By Nic, Studio Founder
“Pull your shoulders back and down”, “engage your core”, “sit up straight”… we’ve probably all heard these kinds of cues when it comes to finding ways to improve our posture. But let me let you into a little secret: our posture is not something which is consciously controlled - that means you can’t think your way to better posture. By looking to control our body’s position with these thoughts we unknowingly often just create more tension and stiffness in our body which ultimately leads to more postural problems and therefore increased body discomfort.
It might be interesting to know that your pelvis is twisted, or your shoulders are rounded, or you have an increased curve in your lower back BUT the truth is this is not information your brain can actually do anything with. In my experience when people try to correct these issues by dropping one side of their pelvis, standing in a different way or holding their shoulders back, they start to experience more, not less problems.
So what is posture?
By Nic, Studio Founder & Runity Coach
We are perfectly designed to run. The problem is we have modified our lifestyle the point where our physical activity has been reduced to the absolute bare minimum. Basically we live our lives sitting in a chair and that negatively affects our health. We then try to undo this by heading out for a run only to feel sore and often get injured.
We now know that a sedentary lifestyle kills more people than obesity, hypertension and diabetes combined. This is a staggering fact and one which is easily reversible. Many people think running is damaging to their health but the reality is the sofa is far more dangerous to our health and our bodies!
Studies tell us that 80% of runners will get injured. So back to the sofa we go, nursing our injury. We want more people to get out of their chairs and out enjoying their runs, pain free.
The running story started 4.4 million years ago when we first came upright onto two legs. We didn’t realise it at the time, but coming upright so we could free our hands and move on our feet has allowed us to become the most successful species on the planet. Why is that?
By Rachel Ross, Soul Pilates Teacher
Recently you may have seen adverts on prime-time TV for Versus Arthritis and thought, Arthritis that’s what old people, or isn’t it just sore fingers when it gets cold? Or maybe you didn’t think about it at all.
Well that was me up until two years ago; I have always been physically active from a young age, doing cross country running at a county level at Primary School to travelling around the world Rock climbing in my late teens and early twenties (this photo is me climbing in Thailand, and printed in a book, World Climbing by Simon Carter). Competing at a UK level in the British Indoor Climbing Championships, snowboarding, running half marathons, swimming, doing yoga. It never crossed my mind that I would be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 37.
After the birth of my two children I found it difficult to juggle being a mother and help my body recover from the changes of giving birth whilst maintaining my love of fitness. But I made sure I found the time, if even if it was to leave the house for an hour on my own to do yoga, then I found Pilates.
I discovered the studio Soul Pilates and went to regular equipment sessions sometimes twice a week. After a while I decided that’s what I wanted to do as a career, to be a Pilates teacher. In May 2016 I managed to secure a place to start teacher training at the Physiotherapy and Pilates Rehabilitation Centre in Clevedon (in affiliation with Alan Herdman Pilates). The course was due to start September 2017, plenty of time to hone my skills, learn more of the repertoire and get my old Biology degree books out and get a head start.
However, during a family holiday to Canada in the Summer of 2016 to visit my husband’s parents, I kept being plagued by tendon trouble in my hands, and a sense of being irritable and tired all the time. I still kept running and practicing Pilates in the beautiful surroundings of my in-law’s house. I thought I had maybe over done it. or maybe it was the jet-lag; a multitude of reasons but this pain in my hands continued when we returned back home to Bristol.
It’s February and many of us are feeling a little flat. We’re going to be bringing lots of techniques into our classes this month to work with you to feel rejuvenated ready for spring and beyond. You can expect breath work, relaxation, fascial release as well as ways to can boast our energy and get our heart pumping!
Are you foam rolling your IT band? Does it hurt in a satisfying way but not really changing how your IT band actually feels? Here we show you an adapted Pilates exercise using a band which lengthens your IT band, inner thighs, ankles and glutes. You will literally feel the difference instantly!
