Most of us have one. Some of us have more than one.
The canary is that spot in our body that will complain/hurt/show discomfort first. Not the happy hurt of a well-worked muscle, but the unhappy hurt of something being ‘wrong’. We may not be able to describe the wrong or say why it’s wrong, we just know that this is a sensation that we want gone from us.
And this isn’t the direct and immediate pain of a stubbed toe or broken bone. This is not a direct pain resulting from an immediate cause. This is a recurring pain without obvious source.
Phrases that point to a canary are:
- “Oh, there goes my <canary> again, hurting”
- “Figures, <canary> is sore again today”
- “I tripped and sure enough my <canary> hurts now”
- “Man, my <canary> is always sore, but today is so bad”
You know this, you get it. It’s the first place to hurt, the last to feel okay. Everything else in the body may be fine but not that place. Or everything starts out good all over but you overwork or over play and this is the spot that has the bad kind of hurt the next day.
We often hate our canaries. After all, our canaries are a frequent or constant place of pain and discomfort. And we can’t shut them up or make them stop screeching.
I use the label canary in honour and in reference to the canaries that were used in the coal mines by the miners as an early warning system on air quality. Or at least early warning enough to possibly get out before they died. Canaries are sensitive to air quality. They would get sick and potentially die before any miner would notice a problem directly themselves; but seeing the sickening canary, the miners had time to get out before it was too late. Canaries saved lives by being an early warning system.
Our body canaries are our body’s early warning system. That sore spot isn’t trying to make you crazy. It’s telling you something wrong. But. The problem is NOT the canary. The problem is the environment. Let me say that again.
The problem is not the canary, it is the environment.
The canaries in the mines weren’t making the miners sick, they were just the warning system that there was something in the air that was dangerous.
The canaries in our bodies are not the so-called problem. They are the warning that something in the system is wrong.
The sore spot in my right lower back is not the problem. The alignment of my pelvis and the weakness in my front right low belly are core sources of the problem. That sore spot in my back is just my canary telling me that my bones are shifting out of place; that a necessary muscle is failing to do its job.
The canary is a result of a toxic (or if that is too strong a word, then let us say sub-optimal) environment. I say environment because it is almost always not one singular direct cause for a canary. Or if there is on cause, we haven’t discovered it yet. It is the system, the environment that the canary is in that is causing it to cry out.
And this is why that canary is your greatest ally.
Your canary, no matter how frustrated, angry, crazy, hurt it may make you feel, is your best guide.
Listen to your canary. It will be the first (or certainly the loudest and best at getting your attention) indication that the environment of your body is no longer healthy. It is calling out to you that something has gone wrong in the system. Listen to it.
The sooner you listen and the faster you respond to your canary by re-balancing the environment to a healthy state, the less it will need to screech.
So don’t be mad at your canary. It’s just trying to warn you. We are the ones who are responsible, through our patterns and habits, for the place we’re in. If we never change how we move, we will never be able to silence that canary (and may end up with a chorus of birds screeching at us).
The joyful news is that we can change. While we live we can change. Let your canary guide you. Let it help you realize when and where you need to change. It is trying to help you.
May the season bring you peace, joy, and comfort as you need it.
The studio is now closed and will re-open Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018.
Happy New Year!
One of the fundamental body principles that I live and work by is that our bodies love us and will do their utmost to do what we ask of them.
The trick of it is in what we ask of our bodies. Too often we focus on the end result, the destination if you will, rather than the journey. We say to ourselves that we want to touch our toes when we bend or that the most important factor is to squat as low as possible.
And our bodies comply with these requests. In whatever manner they can. If the only parameter in play is to touch our toes, our bodies will bend our knees and overstretch our shoulders to get there. If the only parameter in play is to squat as low as possible, then the body will not worry about hip alignment or foot placement, it won’t care if it’s leaning too far forward or if it’s using all back muscles and no belly to do it.
Too often we give unhealthy parameters.
Put down for a moment the destination. If we’re not worried about when we arrive at our toes, but instead worry about how we’re going to get there, we will have a healthier time traveling.
Imagine traveling by horse back in the day. If arriving at the destination was the most critical parameter, you could ride your horse to floundering in order to get their fast. But rarely was the need so great as to do so. Instead, more time would be taken to get to the destination, in order to ensure that the horse (and you) arrived in a healthy, sound state. And if you had the luxury of a fair amount of time for the journey, you could learn a bunch of new things on the way, see new sights, have new experiences.
The same applies for the journey of Pilates. Don’t be in a rush to arrive at a destination. If we hurry too much we can injure ourselves. Instead, take the time to notice the journey. Give yourself the gift of making your health the most important parameter, letting the destination be a guide to which way to travel rather than the purpose of the travel itself.
