Maria Ismen

Written by Erika. Posted in Health

Maria_PicMaria’s journey to wellness has taken her through many different modalities till the point where she found that she needed to take charge of her own health in a more methodical way through training in pilates, practicing gyrotonic and more recently the MELT method. Maria is a PMA Certified pilates teacher since 2010 and also a MELT Method instructor. Addressing the nervous system through hydrating the connective tissue, de-stressing the body, stabilizing and strengthening to achieve more balance and efficient body movement.

Maria has alvways been active, but it was not until 1995 that she began a more focused approach to staying healthy. Ballroom dancing became a passion and also long distance running. Pilates was a conduit to enhance the former and help steer clear of injury, as well as help the back and neck issues brought on and intensified by playing violin, dancing and life in general.

The person who first introduced pilates into Maria’s world was Roberta Meyer, beloved dance teacher and mentor, who advised her to see Suzanne Martin, DPT. From there classes with Ellie Herman, pilates teacher training course and eventually teaching. Maria has taught pilates in a physical therapy setting in Marin since 2009.

The primary motivators in her continuing development has been Madeline Black, whom she has been seeing for years for workshops and privates, being her ‘pilates guru’, as well as encouraging Maria to look beyond the pilates scope into IMT and other modalities, Gil Hedley’s Integral Anatomy Intensive among them. Alicia Rympa, her gyrotonic teacher for several years, has gently nudged her to explore other directions as well, all of which is influencing the way Maria looks at the body and her teaching style.

Now happily teaching MELT and Pilates to help people live a more healthy and balanced life.

Cyclists: functional fine tuning

Written by Erika. Posted in Athletes, Bicycle, Cycling, Cyclist, Health, Movement, Pilates, Runners, Structural Integration, Training, Trauma

Cyclists spend many hours and substantial dollars purchasing the right bike. This piece of equipment is key to their comfort and performance.

What many forget, though, is that they have another piece of equipment which is more important yet often gets neglected. The belief in the right bike runs deep, so it is easy to overlook the body.

Just like our bikes, our bodies need regular maintenance and fine tuning. In order to reach our peak performance we need optimal mobility, flexibility and stability through joints and muscles.

Neglecting our bodies can lead to creating and sustaining dysfunctional movement patterns. While these patterns may not create pain, they limit our performance and slowly lead to chronic injury.

Manual therapy is key for cyclists to maintain a strong flexible body to enhance endurance. Enrolling in a well constructed manual and movement therapy program is key to optimizing cycling performance and restoring balance to the body.

Posture: why it matters

Written by Erika. Posted in Athletes, Children, Dance, Fascia, Feet, Gravity, Health, Movement, Pilates, Structural Integration, Training, Yoga

Posture is a subject we become familiar with from a young age. Sit up straight, stand up straight, our parents told us and we pass on that message to our own children.

The problem with the command that we sit or stand up straight is that we recruit muscles that are not necessary in reaching an upward stance. Through this tendency, certain muscles become overdeveloped. “Shoulders back” is a common suggestion which leads to the contraction and shortening of the rhomboids. This often also leads to us popping our ribs out which means our bottom needs to stick out in order to support this new form.

Good posture should actually be easy to achieve. Gravity reaching through a body in alignment takes pressure off the muscles and joints, allowing the body to relax within this immense energy field.

When our body is out of alignment: head forward, shoulders back, bottom tucked, hips forward, gravity cannot travel easily through the various elements of the body. This is why posture matters. The better our posture, the more aligned our body, the fewer problems we’ll experience in daily life.

Frozen shoulder: considerations to avoid the condition

Written by Erika. Posted in Athletes, Children, Fascia, Health, Movement, Structural Integration, Training, Trauma

I recently worked with a client who had a severe case of ‘frozen shoulder’. He could move his elbow away from his waist, but as soon as he went to lift it, his whole body had to help with the work. The process looked not only strange, but incredibly painful.

