Living with Harmony ~ A Blog for your Mind & Body

Resolutions? What Resolutions?

Posted in Company News by Harmony on February 9, 2011

February is usually the month that fitness centers and studios start seeing a drop-off in their attendance.  Surprisingly this is just a month or so after we make those firm resolutions to “lose weight” and “get fit”.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Here are some quick ideas on how we can help you keep your resolution:

  1. Maintain variety in your workout to keep it interesting and work different muscles.  You can use our blog as a resource.  We continually look for a variety of exercises that you can use in your exercise routine or yoga practice.  And we’ve tried to keep it simple by organizing these exercises under the type of equipment you already own (or are looking to purchase).  And we’ve categorized them for you by Yoga, Pilates, Meditation, and Fitness in case you want to get ideas on all products.
  2. When purchasing fitness equipment or yoga supplies, buy what you think you’ll use.  Consider the space you have in your home, how much time you have to work out or practice, what will offer you the variety you are looking for or the simplicity you want, etc.  We offer a large variety of yoga props and pilates/fitness equipment, visit our website to learn more about each product.
  3. Keep up with our growing selection of equipment and supplies so when you’re ready to add to your home equipment you’ll know it’s available in our store — just follow us on Facebook or Twitter for product updates.
  4. Find a partner.  Exercising is always more fun when you have someone to work out with or at least to discuss your workouts with.  Friendly competition never hurts!  We are offering a Sweetheart of a Sale for the month of February to help you get a friend or loved one fit with you.

Wrist Stretches for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Wedge by Harmony on February 8, 2011

This is a continuation of last week’s article on Yoga and Your Wrists.  Here are a couple of the wrist stretches recommended by Marian Garfinkel, who has created a whole series of yoga asanas for Carpal Tunnel.  In addition to stretching, using props – such as a yoga wedge –  to help reduce the angle of extension can help you during your practice.

The Yoga Prescription: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Five minutes a day can help anyone get the benefits of yoga, says Marian Garfinkel, doctor of education, senior Iyengar yoga instructor, and lead author of a promising study on the effectiveness of yoga for carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel sufferers who attended an eight-week, twice-weekly yoga class had less pain, greater flexibility, and a stronger grip than those who wore a wrist splint, the standard treatment for the condition. Whether your hands hurt because of too much time at the computer keyboard, other repetitive stress injuries, or even a chronic illness such as arthritis, “A few simple stretches can really help,” says Dr. Garfinkel. She recommends the following three exercises to help you get started.

Overhead arm extension (urdhva hastasana)
Do this first thing in the morning, or as a break during the day.

Stand straight, with feet parallel and arms at your sides: a posture that promotes blood flow to the hands. Stretch your arms and fingers straight out in front of you, palms facing the floor. Keeping the arms and elbows straight, slowly raise your arms over the head to the 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock positions, inhaling through the nose. Be sure to keep your throat and shoulders relaxed. Lift the sides of the body, keeping the shoulders away from the head. Maintain for 15 to 30 seconds, breathing in and out through the nose. Exhale and lower your arms to your sides. If you feel the blood flowing through your hands, says Dr. Garfinkel, it’s a sign you’ve done the exercise correctly.

Trunk extension (dandasana)
A good exercise for the office or anywhere you’re seated.

Sit on a chair with your trunk upright. Place your hands at your sides and press the palms into the seat, taking care not to tense your shoulders or neck. Press shoulder blades into your back, moving the shoulders back and down. Hold this position for 30 seconds, breathing in and out through the nose. Relax, then repeat. Spreading the chest and shoulders, Dr. Garfinkel explains, also has benefits for the wrists and hands.

Chair twists (bharadvajasana)

A more advanced position, also effective for back and neck pain.

Sit sideways in a chair, with the right hip and thigh towards the chair’s back. Keep the knees and feet together, with the heels aligned under the knees. Stretch your trunk upward and pull the shoulders back. With knees together and feet on the floor, turn your trunk towards the right and place both hands on the back of the chair. Pull with the left hand, bringing the left side of the body toward the back of the chair; at the same time, push with the palm of the right hand, moving the right side away from the chair back. Turn the body, then the head, and look over your right shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds. Relax. Repeat on the left side.