Because the purpose of our Pilates journey is to be healthy in our body, not to do funky body tricks; it is to find greater bend in our spine, not necessarily to touch our toes.
The nice part is that if we keep working on getting better and greater and healthier supported bend in our spine, eventually we will simply touch our toes as a natural consequence of the work we’ve been doing.
So what parameters do you set on your body? Are you focused on the destination or are you exploring the journey?
In the touching toes example, consider touching the toes as a guideline for which direction you’re traveling in but focus on the journey of bending the spine, with control. So then the parameters become keeping the arms integrated into the shoulder girdle and creating deliberate bend in the spine with the abdominals and an engagement in particular of the low abdominals in support of the low back.
For squatting, what if it wasn’t about getting low into the squat but instead the parameters were to keep the knees aligned with the feet, to find deep flexion in the hip and to not flex the lumbar spine. And then let the squat fall (not literally) where it may.
When these types of parameters are placed on the exercise – journey parameters instead of destination parameters – we never really fail. Because we can fail to meet destination parameters, but the only way to fail journey parameters is to give up trying.
It is very easy to get lost in the multitude of things we are trying to remember when we move in the focused, aware, controlled way of Pilates. Six impossible things at the same time!
Sometimes what we need is to remember to come out of viewing these things as pieces, and allow them to settle in and then flow through the movement. I prefer to see movement as the mind giving a set of (hopefully healthy) parameters for the movement to the body (those six impossible things) and then letting the body move within those parameters.
Let it flow.
Even the supposed stillness of say our shoulders during a movement of the upper torso or arms isn’t a fixed, rigid positioning. Our shoulders respond to the movement of the arms, the movement of our thoracic spine. Our shoulders are ideally in a state of flow, gently reacting to everything happening around them and following the simple (which does not mean easy) mental parameter of staying connected downwardly onto our ribcage.
By staying in a constant state of flow, we need not force anything. There’s no shoving down of the shoulders. No fixed position to be maintained (and then frustrated to discover that we can’t maintain it). It happens, naturally and organically.
Try it, let go of all of the individual pieces for at least a moment, trust that your body can hold those parameters you’ve set and flow with the process. See what happens. Use this as another approach to your practice. Switch it up. Change is good for us. Better than bran.
I like to think we are all familiar with how plants and trees grow roots nice and deep into the soil in order to have the stability and strength to grow up nice and tall. (Check out the amazing root lengths in this article! Okay, I can’t resist, here’s one to see just how amazing these can be:)
This strength, stability, suppleness, lengthened flexibility, is also available and waiting to be fully present within our own bodies.
Today I worked with a client on this length, of finding the rooting of his legs deep into his core. He was having the sensation that when he extended his legs out in front of him (footwork with leg springs, while lying supine), they seemed disconnected, loose and uncontrolled, unrooted. With pressure from me as feedback and from the springs, he could find a portion of that connectedness, but only a portion.
We moved then into imagery, seeing his pelvis as the ground, legs as the tree trunks, his feet as the leaves and top branches, and then where does his root system grow to? Did his legs just root only into his pelvis?
That idea did not give him enough connectedness in his femur to pelvis joint to feel in control.
When he took the image and expanded the roots, took them deep inside and up through his core, along his spine and up to his ribs, he could find it.
He found his rootedness. He found the place where his legs didn’t fall off of him when extended. He could reach his legs out to their fullest length and still be strong and settled with his pelvis, with the weight of his legs supported from deep within and not hanging willy nilly off of him.
We are living systems of connected and connective tissues. We can root ourselves in all kind of ways. The legs can root into our core, as we did here. The arms can root into the shoulders and through there into the ribs. Our neck roots down the entire length of our spine into our sacrum. Our torso roots through our legs into the ground.
The additional beauty of rooting? It does not lock us in place. Roots are flexible and strongly supportive. They keep us grounded and connected yet also allow for us to explore the full range of our mobility. They lengthen, grow and shift to our needs, in the moment and long-term.
So go on, get rooted, and you will then discover just how much you can fly!
Are you retired? Want to feel stronger, more mobile? Have daytime hours available? Then I have a deal for you…
For the rest of 2016, retirees can take 3 trial private classes with me for just $100! Then try an introductory package of your choice of 5 or 10 classes at $10 off per class. And then (yes, this is the deal that keeps on giving) sign up for on-going classes at just $60/private session ($10 off our regular rate). What’s the catch? This deal is only available up until 3 pm on weekdays (so the 4pm classes are at our regular rates).
Interested? Call Violet at 604-723-2309 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best day to start moving is today.
I am plea
sed to announce that I will be doing an afternoon workshop with Jenn Danielson of Connect Your Dots on “What’s your body saying?”
