Monday, 20 March 2017

Connect 2017 connective tissue and sports science conference in Ulm

Connect 2017 in Ulm Germany

So sad to leave Ulm today, it is always so welcoming. 

As I travel home I am pondering on the last 4 days and the things I have learnt and the people I have met.
As usual the Fascia family never ceases to amaze me with their enthusiasm and their passion and knowledge. I met old friends and made new, many more from the USA than before.

When I attended the conference in 2013 it was full of football physio's and was all about how much pain could be inflicted and the cost of injured players. This year the whole atmosphere was softer, more about the mind and the mindbody connection. The field is maturing, there was less about what fascia is and it's uniqueness and more about how it integrates with muscles and the nervous system. Lectures looked at the importance of environment on the fascial system and the cells within it, nutrition, hydration, movement as well as manual therapies. 

The pre and post conference workshops were more movement orientated and I struggled to decide on the ones to take, in the end I missed the Melt workshop and Marie-Jose's workshop and I decided on one by Christopher Gordon, an old Fascia Friend. I met Christopher in Vancouver and we have been friends since. Christopher is a remarkable man, clinician, researcher and teacher. I really enjoyed learning about the Fascial-releaZer and will return to his lecture again as it was full of detail and information; and yes I did buy one. The afternoon session was sponsored by Merrithew who you may know from the Stott school of Pilates. They have a new Fascia exercise offering that I wanted to check out and compare with the Fascial Fitness principles I use and teach. The workshop concentrated on the way the brain perceives movement, the actual movements were interesting, using props for proprioception, again I will revisit this topic. The most exciting part of the workshop was the quiz and I won a Rollga. I had met its inventor earlier in the conference. Taggart Downare is a really creative man and his latest invention is the Rollga. I will use it and report back on my impressions. Getting it home however proved a challenge due to it's size, however it's proved more portable and less controversial than the Fascial-releaZer, which had the airport security sniggering when I explained in sign language that it was a vibrating massage tool.

The pre conference workshop was taught by Divo and was Fascial Fitness for the lumber spine, again it showed that the work is maturing and I enjoyed the sequencing. A small workshop given by Eric Franklin on his imagery concept, again really enjoyable and useful, I think he has always worked with the fascia system just never named it, now the word is in every other sentence.
The main lectures were full of the importance of meditation, movement and interdisciplinary approaches to keeping sportsmen and women in their peak condition for longer.
The attitude to pain and movement was explored, mindfulness and other meditative practices were openly practiced and evaluated. Stress was addressed.
There were many pieces of research on the popular roller fascial release, some saying it worked, some saying it didn't.
Lots of information from cellular level (which quite frankly was mostly beyond my understanding) to the whole body. Less about manual workers more about exercise. Rehab and returning to sport, optimal rehab protocols, resting athletes and taking a longterm view. There was a lecture just about female sportsmen and the effect of estrogen on the connective tissue, not great news for those of us whose estrogen levels have now dropped off the scale.
My brain is exhausted and full to bursting, so much information in such a short period of time. So many people to meet and bring together so that lasting co-operation across the world can carry on beyond this conference.
At one point I was in the same workshop as Eric Franklin (the Franklin method and the man who pioneered the use of imagery in movement teaching), Sue Hitzman (the Melt method), and Moira Merridew (Stott pilates),  all these big hitters listening and learning and sitting next to me!  Learnt about Variable heart rate resilience training, this I will bring into the studio as the results are quite impressive.
I met some lovely old friends, Wonderful Wilbour, Robert Schleip, Tom Findley, Christopher and David . The Fascial Fitness trainers, Divo, Dani, Rochelle, and Trixy.
I even discovered the origins of my name from a lady called Tacye, apparently we are named for the Roman emperor Tacitus. many people called Tacey went over with the pilgrim fathers and the name morphed into Tracey, and I thought Tracey was a made up name used in the film High Society.
My take away from the conference is that the role of fascia in our minds (not the same as brain) how our emotions and feelings are being recognised by science as important in the synthesis of collagen in our connective tissue. The feedback from fascia to brain and visa versa is the next thing to be uncovered by science.