For additional information: Journal of the American Medical Association, 11/11/98. Dr. Marian Garfinkel teaches the Iyengar method of hatha yoga, which stresses precision and alignment; E-mail Contact the B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Association (1-800-889-YOGA; for a list of certified yoga instructors.

For more on vitamins, herbs, and other therapies for painful wrists, see our library entry on Carpal tunnel syndrome.

Date Posted: 01/22/2001

What are Tingshas?

Posted in Meditation,Yoga by Harmony on February 7, 2011

Here is a nice introduction to Tingshas – which look like small cymbals and are often used in yoga classes after Savasana.

What are Tingshas? (by

(Tibetan Bells, Tibetan Chimes, Tibetan Hand Cymbals)

Awaken your spirit and summon peacefulness to your mind and body with the vibration of tingsha chimes. These prayer chimes have been used for centuries by Tibetan Buddhists to prepare for meditation. When the two pieces strike each other they produce a clear, pure, cleansing sound which can be used to focus the mind before and after meditation. Tinghsas are also for clearing space of negative energies and the healing and balancing of auric fields. They are used in feng shui to ring in the four corners of a room in order to open the energy and for clearing spaces.

How do you play Tingshas? Tingshas come in matched pairs, held together by a leather cord. Simply hold each cymbal by the cord close to the hole where it enters the tingsha. Strike one cymbal against the other on their edges at right angles. Let the bell ring until there is silence.

The sound of tingshas is like a summons. The pure, ringing sound of the Tingsha creates an opening in reality. They are used at the beginning and end of a meditation to open the mind for meditation and then to open the mind to go back to reality. Some teachings say that Tingshas can be used to push or fill energy and diagnose energy blocks. By passing the tingshas’s vibration over a person’s energy field the sound can clear the imbalance.

Today, many people use sound healing as an alternative to modern medicine. In the article “The Power of Sound to Heal, to Create New Life”, Sandra Cosentino writes, “Vibration is the basis of life. Every sound you ever made echoes still. Sound waves never entirely disappear. Every part of our body has its own frequency. Resonance occurs when frequencies come into synchronization. Different frequencies influence genes and cells. Form is created by underlying vibration. A solid is actually a wave, created and organized by pulse.

Sound energy can be used to heal when entities vibrating at different frequencies come into resonance with one another. Sound can trigger memories, release past memories, stimulate joy. Sympathetic resonance is a healing technique in which the practitioner applies positive intention, focus and attention to the sound healing instrument being used. The harmonics create the shift.”

One website sums it up describing sound healing as:
“Vibration + Visualization = Manifestation. Creation myths from around the world speak of sound as the originating act of creating life on earth. May you find your soul’s song and resonate it joyfully to all of Creation!”

Tight IT Bands

Posted in Core/Fitness,Foam Roller,How-To,Yoga Strap by Harmony on February 4, 2011

Tight IT Bands are a frequent concern of runners.  Try this stretch using a rope or Yoga Strap or your could relieve the tightness by using a Foam Roller as well.

Relieve Your Tight Iliotibial Band

Add this active-isolated stretch to lengthen the ITB without causing harm.

By Jim and Phil Wharton  / Image by Asaf HanukaPublished 03/08/2007 (from Runners World)

Along with calloused feet and a tolerance for Gu, runners tend to develop tight iliotibial bands (ITB). The ITB is a sheath of connective tissue that runs from the gluteus to the outside of the shin just below the knee. It helps extend the knee and stabilize the leg during running. Overuse and inflexibility can shorten the ITB, causing hip and knee pain. Many runners attempt to counteract this with the ITB stretch shown here. But because it stresses the leg and back muscles, this stretch has the opposite effect. The ITB and surrounding muscles tighten against this pressure, irritating these areas. Our “active-isolated” method (below) allows you to lengthen the ITB without causing additional harm.

Don’t Do This

Leaning forward (for a greater stretch) stresses the lower back and groin muscles.

The forced muscle contraction stresses the hip and knee joints, which impedes circulation.

The angle of the knee puts pressure on the patellar tendon of the kneecap and the quadriceps.

Do This

Lie down with both legs out straight.

Put one foot in the loop of a rope, positioning the rope between your heel and the ball of your foot. Wrap the rope around the outside of the ankle so that its ends are on the inside.