Studio owner Nic takes you through a 20 minute core workout in this video you can follow at home. But first she explains what "the core" is, (and what it isn't), and why strengthening your core is not simply about abdominal work and sits ups!
Pilates is an incredibly popular form of exercise that was developed in the early-1900’s, but didn’t make it over to England until the 1970’s. Since then it’s been knocking around on the fitness scene and been a constant presence in people’s workout routines.
Focusing on core strength and stability, it utilises controlled movements and breathing to build strength, coordination, balance and improve alignment.
Where did Pilates come from?
It was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German bodybuilding enthusiast who focused his life on becoming fit and healthy after a sickly childhood. He began a new approach to fitness which combined body conditioning using body weight and apparatus, such as the Reformer, which is still used in studios today! He extensively researched many different forms of exercise; from Ancient Roman exercise routines to modern day fitness, such as gymnastics, and from tai chi to meditation.
In the 1920’s Joseph Pilates opened his first studio in New York and his methods were a hit! Especially with dancers - they found it a perfect way to recover from injuries and strengthen their weak spots. It grew in popularity before being brought over to the UK where the first Pilates studio opened in London in 1970. And, as they say, the rest is history!
A beginners guide to Pilates
Hundreds of studios and venues across the UK now offer Pilates and they range in a broad spectrum of styles. Have you ever been curious to try it out? We’ve collaborated with Soul Pilates, a quality Pilates studio based in the centre of Bristol, to bring you an in-depth beginners guide to Pilates. See what it’s all about and if it’s something you would want to give a go!
We think the foam roller has to be everyone's absolute favourite piece of kit, why else would our clients always lie on one while waiting for class to start?!
So grab your roller (available to purchase from the studio or on amazon) and follow Nic in this quick 20-minute workout which will release tight muscles, provide stability to your pelvis and tighten your tummy.
Feeling a bit tense? A bit tight? In need of a massage? Tight shoulders? Sore lower back? Check out these videos on tips and tricks to release at home and to keep your body feeling supple and moving freely.
Release Those Hips!
If you're back is tight or your knees are in pain, often the hips are a great place to find release.
Tight Shoulders? Feeling Hunched Over?
Check out this video for ways to open up your spine!
Grab a Franklin green ball (available at the studio) and give yourself should shoulder and neck love! Studio founder Nic takes you through one of her favourite fascial release exercises for neck and shoulders.
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder
As we head into a New Year, I've found myself having a few conversations recently with clients who have been asking me about my own health journey, why I become a Pilates Instructor and my personal road to recovery from a car accident and subsequent chronic pain. All these conversations seemed to surround the concept of 'wellness'.
So what is 'wellness'? How do you achieve it? And what’s the secret to being well, to being happy and, to coin a slightly overused phase these days, "living your best life"?
I think I need to be pretty upfront about this and say that honestly, I don’t have a single answer. But the truth is no-one really does, despite the marketing hype promising you health, wellness and a body like a bikini clad Instagram star. I believe the reason no one has “the answer” is that there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to being well, to being happy and to living any sort of great life.
In my experience, both with myself and from with working with clients with varying complex needs and backgrounds, what I’ve realised that ‘wellness’, or as I like to think of it - "being well", is a bit like baking a cake.
First you need a set of ingredients. And as someone who really does like cake, I can tell you, there are many, many options when it comes to cake and this is a very good thing! Some recipes you try and they work really well, some need a bit of you own personal tweaking, and some spectacularly fail to rise, or stick to the tin.
I think wellness is a bit like this. It’s not simply about Pilates, or meditation, or what you’re eating, or how you feel about yourself, or what childhood you had, or what exercise you’re doing, or if you love or hate your job, or the downtime you take, or the people you surround yourself with. To be honest it’s a combination of all these things and a whole heap more. These are all ingredients to the recipe of wellness. And the amount of each ingredient required varies hugely from person to person. We are not all created equal and I think this is what provides the rich tapestry of humanity.
