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Book Review: Mysteries of the Ear

Title: Mysteries of the Ear

Author: Dr. Nadia Volf

Published: 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 183 (French version)

Availability: French and English versions on amazon

Reviewed by : Rebekah Le Magny

I am going to begin this review by describing the path that led me to it.  Why, you may wonder, do my book reviews always contain a lengthy part about me?  Well, I believe that you may be more inclined appreciate the book if you can relate to parts of my story.  Also, I may have just a teeny problem with narcissism, but hey, narcissism has recently become the new cool.  Today, narcissist tendencies, coupled with delusional, racist, misogynist, paranoid ravings may just get you the nomination of a major political party.  I won’t say which political party either here or on social media or in any conversation because I fear that my conversations are being recorded by mini spy drones hovering outside my window and will be released on Wikileaks.  Luckily, I am not prone to racism, misogyny or paranoia (those drones are real, dammit) nor do I have presidential aspirations.

I had been struggling with some on and off again sciatic pain from a moody piriformis for some time, moodiness exacerbated by a hypermobile and shifty pelvis.  I more or less manage to keep the problem at bay, but it is always lurking around the corner (like the spy drones).  I had been feeling that a trip to the osteo was in order because my pelvis was “off” but decided to go for my weekly run regardless.  To make a long story short, I ended up with sciatic pain on both sides, and a disturbing numb feeling on my inner thigh and ankle.  Thus began a delightful month filled with visits to various medical professionals (osteo, gp, rheumatologist and neurologist), rest (major facebook scrolling), with the occasional Pilates lesson (luckily most French leave the city during the summer months) and the heating up of food in the microwave, I mean cooking, for my kids.   I decided finally to see an acupuncturist.  On the same morning, one of my Pilates students mentioned a documentary he had seen about an amazing Russian acupuncturist who had moved to France, graduated at the top of her class in medical school and France and who had just released a book…Nadia something.

Later that afternoon, I discovered that my acupuncturist, who is also an osteopath and a general practitioner, primarily practices auriculotherapy, a form of acupuncture that involves placing needles in the outer ear, or auricle.  Technically, auriculotherapy refers to the stimulation of the ear, and the use of needles is called auricular acupuncture.  Auriculotherapy is used both to diagnose and to heal. Let me interrupt myself by saying that at the time, I sort of believed vaguely in acupuncture, but was not one hundred percent convinced.  Mainly my attitude was – what the hell, it can’t hurt.  After listening to my history, the acupuncturist told me that she is going to poke around my ear a bit.  Poke away, I told her confidently, – I have had four kids; I have a high tolerance for pain.  Poke away she did.  It felt like nothing, until…Holy f—!!!  What was this fresh hell?  She swore to me that she was barely applying any pressure, but that the point on my ear corresponding to a trouble area in the body was highly sensitive.  Once she found the point, she inserted a small needle and the pain I the ear eventually subsided. The needles hurt more going in than when I had undergone traditional acupuncture.  The doctor proceeded to examine my ears and place a multitude of needles in each.  What astounded me was that the points on the ears into which she inserted needles corresponded exactly to the parts of my body that were giving me grief, psoas- lumbar spine, pelvis, buttocks, intestines.   I had so many needles in me (she also placed them in the body) that I looked like a porcupine. The doctor also told me that I had a disk bulge that was pressing on the sciatic nerve.  I realized that she was right.  The sciatic twinge that I had was not from the piriformis (I couldn’t get rid of it with stretching and massage like I usually did.  After thirty minutes, then the doctor replaced the needles with a tiny bandage with a miniscule needle attached, instructing me to leave them in for a few weeks.  I was truly flabbergasted that my ear provided such an accurate map of the rest of my body.

Once home, I immediately went on amazon and ordered The Mysteries of the Ear and Acupuncture for Dummies by Nadia Volf, both of which I noticed on my acupuncturist’s bookshelf.  A few of the amazon reviews of Mysteries of the Ear criticized the book’s style, likening it to a magazine article.  I actually appreciated that quality – no fuzzy woo woo, but no Ph.D required to understand it.  The book is an easy read; despite the 180 pages, I went through it in an hour.   Not a typical how-to manual, it is something of a mashup between an autobiography, a history book and a manual, written in very large font of various sizes, similar to, yes, a magazine article.  Volf learned auriculotherapy from a Russian doctor named Maria, who learned the technique in China.  Maria saved the life of Volf’s father using auriculotherapy after traditional methods failed (both her parents were in the medical profession).  Intrigued, Volf implored Maria to let her work in her office, first as a cleaner/helper, then later as an apprentice.  Volf later went to medical school in Russia, where she graduated at the top of her class.  She also graduated at the top of her class in medical school in France.  The book includes a brief history of auriculotherapy, interspersed with some interesting personal anecdotes.  For example, Volf managed to gain an audience with the Minister of Higher Education after noticing a young women grimacing in pain at the Ministry.  The woman turned out to be the Minister’s mistress. After Volf miraculously eliminated the woman’s excruciating migraine and the Minister’s allergy symptoms with her needles, the Minister agreed to include acupuncture as part of the sixth year medical school curriculum of sixth year medical students.  Volf also saved her father’s eyesight after top doctors in France declared that nothing could be done; she convinced her father to let her pierce his ear on the part of the earlobe that corresponds to the eyes.  Other notable stories include famous athletes, dancers, the Russian space program and a KGB general.

