Yoga classes

The following classes are intended for those clients who have experience of yoga and wish to deepen their practice:

WEST HAMPSTEAD
Tuesdays morning class: 9.30 – 11.15am
Venue: Rooms Above, West Heath Yard, 174 Mill Lane, NW6 1TB
Cost: £15 per class if paid in advance for the term
£16 per class if paid in two blocks

£18.00 single class

Private sessions also available in Kilburn NW6

All classes are non-refundable and payable in advance.

CONTACT: Anne-Marie Zulkahari at info@pilatesyoga.com Tel: 020 7624 3948

Payment is by cash, cheque or BACS.

CLERKENWELL
Yoga one-to-one sessions: 1 hour – cost: £70.00
Venue: Clerkenwellbeing, 178 Goswell Road, London EC1 V7DT
To book, call 020 7490 4042 or email: info@pilatesyoga.com

MEDITATION: TBC

The changing face of yoga

roots-yogaThe practice of yoga has changed considerably over the years so that often the yoga of today with its music, and fashion and Instagram images is unrecognisable compared to how it originated.

Historically yoga was meant for men: men in mountainous regions of India who would go off in search of a teacher. And it was free: theirs would a be a guru/disciple relationship that would endure for years and these men would learn about yoga in its entirety – Ayuveda; Sanskrit; Meditation. Then having been taught all of this the disciple would be obliged to follow his master’s instruction about how he should live the rest of his life. Very different to working your way though a series of standing poses in a lunchtime yoga class.

In fact, in the beginning there were no standing postures.  Yoga was about sitting, being still. Yes yogis could assume rather extreme positions – the legs round the neck and so on – but there was none of this constant movement from one position into another, into another. It wasn’t dynamic. And definitely no music!

Krishnamacharya, who could really be seen as the Godfather of modern yoga described it in his wonderful book: Yoga and the living tradition of Krishnamacharya, as: “the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.”

Now the emphasis these days seems to have shifted more towards having a yoga body, with students using yoga for exercise and the feel-good factor. There is less emphasis on the breathing, contemplative side.

The first shift, from sitting to standing, came about because of the gymnastic background and influences of European women who were expats living in India. And it was thanks really to Yehudi Menuhin that we have yoga in this country because he brought his teacher BKS Iyengar here. After that you had this branching out into different approaches – like the most popular Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. Sadly though there is now an emergence of alternative types of yoga, like Bikram; hot-yoga and yoga hybrids, for example ‘yoga-lates’ which is diluting 2 very good systems.

At PYM we practice and teach Hatha yoga, which is interpreted to indicate the union of the sun and the moon, for within that there is a system of balancing – moon left/sun right – and balance is something we very much seek to achieve. We adhere more to the origins of yoga, whilst at the same time adapting the practice to suit our fast paced western lives: it seems there is constant movement these days, and advances in technology mean we are literally ‘switched on’ and distracted 24/7. It’s not surprising that we see a lot more anxiety and depression. At PYM every yoga class has its emphasis on the breath in each movement, so that the mind becomes more focused and therefore the movement is more intuitive, and there comes with that an awareness of ones limitations so that the body is never pushed into any of the poses.

Mindfulness has always been integral to yoga – yoga means bringing together the body, the mind and the spirit – but now it’s been pulled out of context and become a practice in its own right. It’s great that people are aware of it but really it should be part of an everyday yoga class so that you’re mindful not just in sitting, but in what you’re doing, in how you’re moving. In everything.

References

‘Yoga Body’  – Mark Singleton: Good account on the history and development of Yoga
‘Health, Healing & Beyond’ – T.K.V Desikachar
Awakening of the Spine’ – Vanda Scaravelli

Pilates and hypermobility

2S4B1966Back in the seventies as a dancer working in New York City, I was advised to take up Pilates by the director of my dance company.  The reason?  I was behind the beat in all performances; lacking precision in my movement due to my hyper-mobile body languidly moving to a fast beat.  I had always been proud of my flexibility and nourished it with daily stretching before and after class.  With my bruised ego and threats that I would not be given any more dance parts, I took myself off to my first Pilates session in West 56th Street with Robert Fitzgerald.  To this day I vividly remember that class, walking in to a room of famous dancers exercising on equipment which resembled a torture chamber.  I felt very self conscious and found it particularly hard to do a even a simple roll up or roll over due to the one area that was stiff – my lower back.