Finally, as the my plane is about to land, I now have lots of work still to do on the information in this conference and work out how I can use it and share it- happy days. 

p.s. If you go to the Melt facebook page you will see Sue Hitzman interviewing the great and good at the conference, she does such a good job.

March 2017

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Pelvic Organ Support

Pelvic organ support

In Pilates the ‘Core’ or ‘Powerhouse’ is often given a location and in true Pilates form a visualisation.

The visualisation I use is a tin can, the walls are the Transverses Abdominous, the connecting seam at the back of the can is the spine, the lid is the diaphragm, and the base is the pelvic floor. To have a strong, stable ‘core’ all of the can must be healthy and connected.

We use breath and positioning to engage our core but often resort to vague pelvic floor exercises to complete the structure of our imaginary can. Many clients have little idea where their pelvic floor is, how to connect with it and what its purpose is. Teachers pay lip service to ‘doing our pelvic floor exercises’ are we really giving our clients the best advice or help.

In a healthy uninjured body all the ‘core’ muscles co-exist and work in harmony with each other. You do not need to consciously connect to engage, but life gets in the way and particularly for women who have carried and given birth to children, the pelvic floor and pelvic organ support system is compromised, trauma and injury is somehow accepted as part of the birthing process. The stigma of incontinence however slight is now assuaged by adverts for Tena lady pads on prime TV slots. ‘Little ops’ are given regularly to sort out ‘the problem’ sadly many do not sort out the problem at all and are followed by more ’little ops’.

Pelvic support and a poor relationship with the pelvic floor is also a male issue, often over recruitment will be the cause of problems.

What can we, as Pilates teachers, do? The odd squeeze of an overball between the thighs may seem to answer the question but is it really helping the pelvic organ support question? The forced couple relationship between adductors and the pelvic floor will certainly get to the right location but is prone the best position to exercise the pelvic floor? How do we serve the over recruiters?

I am grateful to Janine who leant me a book written by Christine Ann Kent called ‘Saving the whole woman’, it is full of information on natural alternatives to surgery for pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. Christine runs a training course on-line which provides huge amounts of information, statistics and advice as well as suggestions for good pelvic organ support. The book is not comfortable reading, but did give me a starting point. I also looked at the fascial anatomy of the pelvic floor and am grateful to Divo Muller of the Fascial Fitness Association for the information she provided. My clients have all been ‘hip hoping’, swinging legs, releasing fascial structures and finding pelvic floor muscles all week, however the most important message I have been giving out is that posture and pelvic positioning is key to good pelvic organ support both pre and post trauma and certainly for the ageing process.

Pilates is perfect for regaining good postural habits.

As I am writing this I am aware that my pelvis is tipped under and I am sitting on my tailbone. My lower back is in a slumped position, my front line has collapsed and my head is forward with the chin tilted upward, all of which is providing no support for my pelvic organs. In the short term I am finding it reasonably comfortable but If I sat like this all day every day this would become a habit and become part of my posture, over months/years this habitual posture would become so set that it would become structural in nature. To change this would take effort and time. Luckily it’s almost time for my next client and I will move about, demonstrate exercises, stand, sit, jump, climb and engage with my body and my body will respond by not getting set in the slumped computer posture. However If I worked in an office all day with very little opportunity to walk about, drive home or sit on a train and then sit in front of the TV all evening, I am repeating the posture over and over again, my body would react by making it easier for me to achieve the shape of the posture and change it’s fascial structure according to the loads habitually placed upon it.

One hour in a Pilates class per week will not be enough to counter a week sat in front of a computer, a habitual pattern can only be changed by a regular intention to change our posture. Hopefully Pilates teachers can bring postural awareness to their clients and can provide incentive to undertake a bit of homework and to look at ways to improve posture on a daily basis.

Why is posture so important for pelvic organ support? Another visulisation is needed:

Imagine your pelvis is a house with two exterior supporting walls and a couple of interior supporting walls, two floors and some non-weight bearing partitions a foundation and a roof. If all is well the house will stand and provide shelter for everything inside it.

If one of the internal supporting walls is removed without adequate propping then the house could collapse inward.
If the part of the foundations fail the house would tilt, all the contents slide to one side.
If the walls are too thin, too weak or crooked they could not support the internal partitions, the floors and the roof.
All of these and many more scenarios can be seen in the pelvis, removal of the broad ligament when the womb is removed, injury to the pelvic floor, poor abdominal and lumber muscle strength etc

By paying attention to pelvic posture whilst standing and sitting will help. Exercising in a position, which creates support for the internal pelvic organs will build strength in the abdominal wall.