The second part of the book is the how-to part.  It contains a picture of an ear that is numbered from one to thirty-nine, each number corresponding to a part of the body.  Finding the right point is surprisingly simple.  The shape of the ear corresponds to that of an upside down fetus and the auriculotherapy points match accordingly.  The points corresponding to the face and sensory organs are on bottom of the earlobe and the top of the ear contains the points corresponding to the feet and ankles.  The lumbar spine, sacrum and hip are somewhere in the middle.  The last part of the book contains a glossary enumerating some common problems and the points on the auricle to stimulate.  Although the use of acupuncture needles is probably the most effective way to use the technique, pressing on the spot with one’s fingers or something sharper can also be effective.

I felt better and better following my visit (I also had a follow-up two weeks later), and excitedly described my experience to everyone who wanted to listen, as well as a few who didn’t.  My close friend, who is from Vietnam, complained of neck pain during a visit.  I pulled out my book and she enthusiastically “lent me her ear”.  I used the wooden tip of a paintbrush to poke her ear.  Sure enough, she felt pain at the site corresponding to the neck.  She applied pressure to this point for a few minutes and convincingly proclaimed that she felt better.  Of course, she may just be a good actress.  I used this method a few more times and successfully headed off a migraine without needing an advil and also managed to rid myself of a stiff neck.  I also cured my seven-year old daughter’s hiccups, but she refuses to let me touch her ear now, because she found my poking and pressing to be painful.  My family complained about the gleam in my eye and my rush to find a pointy object whenever they had some kind of pain.  After exhausting all other remedies, my husband finally agreed to let me approach his ear to alleviate his bronchitis symptoms.  While his ear was indeed painful at the site corresponding to the lungs, his suffering was not lessened and he rushed to the doctor the following day, whereupon he was promptly hospitalized for six weeks due to heart failure from a defective left ventricle.  So, it is in fact not surprising that my auriculotherapy efforts were a thorough failure.  He is doing much better, thank you.  Happily, modern medicine is available when ancient holistic methods are not enough.

I recommend this book to those of you interested in alternative medicine.  It is an interesting and amusing read.  I am not convinced that a book on the subject needs to be very sophisticated.  I have used the how-to part several times and sometimes consult a chart that I found on the Internet with little pictures instead of numbers on the auriculotherapy chart.  I find that massaging the area has great benefits; however, for bigger or chronic problems, I head to the auriculotherapist and her needles.

Book reviews

Book Review: Practical Paleo

Title: Practical Paleo – A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-foods Lifestyle

Author: Diane Sanfilippo

Published: 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 415

Availability: widely available in bookstores and on amazon

Reviewed by : Rebekah Le Magny

I think I first heard of the term « Paleo » a few years ago.  Just another crazy diet to avoid, I thought, like the Zone, Atkins, South Beach, Slimfast.  Now, I see « Paleo » every way I turn, – cookbooks, blogs, recipes, forums – yes even in France (!?!?).  On a side note, I feel compelled to inform you that Frenchwomen do indeed get fat; the French may drink wine at lunch on workdays and consume the most delicious cheeses and the famous foie gras, but then they go one strict régime the following day. Diet products abound and many a French woman I know has gone on the protein diet, the Atkins diet and something called the Dukan diet, which I think may be similar to Atkins.  Oh and by the way, French children are just as bratty as Americans.  But I digress.  Back to Paleo.  The term was apparently coined by Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, who was inspired by Boyd Eaton’s (M.D) scientific paper, Paleolithic Nutrition: A Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications.  The concept, however, dates back to gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in 1975.  Eaton and several others developed it further.  Cordain has trademarked the term « Paleo Diet ».

I have never been one to believe in diets.  The last time I went on a diet was when I was a freshman in college, unless you count the time when, prior to a colonoscopy, I was forced to only eat white food for three days (which caused me to throw myself onto every colorful food in sight once it was over and gain two pounds in the process).  Hence my firm conviction that diets of any sort were bad news.  At some point, however, I began to hear of the Paleo diet and how it helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people overcome symptoms ranging from tendinitis to skin problems to serious illnesses such as thyroid disease and other autoimmune disorders.  I became intrigued, particularly because, despite a pretty healthy lifestyle, my body was going through a rebellious phase at the same time as my preado kids.  I had been dealing with a double piriformis syndrome for two years that, although manageable, did not seem to want to disappear.  I had achy shoulders and sometimes my hand would feel numb.  In addition, I had pelvic pain that I had initially dismissed as « women’s normal issues » but that I was beginning to think might not be so normal.  Would Paleo be the miracle answer to these problems?  Lots of people said that Paleo changed their lives. I decided to check it out…

I read a few blogs (Paleo mom, The Paleo Diet…) and many reviews on Amazon to help me choose the book which would lead me upon my Paleo adventure.  I decided to purchase The Paleo Approach and Practical Paleo. I went with Practical Paleo for my review because it seemed like a friendlier introductory excursion into Paleo land.  The author, Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, describes herself as a holistic nutritionist « specializing in Paleo nutrition, blood sugar regulation, food allergies/intolerances and digestive health ».  She turned to a full-on Paleo diet after being inspired by a seminar given by Robb Wolf, author of the Paleo Solution.  San Filippo asserts that the Paleo diet healed her gut (digestive system) and balanced her blood sugar, allowing her to resolve the chronic digestive issues, sinus infections and vision deterioration that had ailed her for years.  She has authored four books, Practical Paleo, Meditarrean Paleo Cooking, The 21 Day Sugar Detox and Practical Paleo Holiday e-book.  Sanfilippo sends out weekly newsletters, offers free shopping lists to download, has regular podcasts and travels around the world promoting the Paleo lifestyle.