Contract your adductors (inner thigh), and sweep the leg across your body, passing just above the other leg. Keep your knee locked.

Once you feel tension on the leg, gently pull on the rope to extend the range of the stretch just a little more.

Hold for one or two seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Adductor (inner thigh) muscles are activated, which relaxes the opposing muscle group.

Abductor (outer thigh) muscles ease into the stretch instead of being forced and held in a static position.

Back and neck are supported and relaxed.

Prenatal Pilates

Posted in How-To,Mini Exercise Ball,Pilates by Harmony on February 3, 2011

In this video you will learn several easy-to-follow exercises that are beneficial for pregnancy, but aren’t just for pregnant women. Good cueing to engage the pelvic floor and core. In these simple pilates exercises all you will need will be a pilates mat and a small inflatable exercise ball.

We offer several sizes of these small exercise balls – a 7″ Exercise Ball and a 9″ Exercise Ball. When using them to provide resistance in your exercises, they will generally be slightly under-inflated. When using between the legs, you’ll still want your knees about hip-distance apart and if between the arms, arms should be shoulder-width apart depending on the specific exercise. Hopefully that will give you a rule of thumb to determine which size is best for you. We also offer a 6″ ball that is used for body rolling (a wonderful massage technique), that could also be used in many exercises as well.

Yoga and Your Wrists

Posted in How-To,Yoga Block,Yoga Wedge by Harmony on February 1, 2011
Examples on Using a Yoga Wedge

Examples on Using a Yoga Wedge

Wrist pain or strain can be a real challenge in yoga practice. Read on to learn more about why our wrists can add to a challenge of a pose and what we can do about it. Using your fists, a chair, yoga blocks or a yoga wedge are just some of your options to get relief.  Placing the heel of your hand on the wedge helps reduce the angle of extension in your wrists or the pressure placed on your wrists.

We sell both foam yoga wedges and cork yoga wedges.  Both offer a soft and grippy texture.

Bearing Up Under Pressure

We ask our wrists for strength and fexibility in yoga. Here are some pointers for keeping these complex joints safe and for rehabbing them if they’ve been strained.

By Julie Gudmestad / Yoga Journal

Almost every yoga class includes one or two people who complain of wrist problems. Perhaps their difficulties began with long hours at a computer keyboard, or with a hard fall on an outstretched hand, or even with doing asanas. Whatever the cause, the problem may be exacerbated by bearing weight on the hands in yoga.

Yet such weight bearing is a very important part of asana practice. If you’ve ever had a wrist problem, you know how much it can interfere with your yoga. Wrist injuries can be especially demoralizing if you prefer a vinyasa-based style, in which you place weight on the hands over and over again as you flow through the classic Sun Salutation series—which includes Plank Pose, Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). If your wrists are strained, such asanas can cause you pain and further injury. Fortunately, a careful and gradual approach to increasing wrist flexibility and strength can help most students avoid problems—or rehabilitate the wrist if necessary.

A Vulnerable Marvel

Weight bearing on the arms seems to bring out the wrist’s vulnerability. After all, the wrist is a relatively small joint, and a lot of rather delicate tissues are packed into this small area. These tissues include ligaments that knit the wrist bones together, as well as tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the fingers and help give the fingers their remarkable dexterity. Strain or irritation in these tendons can be a major factor in wrist pain.

To understand what causes this kind of pain, it’s useful to consider the structure and function of a normal wrist. The wrist helps with control of the fine motor activities of the fingers and thumb by positioning and stabilizing the hand, which allows us to accomplish uniquely human endeavors like writing, drawing, and sewing. Most of the wrist’s movement occurs at the juncture of the radius (one of the two forearm bones) and several of the carpal bones, which sit deep in the heel of the hand. Some movement also occurs at the junctures between the individual carpal bones.

The movements of the wrist include abduction (bending the thumb side of the hand toward the thumb side of the forearm), adduction (bending the little-finger side of the hand toward the little-finger side of the forearm), flexion, and extension. In yoga, by far the most important of these—and probably the one most likely to bring you grief—is extension. To feel this wrist movement, sit in a chair with armrests and position one of your forearms on an armrest, palm facing the floor. Cock your hand up, pointing your fingers toward the ceiling. Your wrist is now in extension. If you let your hand drape over the end of the armrest and your fingers point toward the floor, your wrist will be in flexion.