That first year saw gradual changes.  Going three times a week, I learnt to move from my centre which is now known as core stability whilst maintaining flow, breath, control and precision. Robert rarely changed the format of my routine.  He was a task master insisting on correct placement, perfect alignment when executing each exercise which was often quite minimal in its range of movement.  This targeted the deeper muscles that surround the joint, providing extra support to the over-stretchy connective tissue that I had in my ignorance, made worse by over stretching.  As I became stronger, I progressed to the harder repertoire with bigger movements but still with that same sense of working from the centre.  Emphasis was also placed on improving my proprioception (the ability to sense movement within the joints and joint position).  I noticed that I had a lot more stamina in rehearsals and on stage could balance on one leg no matter what creative lighting the designer threw at us.  It was great!  Over the years, Pilates kept me going with knee and ankle injuries sustained from my dance career, enabling me to rehabilitate and re-pattern my dance technique so that I was not vulnerable to re-injury.

In the studio, we are seeing an increasing number of clients that are non-dancers who have hypermobility issues.  It often brings pain, vulnerability to injury such as sprains and tendonitis and in extreme cases, is debilitating causing constant chronic pain.  This is due to the body having too much collagen in the connective tissue that surrounds the joint making it unstable.  One is usually predisposed to it genetically or as mentioned above, too much emphasis on stretching.  The good news is that it diminishes with the ageing process.

There are different types of hypermobility – at the lesser end of the scale it is manageable and just requires more emphasis  on strengthening the muscles around the joint, focusing on balance with good strong feet; a balanced class which Pilates provides.  When there is pain around the joint then it is advisable to get a proper diagnosis from the doctor who will perform a series of tests i.e checking movements such as thumb to wrist.  It would then be considered to be hypermobility syndrome and if extreme, Erlos Danlos syndrome.  There are other symptoms that manifest with the latter.

Pilates has provided me with a foundation which has been invaluable with all my different daily activities.  After climbing, cycling, long walks I have something to put  both my body and mind back on track.  My teachers all share this love and passion for the work.  Some also have hypermobility issues of varying degrees and have their own stories.  (Thank you to our client Anna for her story).  I would also like to thank my first teacher Robert for starting me on my journey which continues to grow and never ceases to amaze me.

Anne-Marie Zulkahari, PYM Director

 

Combating modern day stress

Benefits of good alignment and posture when using our phones, ipads and computers

The demands and stresses placed on our bodies – and minds – have increased with the age of computers.  Instant, round-the-clock communication via electronic devices is the norm:  checking twitter and Facebook in the morning; texting whilst walking to the train station – and if you are really coordinated, balancing a bag and a coffee with the other hand – firing off emails and messages on the way to work; spending hours in front of a computer; more texting or Facebook browsing on the commute home; watching TV in the evening; web-browsing on an ipad, a final glance at Facebook before bedtime.  Does some or all of this sound familiar?  If not then you are doing well. For those of us that do recognise this pattern, it’s worth observing what happens to the body when we perform these tasks.  Next time you’re waiting for a bus or sitting on the tube, watch how people hunch over their devices. Try and guess which muscles are going to be sore at the end of the day.  What do you think their posture will be like in 10 years time after all that faulty and habitual use?

And the damaging effects on the body are not the only thing that we need to be aware of. Our brains are processing information and multi-tasking at a phenomenal rate – infinitely faster than before smartphones and other gadgets became commonplace.  Our lives have literally speeded up with the result that we are depleting our nervous and endocrine systems.  This could well be partly behind the rise in popularity of yoga and Pilates – a technology backlash! – as we bring our tired bodies and minds to the teacher in the hope that they can help restore some balance, calm and serenity to our lives.

Start being more aware now.  Whilst reading this, is your neck poking forwards?  Are those neck muscles tight? Is your jaw clenched?  Are your shoulders collapsed forwards? Are you holding your breath? Correct this by going down to the feet, feel the floor underneath them.  If you are sitting, feel your sit bones on the seat.  Imagine that your pelvis is a plant pot, anchored so that the spine can lengthen upwards with your head balanced on top.  Now, once you have sorted out the alignment of your bones, start to gently move your head in different directions. Slowly roll the shoulders, see if you can move the ribcage, are you gripping your muscles anywhere?  Gradually move your attention down the body and back to your feet.