The book is a hefty 416 pager, divided into three parts.  Part 1 is entitled The Why – Food and Your Body.  It begins with a guide to paleo foods.  In a nutshell, the true Paleo diet requires only whole foods such as meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fats and oils (but not all fats and oils) and eliminates grains (including whole grains), dairy, pretty much every enjoyable beverage, and sugar (certain sweeteners are to be used sparingly).  The book has guides to stocking your pantry, travelling, and eating out.  Apparently, staying Paleo is possible in Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Thai and Indian restaurants, but requires you to ask the server many questions and make a lot of demands that might work in the U.S. where the client is king but almost certainly would get you kicked out of a French restaurant or at least cause the waiter to spit in your vegetables.

The remainder of part 1 describes the role of the brain and each of the digestive organs in the digestive process – stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, intestines and rectum.  Malfunction in any of these will cause problems.  The term « leaky gut » has become a popular term used to described increased intestinal impermeability.  Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged and allow undigested food particles to slip through the intestinal lining without being properly broken down, which in turn causes inflammation because the body’s immune system sees them as harmful.  The inflammation can manifest itself anywhere in the body and become chronic.  According to the book, chronic inflammation is at the heart of most disease and can cause many autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s disease or lupus.

Prior to purchasing the book, I thought that the Paleo diet was primarily a no gluten diet.  Paleo goes much further than that, however, requiring the elimination of all grains, including those that we had considered « super foods », such as quinoa.    No cereals are allowed, nor are legumes such as chickpeas, beans, lentils or peas.  Hmm, I had always read that beans are heart healthy, but according to the book, beans and other legumes, contain anti-nutrients, which the body cannot properly digest.  Furthermore, some vegetables called nightshades, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes, could also cause inflammation.  Oh, and some foods contain something called FODMAPS, molecules which can also cause digestive distress – garlic, onions, beets, cauliflowers, among many, many others.  Holy mackerel (mackerel is possibly still Paleo, I think), Batman, what is a girl to eat?!?  Not to worry, because after this rather depressing part 1 comes part 2…… stay tuned!  A short intermission while I try to find some Paleo appropriate snack to calm my hunger pangs…

Back after a short Paleo permitted snack of water.  Part 2 sets out eleven different 30-day meal plans, each addressing a particular issue.  The meal plans are: Autoimmune Conditions; Blood Sugar Regulation; Digestive Health; Thyroid Health; Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue; Neurological Health; Heart Health; Cancer Recovery; Athletic Performance; Fat Loss; and lastly Squeaky Clean Paleo.  Some of the plans overlap and are similar to each other.  Each meal plan section contains diet and lifestyle recommendations, summarizing what to avoid (stress, chemicals…) and what to add (superfoods, well-cooked foods, stress management…).  This part is followed by guides to nutritional supplements and herbs to consider, supportive nutrients and the foods that contain them, and finally, the thirty meal plans themselves.  Part 2 is impeccably organized, with color coded keys, boxed summaries of the main guidelines, detailed cross references to the recipes in the meal plan.  Shopping lists can be found on San Filippo’s website, www.balancedbites.com.

Part 3 contains over 120 “easy recipes”.  The term “easy recipes” is the author’s description, not mine.  My idea of an easy recipe is one where I can throw a box in the microwave.  The term “ easy” is however, supported by fairly short prep time for most of the recipes, ten to fifteen minutes.  A few recipes require thirty to forty minutes.  Again, I am not sure that this is entirely truthful.  Each time I have tried a recipe (any recipe, not those in this book), I tend to take twice as long as the stated prep time.  The recipes themselves are beautifully photographed and clearly explained.  They contain modifications to make them nightshade and FODMAP-free.  There are even instructions on how to chop onions, peppers and anything else.   The recipes appear to be mouthwateringly delicious.  I say “appear delicious” because I am embarrassed to say that I prepared both approximately and precisely zero of them.  This is perhaps the moment to confess about my ME (capital M), the Me that lives in my head.  This ideal me is a bad ass version of Martha Stewart, a true renaissance gal who surfs, plays the guitar, surfs, speaks perfect Italian and can also whip up a four course meal in fifteen minutes.  Sadly, my ME has not yet materialized.  But because my lack of culinary competence should not affect my appreciation of the book, I will list some of the delicious looking recipes: Italian style stuffed peppers, lemon rosemary broiled salmon, quick and easy salmon cakes, chocolate coconut cookies and moo-less chocolate mousse.  I was happy to see that eating chocolate is still possible in the Paleo diet.  The mousse looks delicious.  I did try a chocolate mousse recipe that I found on the Internet that involved avocados.  It was a resounding failure.  The recipe in this book, thank goodness, does not contain avocados, although the pistachio mousse does.