Most likely, you spend a lot of time every day with your wrist in mild extension. The hand has its most powerful grip in this alignment, and this position is the one we use most often in daily activities. So your wrist probably spends very little time in full flexion or full extension. Since the wrist, like any joint, will lose any part of its range of motion that isn’t used regularly, most people gradually lose the ability to move easily and safely into full wrist extension (a 90-degree angle between the hand and forearm).

But as soon as you take a yoga pose in which you bear most or all of your weight on your hands, you demand extension from your wrists. Several of the postures in Sun Salutation—Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana—require full extension, so performing the series over and over can put a cumulatively heavy load on the wrists. Arm balances like Bakasana (Crane Pose) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) add insult to injury by pressing all of your body weight into your wrists while they are fully extended. Combining extreme range of motion with a heavy load and multiple repetitions can easily add up to strain.

Under such conditions, it shouldn’t be too surprising if the wrists send up a red flag: pain. I believe that a substantial part of yoga practitioners’ wrist pain is caused by soft-tissue strain that occurs when the ligaments and tendons are forced into extension beyond their customary range.

Wrist Rx

If your wrists have become sore from practicing poses in which you bear weight on your hands, you may need to eliminate these poses for a while to allow the inflamed tissues to heal. It will probably take several weeks for the pain and soreness to subside; then you can begin a program of gently stretching the wrists and gradually reintroducing weight bearing.

Before resuming the poses that require 90 degrees of extension—or before embarking on them, if you’re a beginning yoga practitioner—it’s a good idea to check the range of extension of your wrists. You can do this by coming to your hands and knees with the heels of your hands directly under your shoulders. Your wrists are now at 90 degrees of extension. Are they completely comfortable in this position? If not, you should work to gently and gradually increase your wrist extension.

An easy way to do this is to put your hands together in Namaste (Prayer Position) in front of your chest. Keeping the heels of your hands together and your fingers pointing up, gently press your hands down toward your waist. Don’t let the heels of your hands come apart; if you do, you’ll lose the wrist stretch. If you regularly hold this stretch for a minute or two as part of your daily routine, you’ll gradually be able to move the wrists into deeper extension.


Om Mane Padme Hum

Posted in Meditation by Harmony on January 31, 2011
Prayer Wheel

Prayer Wheel

To learn more about the Buddhist mantra Om Mane Padme Hum, please visit this page by

I also enjoyed reading the story:

The True Sound of Truth

An old story speaks about a similar problem. A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried. A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”

“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?”

“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.

Pilates Butterfly Exercise with Hand Weights

Posted in Dumbells/Grip Weights,How-To,Pilates,Toning Balls by Harmony on January 6, 2011

In under two minutes you’ll learn how to do the Pilates Butterfly exercise using small hand weights.  The Butterfly is an arm workout that also incorporates a spinal rotation to help loosen up back muscles.  In this video they use small neoprene dumbbells, but you could also use your Pilates Toning Balls or small neoprene grip weights if you already have them.

Pilates Exercises for Breast Cancer : Part 3

Posted in How-To,Pilates,Pilates Bands,Toning Balls by Harmony on December 30, 2010

The final article in this three-part series on recovering from Breast Cancer with Pilates exercises.  As previously noted these articles were written for teachers to assist their students.  So, if you are practicing these exercises at home, please be mindful of your own body.  Also, these exercises are to be done in order starting with the first series posted on Dec 16th.

To get started:  gather your Pilates Mat, soft-weighted Pilates Toning Balls, and Pilates Resistance Exercise Bands.

Pilates Exercises for Breast Cancer: Rebuilding the Foundation, Part Three

In this third part of our phase one programming for breast cancer survivors it’s critical to acknowledge the importance of parts one and two of the program, adhere to the goals of each segment and honor your client’s readiness to progress. There is no definite time frame allotted for each part—it truly depends upon the client’s success and comfort level.

The phase one exercises are essential building blocks recommended for a lifetime.

