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How to prevent chronic pain through emotional awareness

It’s been proven that what happens physiologically in the body also creates sensory changes in the brain and vice versa. In our previous blog, we explained how emotions impact your body. Now we’ll take a step further and teach you how to identify these emotions in the body and relieve the associated musculoskeletal tension. Why? Because when we become consciously aware of our emotions and responses, we can break the negative feedback loops that lead to pain. Read on.

Chronic Pain

How does pain from an injury become chronic? Through negative thoughts and feelings. When we don’t feel safe, our brains activate pain. Both physical and/or emotional.

Most injuries have a healing time of between 2-3 months. Beyond this window, the original pain signal has now become a learned response of the brain and nervous system. The part of the brain that activates this learned pain response is also connected to fear, memory and emotion.

Once learned, this pain signal can be activated by different triggers. Some are physical activity-based triggers, like fear of certain movements. Whereas others are psychosocial, such as a stressful situation or a challenging emotion. These signals can be out of proportion to the actual threat or event and trigger off a cascade of toxic overthinking which further amplifies pain.

However, there is some good news. This learned response is reversible, and we can learn how to switch off a pain signal.

Heat map of emotions

(Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, Hietanen, 2014)

The heat map of emotions shown above highlights how each emotion can activate or deactivate a distinct set of body parts. “Say you see a snake and you feel fear,” says the study leader, Lauri Nummenmaa. “Your Nervous System increases oxygen to your muscle and raises your heart rate so you can deal with the threat. It’s an automated system. We don’t have to think about it.”

Now imagine what can happen when we start taking control of our automatic responses. The following steps will help you do so through conscious thought and awareness.

How to do a body scan and develop body awareness

STEP 1: Be still, slow down and allow feelings to come up. If we’re rushing around or stressed, it will be too difficult to access emotion. Either meditate or take 5-10minutes to look inward.

STEP 2: Notice the body sensations and ask yourself questions. Every emotion has a chemical component/biological response, so it’s important to identify which emotions cause which symptoms.

  • Where is the sensation? Do a body scan from head to toe. Does it correlate with the area of pain?
  • What’s the temperature? Hot vs cold vs warm to determine intensity. This can help differentiate between anxiety and excitement which feel similar but we’re more afraid of anxiety.
  • Is the sensation moving? Anger can be a short intense hot flush, but so can embarrassment or humiliation. Or is something stuck in your throat as can happen with sadness?
  • What kind of sensation are you experiencing? Rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, pulsating or throbbing in your temples, a knot or butterflies in the stomach, tightness or tension in your shoulders?

This is what it means to feel our feelings. Bring conscious awareness and focus to the physical felt sensation in our body.

STEP 3: Identify if the feeling is one of the most commonly experienced emotions. Look at the activation patterns on the diagram.

Common emotions and corresponding sensations

I’ll also highlight some of the symptoms you may experience below.

ANGER BASED

  • Heat in the chest, upper torso and hands
  • Clenched fists and jaw
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tense shoulders and arms, ready to fight

FEAR OR SHAME-BASED

  • Increased heart rate to attack or run away (fight or flight)
  • Activation in the head, chest and stomach – energy moving away from the digestive system so we can run or fight
  • Anxiety and excitement/surprise are the same, but we can interpret each differently

JOY BASED

  • An all-over feeling of warmth
  • Activation in face and eyes from smiling and eyes crinkling up
  • Openness and expansiveness

SADNESS BASED

  • Behind eyes and sinuses with an urge to cry or lump in the throat
  • Heaviness in the chest
  • Lethargic and low energy so deactivation in arms and legs
  • Depression is neutral/numb in the torso/abdomen whereas sadness shows activation in the head and chest

Again, do these sensations correlate with the area of pain?

If we’ve been unable to let go of certain emotions, these activated areas will also be amplified in our brains making our bodies more rigid and stiff. Or we may have disconnected ourselves from the deactivated areas, creating low tone and strength. The key is to practise this body scanning over and over to develop the skill of body awareness and develop accurate structures in the brain again.

Controlling toxic thought cycles

Emotions can be perceived as “dangerous” if we think they are bad or want to avoid feeling them. The more fear you feel, or suppress, the more pain you will feel. To reduce pain, try reducing the emotions or negative thought cycles surrounding it.

We have to learn to control our thoughts and reactions before they trigger toxic chain reactions and become ingrained neural networks, a.k.a. bad habits. The ability of the brain to change is called neuroplasticity, and any brain at any age can be made to function at a higher level due to this ability. YOU have the power to rewire neural pathways and reduce uncomfortable symptoms.

The role of physiotherapy

If you believe you are suffering from a chronic injury (of 3 months or more), physiotherapy can not only help you with pain management but also build awareness of compensatory movement patterns and enhance your mind-body connection. We can also help you identify the negative mental or physical loops your body may be stuck in. And provide you with the correct strategies to unlearn these painful habits.

The study was published online Dec. 30. 2013 in the journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences.


Image Credit: Megapixl

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How Emotions Impact Your Body – And Ways to Break Negative Patterns

We’ve long known that emotions create physiological changes in the body. For example, sadness can create tears, fear often leads to sweaty palms, and anxiety or excitement can give us butterflies in the stomach. As for embarrassment—who hasn’t experienced those tell-tale red cheeks? 

In other words, while you can try and deny your emotions, your body doesn’t lie. It will communicate what it’s feeling inside through postures, the tightening or relaxing of muscles, facial expressions, nervous system arousal, heart beats, and breathing patterns. This is a perfectly normal part of being human. However, over time negative emotions can manifest in physical pain or ailments and even contribute to injury. 