I tried to follow a pseudo Paleo routine for about two months.  I did eat many more fruits and vegetables, and gave up sugar and gluten, but was unable to completely give up all grains such as rice or quinoa.  Having just read an article in the NYT about how all of the past contestants of The Biggest Loser permanently screwed up their metabolisms by dieting, I was wary about cutting out too many calories.  Plus, I do not like being hungry.  I did not cut out nightshades or FODMAP foods, since the only vegetables I like fall into one of these two categories.  So the fact that two months after embarking on this journey, my physical state is exactly as it was prior to the routine cannot be conclusive evidence that the Paleo diet does or does not work.  All the aches and pains that I had before are still present and they have actually brought some friends.  Nonetheless, even though I remain primarily a Scully, I do retain a bit of Mulder.  I WANT to believe…  I plan to continue going gluten and sugar-free because I believe that it is healthier than my previous diet and may become even stricter if I continue to have health issues.   And I still believe that one day, I will cook…..

Before I conclude, I must add two side notes, which I could not figure out how to fit into the review. First, when I first received the book, I immediately looked up whether it said I could still have coffee.  The FAQ section in Part 1 stated that I could have one cup of coffee as long as I thought I had a “healthy relationship” with coffee.  Whew!  That was a relief.  The second side note concerns the page on poop – “know your poop – it can teach you a lot”.  Although this part is not one of the more important sections in the book, I am just immature enough to find it hilarious and cannot resist mentioning it.  It contains an illustration called the Poop Pageant, which depicts different poop manifestations – Ms. Ideal, Ms. Runny, Ms. Rocky, Ms. Showoff, Ms. Muscles, Ms. Swim Team and Ms. Toxic.  You are supposed to classify your poop according to these categories and this will be a good indication of your digestive health.  No fears, as I reassured my friend when she worriedly inquired whether I was planning to describe my poop, I have no plans to overshare to that extent.  ;D.

In conclusion, despite my own Paleo shortcomings, Paleo Approach is a great book- well organized, user-friendly, very complete, chock-full of explanations, lists, guides, recipes, photographs, plus the hilarious poop section.  If you are curious about the Paleo diet, this is the book to buy.  San Filippo also has many, many more recipes available on her site and in her newsletter.   Please share your Paleo experiences in the comment sections below the post.