The Sitz bones (Ischial tuberosity) can be considered the heel of the body, it is where our weight should be resting when seated. Most of us sit behind our sitz bones or on one side only, tilting our pelvis, sliding our pelvic organs about, and setting up intra-abdominal pressures. If we exercise in this non-optimal position we are strengthening our muscles to keep the pelvis in a non-optimal position.
In prone, where most Pilates exercises are undertaken, particularly for beginners, the pelvis has to deal with gravity and habitual patterns of movement ( all those aerobic classes, crunchies and flat back instructions). Proper direction to achieve a neutral pelvis and to maintain a neutral pelvis where appropriate is essential, I use a prop to help the client to maintain position by giving a proprioceptive cue. I have also started to introduce connective tissue stretches to release the pelvis and allow it to lie on the bed easily (several ligaments attach to the coccyx, sitz bones and pubic bone). Some clients may never achieve neutral on their own in prone. In my opinion there is no point building ‘core’ stability in position that is not functional or transferable to everyday living. Seated, standing or kneeling are better for pelvic postural position training, the abdominal wall is there to support the pelvic organs, the gentle round belly of a woman particularly post childbirth is natural and should be encouraged, not sucked in and removing the natural lumber curve. 

A strong abdominal wall is not necessarily a completely flat abdominal wall, whatever the tabloid newspapers say.

Fascially the pelvic floor has layers of fascial tissue contiguous with the fascial sheets of the abdominal organs, muscles and the body suit just under the skin. Each layer has fibers running in different directions creating a hammock. There are also ligaments, which support the various openings. Some movement models have the pelvic floor as part of a deep front line, contiguous with the diaphragms of the foot, lower leg, Diaphragm and throat (Anatomy trains). Other movement models suggest that the pelvic floor is a change in direction of continuous muscles, from front to back, left to right etc.(Philip Beech).

All agree that it is a complex area, this makes it hard to understand and to exercise. We have many pelvic floor exercises for the muscles of the pelvic floor; my favourite is one that involves a boat and a fisherman. Fascia responds to vibrations and rebound and recoil movements. It is important to hydrate this tissue and allow for glide between the fascial layers, knowing this can help to reach this region of the body, however direct fascial release techniques with rollers or balls is not recommended for everyone. By creating healthy fascial tissue elsewhere in the body will effect the pelvic floor, a good posture will allow the structures which help support the pelvic organs to be strong and stable, pelvic floor health is truly a whole body issue.

This week I am being very strict on the seated position, making sure that the clients posture in sitting is good, releasing the pelvic structure, breath, keeping a 90 degree angle or less at the hip (greater than 90 degrees, in any orientation, can create a posterior pull on the organs, stressing the structures of organ support (Christine Kent)). We will be using the chair, reformer and barrel, propping if necessary, making movements small and focused.

As Christmas is on the horizon, everyone will be sitting a lot, in cars, at tables and on sofas, we will probably be eating too much and our pelvic floors will be tested as we dance at party’s or join the kids on the trampoline. This is a great time to remind everyone of the importance of posture, it will also make us look great in our Christmas outfits.

Tracey Mellor

December 2016

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Hyper mobile?

Hyper mobile?

I maintain that a sign of a good training course is that it stimulates a change in thought patterns. Last week I was blown away by Yin Yoga, I still am. However there are other aspects of the training provided by The Yoga People which have really impressed me, and if I ever design a training programme, I will ‘borrow’ this practical session.
The area of study is functional anatomy, and we spent a considerable amount of time comparing the differences as well as the similarities in the shape and construction of the pelvis, using the 30 people in the room as a study population.
This little bit of research revealed an interesting and blindingly obvious result,