Read on to learn how emotions impact your body—and some simple ways to start breaking any negative patterns you may have developed during the pandemic.

Negative emotions and our learned physiological response

When pain or uncomfortable symptoms from emotions, like anxiety or depression, become chronic, it creates a learned physiological response. More and more research is highlighting the link between mental health struggles and physical ailments. Just like you can practise to become good at soccer, you can also incidentally “practise” being good at pain responses or negative emotions.

Throughout covid, we’ve all been pushed into survival mode for a very long time. This extended period in “fight, flight or freeze” mode can cause our Nervous System to become dysregulated—intensifying emotions and creating rigidity in our bodies.

Returning to normal life after a prolonged period of stress

Even though we’re now trying to regain our routines and activities, some of you may be experiencing more niggles and flare ups of injuries or finding that you don’t have as much energy or motivation. This is completely understandable, as the negative emotions or pain from the last couple of years may have built up in your body, keeping you stuck in these automatic patterns or habitual postures. 

However, don’t worry as there is some good news. With a few simple lifestyle tweaks, you can start to unlearn these patterns and gradually build up the resilience of your Nervous System once again. Keep reading to learn how. 

Simple ways to strengthen your Nervous System

The most powerful tools to regulate your Nervous System (and relieve pain and stress) include:

EXERCISE: Your strength and capacity to withhold load may have significantly reduced over the last couple years so the emphasis is on GRADED exercise. If you find your body is more reactive, you may want to start with lower-grade exercise like walking, cycling, clinical pilates, yoga or hydrotherapy. From here, a progressive exercise program can be developed.

MASSAGE/MOBILISATION: Releasing tension in the body will directly release tension in the mind through the vagus nerve connection. As well as this, eliminating pain and stiffness will allow you to move freely, breathe freely and stop pain from using up your energy reserves. 

BREATHWORK: We can hack our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) through our breath.”1:2 breathing”, where you breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in, can facilitate the relaxation of your aroused Nervous System. It is also good to identify your pattern of breathing as this will determine which muscles have become more rigid and we can teach you how to make this more efficient.

MEDITATION: Whether you love it or hate it, meditation is the most effective way of taking control of our brains and thoughts—where both pain and emotion originate. Just like a massage can relax mental stress, learning to relax the thoughts in your mind will help you relax the autonomic bracing and tension in your body, again through the vagus nerve. 

The Vagus Nerve and the mind-body connection

The vagus nerve is a two-way communicator between the brain and body (the mind-body connection). I recommend looking this up to find out just how important nervous system health is. You can also read our previous blog, How to Alleviate Pandemic Stress Via the Vagus Nerve, for more information on its vital role.  

How emotions impact your body – chronic stress & body hyperreactivity

Now you have an idea of how emotions impact your body, we hope you’ll understand the hyperreactivity you’re experiencing may be a residual effect of the chronic stress we’ve all been under. There are multitudes of strategies to help regulate your Nervous System once again, but it starts with figuring out where your current baseline is.

If you’re interested in discussing this further, getting some manual release work, or developing an exercise program that’s the right fit for you, please book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists. We’d love to help.

Image Credit: Megapixl

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How to Alleviate Pandemic Stress Via the Vagus Nerve

If endless lockdowns, concern for your loved ones or a loss of income has left you anxious, depressed or feeling stuck, you’re not alone. Pandemic life and its associated stresses have taken their toll on most of us, and the destabilising impact on our central nervous systems has led to heightened, or dulled, emotions.

Across the globe, people are experiencing a range of symptoms dubbed pandemic flux syndrome. In this article, TAS physio Naiha outlines the physiological impacts of chronic Covid stress, before providing practical tips to restore equilibrium by strengthening your vagus nerve. Read on. 

What is the vagus nerve – and how can it impact your mental state?

The longest and most complex of our cranial nerves, the vagus nerve is the epicentre of the mind-body connection. It controls various bodily functions, immune response, digestion, heart rate and mood.

Having a strong vagal tone improves both our psychological and physiological health. It expands the range of sensations we can tolerate without moving into fight, flight or freeze mode. In other words, it expands our nervous system’s resiliency in response to stress – something we’ve experienced at unprecedented levels over the past 18-plus months.

Since the arrival of COVID-19, we’ve all suffered in various ways, and most of us have been pushed outside what we call the Window of Tolerance. 

The nervous system, stress & your ‘Window of Tolerance’

We all have a personal ‘Window of Tolerance’ in which we fluctuate between a healthy level of arousal (via the sympathetic nervous system) and rest (parasympathetic system) in response to normal daily stress. For instance, we utilise the sympathetic system for exercise or to meet a work deadline, and we use the parasympathetic nervous system to digest our food or relax while bingeing Netflix. These are normal variations that allow for the ups and downs of emotions through the day.

(Levine, Ogden, Siegel)

Unfortunately, however, when a traumatic event or chronic stress (i.e. Covid) pushes us outside the Window of Tolerance, we can get stuck in fight, flight or freeze mode. Here in Victoria, this has been amplified each time we have gone in and out of lockdown. The following diagram shows the symptoms that can be experienced when we are stuck on “on” (such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance and anger) or stuck on “off” (think depression, lethargy and disconnection).

(Levine, Ogden, Siegel)

If you can identify with any of the symptoms above, you may currently be dealing with a dysregulated nervous system. While we can’t eradicate chronic stress, expanding your individual Window of Tolerance will help you regain equilibrium. And one of the simplest ways you can do this is by accessing and strengthening your vagus nerve.