Book reviews

Book Review: Scolio Pilates

Title : Scolio Pilates – Exercise for Scoliosis, A Proactive Guide
Author: Karena Thek Lineback
Publisher: Pilates Teck Publications
Year: 2011
Format: Paperback – spiral-bound
Pages: 121
Availability: order at http://www.osteoPilates.com, price 54.95
Description and Review:
Karena Thek Lineback is a former professional dancer who discovered pilates as a dance student. A sufferer of scoliosis herself, Karena has worked extensively with fitness and rehabilitation clients, has authored three books, The Pilates Golf Athlete, Osteo-Pilates and Scolio-Pilates, and is currently working on a new project, Neuro-Pilates. She travels around the world teaching workshops and also continues to work intensively with scoliosis sufferers, many of whom travel from far away to work with her, often as a last resort after having tried a number of therapies. I recently attended her Scolio Pilates workshop in Paris a few months ago. She is actually one of the nicest people I have met in the pilates industry, down to earth and funny. I would describe her as having a very sunny personality. One of the things that struck me about her was her genuine desire to help people suffering from scoliosis. She went out of her way to put the people who had come in to serve as “models” for the workshop at ease. She reminded me and my fellow teacher attendees (before the models arrived) to be sensitive to the feelings of the model and not to, for example, gasp aloud with surprise at the crookedness of the spine we were viewing. This may seem like common sense, but sometimes we pilates teachers, like anyone else, although we love our students and aim to help them, have our insensitive moments where we may forget that the spine we are viewing is attached to a real live human being.
The book begins with a description of scoliosis-definition, causes, treatment and negative effects. According to the book, scoliosis is generally treated in one of three ways – observation, bracing or surgery. Oddly enough, especially to pilates teachers, exercise is not widely acknowledged as a viable treatment option despite decades-old studies proving its usefulness of in combating the negative effects of scoliosis. Other studies have corroborated the usefulness of exercise, showing that exercise can reduce curves sometimes significantly, improve lung capacity and breathing, slow the progression of scoliosis and reduce pain in those who do not have surgery as well as those who opt for spinal fusion, and ease the transition from brace wearing to non-brace wearing.
About twenty percent of scoliosis is caused by disease. The other eighty percent of scoliosis cases are considered idiopathic, meaning that they have no known cause. The curvature of the spine, which is considered to be scoliotic when the curves exceed ten degrees, is not limited to one dimension, but instead exists in three dimensions. This three dimensional nature is of utmost importance in treating the scoliosis through exercise. The scoliotic spine can be compared to a spiral staircase. However, unlike the staircase, the spirals in the spine change directions two or more times. Katherina Schroth, who published a widely known study in 1924 describing the effectiveness of exercise to treat scoliosis, was the first person to describe working with scoliosis in three dimensions. Her work using breath to treat and elongate the spine is discussed in the manual written by her daughter entitled Three Dimensional Treatment for Scoliosis. Karena has incorporated the Schroth Method’s use of breath into her treatment protocols for scoliosis, which use breathwork, elongation and pilates exercises to lengthen, strengthen and straighten scoliotic spines. I have not read the Schroth book (although it is on my list of books to read) so I do not know what other elements of the Schroth method have inspired Karena. Perhaps Karena herself can comment on this.
The next part of the book describes the scoliotic spine in more detail. Although no two spines are alike, the most common manifestation is what Karena refers to as the Ashlyn 3-curve, named after one of Karena’s clients. In the Ashlyn three curve, which is referred to as a S curve because of the shape the spine takes, the hip protrudes on the left side and there is a posterior right convexity (or bump). The student with this “typical” scoliosis will generally shift their weight onto their left leg. Other telltale signs to look for are pronation in the left foot, left waistband higher than the right, winged scapula on the right, right ear tilting toward the shoulder. In the “Becky four curve” scoliotic spine, the lumbar-sacral spine will exhibit an extra curve. These are the most common cases; however, there are infinite variations. The spine can have several curves in the thoracic spine and the scoliosis may take the form of a C rather than an S in some cases. The curves may also be three or four curves, similar to the Becky or Ashlyn curves, but in opposite directions. During the workshop, Karena reassured the group that it may be difficult to make a determination about the spine’s curvature, particularly if the person is athletic and their spine is well supported by their musculature or if have been doing pilates! The curves can be measured using a scoliometer or a pseudo scoliometer application that can be downloaded onto a smartphone . Karena also suggests reviewing the student’s X-rays. Even with a very experienced eye like Karena’s, the X-rays or scolimeter results sometimes reveal surprises.
In the next part of the book, Karena explains the Scolio Pilates methodology. Unlike what many pilates schools often teach, which involves placing a pad under the spinal concavity and having the student press into the pad, the Scolio Pilates method takes the opposite approach. The pads or scolio-wedges (sold on the website) are first placed under the convexity, (the “bump”). This lifts the convexity and allows concave side to lower with the help of gravity. The pads are used to bring the spine closer to neutral, allowing tight muscles to lengthen and over-stretched muscles to shorten so that the muscles may then be worked more effectively. The pads help the student to realign her body, but neither the student nor the teacher is passive. The teacher must cue to the student to elongate and de-rotate the body. When the primary curve is addressed, the resulting compensations will become more visible and actually easier to correct. As Karena explains, the spine does not just curve to one side, it spirals around. The primary curve is the catalyst for the other curves. The non primary curves are the spine’s way of reorganizing itself, so to speak, to compensate for the primary curve so that the head is more or less in the center of the body. Because the Ashlyn 3 curve and the Becky four curve are the most common manifestations of the scoliotic spine, Karena provides “correction keys”, which explain in detail how to place the wedges for students with similar curves, a sort of “cheat sheet” This is very useful if your client’s scoliosis follows the same or similar pattern. If not, the methodology is easy to understand, “prop what is dropped” so that teachers can figure out where to place the pads, although they may have to play around with them to find the perfect placement. With respect to cuing and spotting, pilates teachers are already used to helping their students find optimal alignment, so if they follow their eyes and their instinct, they should be successful. Once the pads are in place, the student will then perform a number of breathing or pilates exercises to strengthen the body in its more optimal alignment.
Next, the book provides a number of different exercises to give to students with scoliosis. Some of them are breathing and elongation exercises; some are classical exercises (footwork on the reformer, the hundred, and double leg stretch, for example) on the mat and on the apparatuses -reformer, caddy, wunda chair, barrels; and many are contemporary, or at least exercises with which I was unfamiliar. Although many of them require the padding, some, like hanging from a bar, do not. The book includes detailed instructions and photos of the exercises. Once a teacher understands the basic concept of the wedging, the elongation and the breathing, however, he or she can adapt pretty much every pilates exercise for his or her student.
To buy or borrow: does it work? I have used these techniques on one of my students who has scoliosis and the approach definitely makes teaching easier. She also has a greater understanding of her body and can work on her own. I have also tried it out on myself. Although I do not have a real scoliosis, my left pelvis shifts back and when I extend my left leg, there is often a bit of a pop in my thoracic spine despite my best efforts to stabilize. When I place a small pad under the slight left convexity in my lower back and pelvis and then correct the compensations by shifting my ribs leftward, miracle – no more popping. Hopefully, over time, I can use this method to correct the pelvic shift and won’t need the padding any more. I was recently discussing this technique with a friend of mine, who is a wonderfully talented pilates teacher with decades of experience. She tried it because she too has a pelvic shift and reported that she felt straighter and her students did as well. At 54.95, the book is a bit expensive, as are the wedges and triangles because they are not mass produced. You can probably make your own for less if you are handy with a sewing machine. I chose to buy them. They come in very groovy patterns. The rectangles and triangles can be made by cutting up an old airex mat. If you work with students with scoliosis or have scoliosis yourself. I would definitely recommend this book and the seminar with Karena. I feel that they are worth the investment. This is material that you will refer to time and time again.

Book reviews

Book Review: Chi Running

Title : Chi Running : a Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

Authors : Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer

Date of Publication : 2004, 2009

Pages : 282

Availability : currently available on amazon.

The author of Chi Running, Danny Dreyer, is a running and walking coach and an inspirational speaker.  Dryer has participated in forty ultra marathons.  He and his wife and coathor, Katherine, have authored Chi-Walking and Fitness Walking for Lifelong Health and Energy.  They also publish a monthly newsletter with tips on nutrition, stress management and lifestyle coaching, as well as a blog (www.chiliving.com).  The couple has released several dvds and You-Tube videos.

The Chi Running technique is based on the direction of energy from the spine to rest of the body, a concept that the author learned through the practice of the Chinese discipline of T’ai Chi which he claims owes its origins to the study of animal movements.  The author provides a very brief explanation of Chi, but without providing much detail.  Instead, he takes the concept of using mental focus and relaxation to direct energy and movement from the center of the body outward (sound familiar ?) and applies it to running.