The purpose of this study is to bring home the importance that, as everyone is unique in pelvic shape and form, and unique in movement history and use, and individual in every other way, it is impossible that one pose, movement or asana (it is yoga) can be achieved in the same way for everyone- obvious isn’t it. So why do trainings and teachers, even with huge amounts of experience insist that a pose is only correct (I hate that term) if it looks perfect? Why do teachers force legs wider, turn hips square, push bodies down, make forceful adjustments to achieve the perfect (who defines perfect?) shape, and why is achieving that perfect shape so important. I suspect it’s aesthetics, it looks beautiful, and ease and grace are often used to describe someone who has a perfect practice, all very judgmental and not very yogic!!
I’m not really knocking yoga, but I am critisising teaching that places clients, who are ‘naturally’ bendy ahead of the ones who struggle to long sit or drop into splits. How many clients have tried yoga only to be disillusioned because they are not ‘doing it right’ can’t bind or do inversions or have to use a block! It seems to me that some yoga classes are full of people who do not need more flexibility, how many participants know the original reason why yoga asana were performed? Great for the Pilates teachers out there, our classes are full of failed yoga participants who think yoga is not for them, but I think it is sad that many miss out on other aspects of yoga, in it’s widest definition.

Why this little rant? Well the functional anatomy observation session made it easy to see that huge ranges of movement of the femur in the hip socket is only available to some, the rest are not hindered by short muscles but by the shape of their bones. Some cannot go further into a wide legged position, internal or externally rotated because of compression, literally the bone of the pelvis hitting the bone of the femur. No amount of stretching can change this situation. No amount of manual adjustment can make it better unless breaking a bone is thought appropriate.
In the arts, where range of movement is important, such as ballet, Xray’s of the pelvis are used to check out the shape and depth of the hip sockets, no amount of stretching can significantly change basic bone structure without injury and the dancers with inadequate pelvis shapes are not offered places at ballet school, ballet however is all about aesthetics.

This is important to know in all movement disciplines, a simple change in angle can facilitate a huge difference in Range of Movement, being pedantic about foot position or pelvis direction is not serving the client and may create unnecessary pain or injury both physically and mentally.

The question is; when is a huge range of movement due to a lack of compression (the skeleton restricting the movement) and when is it due to joint hyper mobility syndrome. I often hear people describe themselves as hyper mobile because they have a huge range of movement, is this really the case?
Joint Hyper mobility syndrome is not to be admired or wished for, it is caused by genetic defects affecting the encoding of collagen( Beighton et al.1999, Bird.2005, Grahame.2009) anyone who has this syndrome is susceptible to trauma/overuse injuries. It is a complex condition, with a wide range of clinical features:
  • ·      Neurophysiological
  • ·      Musculaoskeletal
  • ·      Skin
  • ·      Cardiopulmonary (asthma)
  • ·      Chronic pain
  • ·      Gastro- intestinal dysmotility
  • ·      Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.
  • ·      Etc…..

Hyper mobility can be inherited, easily tested for, using the Beighton Scale and currently there is no cure, so management of the syndrome is the only option. The spectrum of the disease is from being bendy with generalised joint hyper mobility to not being able to walk because the joints are too floppy to stand up.
It is a connective tissue issue, Collagen is one of the components of Fascia or connective tissue, and Fascia is ubiquitous in the human body, if there is an issue with this tissue it will affect the whole fascial network, hence the huge range of possible clinical features. For many hyper mobility can be an asset but it comes with risk of injury.

I think that we all have areas of our body which exhibit an ease or flexibility in the joint, often they are the site of chronic injury, this can be caused by so many factors, I see very few truly hyper mobile people, Pilates being one of the management options available to this population. 

Fascia is plastic in nature, think about pushing your finger into a plastic bag, the resulting blister will not return back to the original shape, if too much pressure is applied the plastic will break. If ligaments are forcefully stretched they will break, or the resultant stretch ‘blister’ will not return to its original length. Fascia can survive the melting stretch as the tissue creeps back to it’s original length, however whilst it is creeping back it is vulnerable to injury.

So next time someone tells you they are hyper mobile, check if it is caused by lack of compression or by a connective tissue issue. It may be that the lack of compression creating a huge range of movement (a cause of pride in many) is masking an imbalance. Simply by adding variations in movement vectors/angles or bending a limb will provide more space for movement or elicit a stretch where it was not felt before.