How to expand your Window of Tolerance via the Vagus Nerve

Here are a few simple ways to help improve your vagus nerve’s tone and resilience. 

1. Posture – As the vagus nerve runs from the base of the skull/neck down to the abdomen, poor posture can place too much pressure on the areas the nerve runs through. Remind yourself consistently through the day to sit tall and tuck your chin in.

2. Breathwork – Belly breathing accesses the nerve and allows for relaxation of the large muscles, a slowed heart rate, decreased blood pressure and improved digestion. This then also calms the mind as the body is relaxed.

3. Humming/singing – The vibrations from humming or singing have been shown to access the vagus nerve and settle butterflies in the stomach or tightness in the chest.

4. Introduce healthy stress – Exercise is a wonderful way to build the resiliency of our nervous system through a physical stress that is well controlled. 

5. Choose the unfamiliar – If a high intensity workout is too much right now, simply taking a new route on a walk or going the opposite way can provide a healthy test for your nervous system to navigate through.

6. Talking to a friend – The vagus nerve slows the activity in the amygdala (centre of emotion) and promotes activity in the prefrontal cortex (the cognitive centre associated with self-awareness). If we can talk through our stress, we can bring ourselves back to the present moment instead of being ruled by our emotions.

7. Shaking – Shaking your body or even dancing can release the excess energy that builds up when we are stuck on “on”, with anxious type symptoms.

8. Tapping – Tapping your face, body and arms with two fingers can stimulate energy in your body in a safe and gentle way if you are stuck on “off”, with depressive type symptoms.

9. Massage/foam roller/massage ball – Release work can be one of the fastest ways to stimulate the nerve. A felt sense of relaxation in the body will then be sent through the vagus nerve to calm the mind. (Not sure where to start? Check out our blog explaining how to use a massage ball.)

A final word

Hopefully these ideas will help you manage the intensity and fluctuation of symptoms that we’ve all been facing through Covid. If you would like to explore this further, give us a call and we can find an appointment time that suits you.

Author: Naiha Sahota.

References

Attachment And Trauma Centre For Healing, ‘Understanding and Working with the Window of Tolerance
Diagrams – Levine, Ogden, Siegel

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Top Women’s Health Tips from our Team

In honour of International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March, we’ve asked our female team members to share their top women’s health tips. Read them, put them into practice, and reap the rewards!

Fill your own cup

You can’t pour from an empty cup! With the increased demands on, and pace of, women’s lives, women are increasingly placing everyone and everything first, before taking care of themselves. Self-care is so important, and something more women need to invest in. Make sure you schedule some much needed ‘me time’ in your over-scheduled life. Book a massage to unwind and enjoy the release of dopamine and serotonin produced by the nervous system.
Mariana Stamatopoulos, Practice Manager & Remedial Massage Therapist

Limit high heel wear

High heel wear pushes your centre of gravity forward, especially through the hips and lower back. The body then has to counteract that shift in centre of gravity, by ‘arching’ backwards to maintain balance. This can cause excessive pressure through the lower back and knees.

Heels also puts the calf in a prolonged shortened state. In the long term, this could lead to excessive tightness of the calves which will affect posture and biomechanics.
Jane Lau, Physiotherapist

Swap your handbag

Try to swap your handbag on each shoulder regularly and keep it as light as possible. Repetitive load on the same side can create imbalances contributing to neck, shoulder and back pain as well as headaches.
Naiha Sahota, Physiotherapist

Don’t rush your postnatal recovery

After giving birth women tend to want to get ‘their bodies back’ too soon. The process of reconnecting with your body after childbirth should be done in your own time as every body is different and has gone through a different experience giving birth. We recommend returning to your Pilates practice no sooner than 6 weeks after giving birth to ensure adequate recovery time. And this is just a guide; if you’re unsure check with your practitioner before returning to exercise.
Luisa, Pilates Instructor

Love your gut

Most of us associate a distended stomach and ongoing digestive issues with gut health, however, with many of us struggling to maintain the rhythm of modern life and with our propensity to suffer from stress and anxiety, our gut troubles have never been so bad.

A healthy gut helps us beat the bloat, aids in the digestion and absorption of the nutrients from our food and contributes to us maintaining a healthy weight. Most importantly, your gut has a substantial impact on your immune system.

One of the simplest ways to begin working on your gut health is to eat 30+ different plant-based foods every week. I know this seems extreme, but these can come from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and grains. These foods provide fibre to fill us up and feed good gut bacteria and help balance blood sugar levels. To increase your diversity, add fresh herbs to all your dishes, sprinkle salads with sesame and pumpkin seeds for extra crunch, snack on a handful of mixed raw nuts, include orange sweet potato, pumpkin, button mushrooms and cauliflower in with your roasted veg. Eat your way to better gut health and experience all the benefits of improved sleep, increased energy, glowing skin and a clear head.
Tara Doherty, Nutritional Therapist & Health Coach

Exercise your brain

Always remember this…at any age, in any shape, your brain is the sexiest organ in your body.

Also, be proactive with seeking advice for women’s health concerns. There are many interventions available which can vastly improve your quality of life. You don’t need to suffer in silence.
Peony Fernandes, Women & Men’s Health Physiotherapist

Look after your foot health  

Women are more likely to experience plantar fasciitis than men, and up to 10 times more likely to develop bunions, due to factors including pregnancy and poor footwear choices. To address any symptoms and for advice on appropriate footwear as well as strengthening exercises (because we’re not giving up our heels!), a podiatrist should be your first port of call.
Louise Anderson, Podiatrist

Practise good posture & embrace what makes you ‘you’

Tall and try to slump to bring yourself down to others’ height? Stand straight and embrace your Amazonian height! Wear well fitted, comfortable bras and don’t try and hide your breasts by slumping your shoulders forward. If wearing high heels, be aware of pelvic tilting that accentuates the lumbar curve. When there is a chance, tuck your pelvis in for lumbar relief and stretch calves back out at the end of day.