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder & Lead Instructor
This summer I was approach by Hadrian Stiff, Director & Founder at Elite Squash to teach Pilates to some his clients during their summer break in Bristol. Hadrian coaches a number of elite squash players, including the current World Number 1 and has an amazing, holistic approach to get the best out of the best.
One philosophy I live by is ‘efficiency’. If we can walk through life with the most ease for the greatest output then this has to be a good thing right? What if I said “you can do less, and achieve more”? This so often goes against everything we’ve been taught in life: “No pain, no gain". But actually working with Hadrian has cemented my view because this is exactly his approach and he’s working with top flight athletes who are hugely successful at what they do.
My first thought when asked to teach his players was “what on earth can I teach these guys, they are the creme-de-la-creme of their sport?”. But it turns out that even top flight professional athletes have movement patterns which aren’t as efficient as they could be. This can lead to injuries or just feeling more achy after a long tournament which means they don’t go into their next tournament feeling on top form.
I worked with a number of players over the summer, and am continuing with my work with them this Autumn and here are the benefits I’ve seen from their work in the Pilates studio.
Ease of Movement
We want movement to feel easy and smooth. Bringing the mind into the body, and the body into the mind, is a huge part of this experience. Often we are so driven by our head that we fail to notice what the body is feeling, what it is sensing. Being asked to describe a feeling, to notice a feeling, to be given time to check in with yourself pre-and-post session is a huge part of this journey to learn and sense how we 'feel'.
Often we stay in the head asking ourselves things like, “what muscle is this working”, “what should I be engaging” - this isn’t the point. When we move, whether it’s to play top level sport or walking down the street we don’t tell our bodies to “engage this glute to move this leg” we just have the aim of walking to get somewhere. This is even more prevalent in any sport or high intensity activity - you’re so focused on your game, or your run that you will fail to check in with your posture, your movement or the strategy to move more easily.
Posture is not something we can consciously control. We need it to just be there. Our bodies really do want to be efficient but sometimes they need a little re-calibrating to realise that movement can be easy. In order for the nervous system to recalibrate, it needs to have time to sense the patterns it’s learned so that it can start to pick up these new patterns and next time it’s asked to walk down the street, walk up the stairs or play the biggest game of its life it just finds the efficiency.
Improved Squat & Lunge Patterns
Squats are a bit of a buzz word in terms of functional movement and really something we should all be looking to improve. A deep squat is an incredibly efficient rest position for our bodies - just look at a toddler and you’ll see this is how they bend down and stay in one place - it’s the easiest way for their joints to rest. But a lifetime of sitting and staying away from these patterns means that for most people squats and lunges feel really tricky which results in the body compensating to achieve the aim.
And when it comes to Squash, where when you spend a good chunk of your game lunging to reach those low shots they matter even more. And here is where we spend time focusing on the pelvis. Where is it, how it moves, where do muscles connect and how do we use movement to create space and efficiency.
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder
We love to see you working on what you've learned in your sessions at home. Here are some handy reminders on the key points we're looking for in each of these exercises.
By Andrea Jones, Soul Pilates Instructor
Learning a new skill can be a daunting prospect. Not only do you have to put yourself in a very vulnerable position of admitting that you know absolutely nothing about something, but you also have to be willing to try things that may make you feel very uncomfortable.
There's a model in psychology* used to explain the stages of learning and acquiring any new skill; the process you have to go through to get good at something.
The last 5 years of my life have been an ongoing example of this model which goes something like this:
STAGE 1: UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE
This is all of us at the beginning of any new endeavor. Unaware of just how not good we are at it.
By Studio Founder & Lead Instructor Nic
We are passionate about moving, about HOW you move and about how you FEEL about moving.
So we decided to put on a full day of free classes, postural assessments and 1-to-1s to celebrate movement with you.