Doing this little and often is rewarding, it keeps you in tune with your body and calms the mind taking you back into it and away from the screen.  Take a minute between each activity to connect back to your self.  Incorporating this into your daily life will promote positive changes and is the best practice you can do between your weekly yoga, Pilates and sports activities.

 

The Evolution of Pilates

Evolution of PilatesAt Pilates Yoga Movement we hold on to Joseph Pilates’ original movement principles and the integrity of his work. But we have also progressed it, taken it forward into the 21st century by integrating current ideas like Feldenkrais; BodyMindCentering and Anti-Gymnastique. Our teachers not only undergo a uniquely in-depth and thorough 2-year training programme before they qualify, they also regularly supplement their learning with new movement theories and applications. So they are both student and teacher, always bringing fresh ideas, deeper understanding, and new approaches to the studio. It keeps things from standing still.

With each new skill acquired we teachers can better understand our clients: how they move; what they need. It’s never simply a case of applying a set exercise to an individual – no one size fits all – instead we are like detectives – trying to figure out how an injury was caused and how to change a clients approach to movement. Often we will ask a client how an exercise or movement feels, we try to have them better understand their body, to be in tune with it. The teacher-client relationship is therefore very important at PYM, we do not have a huge turnover of staff and it isn’t uncommon for clients to have been with their respective teachers for teachers. Trust and respect is integral to that relationship.

How might Pilates grow? I notice a lot more anxiety related problems coming into the studio: it’s happening in society, as the pace of our lives becomes ever faster. The internet and social media means, collectively, we never turn off. There’s a constant hum.

Pilates is much more mindful and aware now than it was when it was first taught and practised. It will continue to change, and we at PYM will continue to learn and affect that change. A good Pilates teacher will always remain open minded, whilst observing the core.

Anne-Marie Zulkahari

Director

The benefit of yoga and Pilates for climbers

These activities complement each other beautifully.  Climbing engages not just strong, flexible muscles but improves coordination, proprioception, balance & focus.  If you have any stresses when you walk into a climbing centre, they won’t be there by the time you leave.  Why?  If you think about anything else whilst you are moving between handholds and footholds, you will fall off.  One could also say that it is a form of meditation as it promotes a single focus.  Pilates also focuses the mind by its precision of movement, attention to the breath, flow, stamina, centering and grounding.  It is obviously less scary, not requiring the participant to climb great heights (or traverse boulders).  It provides a balance to climbing when those muscles have been challenged and sometimes strained.  Learning to use the muscles correctly in a Pilates studio with the aid of the apparatus helps prevent injury, facilitates functional coordinated movement and improves the ‘climbers’ hunched posture. Yoga can also benefit the climber’s flexibility and strength.  The difference between Pilates and Yoga is that Pilates takes you through specific movements with or without equipment, Yoga generally requires one to stay in the asana and breath, unless of course you are doing a vinyasa style which has more flowing moves.  Yoga’s greatest advantage is the work on the breath through the different breathing techniques and meditation which improves the clarity and focus of the mind.
How do I know this?  I started climbing five years ago with my two sons.  I have learnt that having upper body strength is not the only requirement when climbing. Good technique, timing each move, learning to transfer one’s body weight accordingly to reach that next handhold is equally important.  Pilates has addressed and put right those aching muscles and Yoga has helped keep my mind more focused and calm.

Getting to the core of things.

Core muscles have become a buzzword over the last decade. Gyms promote them and those with bad backs are advised by their doctors to strengthen them.

Such is the focus on this key muscle group we wanted to look at what constitutes the core, and whether it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.

In simplest terms – and in much the same way as an apple’s core is the fruit’s centre – the core is the centre of ones body.  In Eastern disciplines it is just below the navel, equivalent to your centre of gravity.  In the mid-nineties, strengthening the core became popular due to research demonstrating that by strengthening the deep back and abdominal layers, including the pelvic floor muscles, back problems could be corrected.

But whilst this undoubtedly has its place in maintaining good posture and alignment, it is not the complete picture. The holistic approach recognises that the body as whole requires attention, and that no one muscle works in isolation.