Follow these simple guidelines to assess readiness to progress:

  • The client has developed a good understanding of basic Pilates biomechanical principles.
  • The client applies Pilates principles both during the sessions and in daily life activities.
  • The client remembers from session to session the skills reviewed previously and the lessons are becoming second nature.
  • The client can maintain proper alignment throughout each repetition.
  • The client leaves the session energized, not fatigued.
  • The client experiences no residual soreness or discomfort post-workout.

Part Three Movements
As previously stated, the exercises here do not replace those shown in parts one and two; they are a continuation and are meant to be executed in the order in which they have been outlined.

If you have been scheduling your client’s workouts for 30 minutes, two to three times per week, you may opt to increase one of those weekly sessions to 40 minutes. This will help develop the client’s exercise endurance and give you a nice arena to add in the new repertoire.

It’s important to work within the guidelines outlined in part two: only add one or two new exercises at a time and vary the exercises from upper to lower body to avoid overtaxing one area.

You will note we have added the STOTT PILATES® FlexBand Exerciser® and 1- or 2- pound Toning Balls to either support the weight of the limbs and/or provide gentle resistance. Note: the movements may be done without the props.

  1. Side-lying Arm Circles
  2. Hip Rolls
  3. One Leg Circles
  4. Swimming Preps

1. Side-lying Arm Circles with STOTT PILATES® Toning Balls

Benefits: This move improves shoulder joint mobility and increases blood flow to the joint. The ball provides proprioceptive feedback and adds gentle resistance. The light load helps recruit the deep stabilizing muscles (e.g. rotator cuff).
Note: Only do this exercise if the client is comfortable lying on her side.

Start Position: Lie on side with both knees bent and a spacer between thighs to keep the hips more neutral. Head rests on a pillow or cushion; spine is neutral, top arm reaches toward the ceiling. Hold toning ball in the palm, facing forward.

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale: make tiny circles in one direction for 5 counts.
  • Exhale: make tiny circles in the other direction for 5 counts.
  • Repeat for five full breath patterns.

Beneficial Cues:

  • Keep the movement very small and execute circles slowly.
  • Feel as though the ball is resting gently in your hand; do not grip.
  • Keep the arm directly over the shoulder joint.
  • The movement should feel like a shoulder massage.

2. Hip Rolls
Benefits: This exercise encourages proper sequencing and fluidity of the spine, pelvis and femurs. The goal is to strengthen the abdominals, hip and spinal extensors while relieving tension. While appropriate for all breast cancer clients, this is especially beneficial for those who have had TRAM flap surgery and experience core weakness and lumbar spine and hip flexor tension.

Start Position: Lie supine on the mat with spine neutral, knees flexed, legs hip-distance apart, arms long by sides. You may use a spacer between knees to encourage proper alignment (place pillow under arm of affected side if necessary).

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale, engage abdominals to rock pelvis away from the femurs. Activate the glutes and hamstrings and lift the pelvis, rolling through the lumbar spine until the hips are in line with shoulders.
  • Inhale, stay at the top of the movement.
  • Exhale, roll down—starting at the upper spine—all the way back to the start position.
  • Repeat 3-5 times.

Beneficial Cues:

  • Activate the abdominals first, then the glutes and hamstrings.
  • Use your exhalation to activate the deep abdominal muscles and take the tension out of your neck and shoulders.
  • Re-engage the abdominal muscles before rolling back down from the top position.

3. One Leg Circle
Benefits: This exercise focuses on spinal stability in neutral against a circular leg movement. It brings blood flow to the hip joint, mobilizing the hip, and brings attention to the use of breath to activate the inner core musculature (e.g. transversus abdominus, pelvic floor and multifidus). This is another exercise that is very specific for developing core and spinal strength and stability for those who have had TRAM flap surgeries.

Start Position: Lie supine on the mat with spine neutral, both knees bent with band wrapped around one leg (which is in the tabletop position). The other foot is flat on the mat. Arms are bent, hands hold band with an overhand grip and palms face body. (do not wrap the band around the wrist). Note: If the client needs arm support on the affected side, place a cushion under the elbow.

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale, allow the leg with the band around it to cross the mid line of the body.
  • Exhale, continue to circle the leg downward, outward and around back to start position, maintaining a neutral spine throughout.
  • Repeat 3 – 5 times on both legs.