Also, have other women’s backs and if all else fails, have a massage.
Sana Kurban, Clinical Remedial Massage Therapist

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How to Use a Massage Ball

Large or small, smooth or spiky, massage balls are a wonderful tool you can use at home to release tension, unravel knots, improve mobility and enhance athletic performance. Whether you’re sedentary, super active or suffer from plantar fasciitis, you’ll soon see the benefits! To get you started, physiotherapist Michelle Labonia has answered all your questions, from how to use a massage ball, to the five main areas you might like to target.

Why Use a Massage Ball

Massage balls are great at targeting specific areas of the body that require release and are incredibly beneficial at increasing range of movement as well as eliminating pain. The physiological theories behind the benefits of a massage ball include an increase in blood flow and endorphin release which promotes healing as well as the gate control theory – whereby painful messages can be blocked from the central nervous system by using a non-painful stimulus. (It is therefore important when using a massage ball not to push to a point of intense pain or where you are grimacing, as the point is to relax and relieve the tension in the muscle!)

How to Choose a Massage Ball

When choosing a massage ball, the main consideration will be your ability to control and position the ball on the area that requires release. Therefore, you must consider the size of the ball in relation to the size of the muscle group and your body shape. The heavier or firmer the ball, the easier it will be to control and localise over the specific point requiring release.

Whether you opt for a smooth or spiky massage ball depends on comfort as well as grip. Some people may find the spiky ball can be better at staying in the one position to apply firmer pressure; however, if you are quite tender and tight a smoother or softer ball can feel more manageable.

How to Position Your Massage Ball

In terms of positioning, you can use a massage ball on the floor, a chair or against a wall – again the important part is that you need to be able to relax into it. If there is a trigger point, you want to sustain the pressure on the one spot until you feel the tension release and then you can also turn this into a myofascial release by moving the body part into a stretch. Otherwise, you can roll the ball along the length of the muscle belly and in particular the attachment points. 

5 Areas to Use a Massage Ball

NECK, TRAPS & UPPER BACK

Using a spiky or smooth ball in this area is great for anyone with neck and shoulder tightness which is commonly exacerbated by stress or lack of sleep. It’s especially ideal for office workers or also anyone who suffers from cervicogenic headaches.

How to: Lying on your back, hold the ball on the tender point and take deep breaths into your upper chest. When moving down the neck to the upper back, you can also add a stretch by turning the neck to whichever side feels more of stretch as this will target different muscles. If this feels too deep you can do the same, but up against a wall or rolling along the muscle.

FEET

Self-massage of the feet is great for anyone with plantar fasciitis, where the main symptom is usually heel pain that is worse in the mornings. Releasing the feet is also beneficial for runners or anyone performing plyometric activity since the calves and feet can get loaded up.

How to: When standing, roll the ball along the inner, middle or outer edge of the foot, depending on where you feel the tension. You can also hold the ball on the one position – if too intense you can perform this seated so there is less body weight on the spiky ball.

GLUTES

Glute release exercises are highly effective for people with more sedentary jobs, as sitting for long periods causes decreased activity and therefore increased tightness. They’re also beneficial to the active population as flexibility increases performance of a muscle group significantly. Anyone with low back pain or knee pain with also greatly benefit, as releasing through the hip will release a lot of the tension in those areas as well.

How to: While seated on the floor, use your feet and arms to roll your glutes across the massage ball. You can also hold in the one position or do this while seated on a chair if it’s too strenuous. Another good position to roll across the ball can be standing against the wall.

POSTERIOR CUFF

Anyone with an office-based job where they sit for long periods, especially in a slumped position, can experience tightness in these muscle groups. Tightness is also common in the athletic population, in individuals performing overhead activities – e.g. shoulder press at the gym, throwing a ball – will benefit from the increase in range of motion. Rotator cuff pathology is also another very common condition that requires a lot of release work as well as progressive exercises.

How to: While lying on your side on the floor, place the ball along the edge of your shoulder blade/just under your arm pit. Deep breaths will help to release as your rib cage expands and relaxes. Plus you can also position the elbow at a 90 degree angle and rotate from side to side. If too intense, do the same against the wall.

HAMSTRINGS

Hamstring release with a massage ball is especially effective for anyone that sits for long periods as having the knees bent directly causes hamstring shortening. Again, the athletic population will benefit as well as the hamstrings are a main muscle group working in all sports. Using a ball here is especially beneficial if you’ve had a hamstring strain or low back pain, as the hamstrings insert into the pelvis which can contribute to lumbopelvic stiffness.

How to: Seated on table or chair, start with the ball close to your sitting bone (the attachment site) and hold, then progressively work down the back of the thigh. You can also extend and bend the knee to add a stretch while keeping the ball in one position.

Tip for Using a Massage Ball

Don’t forget the aim is to relieve, so using a massage ball shouldn’t produce intense pain. You also want to relax into the ball and hold or roll until you can physically feel a release which could take up to a couple of minutes. In terms of adding a myofascial release, you can perform the stretch component up to 20 x times until you feel the release of the muscle. 

And if you’re not sure if you’re doing it right? Book a physiotherapy appointment – we’ll be only too happy to help.