According to the author, the secret to running well and without injury is not the muscular strength that is encouraged in what Dreyer calls « power running », but rather keeping the spine thin and straight and strong, like a needle in cotton, and learning to relax the legs.  Dreyer describes the Chi Running mindset as a cooperative tango between the mind and the body.  The Chi Running technique relies upon : great posture, relaxed limbs, loose joints, engaged core muscles, a focused mind and good breathing technique, all of which are also benefits of the method as well ! Dreyer emphasizes the importance of transforming running from a sport to a practice, a way of life.

Dreyer devotes the first part of the book to « body sensing » , establishing good communication between the body and the mind.  Next, he breaks down the technique into six categories, which he calls « form focuses ».  The form focuses are : posture ; « lean » ; lower body ; pelvic rotation, upper body ; and gears, cadence and stride length.  The posture section is fairly self explanatory and none of this will be new information for a pilates teacher, the exception being that Dreyer recommends a parallel foot alignment, instead of the slight turnout that is usually taught in pilates.  While foot alignment is certainly important, there is no real advice on how to achieve proper foot alignment through corrective exercise.  Someone who decides to force his feet into a parallel position while running or walking without learning corrective exercises to correct a misalignment progressively is likely to strain his knees.  Nor is there much advice on how to increase one’s core strength other a recommendation to do planks.   There is something of an implication that correcting one’s posture will automatically improve core strength.  While this premise is to some extent true, a few additional exercises might be useful.  Pilates, anyone ? The lean refers to the technique of holding one’s body in a slight forward lean (similar to the pilates « wall » ending) so that the foot strike will be on the mid-foot instead of the heel.  The legs remain relaxed and catch up with the rest of the body, rather than propelling the body forward.  This ties right into the lower body form focus, which mainly involves a rather passive leg.  The pelvis should be rotating left and right, made possible by a pivot of the spine around T12.  I felt this part to be a bit confusing, particularly for the layperson who I doubt can sense whether his spine is pivoting around T12 or not.  The upper body form focus teaches the runner to use the correct arm swing.  And finally, the last form focus deals with the trio of cadence, gears and stride length.  These are all closely intertwined, the main idea being that the cadence should be the same at all times and that speed should be modified by « changing gears » and increasing or decreasing the length of the stride. The author suggests using a metronome to practice maintaining a steady cadence.

Following the description of the form focuses, the book includes ten lessons for mastering the technique.  It also provides advice on creating a running program and provides some sample programs based on the runner’s level .  These programs  include fun runs, interval training, tempo runs, long runs and speed intervals.  Dreyer also explains how a runner should evolve his program, how, when and how much to upgrade.  The book includes useful information for runners, from choosing running shoes to postrun stretches, how to avoid and treat common injuries, weight loss and preparing for races.  Dreyer provides some nutritional guidance, suggesting  a mostly vegetarian diet, based on organic grains, fruit and vegetables, with fish once a week and meat once a month.  The other advice that he gives with respect to eating are fairly common suggestions – less caffeine, sugar, fried and processed foods, eating at regular intervals, etc.

Does the Chi Running technique work ?  I will admit that I did not do any of the preparatory lessons.  The body sensing and postural work I did not find necessary given my pilates background.  I therefore decided to take the principal techniques – the lean, the pelvic rotation, the cadence and stride – out for a spin.  My extremely hyperlax knees, coupled with  my sad lack of coordination, have caused me to rack up an impressive number of knee injuries throughout the years.  My menisci are fractured and I dislocated my kneecap a few years ago (which, by the way, hurts worse than childbirth) in addition to a number of painful sprains.  Further, my piriformis muscles can best be described as chronically cranky, which can cause sciatic pain on both sides.  You might ask why I still run ?  I don’t necessarily have a logical answer.  Let’s just say that other runners will understand the call of the pavement.  I have managed to continue running and to keep these injuries in check by running with knee braces and by paying meticulous attention to my form.

One of the major changes I made when I took up running again a few years ago was striking with the mid-foot as opposed to the heel.  This has allowed me to keep knee pain more or less in check.  There has already been a lot of discussion in recent years about the benefits of striking with the mid-foot. Barefoot running, which encourages mid foot strike, is increasingly popular and most « non-barefoot » running shoes now offer a lower heel drop than running shoes of old.  The lean technique, however, was new to me, and I found that it does indeed make mid-foot striking very easy.  One of the things I noticed when running was that leaning also makes it easier to keep a nice pace, yet to feel fairly relaxed.  Keeping the cadence steady also makes it easier.  When I slowed down from fatigue, I noticed that I stopped leaning and my feet were much heavier, which increased the impact I felt in my knees and the rest of the body.  The heels « brake » the body.  Dreyer recommends running with a metronome at first to keep the cadence steady.  Metronomes are fairly expensive, but  this being 2016 , anything is possible and many things are free if you have a smartphone.   I prefer to use some good 80’s music to keep a steady cadence and recommend Dépêche Mode or New Order to anyone who cares.  I couldn’t really tell if I was pivoting around T12 as Dreyer recommends.  I do know that I was keeping my upper body fairly still instead of flailing my arms around as many tend to do, but this was because my earphones kept falling out.  Another piece of free advice – go wireless.  Constantly fiddling around with earphones is tiring and probably not good for the chi.