We had over 90 people attend the day and it was amazing to see so many old and new faces trying out some tried and tested class formats and some brand new such as PHIIT - combining Pilates with High Intensity moves.
Thank you to everyone who attended, I am looking forward to getting to know you more.
Some of our favourite feedback from the day....
Did you know that up to 80% of your immune system is found in your gut, and that the health of your digestive system affects your mood, motivation, will power, energy and even your intuition?
From a movement teaching perspective I find the gut / core absolutely fascinating.
I imagine that if you have ever worked out, you would have heard the cue 'tighten your core', 'pull in your belly' 'zip up your pelvic floor' and probably countless more ways to tighten your 'stomach' - unfortunately these really aren't the best cues to truly train your 'core', and in fact can have the unwanted side effects of anxiety, an increase in blood pressure, constipation, a flacid gut, indigestion, increased risk of injury, decrease in flexibility and less ability to absorb force - need I go on?
What is the core anyway?
Well it is way more that the thin layer of abdominal muscles that surrounds your belly. It is your stomach, your intestines, your colon, your kidneys, your psoas, your ql, your diaphragm, your pelvic floor, your spinal muscles - and these beautiful, clever parts work together as a whole, in symphony, they communicate with each other, they influence each other and they definitely do not want to be held in a vice regularly by 'tightening your core'.
By Nic Conroy, Studio Founder
What’s brought you here today? Are you looking to be toned, to be thinner, maybe it’s to not be in pain or are you seeking a bigger (or a smaller) bum…?
When I was in the planning for the opening of the Soul Pilates studio three years ago, I looked around at the wider industry and these were the kinds of messages I was constantly bombarded with. And, from a marketing point of view this is the kind of message that sells. People mostly want to be a better version of themselves it seems. But this wasn't my vision and it wasn’t my reality.
Rewind 8 years and I was living in Leeds as a Digital Director for a prestigious marketing agency. I drove a convertible, ran for my train in sky scraper heels, flew between Leeds and Geneva for meetings, went to the gym almost every day and weighted 2 stone more than I do now.
Now I can reflect and see that I was unfulfilled and living an incredibly stressed out life. But I didn’t see it like that then. I thought I was living the life I’d always worked for. I was a girl with good grades who was always going to go to university and have a big career - and I did: prestigious clients, dinners at 3 star Michelin restaurants, generous clients entertainment budgets to spend and have fun with, nights out until 3am and up again at 6am for a run before presenting at a board meeting. II’ll admit it was fun at times, but it was understandably exhausting now I look back and I constantly felt burnt out, yet frustrated at myself for being, too tired to cope with this life. “Surely other people could manage better than I was?” was something I often told myself.
There are certain parts of the body that always get more attention than others.
The pelvic floor (especially in the female demographic) is definitely a popular area of discussion in pilates, yoga and physical therapy. This is a good thing as so many women and men suffer from pelvic floor issues.
There are whole practices dedicated specifically to pelvic floor health. In pre and post natal pilates sessions it’s very common that the pelvic floor is the central focus ensuring the muscles are strong and well co-ordinated.
In contrast to this, I have also taught thousands of women that have left the hospital after having had a baby or pelvic surgery, with the instructions to 'do their pelvic floor exercises'- with absolutely no clue what that actually means, other than stopping the flow of water?!
In this blog, I aim to give you more support around how to train your pelvic floor to improve continence, pelvic and lower back support, balance, flexibility and even force absorption!
Since having my baby 4 months ago I don't manage to fit in so many workouts in the Soul Pilates studio **sad face**. So my kitchen floor has become my home studio and this 25 minute workout fits nicely with nap time.
This is a great workout to massage your spine whilst challenging your abs using the foam roller. If you don't have a roller you can do this without you just won't have such an intense an experience which is great when you only have a short amount of time.
Nic - Studio Founder
Studio Founder Nic talks through her home birth and trusting her instincts and her body in the face of induction of labour for being overdue.
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