In addition, if you are wondering which is the best treatment for your pain symptoms- physiotherapy or remedial massage, then make sure to read our latest blog.

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Our New Year’s Wellness Resolutions

Whether you need to move more, drink more water or spend more time with friends, the new year is the perfect time to think about how you can live a more balanced life. We’re definitely not about denial or punishment when it comes to your diet and exercise regime, but we do think it’s good to try and make small, incremental changes. So, in case you’re in need of some inspiration, here are The Alignment Studio team’s wellness resolutions for 2020. Cheers to a happy, healthy year!

My resolutions are based around some more self-care after a rather crazy hectic 2019 workwise. My goal is to get more sleep and taking the time to read more books. Happy to take recommendations! I’m also resolving to continue to educate more people about the amazing team of health professionals at The Alignment Studio!
Pete, Director & Senior Physiotherapist

My wellness resolution for 2020 is to run a half marathon sub 1hr 40mins. This will be my second attempt and will require a graded running program to increase distance/speed as well as strength, power and plyometric work…but more importantly, consistency of training and facilitating it with the correct diet!
Naiha, Physiotherapist

In 2020, I hope to explore my curiosities and playfulness in all aspects of my life. I endeavour to bring this into my movement practice and in my outlook as a movement teacher.
Chris, Studio Pilates Instructor

My health and fitness goals for 2020 incorporate looking after my spiritual needs through daily meditation and regular time in nature, and I’m excited to dive deeper into my yoga practice. I want to have positivity and flow be my natural state. I will plan a couple of fun trips with my girlfriends, embracing living in the moment, deep talks and belly laughs. Lastly, I have a longstanding invitation to join a cycling group with some wonderful individuals, so it’s time to overcome my fear of road bikes and hit the velodrome for some much needed practice. I love the idea of combining exercise with socialising!
Tara, Nutritional Therapist

I aim to get enough sleep so I wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. That includes no emails after midnight! I’ll also try to be better organised at work and at home. I hope to exercise more, have a glass half full approach to life and smile more.
Peony, Women’s & Men’s Health Physiotherapist

I aim to stay calm and not react emotionally to things I may not agree to.
Sana, Clinical Remedial Massage Therapist

My new year’s resolutions are as follows: to try and run 5kms in 20mins! To do a handstand and also try and meditate more.
Conor, Senior Physiotherapist

My wellness resolution for the New Year is to get back into my Chunky Move contemporary dance classes and get along to some Yoga and Pilates classes too. It’s a welcome break to be told what to do sometimes and it definitely makes me a better teacher as I pick up different ways to describe movement and I get to move my body in different ways. More weekend dance floor ‘movement’ is also a must for 2020. 
Luisa, Pilates Instructor

Looking to improve your movement, diet, energy levels and performance in 2020? Ask us how our friendly team can help!

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Easy Yoga Poses for Back Pain – 5 to Try

To move more freely and counteract the effects of sitting at a desk all day, practise these 5 easy yoga poses for back pain – as recommended by yoga instructor, Madeleine Bong.

“I often find my students with back pain after sitting for long hours or standing around for a long period of time,” says Maddy. “This is because, as we sit for long hours, our core, glutes, and hamstrings are completely turned off, and as we stand, we may not be as consistently aware of our posture. Both actions can compromise the integrity of our body, leading to back pain. This is where yoga comes in.

“Through time, patience and awareness there is a way to alleviate back pain. Everything is a journey, but here are 5 easy yoga poses for back pain to get you started!”

Yoga Pose 1: Bridge

yoga bridge pose
Bridge yoga pose for back pain

Targets: Core, hamstrings, glutes

The bridge pose lengthens the front side of your body while strengthening the underside. This shape also focuses on core strength through a lengthening perspective rather than a “crutching”. A bridge is the complete opposite of the shape we mostly make in our daily lives, i.e. sitting.

How to do a Bridge pose

Use a mirror to help with your alignment or ask someone to spot you until you get a feel of your position.

  1. Lay on your back and place your feet on the ground with your knees lifted.
  2. Ankles are stacked under your knees so your shins are in a straight line to the ground.
  3. Feet at about hip width distance and toes pointed forward.
  4. Tuck your hips underneath you (imprint your spine on the ground) as you lift your hips towards the sky. You will lengthen your spine as you tuck your hips/tailbone.
  5. Hold for 5-10 breaths and breathe deeply into your belly.

Maddy’s tips

  1. If this is your first time in this shape, I recommend placing a block in between the knees to help stabilise the hips and keep a steady engagement of the inner thighs.
  2. Press down evenly through your feet and energetically draw your heels to your glutes to engage your hamstrings.
  3. Be aware of the alignment of your legs – it’s easy to point the toes away from one another but that could put pressure on your lower back over time.
  4. Your neck is in a vulnerable position, so try to keep your head still.


Yoga Pose 2: Cat-Cow / Spinal Rolls

yoga cat-cow pose
Cat-Cow pose – step 1
cat-cow yoga pose for back pain
Cat-Cow pose – step 2

Targets: Spine and hips

This easy yoga pose for back pain is a GREAT one to do any time you feel stiff! The Cat-cow movement helps build strength in the muscles surrounding your spine and develops mobility throughout the length of your back.