Being mindful of our posture as we move through the day – in front of screens computer; picking up children; carrying groceries – by maintaining a long spine and grounded feet, will bring benefits.  Check yourself when you’re next in front of a computer: recognise that creep set in, when our chest sinks, shoulders slump, the chin pokes forwards straining the neck, and the abdominal muscles are pushed out.  Now try sitting up, feeling your feet on the floor, pelvis planted on your seat and gently lengthen the spine and the head.  Better?

During your exercise or yoga classes, don’t push, strain and force yourself into the positions.  Working harder like this won’t help you lose more weight, it merely increases disharmony in your body. Learning to listen, being intuitive and most important, loving and accepting your body for what it can do is far more important, and essential for those committed to a healthy lifestyle.

An entire generation believes you need to pull in your stomach and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. But it is a myth.  All this does is disrupt the body’s natural balance.  Good breathing patterns are essential for calm and wellbeing: not possible if you are intent on pulling in your stomach, tightening your pelvic floor and squeezing your buttocks.  This is counter-intuitive and will work against you moving with grace and ease. Watch an accomplished climber, dancer or Tai Chi expert and you will see that they move effortlessly.  A strong core won’t get rid of a tummy either, no matter how hard you try; a good and balanced diet however will.

But what about pregnancy and beyond? The pelvic floor needs to be able to stretch for the best and most pain free labour. After labour, yes, it is essential to strengthen those muscles and make sure you exercise them regularly.

Meanwhile, focus on integrating mind, body and soul, and respecting their entirety. The whole – it would seem – is the new core.

Pilates: mat work versus studio?

I am often asked what is the difference between Pilates Mat Work and Studio classes?
I started Pilates whilst living and dancing in New York in the seventies, a class then consisted of a warm up with mat work, progressing on to the rest of the apparatus. There is some old footage of Pilates teaching mat work at the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, Massachusetts. To my knowledge, there were no regular mat classes in New York at that time.

It was not until the late eighties that mat work classes became popular. Here in the UK, they were being taught in some Dance schools as part of the curriculum. There was nothing available to the wider public until the early nineties when they became more popular in Health clubs and gyms due to media and press exposure on the benefits of the Pilates Method.

Pilates mat work classes vary depending upon the experience of the teacher, the depth of their training, their background whether it be dance related or that of a personal trainer/ gym instructor. They are more affordable than a studio session which generally tailors the session to suit the needs of each client. The studio ratio of teacher to student is much smaller (four or five clients to one teacher). In some studios, each client works separately with the teacher changing their class content as and when needed. The ideal maximum number for a Mat work class is 12, anything larger makes it much harder for the teacher to pay particular attention to each student as their main focus is to keep the class moving, maintaining a steady flow with everybody moving together. Classes within a group setting like this can be fun, challenging and or relaxing depending on the level and focus of the class. A smaller mat work class with an experienced teacher is highly advisable but unlikely to find in a Health club or gym where they need healthy numbers in order to make in financially viable.

If you are injured, want to work on specifics or extend and deepen your practice, then a studio session is advised. The equipment enhances the work and can be used either in a rehabilitative context or, as a way to challenge the clientʼs balance, stamina, strength and flexibility. It adds more diversity in choices of exercises due to the different apparatusʼ. Having said that, some advanced mat work classes can be equally challenging because there is no equipment to rely on.

Whichever you choose, both promote the Pilates principles of breathing, coordination, stamina, flow, precision, centering and promote a sense of grounding and a better aligned body.

Pilates for injury rehabilitation

Often it is injury that brings our clients to us for the first time, and it is true to say that of our teachers the majority have experienced some sort of injury before coming to Pilates, and ultimately incorporating it into their lives.

Because Pilates has become so renowned for promoting trunk stability it is increasingly being recommended by GPs, by surgeons, as a rehabilitative approach to people who have been injured.

The core is key. We see sportspeople, dancers, as well as regular people who have neither background – even sportspeople might not necessarily have a good core because if you have a given sport in which you train habitually you tend to build up certain muscles and overlook others; it creates an imbalance, and that makes you vulnerable to injury.

The first thing we do is make people aware of their alignment, and then to change the way they move – their biomechanics: it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at a desk or swinging a golf club, acquiring this sort of understanding – of movement from your own perspective – has to be done by slow, careful, sensory work.

