, lift your toes, lean back into the heels, engage the back line of your glutes and hamstring while lengthening your spine. Repeat for one minute, inhaling and exhaling.
Dowel Hip Hinge
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, the dowel behind your back as previously described. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, lift your toes which creates an arch lift in the foot. Lengthen your spine as you bend your knees about 45 degrees and reach your butt away from your head as your chest and head go forward over your toes. Keep your spine in contact with the dowel as best as possible. Inhale as you return to standing, exhale as you perform the hip hinge and repeat. This is the prerequisite to go from standing to sitting or vice versa. Whether it's down to a chair, a toilet, or in and out of a car, you can progress the hip hinge by standing and going all the way down to touch your rear on the seat. Maintaining the length in your spine and the co-contraction of your deep abdominals and pelvic floor.
The setup position. Place your right foot forward with your knee straight and your foot flat on the ground. Place your left leg behind you with your knee straight and up on your toes with your heel off the ground. Keep your back heel in line with your knee and hip, not turned out to the side.
Partially bend both knees. With the right leg forward and the left leg back, extend both knees with the left heel off the ground on the left tippy toes. Bend both knees slightly on the exhale. Maintain the length of the spine with feedback from the dowel. return to the starting position on the inhale. Exhale, lowering down into the mini lunge. Repeat for one minute and then switch legs and repeat for one minute.
Now we're going to progress to the last exercise bending both knees and doing a full lunge. We are going to exhale on the way down and on the way up. With the right leg forward and the left leg back, inhale to prepare. Exhale, lengthen the spine and lower down all the way until the left knee is on the ground, bend the right knee around 90 degrees. Inhale in the full lunge and exhale, co-contract your abdominals, lengthen your spine as you return back to the starting position.
Stay tuned for another excerpt and more tips taken from Retrain the Brain to Solve Back Pain next week!
- Applying Core Strength: Pilates Workbook - September 29, 2020
- Applying Core Strength to your Day to Day Life, Sports, and Recreation - September 22, 2020