November 2016

Thanks to The yoga People and Dr Jane Simmonds.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Melting Stretches and Yin Yoga

Melting stretches

I have just returned from a 4 day introduction to Yin Yoga.  Those of you who know me well, know my questioning nature, also my drive not just to read or be told about different movement modalities but to really understand them and to feel them in my own body.
Yin Yoga has been bouncing around on the edge of my understanding for several years, initially in my Yoga training, one of my fellow students introduced us to Yin Yoga, I remember walking around the garden of the house where we had our retreat, trying to understand TCM 5 element theory and not much else. However the seed was sown and so when Yin Yoga resurfaced at an International Fascia Congress in Washington, I sat up and listened. The speaker was Paul Grilley and he took the podium with Robert Schleip and explained about compression and tension in yoga poses. Because of his use of the words Compression and Tension, I thought he was talking about biotenegrity and I struggled to fit his explanation into the model of biotensegrity I held in my head. Today I think I was adding 2 and 2 and making 5, however I am still not 100% sure of that, and somewhere just out of reach, there is a connection but probably not the obvious one.
Yin yoga has also surfaced in the Fascial Fitness training relating to melting stretches.
Fascial stretches are part of the Fascial Fitness training, the principles of which are the activation of long chains and tensegrity structures, Pendiculation and variations in direction of stretch, and loading of the stretch using weights, resistance and bounces.
So when a Yin Yoga course based on the work of Paul Grilley popped up on Face book I didn’t press delete, I followed the link. The course was in London and offered the option to take the first weekend of a 200 hour Training as an introduction.

So what is Yin Yoga? My understanding was that it was mediation in a pose. Why is it so Fascial?

After 4 days of Yin yoga (2x 2hour classes per day), meditation, Traditional Chinese medicine (meridian theory) and psychology, including a good dose of energetic anatomy, classic anatomy, functional anatomy and a sparse sprinkling of fascial anatomy;  here is my understanding based upon my own experience.

Like all yoga it’s not all about the asana or poses, Yin seems to take more from the Chinese philosophy than the traditional yoga practice which is based on Indian.
Yin is the opposite of Yang, however they are co-dependant each having a little of the other in them, think of the symbol.

Yang is all action, masculine in nature, a yoga practice/exercise/movement practice or lifestyle, which focuses on exercising muscles and moving blood around the body is Yang.

Yin is calm and nurturing, feminine in nature, a yoga practice/exercise /movement practice, which focuses on the connective tissue.

The balance between the yin and yang is essential for wellbeing and this is what practicing Yin yoga along side yang forms of exercise aspires to bring.
The plastic nature of connective tissue, according to Yin Yoga, enjoys gentle pressures, applied for longer periods of time in order to grow strong.

These are my personal observations and may not be true for others however the classes for me where both extremely challenging, at times painful (in a good way), and wonderfully calming and releasing. You moved into the positions slowly, each position targeted different areas of the body which correspond to meridian theory, you are not in the pose until the target area to be ‘stressed’ by stretching has been found, this involved a lot of bolsters, blocks and experimenting with different foot/leg/body positions before the target area was found, some poses just didn’t work because of my unique pelvic shape/ femur head angle, tight tissues, past injury etc etc. The idea is to find a point of stress in the target area, which is not injurious or painful in a bad way and surf that point. This is a self practice, you have to trust your intuition your own awareness of how your body feels, everybody looked completely different, we were not adjusted or assisted in progressing the stretch just in finding the target area, the bolsters were not there to support as in restorative yoga, but to allow the practitioner to work around natural compression felt in their own body and to allow the muscles to turn off and a melting stretch of the connective tissue to occur. You then stay in that pose for anything between 1-5 or more minutes depending upon your experience. The time in the position was the challenge, I noticed how muscles I didn’t know I was contracting became obvious and so I released them and I sank deeper and deeper into the stretch. In order to feel the melt it helped to close your eyes and look inside your self, quiet and still. The hardest bit was yet to come but the reward was so wonderful. Coming out of the ‘melted position’ was far harder than going in, everything was done slowly and no-one was rushed. I often had to use my hands to move my legs out of the pose, there was a lot of groaning and grimacing. You then take a ‘rebound’ position, prone, supine or pose of a child where the most popular, sometimes taking a counter pose first, in the rebound time of around 2 minutes you could feel the connective tissues rebounding, slowly returning to their usual length, your body felt open and released, a cooling flow and such a peace and tranquility. The Yin yoga says that this is a restoring of the flow a Chi. My Fascial Fitness inner teacher probably would say it was also a rehydration of the tissue. What ever it was it was worth the wait.
After the class we went into mediation so easily.