As with most things – prevention is better than cure, and regular practice will make people less vulnerable to injury in the first place. Really what we try to do – try to facilitate – is make people responsible for their own bodies.

With rehabilitation the aim is to restore normal everyday movement…whether that’s walking the dog; going to the gym, or playing sport at a given level. In more elderly people it’s about improving balance; enhancing their confidence and quality of life.

It’s always good to work with physiotherapists on the specifics of a given injury, to have that connection. Then, when that’s been established we can go beyond it and work holistically, determining in the process why an injury happened; what went wrong; what can be learned and ultimately preventing it from happening again.

Timing is crucial, if you begin Pilates too soon it can be detrimental: in the acute phase, when there is pain and inflammation, what’s needed is rest. Only once your practitioner has given the go ahead should a programme of rehabilitation begin.

Sometimes people come in and have an expectation that they will be ‘fixed.’  That’s not what Pilates is about – it’s about working together to understand what the body needs, with the teacher facilitating that process. It’s also about achieving dynamic stability and learning to move with ease, with freedom, towards a natural grace.

Everyone that walks into the studio is unique: their posture; alignment; age; life circumstances and other variables are particular only to them. That’s what makes teaching Pilates so interesting – it’s about working with the individual and ultimately finding ways for the body to heal itself.

Pre and post natal movement: Pilates v yoga

The body changes so much during pregnancy, and every woman’s experience of carrying a baby is in many ways so unique, that really – when it comes to yoga and Pilates, no one shoe fits all. There are benefits to both, as well as things to bear in mind.

For the first 12 weeks of pregnancy those new to either discipline should avoid embarking on anything new: particularly women with a history of miscarriage. Those who are familiar with yoga or Pilates and practice regularly may continue but should focus on breathing exercises and gentle movement. It’s worth saying that if a pregnant woman is considering any kind of exercise or movement regime she should run it by her doctor first.

Because in Pilates each movement is so precise, it’s a good option for women who have injuries – sacroiliac joint problems for example which often develop during pregnancy. The use of equipment is another bonus in instances of injury and from a purely practical perspective is supportive – literally – as the baby grows.  Pilates’ focus on trunk stability and biomechanics means it is particularly good for strengthening, important obviously as the pregnancy progresses, and of course for labour.

Yoga on the other hand is very grounding – an absolute asset throughout pregnancy, attended as it is by often dramatic hormonal fluctuations! With its emphasis on breathing – expansive breathing and in this case a longer out breath – yoga is also more tailored to supporting women through labour. In Pilates by contrast the breathing is specific and small, supporting short dynamic movements, which contractions of course are not!

Where Pilates and yoga work equally well is on alignment which underpins muscle balance, maintains joints in a neutral position, and therefore is particularly important in the immediate, intense post natal period when sleep is in short supply, the body is tired and lacks its usual resources.

In the absence of any complications in pregnancy there is no reason why yoga and/or Pilates can’t be practised – bearing in mind all of the above – until the very final stages.

Whilst there are undoubtedly benefits to yoga and Pilates during pregnancy, both have contraindications. Women who suffer symphasis pubic dysfunction for example, a condition that causes excessive movement of the symphasis pubis – should avoid yoga. Those who are already mobile should take care not to over-stretch when exercising as some of the pregnancy hormones promote greater stretch in the ligaments around the joints – yoga poses therefore should not be held for too long. Anyone who has or is a candidate for high blood pressure, or who is carrying twins, should avoid either discipline.

Of the two approaches, in a post-natal context Pilates is hands down the best: it targets the core, knits the abdominals back together and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles. How soon after the birth one should resume class depends really on how the birth went and the wellbeing of the mother. Practically speaking I would recommend allowing 2-3 months before returning but that’s really because it can take that time to regain some equilibrium: if all is well and you can manage it, some gentle breathing and movement such as pelvic tilts can be done at home.

Whatever your approach, attending class once a week is sufficient. Studio sessions here are small and tailored to work with clients individually which is particularly important through pregnancy and teachers will advise on good practice at home – how to observe and maintain good posture for example, which can come under strain as the pregnancy progresses.

Working with pregnant women is a delight: they are so often more intuitive about what is and isn’t right for their bodies because they’re tuned into their baby. Above all they want to protect their baby and won’t do anything that might harm them.