I asked him what he does for a living. What his hobbies are? Sports, music, art, etc. Turned out he is an artist who plays the guitar (acoustic) and plays tennis. His days are spent painting and his evenings are often dedicated to playing his acoustic guitar. He does this seated, his head bent over so he can see his hands and perhaps read music. And then on weekends, he likes to get out to play tennis. He does no warm up prior to setting out onto the tennis court, and has a fine service game.

This picture may appear pretty ordinary. Most of us perform repetitive actions each day. None of us consider the consequences. In fact, we are generally wholly unaware that there may be consequences.

So, with this particular client, each of his activities impacts heavily on his shoulder. From sitting with his arm across a wide acoustic guitar for many hours, the shoulder rotator muscles plus the trapezius and the subscapularis as well as the neck muscles, have to stabilize for however long he chooses to play is instrument. And then, when he goes to serve a tennis ball, he is expecting that joint to be easy within a new, vast range of motion. A range of motion beyond the norm, but particular beyond it’s own norm. After years of these same activities, it might be that the muscles and fascia and the nervous system could no longer go along for the ride.

The case for balancing our head on our shoulders

Written by Erika. Posted in Athletes, Children, Craniosacral Therapy, Fascia, Gravity, Health, Movement, Pilates, Structural Integration, Training, Yoga

When our body goes out of alignment, stress is placed on the muscles, joints and connective tissue. Amazingly, we generally have no idea when we are out of alignment, so generous and forgiving is our nervous system.

One of the most common misalignments in the western body is a forward situated head. This means that the head sits forward of the shoulder girdle placing strain on the neck and back muscles which are forced to hold on. It’s a heavy object. Fifteen pounds at least for most adults.

Imagine holding a 15 lb. medicine ball in your hands, arms extended or bent at the elbows. How long could you hold the ball without your muscles fatiguing? You would literally be able to feel the pressure moving up your arms into your shoulders, or if you’ve chosen the bent elbow option, you are likely to experience the sensation of your biceps contracting. After a while, that contraction is going to feel uncomfortable and then, a short while after that, it will likely become painful.

This is exercise simulates what happens to your neck when it has to hold your head on. The difference is that the neck adapts over the years. Initially, there are moments when the head comes back on top of the shoulders, but over time the head moves steadily forward and eventually the neck muscles become stuck in the holding pattern.

Returning our heads to alignment and balance gives gravity a chance to work in our favor. Alignment allows our muscles to relax, to work when they need to work in the ways they were designed to work.

Structural Integration begins the process of bringing our bodies back into alignment. Pilates, yoga and awareness help to keep that alignment and improve the relationship we have with our bodies.

forward head image

Office ergonomics: tips for a pain free day – sitting

Written by Erika. Posted in Health

Many of my clients who sit at a desk for several hours each day, whether they use a computer, or not, experience discomfort and often pain, particular towards the end of the day.

Sitting on a chair is not the most natural human position. Sitting for lengthy periods is even less natural and possibly quite unhealthy. When we sit, certain muscles naturally shorten. The hamstrings and lower back muscles are the most obvious. Any muscle contracted over a period of time becomes habitually contracted. Over time it is likely that fascia (connective tissue) thickens and adhesions are created, leaving the muscles less able to glide and less able to lengthen.

Our lives today leave us sitting while in the office, while driving, while playing on the computer at home, while watching television. So it is part of our daily life.

To try to combat lower back pain, while in the office, try sitting with your shins very slightly ahead of your knees. Your hips should be angled higher than your knees, even if only by a half inch. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Sit slightly forward on the chair seat so that the tops of your thighs rest on the chair and you are not leaning back onto the backrest. Lengthen up through your spine and head as if your head is attached to a wire going directly to the sky. You should now be directly in the middle of your sit bones.

By pressing your feet into the floor, you may feel a connection into your deep core muscles. This will help keep you upright without having to engage your back muscles.

Get up and walk at least twice an hour.

Office ergonomics: tips for a pain free day – the mouse

Written by Erika. Posted in Athletes, Children, Fascia, Feet, Gravity, Health, Movement, Training

While in Los Angeles recently, I was asked a frequently asked question: ‘How do I sit at my desk and use my mouse and look at the screen without being in pain by the end of the day?’