I had to take off a few Sundays because of prior engagements and a slight cold.  When I decided to take the technique for a last test before this review, I had not run in three weeks.  I was careful to lean, tried hard to relax and pivot and managed to run a 10K for the first time in a month.  I felt pretty good.  Of course, I was breaking one of Dreyer’s rules, which said something about building up progressively.  The result was that I was tired and achy post run and so I took off the rest of the day lounging around in bed.

One of the things I did do on my last run was observe the running postures of others.  I noticed very few heel strikers, so it seems that most runners today have gotten the memo.  It was rather difficult to discreetly check out running technique as most runners were going in the opposite direction and I had to turn around and look quickly or they would think I was checking out their derrières.  Which of course, I was NOT, being happily married and faithful (at least until Harrison Ford comes calling).  Besides, I only saw one or two cute derrières. I did not cross paths with Harrison.😞

Out for a run again, I decided to add a few more observations to this review.  So my last run was my actually next-to -last run.  Don’t worry – I have no plans to update every week.  Today was a beautiful spring-like day despite it being the beginning of February.  The riverside was literally teeming with runners.  I noticed a lot more heel strikers, many splayed feet and some serious supinators.  Probably, last Sunday’s rain discouraged weekend warriors from lacing up their running shoes and only hard-core runners were out, which would explain the better running form that I witnessed.  My second observation is that keeping the « lean » is much more difficult when one is running against the wind and tired, precisely when « leaning » is most helpful.  I will also add I agree with Dreyer’s recommendation that runners breathe through their noses – it greatly helps the body stay relaxed.  I noticed that my time was faster than usual although I did not feel that I was exerting more effort.  I did not follow Dreyer’s counsel to run withough checking my time constantly. The control freak in me finds it necessary to have Runkeeper anounce my distance and pace every five minutes and every kilometer.  Dreyer also advised that runners check their form when possible.  I looked at my reflection in a restaurant window and became too distracted to observe my form – it turns out that patterned tights are not my best friend (everyone else was wearing black – they were right).  Patterned tights basically scream at everyone to look one’s bottom.  Speaking of bottoms, I did not notice many more cute ones on this run and sadly, Harrison was still not out.  If any one knows Roman Polanski, suggest that it is time for another sequel to Frantic, this one to be shot in Saint Maur des Fossés.

 

Conclusion – Although I did not follow the lessons in the book, which are a bit time consuming for someone who only has one day a week to run, I do find the Chi Running technique pretty effective.   I recommend this book for someone looking to start running or to return to running after an injury.  I also recommend it to runners who are dealing with chronic injury but don’t want to quit their favorite sport. (New studies now show that running does not increase the risk for arthritic knees, by the way).  Of course, the benefits of the techniques will be multiplied if the runner regularly practices pilates.  Is pilogging the next big thing ?  No, keep them separate. (And if you are reading this, Han Solo – I love you !   But you already know. J)