Will I go back and continue the course?
This morning when I woke up I actually missed the early morning yin class. I also seemed very alert and ready to get going (unusual for me as I am not a morning person). I do ache in parts of my body, which I probably pushed to hard because I thought I could, after all I couldn’t let the youngsters in the room see that I was struggling could I! a lesson learned, it is my practice and no-one else was looking anyway.
The melting stretch was delicious and pleasurable, everything a fascial movement should be, I’m not sure I would be happy for a hyper mobile client to take a class and the usual contra-indicated population, pregnancy, joint replacements etc would need extra care but it is an experience I would recommend to my over stressed, anxious over exercised clients who need the repeated buzz of the Yang.

So now I know what a melting stretch really is, and I will do it again. Sadly I can only get to a couple more days of this course because of studio commitments.

The course was run by The Yoga People and well taught, bringing in experts in the various disciplines. The classes were amazing.
My fellow participants were lovely and very generous towards me. Thank you.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Spiders, space and tensegrity

Can Spiders spin a web in space?

NASA ran a competition for school children to suggest experiments that could be done in space, and this question won.
So NASA sent a spider and lots of flies up in the space shuttle.
At first the spider created very messy webs but just as Robert the Bruce noticed the spider tried, tried and tried again, and eventually created working webs in weightless conditions- isn’t that amazing.

I discovered this incredible fact at the Smithsonian air and space museum in Washington DC. I had taken a few days holiday after attending the 1st Biotensegrity Summit and 4th International Fascia Research Congress and on my last day decided to avoid the center of town and stay close to the airport and this ‘overflow’ museum in Dulles hit the spot. I was totally blown away by the scale of the building and the exhibits, which included a space shuttle! In one of the exhibit cases was this story about the spider.

Why am I telling you this?
Because the concept of tensegrity explains how the spider could build a web in space.

It’s appropriate that I was in Washington because tensegrity sculpture is celebrated at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn museum. Also, it was in Washington that Dr. Stephen Levin put the concept of tensegrity and living architecture together and invented the area of science called Biotensegrity. Dr. Stephen Levin was honoured at the 1st Biotensegrity summit and spoke about his ‘eureka’ moment. 

What is tensegrity?  Buckminster Fuller created the word tensegrity out of two words tension + integrity, inspired by the sculptures of Kenneth Snelson. 
In Stephen Levin’s own words (2009)

” Tensegrity structures are omni-directional, independent of gravity, load distributing and energy efficient,hierarchical and self-generating. They are also ubiquitous in nature, once you know what to look for.”

A Snelson tensegrity model, The Needle, stands in the gardens surrounding the Hirshhorn museum, it is elegant and light in construction. The compressive elements float in the air, supported by the tensional elements. It satisfies both the eye and the intellect, I can see why Stephen Levin was so fascinated by the structure; you cannot tire of its simplicity.

Dr. Levin was looking for a reason why along with dinosaur footprints we do not find tail marks. The tails of dinosaurs are very long and the absence of tail marks means that they must have been held clear of the floor at all times. From his musings the concept of biotensegrity was born.  The concept explains why geese can fly with their necks stretched out long in front of them. –and a spider can spin a web in space????