The person asking the question has what is classified as an ‘ergonomic’ chair in the office, and she has swapped about her mouse position, changing it from higher to lower, to having a rest beneath her wrist. Nothing has quite worked.

There is no single, simple answer to the question of office ergonomics, but there are some helpful tips which I’ll pass out over the next few days, starting with the mouse problem.

When we use a mouse, we tend to leave our hand on it. If you have the option to use the trackpad, try using it. What you may find is that it is less appealing to leave your hand their for any length of time, so you give your wrist and arm a break.

If you have no option but to use a mouse, try to make sure you take your hand off it frequently – every 2 minutes if possible. When you take your hand away from it, stretch your arm out in front of you and extend your wrist, then flex your hand up and down and rotate the wrist. It may feel good to take your fingers back a little, or to rotate your arm at the shoulder in both directions while your arm is extended.

Is mid-life crisis merely your nervous system letting you know it can’t cope any longer?

Written by Erika. Posted in Children, Health, Structural Integration, Trauma, Yoga

It has long been suggested by somatic psychologists that the nervous system is a built-in survival system which takes care of us in times of need. With this wondrous silent protector, we cope with trauma, stress, unsettling situations, horrifying images on television. We get through the death of loved ones, divorce, tumultuous relationships, car crashes, falls, illness… the list is unending.

A little like muscles and fascia, the nervous system is adept at rebounding… until one day it can no longer rebound because it has become so wound up it no longer has the space or ability to help us. We’ve heard the words “frayed nerves”. Is it possible that each small incident that causes a reaction, a recoil, builds upon the next incident, and the next, and so on.

We survive daily deadlines, decisions, dilemmas, frustrations, anger and pain with hardly a blink of an eye. Unaware that we are almost numb to our surroundings and ourselves. Then, one day when we’re least expecting it, things begin to fall apart. We wake up, as if from a dream, and we find we have lost contact with people, the planet. Recognition of the need for change begins to filter through. We begin to blame circumstances, people. Perhaps it is less the people and circumstances which cause what we term mid-life crisis. Perhaps it’s our nervous system letting us know that it cannot continue to carry us through the daily stress we have taken for granted for so long.

In its own inimitable way, the nervous system plays its part in waking us up.

Inspiration from the body

Written by Erika. Posted in Craniosacral Therapy, Health, Structural Integration, Trauma

For quite some time now, I have experienced easier access to a spiritual state when I become more aware of my body. For those of us who are analytical, brain oriented, getting in touch with the body creates space away from the mind. Space in which to live in the moment, away from the erratic, energy draining thoughts that are a product of the ever vigilant brain.

The body also allows us to heal. When my long-term partner died, I lived in a fog for months, perhaps years. I had no idea I was living in a fog. I went about my daily life believing I was kind of fine, and it was not until I came out of the fog that I realized I had been half-living. Other people who experience the death of a loved one often experience this same fog, without knowing it until they are able to step outside it.

One of the things that drew me out of the fog was Structural Integration (Rolfing). I went through the ten series and, as I did so, I became more aware of my body. More present. It wasn’t that easy, stepping out of the fog. It took some months/years before I clearly left that behind, but the relationship I developed with my body, with its most internal workings, with those muscles that lie deep to the core, definitely played a major role in allowing me to live in the present, peaceful and joyful once again.

Top tips for office comfort 2

Written by Erika. Posted in Children, Gravity, Movement

In today’s world, most of us walk around with our head forward of our shoulders. And most of us are totally unaware that this heavy (approx 15lbs) object is protruding, creating a balancing act between gravity and our musculature.

In western countries, we are very forward focused people. We often forget about the side and the back space which surround us.There are ways to try to organize our head more efficiently.

One tip I learned a few years ago from movement mentor, Mary Bond, is to think about looking out of our eyes from the back of our head. Stand up and think about a soft line pulling the crown of your head. Take a look around you and notice whether the focus of your eyes is coming strongly from your face region. Then take a tour to the inside back of your skull and visualize your eyes starting way back in there. If you’re doing it right, you may feel your shoulders relax and your head come further back into alignment.