Beneficial Cues:

  • Use your exhalation to maintain core stability as you circle the leg.
  • Keep the range of motion small enough so you can maintain core stability.
  • Allow the band to support the weight of the leg; avoid gripping in the hip.
  • Press against the band to activate the hamstrings, releasing the hip flexors.
  • Keep the foot on the floor energized to help stabilize pelvis and spine.
  • Watch that the pelvis doesn’t rock and roll.

4. Swimming Preps
Benefits: This exercise helps retrain oppositional movement patterning between the upper and lower body, which is essential in daily functional movements. For example, when we walk it’s natural to swing our arms and legs in opposition. This exercise also brings awareness to how our abdominals support our spine against gravity. Four-point kneeling is a perfect position to notice and feel this effect. Note: it may be uncomfortable for a client to bear weight on her arms. Avoid this exercise if it creates tension.

Start Position: Kneel in “four points” with the hands directly under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Entire spine is neutral and knees are hip-distance apart.

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale, engage abdominals with the breath and lift the opposite arm to leg.
  • Inhale and return back to the start position.
  • Repeat 3-5 times consecutively with one side, and then do the other side (opposite arm to leg).

Beneficial Cues:

  • Think length, not height, when lifting arms and legs.
  • Engage the abdominals to keep the spine from sinking.
  • Activate the glutes to lift the leg.
  • Visualize the hips are headlights shining on the mat in front of you.
  • Hold a ruby in your navel and do not let it drop.

PJ O’Clair is the owner of Northeast Pilates Certification Centers and Master Instructor Trainer, STOTT PILATES®.

Pilates Exercises for Breast Cancer : Part 2

Posted in How-To,Pilates,Toning Balls by Harmony on December 23, 2010

Part 2 of a three-part series of Pilates exercises for recovering from Breast Cancer.  Please see last weeks post for Part One as these are meant to be done in order.  As a reminder, these articles were written for teachers so if practicing them at home, please be extremely mindful of your body.

To get started, you’ll need a cushioned Pilates Mat and a pair of soft-weighted Toning Balls.

Pilates Exercises for Breast Cancer: Rebuilding the Foundation, Part Two

In the second part of phase one programming for breast cancer survivors, the goal is to continue to introduce some very basic biomechanical principles commonly used in Pilates. These basic principles focus on restoring joint mobility with gentle range of motion exercises designed to break down residual scar tissue both from surgery and various treatments. We continue our work to increase overall body awareness with slow, controlled and concentrated movements. These simple exercises in the phase one work are designed to prepare the client for the exercises that will be added for strength and endurance in phase two.

While Pilates is a wonderful format for joint mobility and overall strength, walking is the cardiovascular exercise of choice for breast cancer survivors and should be incorporated as part of a well-balanced recovery regimen. Start slow and progress as able—a little goes a long way in rebuilding the foundation. Remember to work closely with the client’s medical team and don’t begin without clearance.

Phase Two Movements
The following exercises are not meant to replace the foundational exercises from part one of this series (see the April issue), but rather as an adjunct to progress the client in a conservative yet effective fashion. Introduce movements a few at a time to avoid overload. Only add one or two new exercises at a time; it’s easier to determine which exercises are successful and which may prove problematic. If you add too many at a time and the client doesn’t respond favorably, you may not know immediately which exercise was premature. Consistency with quality movement is the key to success with this population.

Vary the exercises from upper to lower body repertoire to avoid stressing the affected areas and allow for adequate rest in between exercises. Work with the client one to three times per week for 30 minutes. This may prove more beneficial than working with her once per week for an hour.

You will note we have added STOTT PILATES® Toning Balls to a couple of the exercises. The weight of the balls is not relevant, as you will not be using them for resistance. Rather, use them to support the limbs and assist in the movements.

  1. Scapula Elevation and Depression with Toning Balls
  2. Hip Release
  3. Butterflies with Toning Balls
  4. Spinal Rotation

1. Scapula Elevation and Depression with Toning Balls
The lymphatic system helps rid the body of toxins and is an essential part of the immune system. This is vital for cancer patients. In addition to gravity and muscular contractions, the breath serves as the primary pump for the lymphatic system. The breath also encourages engagement of the deep core musculature—transversus abdominus, internal obliques, pelvic floor and the multifidus.