In the earths gravitational field life uses ground force. Ground force opposes the gravitational downward force to provide tone tension and stability. Our bodies, along with every other living structures, continually negotiates these two forces using the biotensegrtiy concept, but what happens when ground force and gravity is taken away? When man first went into space one of the ways the body reacted to weightlessness was to lose some of the compressive structure, in particular the bones, and astronauts returned with varying degrees of osteoporosis. Subsequent space missions introduced weighted exercises to counter this side effect of weightlessness.
So how did the spider spin a web without ground force and gravity? Well at first it didn’t, the spider had to work it out.  A true tensegrity model is self supporting, it can be picked up, turned, compressed and still return to or maintain it’s shape. I doubt the web could be called a true example of biotensegrity because it needed to be attached to something, however the spider can. On a micro level (cell) and macro level ( whole organism) the biotensegrity concept explains how space is surrounded and stops the cell....Organism from collapsing in on it ‘self. In a body it creates space for organs and liquids. It explains how Fascia (connective tissue) can both connect and separate and provide sliding layers, protecting delicate structures like blood vessels during movement. This was beautifully demonstrated by Dr. Jean-Claud Guimberteau. At the congress he screened a 2 hour video revealing what fascia looks like in a living body, his beautiful pictures are a masterpiece of patience and skill and show just what the ancient anatomists missed because they did not have the technology to look inside a living body. Now we have the technology we cannot ignore what we have found.
As movement teachers we can use this new understanding of structure and anatomy. Understanding biotensegrity and the fascial system is now within easy grasp. Biotensegrity explains how we can hold yoga poses such as Warrior 3, the same biotensegrity model explains how we can use Pilates machines to achieve seemingly effortless movements which are difficult to do on a mat. The idea that this bodywide force transmission system, which is adaptable and continually changing to accommodate changes in load and movement, uses the concept of biotensegrity is liberating and exciting. Like the butterfly effect ( a small movement in one place can escalate into a large movement elsewhere) moving one part of the body effects the whole structure. From this we can show that dysfunction in one area can be caused by a restriction elsewhere.
Biotensegrity is a model that all teachers of movement should learn and understand, because knowing the model makes creative teaching possible.
Like Selson’s needle we can all be gracefully self- supporting, like the spider we can all persevere with our practice and discover our own internal web and we too can 

Tracey Mellor © 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

Rocking Reformer Revelation

Rocking Reformer Revelation

I know that Pilates teachers can get very excited about the smallest piece of Pilates equipment, and I am no exception. Remembering just how excited I got about my yellow reformer spring is frankly quite embarrassing. However I am unashamedly over the moon about the newest addition to the studio- my rocking reformer.

The Pilates reformer is a great machine, easy to use for the beginner and super challenging for the expert. It allows for creativity and flare, fits all the Fascial Fitness principals. You can use it as part of a regular workout, it soothes the mind and creates calm, with the addition of the bounce board it can reduce the fittest client to a sweaty pulp. It requires concentration and focus, it highlights imbalance in the body and magically creates the perfect conditions for self awareness and correction; in fact it has everything a pilates teacher and practitioner would want from a machine. So how to improve upon perfection? Add rockers.

I first saw the rocker kit on-line a couple of years ago, but was beyond my pocket at the time. It sat in the back of my mind until I attended the balanced body convention in London and there it was, already boxed up just waiting for my name to be scribbled on the lid. I resisted for 3 days and then gave in about 30 mins from the end of the last day. The rest is history! It is quite a wonderful addition to my studio and a firm favorite with my clients. One declared-
              “ it’s like working in 3D”
Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.

So what is it?
The rockers transform the static base of a standard reformer into a giant balance board. There is a clever way to bring stability back to the reformer so it can still be used as normal. It stands higher off the floor, which is popular with my less mobile clients.
At first I used it in the conventional way, footwork, legs in loops, quadruped etc with the additional challenge of keeping central, balancing left and right, equalising weight on each side etc, everyone did really well, it encouraged greater focus and a certain amount of sub-conscious work as well as increased conscious self stabilization. It was fun and lots of laughter, especially when I briefly forgot it was on a rocker and I inadvertently leant on the foot bar and tipped the reformer to one side.
No one was seasick, everyone had a go and everyone reported back that they could feel the extra work required to stabilize in their bodies.
I was making the repertoire up as I went in those early days, mixing known exercises with this new addition.
Then I found a great on-line course by Elizabeth Larkin, who I had spoken to prior to buying the rockers and who was very excited by them. She used them in the rehabilitation of service men who had lost limbs in combat and who suffered with problems with their vestibular system (balance).
I took the course and the rocking repertoire she taught is just amazing.
In my studio we adapted this information, matched it with my clients needs and the results have been astounding. Increased balance and ease of gait; along with hours of laughter and focused mind/body work.
So far the best result has been from a client who has a mild cerebral palsy. Doing the simple rocking movements appeared to release so much tension in the hips that standing in parallel was possible. If this can be repeated, then it is the most wonderful of outcomes and we will be sharing the results with a wider community.
The rocking reformer repertoire is here to stay, it joins the other exercises and movements only possible on the Pilates machines. 