How to do Cat-Cow

  1. Start on hands on knees. Stack your hips over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists. Lengthen the sides of your neck by drawing your ears away from your shoulders.
  2. Pull your belly button to your spine to engage your core.
  3. Inhale – softly drop the belly as your chest moves through the broadening of your collar bones. This creates an arch in the spine. Your eye gaze can move towards the front of the room or close your eyes to draw your awareness inwards.
  4. Exhale – press your hands down and dome your back towards the sky as you pull your lower belly to your spine. Tuck your tailbone under. Relax your neck and drop you head towards the ground.
  5. Continue with this movement for as long as you’d like. You can add in more movements such as swaying the hips or finding child’s pose. Whatever makes YOU feel good!

Maddy’s tips

  1. This is a chance to simply move the body and bring awareness to your breath and any areas within your body that need your attention.
  2. Be mindful of your wrists and come onto your fists if you feel any pain.
  3. Fold your mat over in two if your knees are feeling sensitive.


Yoga Pose 3: Extended Side Angle

extended side angle yoga pose
Extended Side Angle

Targets: Core, glutes, adductors (Inner thighs), hip flexors (front of your hips), entire side body

This shape lengthens your front and side body while adding strength in your legs, glutes and core to create a strong foundation to support your back.

How to do the Extended Side Angle pose

  1. Front toes are pointing forwards. Blade-edge of your back foot is parallel to the short edge of your mat.
  2. Lift through the inner arches of your feet but press down through your big toes and the outer edge of your heel.
  3. Engage the glute of your front leg to stack your knee on top of your ankle.
  4. You can soften your other glute so that your back leg can have slight internal rotation.
  5. Engage your core by pulling your lower belly softly to your spine. Create a slight hollowing of your front body (i.e. draw the bottom of your ribcage to your front hip bones). The tendency is to arch the back and flare out the ribs.
  6. Bottom arm reaches down. (See below for variations)
  7. Top arm reaches up and over the side of your ear. Fingertips reaching for the front of the room.
  8. Eye gaze towards the ground or up towards your top fingertips if your neck is feeling strong.

Maddy’s tips

  1. Ground down through the blade edge of your back foot.
  2. Draw awareness to length of your side body from the blade edge of your back foot, up the side of your back leg, your waistline and up your arm through your fingertips.
  3. Bottom arm can rest on a block to keep the length on both sides of your waistline rather than dumping into your bottom waistline and overly arching through your top waistline. If a block is unavailable, you could rest your elbow on your knee.
  4. Notice if you’re relying too much on the support of your bottom arm that your core becomes disengaged.
  5. Externally rotate from your top shoulder (I.e. your pinkie finger and palm spins down).
  6. Breathe and expand into your ribcage.


Yoga Pose 4: Locust Pose (or Superman/ Superwoman)

locust pose in yoga
Locust Pose

Targets: Back, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors (inner thighs)

Like many of the other easy yoga poses for back pain, the locust pose focuses on the strengthening of the back body and lengthening of the front body.

How to do the Locust Pose

  1. Lie on your belly. Palms facing down or towards one another.
  2. Press down through the tops of your feet and lift through your chest as you engage your back body.
  3. Squeeze your legs together and, if you would like, you can lift through all 4 limbs of your body.
  4. Look down towards the front of your mat to lengthen the back of your neck.
  5. Hold for 3-5 breaths to start and take about 3 rounds with rest in-between each round.

Maddy’s tips

  1. It’s tempting to want to look at yourself if there is a mirror in front of you, but this can lead to crutching in the back of your neck. My advice is, look (you deserve your own admiration J) and looking in the beginning can help with your alignment. However, do look down and lengthen your neck afterwards.
  2. Feel free to shake out your hips or sway the legs from side to side during your resting periods to help release any tension in the lower back.


Yoga Pose 5: Spinal Twist

yoga for back pain spinal twist
Spinal Twist – Yoga pose for back pain

Targets: Spine, core, hips/glutes

The more you can create safe movements for your spine, the more your body will thank you. This yoga pose helps with back pain by creating muscular activation in the lumbar spine (lower back) and abdominal core. Strength especially in your core will help your overall spinal health.

Alongside spinal and core strength, spinal twists aid in increasing stability and blood flow into this area. Increasing oxygenation into your spine is important since this area does not receive as much blood flow as other parts of our body.

How to do a Spinal Twist

  1. Place your foot on the outside of the opposite knee.
  2. Straighten your bottom knee if you notice your sit bones are not evenly pressing down or you have knee pain.
  3. Place the same hand of the knee that is pointing upwards just behind your hip.
  4. Inhale – reach your opposite arm towards the sky. Lengthen your spine and pull your belly button to your spine to engage your core.
  5. Exhale – begin to twist, perhaps wrapping your arm around your knee or hooking your elbow on the outside of the knee.
  6. Find length through each inhale and stay grounded through your hips with each exhale.

Maddy’s tips

  1. It’s not important to go deep in your twist as it’s more important to stay strong in your core to safely twist using the muscles supporting the spine.
  2. Twist from your chest not your hips.
  3. Therefore, keep your hips grounded.
  4. There are many twists you can take; some may be more active, others more restorative. My advice is to work with both.

Good luck with these easy yoga poses for back pain! Or follow the link to read about The Alignment Studio’s workplace yoga classes.

Disclaimer: Everyone’s body is unique and carries its own story. Please care for YOUR body and take variations for anything listed above that does not feel good for you. My words are simply an offering. Seek assistance if needed.

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7 Reasons to Meditate Today

If you’re looking for reasons to meditate, you don’t have to look far. With celebs, entrepreneurs and sports stars singing its praises, and studies showing the physical, mental and social benefits, meditation is having a moment. And – from mindfulness to zen, mantra, yoga, transcendental and loving kindness – there really is a meditation style to suit everyone.

If you’ve ever wanted to meditate, there’s no better time to start than now! Here are seven reasons to meditate today, and start enjoying a multitude of benefits.

1. Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Despite technological advances granting us access to virtually whatever we want, whenever we want it, we’ve never been so stressed. At the same time, we’re experiencing an ‘anxiety epidemic’ like never before.

Can meditation help? A growing body of research indicates it can – helping to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as relieving symptoms of various stress-related conditions. One study published in 2014 found transcendental meditation in particular to be more effective in the treatment of chronic anxiety than most alternative treatments.

2. Better Sleep

Those technological advances aren’t helping us in the bedroom, either, with the blue light from our devices interfering with the release of sleep hormone, melatonin. With studies showing mindfulness meditation can promote better sleep, reducing insomnia and fatigue, it might pay to turn to meditation. And set yourself a tech curfew.

3. Healthier Eating Habits

You’ve no doubt heard the expression ‘think yourself thin’, and meditation has been known to help overweight individuals lose weight. By improving your body awareness and making you more aware of your thoughts, meditation can help you reduce mindless snacking and binge eating. It can help you recognise when you are hungry versus bored or emotional, and can assist you in making healthier decisions about food.

(Are you struggling with your diet or feelings towards food? Book an appointment with our Integrative Nutritionist.)

4. More Energy, Mental Clarity and Focus

Want to run that marathon or get a promotion at work? Start meditating, as it’s been shown to make you more alert, focused and energised. According to ScienceDaily, a study conducted by the University of Waterloo reveals meditation can improve brain function and energy levels. The study found practising 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation (or Hatha Yoga) each day “can boost the brain’s executive functions [and] cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behaviour.”

5. Greater Compassion, Kindness and Happiness

Another wonderful benefit of meditation is greater compassion towards family, friends and total strangers and – equally importantly – towards yourself. Those who meditate regularly have been found to exhibit increased self-awareness and empathy, and generally be kinder, happier people (just look at the Dalai Lama).

In one study, 67 employees at a software and IT company in Michigan were taught Loving Kindness Meditation over seven weeks, and asked to meditate for 15-20 minutes at least five times a week. “Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms).”

6. Improved Physical Health

If you’re still not convinced meditation is for you, consider this – research has shown meditation can help reduce blood pressure. The American Heart Association has also stated meditation can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, what are you waiting for?

7. It’s Free and Accessible to Everyone!

Unlike joining the gym or signing up for an expensive juice cleanse, meditation is 100% free. (There may be a small fee if you use an app like Headspace, but there are dozens of free online guided meditations you can try.)

You don’t have to be young, fit or flexible to meditate. It’s totally accessible to people of all shapes, sizes and walks of life. All you need to start reaping the benefits of meditation is to find a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted, and invest in a little ‘me-time’. You won’t regret it!

Our workplace yoga classes incorporate meditation and are a great way to quiet the monkey mind and integrate your mind, body and spirit. Call us on 9650 2220 to enquire.

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5 Reasons to do Yoga if you have a Desk Job

Did you know more Australians now do yoga than play soccer, cricket, tennis or golf? According to 2016 Roy Morgan Research, this is the case, with the number of us incorporating yoga practice into our daily lives increasing significantly since 2008.

This uptake of yoga is great news for office workers, in particular, with studies naming the extended periods sitting, constrained postures, repetitive movements and chronic stress associated with office life as risk factors for everything from hypertension and musculoskeletal disorders to depression and chronic disease.

The impact of performing yoga asanas on the human body is expansive, and the benefits of the ancient practice are well documented. So, breathe in, breathe out and read on. Here are five of the most compelling reasons to do yoga if you have a desk job.

1. It Can Reduce Back Pain

Back pain is the single leading cause of disability that prevents many people from engaging in work as well as other everyday activities throughout the world (Hartvigsen J et al. 2018), and chronic back pain is a common complaint among office workers. Remaining in the same position over a prolonged period results in shortened hip flexors and tight hamstrings that can affect the position of your pelvis.

Correct skeletal alignment is dependent on muscle tone and elasticity, and when muscle tension becomes unbalanced, the joints are compromised. Biomechanically speaking, the misalignment of one joint forces other parts of the body to compensate to achieve balance.

Thankfully, regular yoga practice helps to relieve pain and/or prevent back pain from developing, in part by helping practitioners engage and strengthen their core muscles. Often under-utilised, these muscles play a crucial role in providing stability in the abdominal and lumbar (lower) back region and helping the spine become properly aligned.

Yoga practitioners experience significant increases in strength, muscle endurance and flexibility, which helps to reduce or prevent back pain. In addition to the musculoskeletal benefits, regular yoga practice also promotes the release of natural painkillers in the form of endorphins.

2. And Reduce Stress

Long hours and the sedentary nature of modern office jobs not only affect physical wellbeing negatively, but also cause chronic stress for many employees. Under stress, our bodies go through a series of biochemical and involuntary hormonal changes. The sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response) sends messages to muscles, organs and glands that help the body to react, and this automatic stress response puts our bodies in alarm mode.

In the short term, all these effects are adaptive and help a person prepare for responding to the stressor. However, chronic stress weakens our immune system and is linked to many serious diseases such as heart disease, neurological disorders and stomach ulcers—to name but a few.

The practice of yoga is extremely effective in producing the “relaxation response” by stimulating parasympathetic nervous system (the rest-and-digest system) and in counteracting the negative effects of the “stress response” on the immune system. There is growing evidence to suggest that yoga works to enhance stress-coping mechanisms.