Benefits: Like the scapula protraction and retraction shown in the first part of this series, this exercise creates awareness of how the scapula glides along the rib cage. This move warms up the shoulders, improves mobility and helps restore range of motion. The balls assist in the muscular action by providing proprioceptive feedback.

Start Position: Lie supine with knees bent, feet hip-distance apart, entire spine neutral, arms long by sides with palms resting on the balls (you may support the weight of the affected arm with a cushion as shown).

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale: slide shoulders up toward ears, elevating the scapula.
  • Exhale: slide shoulders away from ears, lightly pressing hands down on the balls, depressing the scapula.
  • Repeat 8-10 times.

Beneficial Cues:

  • Allow the balls to roll up and down, which will help keep the movement smooth and steady.
  • Watch that the arms do not round forward as they roll down away from ears.

2. Hip Release
Benefits: This exercise mobilizes the hip joint and strengthens the abdominals and spinal muscles to help hold the spine in neutral. The goal is to use the abdominals to maintain symmetry while moving the leg away from the midline of the body. While appropriate for all breast cancer clients, this is especially beneficial for those who have had TRAM flap surgery and experience core weakness as well as inflexibility in the hip joint.

Start Position: Lie supine on the mat with spine neutral, knees flexed, legs hip-distance apart, arms long by sides (place pillow under arm of affected side).

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale, rotate one leg laterally, allowing it to drop out away from the midline of the body. Extend the knee and slide the foot down along the mat.
  • Exhale, medially rotate the leg and slide the foot back up. Bend the knee and return to the start position.
  • Repeat 3 times on each leg.

Beneficial Cues:

  • Keep core muscles engaged when the leg drops out to the side, think small range of motion first.
  • As you exhale visualize the core musculature wrapping around you like a gentle corset.
  • Keep leg relaxed and hip socket tension free; avoid rigidity.

3. Butterflies with Toning Balls
Benefits: This exercise focuses on scapulohumeral rhythm, which is often compromised with breast cancer surgeries. You want to mobilize the shoulder, but not at the expense of dynamic stability. The balls are a perfect prop to assist in controlling range of motion and aiding dynamic stability.

Start Position: Lie supine on the mat with spine neutral, knees flexed, legs hip-distance apart. Arms are bent and hands hold toning balls on the tops of the shoulders. If the client needs arm support on the affected side, place a cushion under the elbow.

Perform this exercise in two parts. Do not add part two until client can do part one without pain. Keep the range of motion small at first.

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Part one: Inhale, lift elbows off the mat straight up to the ceiling. Exhale, lower them back down to the mat.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Part two: Inhale, lift elbows straight up to the ceiling. Exhale, open the elbows out to the sides. Inhale, lift elbows back up straight over shoulders. Exhale, lower them back down to the start position.
  • Repeat 3-5 times

Beneficial Cues:

  • Let the arms feel as though they are floating. Avoid tensing hands or forearms and do not grip the balls.
  • Only open arms as wide as you can while maintaining pain-free control.
  • Use your exhalation to maintain core stability as you open the elbows. The breath precedes the movement.

4. Supine Spinal Rotation
Benefits: Rotation of the axial skeleton is a necessary and functional movement that may have been compromised during treatment. Abdominal tightness and spinal rigidity are common side effects of certain breast cancer surgeries. This exercise will help mobilize the spine and core musculature as well as provide a nice stretch to the upper body.

Start Position: Lie supine on the mat with spine neutral (may imprint the lumbar spine for additional support), knees flexed, legs together, arms out to sides just below shoulder level with palms facing up.

Exercise and Breath Pattern:

  • Inhale to prepare. Exhale, rotate lower torso allowing both legs to lower toward the mat, keeping legs together. Inhale to stay. Exhale, rotate back to the start position.
  • Repeat going in both directions 3-5 times.

Beneficial Cues:

  • Keep the inner thighs engaged as you lower legs to one side—this will help with abdominal connection.
  • Do not let your upper body rotate with the lower body.
  • Maintain a lifted sensation in your pelvic floor muscles as you rotate your spine.

Look for the next installment of phase one Pilates exercises for breast cancer in the June issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review.

PJ O’Clair is the owner of Northeast Pilates Certification Centers and Master Instructor Trainer, STOTT PILATES®.

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