Taking place on Sunday, November 13th from 2 to 5 pm at MOVE Studio in New Westminster, we have room for only 15 people, so get your ticket soon if interested!
This information can all be found on the FB event.
Your body talks to you every single day: are you hearing it? That headache or sore back? By the time it shows up, your body has been trying to tell you something. Are you holding tension or paying attention to that “gut feeling” about your decisions? There’s information there.
Join Jenn Danielson and Violet Redekop in this interactive workshop that brings together aspects of mindfulness, pilates, energy work and some good old sleuthing skills that will decode what your body is telling you today, and gives you the tools to listen and learn more in the future.
We’ll be gently moving around throughout the afternoon. Wear comfortable clothing and be ready to (re)connect to your body. This is a small class event – 15 participant maximum!
1. Are there ID requirements or an age limit to enter the event?
While much of the theory in this class can be applied at any age, participants must be 18 or older.
2. What are my transport/parking options getting to the event?
MOVE Studio is right off of the Sapperton Skytrain station. Limited parking is available in the area.
3. Where can I contact the organizer with any questions?
Please feel free to contact Jenn with any questions at email@example.com Please allow a day for a response.
4. What is the refund policy?
Refunds are not available for this event.
“Okay, slide your hip bones up…”
“Let your shoulders settle down onto your ribs…”
“Find just a hint of that upper ab engagement…”
“Let the movement begin from your sacrum sliding down through your pelvis…”
“Keep your neck long…”
“Breathe in and move…”
“You want me to remember all that?”
“Yep, that’s Pilates for you, asking you to remember 6 impossible things at the same time.”
I’ll admit, channeling a bit of Lewis Carroll for any reason makes me happy. Yet it is also so appropriate to this invigorating, maddening, wonderful, difficult part of Pilates: the total body management through mental awareness, concentration, focus and control.
Those four things (awareness, concentration, focus and precise control) are four of the fundamental concepts of Pilates. And we, cruel instructors that we are, ask you to use all four of them, all at the same time, while moving (and throwing probably a few other things into the mix, too).
It’s crazy, it’s difficult, and it’s training.
Pilates isn’t just a physical regime. It is mental, it can be emotional, it borders on the spiritual. Asking ourselves to hold within our consciousness these six requirements at the same time leads us to internal change.
Our mind/body connection is greatly improved. We are actually focusing on what the body is doing, and with 6 things to remember at the same time, there is no chance that our minds can drift off to some other topic. Rather like how we can balance one dish on our hand and have a completely focused conversation with someone no problem, but add two or three or four balanced dishes on top of the first one, and that conversation becomes a bit trickier. More of our attention is focused on the physical part of what we are doing because we can’t simply rely on our trained physical habits. The challenge is too high.
Naturally, as we practice our capacity increases, so we would think that this becomes easier, yes? That the mind could start to wander because we’ve integrated these things? We have the ability to hold all of it at the same time?
Ah, no. We get better at actually holding all 6 at the same time but thanks to constant refinement, we never reach a stage where we are better served by letting the body go off working on its own without the mind there to help shape the best results.
Because of that constant, necessary integration of mind with movement, we create a stronger, healthier relationship between mind and body. We create stronger, healthier bodies by involving the refinement and attention of our minds. It’s beautiful synergy.
And so I will continue, when I get that special look as I ask for my students to remember ‘one more thing’ as they move, I will smile and say “yep, 6 impossible things at the same time”.
A fascinating look at plantar fasciitis: http://www.engagingmuscles.com/2016/05/08/plantar-fasciitis-foot-pain/ Worth the read.
There were a couple of ideas that resonated for me:
The problem does not lie in the foot. Or most likely doesn’t (all things are possible after all). Our bodies are interconnected chains of actions and reactions. Rarely it seems is the pain we feel from imbalanced bones and musculature felt in the “source” area.
Fast and easy “solutions” to body problems probably aren’t. There are some simple things we can do in relation to certain problems that can help but 5 ways to lose belly fat fast, 3 steps to healthy hips, probably aren’t going to do it for us. We are all individual in body, each of our physical forms being unique and in need of their own particular treatment of movement. Which is why I I believe in Pilates, precisely because it does treat everyone as individuals with their own needs and then tailors the work to those needs.
Orthotics are not the solution they appear to be. As with all things, sometimes and for some people they are helpful. But just like if you wear a back brace at length because of a sore back, you are ultimately weakening your muscles because they no longer have work to do. Given that muscle problems in the feet are what start the problem, weakening them further by removing the work that they are doing is not going to solve anything and just make us dependent on the footwear.
It’s a long read, but one I enjoyed.