3. Yoga May Help Prevent Disease

Yoga is also a great tool for the prevention of disease and injures. There is a growing body of research to support the efficacy of yoga programs on preventing diseases. Increasing muscle flexibility and blood volume through the heart, reducing blood pressure, achieving balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems and promoting effective breathing are a few ways yoga may may assist in the prevention of disease.

For example, some pranayama (breathing) practices in yoga activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps restore the heart, its rhythms and functions. This results in lower blood pressure, a slower heart rate, and improved circulation. The cleansing action of yoga poses helps reduce plaque, cholesterol and the general toxic load on the heart, which further enhances cardiovascular function. The regular practice of asanas (poses), therefore, results in an improved blood and nerve supply to the systems, which in time will get them functioning at peak efficiency.

4. And Regulate hormones

Constant stress can also lead to serious changes in hormonal systems that are involved in management of reproduction, metabolism and immunity. In addition, long-term stress results in dysfunction of the hormonal regulators and hormonal imbalance that cause serious diseases such as diabetes, or thyroid problems.

The hormones control the entire human organism. A balanced secretion of all of these hormones is essential when it comes to the proper growth and functioning of the various parts of the body. Yoga practice directly affects the endocrine (hormone producing) system, which contributes to a healthier physical body and mind and can even slow down the ageing process.

Certain poses increase blood flow and stimulate the pineal gland directly and increase the melatonin level, which helps prevent illness, retard premature ageing, induce more restful sleep, boost the immune system and promote healing. A great example is the Halasana (Plough) pose. The increased compression of the pose helps to nourish the thyroid gland properly, helping to support the metabolism.

5. Yoga Improves the Digestive System

While spending most of your time at a desk affects your general health negatively, the digestive system is one of the most affected systems in our body, especially if you are a sedentary worker. Furthermore, with 60% percent of the immune system located in our intestinal tract, if the digestive system is out of balance, the immune system will not be functioning at its best. Different pranayama practices and yoga asanas have a huge impact on our digestive system and, therefore, our immunity.

For example, when Parivrtta Utkatasana (revolved chair pose) is practised (especially after Surya Namaskar sun salutation series), it increases the digestive fire (agni), and engages the movement of abdominal muscles. This yoga pose is also good for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (but not during the acute phase).

Salabhasana (locust pose), on the other hand, is a great pose to stimulate the digestive system as it provides stronger peristalsis movement for digestive processes. Or in other words, if you are much less active in your workplace, yoga helps to speed up your digestion due to improved blood circulation and the massaging effect of surrounding abdominal muscles.

A Final Word on Yoga…A well-sequenced yoga practice is a powerful tool for body, mind and the soul, as the Sanskrit meaning of the word reveals the name, “Union”. It is used for diminishing stress and induces peace of mind and relaxation to the body as well as to the physical human structure. The practice of yoga completely rebalances the body and mind and helps combat the pressures of today’s modern living and its impact on our health and wellbeing.

See you on the mat! Berna Gungoren Can

(Please call us on 9650 2220 to discuss our corporate yoga classes.)

Image Source: Both © rawpixel, 123RF Free Images

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The Alignment Studio is now open!

The day has finally arrived for us to swing open the doors to The Alignment Studio—your new home of physiotherapy, massage, Pilates and yoga in Melbourne CBD. To say we’re excited is an understatement, and we cannot wait to welcome you into the studio!

A tranquil space dedicated to restoring balance to your body, mind and spirit, The Alignment Studio brings together complementary health, fitness and wellbeing services under one convenient roof in Collins Place. From physiotherapy to Pilates, remedial massage, podiatry, Clinical Pilates and rehabilitation, women’s and men’s health physiotherapy, workplace yoga and nutrition coaching, we have you covered.

Our Difference

At The Alignment Studio, we believe regular movement is the foundation of good health, and that we’re best equipped to achieve our goals when our bodies and minds are aligned. We believe in the value of an integrated approach to care, where the very best practitioners work side by side to not only relieve each client’s pain, but provide a roadmap towards recovery and an active, balanced life.

Busy, stressed, burnt out? You’re not alone. The antidote to today’s hectic, constantly connected world, The Alignment Studio is a stress-free zone. We’ve created a welcoming space where you can unplug, unwind and recharge as our team works together to help you achieve your movement, and life, goals.

Our Therapies & Wellness Services

We offer the following services in our cutting-edge Melbourne CBD studio:

• Physiotherapy
• Remedial Massage
Clinical Pilates Classes (dynamic physio-led sessions that include Pilates-based exercise/equipment)
• Podiatry
• Integrative Nutrition & Health Coaching
• Women’s Health Physiotherapy
• Men’s Health Physiotherapy

For a full list of services, head here.

Our Pilates & Yoga Classes

We also offer a range of fitness/ movement classes. All our classes are physio-approved, allowing injured clients to safely enjoy the benefits of movement as they journey towards recovery. At the same time, our highly individualised approach provides a challenge to active clients, looking to improve their fitness and performance. We offer:

• Studio & Reformer Pilates
• Clinical Pilates
• Yoga – we also offer corporate yoga classes (off-site)

Visit the Pilates and Yoga service pages to find out which class is for you.

Our Staff

Rest assured, the entire Collins Place Physio team will now be found at The Alignment Studio. We’ve also welcomed a dozen new team members, from Pilates and yoga teachers to a specialist Women’s and Men’s Health Physio, nutritional therapist and podiatrist. Highly skilled in their fields, our team members look forward to welcoming you to the studio!

Our Location

The Alignment Studio is located at Shop 19, Collins Place (45 Collins Street), opposite the Sofitel lifts. Please feel free to drop by and check us out!

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