Tracey Mellor

Monday, 30 March 2015

Rehydrating Fascia using fascial release techniques.

Fascial Release

Over the last couple of years strange pieces of equipment have been appearing in Gyms and exercise studios around the country.

Rollers, spiky balls and other equipment used to inflict pain and sweet agony upon our-selves. In movement classes, Pilates Classes and Fascial Fitness classes, the instructors encourage you to roll and massage, lie on or over these balls and rollers.

Have you ever wondered what it is actually doing? It hurts so it must be doing us good- right?

Apart from being a way of challenging balance, ‘core’ and proprioceptive skills, all good reasons for using them, they are a way of releasing tension in areas of overuse, if that place is along a myofascial line then the release of tension may go beyond the immediate area of pressure. However their use to rehydrate the connective tissue or fascia is the less obvious but most important reason for use, to promote long-term fascial health and reduced injury, and perhaps to whole body health.

Why is rehydration of Fascia so important?

Lets remind our-selves of what Fascia is. Here is the definition adopted after the first International Fascia research congress:
Fascia is ‘all collagenous fibrous connective tissues that can be seen as elements of a body-wide tensional force transmission network.’ (Fascia in Sport and Movement, 2015).
Fascia is ubiquitous, it surrounds and separates muscles, bones, organs, nerves, indeed everything in our body, and until very recently it has been treated as a rather dull packing organ. But new research techniques and ways of measuring and seeing this colourless fibrous tissue has catapulted it into the limelight and it is now attracting worldwide attention and excitement amongst some of our most talented scientists.

Fascia, as defined above, (the medical profession has a more refined definition) is made up of cells and an extracellular matrix. The cells make up a very small part- about 5% and are mostly Fibroblasts, which act as builders and repairers of the extracellular matrix.
The matrix is made up of ground substance and fibres.
The fibres are mostly made of collagen and some elastin, the exact proportions varying according to location, load and use. These form what we think of as the body wide net.
The Ground substance is mostly water bound by proteoglycans (a form of protein).

All we need to know is that 2/3rds of fascial tissues, in volume, is made up of water, and our body is full of fascial tissues.  Healthy fascial tissue has a high proportion of a special form of water, known as bound water.
The first time I heard about bound water I was sitting in the underground International Fascial Research Congress hall in Vancouver in 2012. Gerald Pollack, PhD gave a ground breaking lecture on the magical world of water and the properties of Bound Water in our body. It was a little late in the day, we had been sitting all day in an airless room and yet no one left the hall, we all knew what he was saying was important and just a little controversial. Pollack produced slide after slide of why bound water was so important to health. His findings are still ‘new’ to science but the possibilities of his findings are opening up many new fields of research in every area of health.
Since the congress Pollack has gone on to publish his findings (The fourth phase of water. Beyond solid, liquid and vapor, 2013).

Pollack suggests that bound water has the characteristics of a liquid crystal and a higher elastic storage ability. The rest of the water found in fascial tissue is known as bulk water. Pathologies such as inflammatory conditions, oedema, accumulation of free radicals and waste products are linked with a shift to a higher proportion of bulk water in the ground substance of our extracellular matrix. So it makes sense to find ways to encourage and maintain a higher percentage of bound water in our fascia

When we roll on rollers or balls, spiky or smooth we are mechanically loading and stretching our fascial tissue, which acts like a sponge when squeezed. Particularly in more stressed zones when fascial release is performed the ‘polluted’ bulk water, full of inflammatory cytokines, free radicals and other by-products of stress and aging are squeezed out and refreshed with water from blood plasma which forms bound water, improving the ratio of bound to bulk water, and hopefully leading to a healthier ground substance and fascia.  I think that this is a good reason to incorporate fascial release techniques into your exercise routine.
However beware, rolling is not for everyone, there has been recent research, which questions the speed and depth and frequency of the release. Hours of painful rolling is not recommended.

So all these funny bits of equipment are here to stay and may be a way to healthier fascia and all the benefits that brings to us.

Tracey Mellor
March 2015 ©

All references are from Fascia in sport and movement 2015, DVD's of Fascia Research Congress 2012.