Book reviews

Book Review: 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

Title : 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back : Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Beck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee and Foot
Author: Esther Gokhale
Year of Publication: 2008, 2013
Format: paperback
Pages : 228
Availability: widely available – amazon
Reviewed by: Rebekah Le Magny
Esther Gokhale is the creator of the Gokhale Method, a pain-reduction program based on postural corrections and healthy, natural movement that incorporates optimal postural habits. She has been teaching posture, dance and yoga and practicing acupuncture for many years. Gokhale teaches the Gokhale Method at her wellness center in Palo Alto and now has teachers throughout the world that are qualified in the method. Gokhale herself continues to travel, teaching the Gokhale Method at corporations such as Facebook and Google, giving lectures to physicians’ groups, and consulting with sports teams. 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back has been translated into multiple languages. Gokhale’s television program, Back Pain and the Primal Posture Solution, is available on dvd.
Gokhale’s journey began following an unsuccessful post-pregnancy back surgery to correct a painful disc herniation. Gokhale was determined to avoid a second surgery recommended by her doctors. She studied and became certified in Aplomb Training at the Institut d’Aplomb in Paris, France, which dramatically reduced her back pain and enabled her to avoid surgery. The Aplomb Technique is an “anthropologically based posture modification technique” developed by Noelle Perez. Gokhale pursued further study at Stanford University Medical School and the Stanford Department of Anthropology. She honed what later became the Gokhale Method following visits to many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. During these visits, Gokhale studied, observed, interviewed, and photographed many people who, despite days filled with strenuous labor and long periods of sitting or bending, never suffered from back pain. The book includes many photos from Gokhale’s travels.
Gokhale’s work is based on the premise that, despite the marvelous design of the human body, modern Western civilization perpetuates postural habits and activities that inevitably lead to back and other pain. Contrary to the non-Western cultures that Gokhale studied, Westerners no longer understand what it means to have good posture. Most people thrust their pelvises forward, which leads to slouching, rounded shoulders, forward head, and consequently, pain. Because they do not know what good posture looks like, their attempts to correct their posture are wholly unsuccessful. Gokhale suggests that Westerners lost sight of what constitutes good posture somewhere around the turn of the century. This view certainly coincides with that of Joseph Pilates who in wrote in 1945 that “our bodies are slumped, our shoulders are stooped, our eyes are hollow, our muscles are flabby (…). This is but the natural result of not having uniformly developed all the muscles of our spine, trunk, arms and legs in the course of pursuing our daily labors and office activities.”(Return to Life Through Contrology – editor’s note – reviewed in The Book Review and Discussion Club Forum by Elaine Ewing, although I am assuming that everyone has read the book. .
Interestingly, and there has been some debate on this recently, Gokhale joins biomechanist Katy Bowman (Alignment Matters, Move Your DNA – editor’s note: both of which have been reviewed by The Book Review and Discussion Club Forum) and Jonathon Fitzgordon (Corewalking, Psoas Release Party) who very vehemently insist that a tucked pelvis is the most prevalent postural deviation today. (Others argue that hyperlordosis is more common). Gokhale goes further to claim that the ideal spine is not the S shape with gentle curves in the lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine that is typically shown in modern anatomy books, but rather a J-shaped spine with an anteverted pelvis and a fairly pronounced lumbar-sacral arch followed by a mostly straight spine (remember that Joseph Pilates also touted a straight spine, although not an anteverted pelvis). The spines depicted in modern anatomy books or spines with hyperlordosis have a lumbar arch that is higher and not confined to the lumbar-sacral region. Gokhale substantiates her theory with a drawing from an anatomy book published in 1911 as well as with photos of primarily non-Westerners (although a few of the “good posture” photos depict people in the US) she observed during her studies and travels (many from Brazil and Burkina Faso) and also with images of ancient Greek and Egyptian statues. Although many Greek statutes do seem to have rounded upper back, Gokhale claims that this rounded shape is the result of pronounced upper body musculature that hides the straight spines of the models. The accuracy of Gokhale’s theory about the J-shaped spine is debatable. Certainly the spines shown in the photographs that fill the book seem to support the theory, but Gokhale presents no medical images in the book beyond the anatomy book drawings (although she may well present such images elsewhere). It would be interesting to see this theory developed further.
The book devotes a chapter to each of the steps of Gokhale’s eight step-program. The lessons include: stretch sitting, stretch-lying on the back, stack-sitting , stretch-lying on the side , using one’s inner corset, tall-standing and hip-hinging. Each lesson contains several instructional photos and brief written instructions as well as photos of people of all ages who display the optimal posture that Gokhale describes. Gokhale includes some photos of people with poor posture, typically modern Westerners. The book additionally includes quite a few pictures of babies. Gokhale, like Joseph Pilates, believes that babies begin life with good posture and rapidly learn bad habits. She also believes that the way non-eastern mothers carry their babies encourages their babies’ bodies to develop good posture. The lesson on tall-standing includes some instruction with respect to the feet. The author claims that feet should have a kidney shape and be very slightly turned-out, similarly to what many Pilates practitioners refer to as “pilates stance”. Here, she differs from Katy Bowman who writes in Alignment Matters that the feet should be parallel. In the chapter on hip-hinging, Gokhale clearly states that bending the back is bad, stretching and damaging ligaments and leading to disc damage and pain. She does not encourage bending the knees except in certain situations, such as lifting heavy loads. Rather, Gokhale stresses that healthy bending involves hinging at the hip (also a subject of (sometimes heated) debate within the movement method communities, including the pilates community– see also Jon Hawkin’s review of Stuart McGill’s Low Back Disorders).
8 Steps is interesting reading and Gokhale’s program has without a doubt helped countless people. Most of the “exercises” offered within the book are not really exercises per se, although the appendix does offer some optional exercises that seem to be drawn from yoga, as well as some that strongly resemble pre-pilates. Working with a good pilates instructor would, in my opinion, be much more effective than following the Gokhale program because a thorough pilates program should also teach students how to apply what they have learned to all of their activities, both inside and outside a pilates studio. The book would, however, be a great gift to give to your mother-in-law who is resistant to all your attempts to teach her pilates or to anyone you know who is irrevocably allergic to exercise in any form.

Book reviews

Book Review: The Roll Model

Title: The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in Your Body
Author: Jill Miller
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Availability: widely available, amazon
Reviewed by: Rebekah Le Magny

The Roll Model is a self-care book that teaches rolling sequences on rubber balls to use the body’s own self-healing mechanisms to relieve pain, increase circulation, reduce stress and improve breathing, posture and performance. The author, Jill Miller, is the creator of the Yoga Tune-Up and Roll Model Methods. While the Yoga TuneUp program combines self-massage with corrective exercises and stretches, the Roll Model method is not an exercise program per se, but more of a self-massage and breathing method. Ms. Miller has released several dvds, including the popular Yoga Tuneup RX series and, more recently, Treat While You Train. The latter, which the author created with Kelly Starett, the inventor of Crossfit, was released at approximately the same time as the Roll Model. While not marketed as a companion to Roll Model, it includes many of the same or similar rolling sequences. Still other sequences are available as short You-Tube videos. Ms. Miller has presented her techniques in many magazines and on television shows, such as Good Morning America and Oprah WInfrey’s show. She has developed a teacher training program and leads workshops and retreats throughout the world. An increasing number of gyms and yoga studios in the United States offer Yoga TuneUp classes.

The book begins with Ms. Miller’s personal story. She developed the Yoga TuneUp and the Roll Model methods while searching for a means to manage her own chronic pain and body/mind issues that began during her preteen years and haunted her through early adulthood. These issues manifested themselves through bulimia and later, the abuse of yoga and exercise. While in college, although she studied mind/body disciplines such as yoga, pilates, feldenkrais and shiatsu massage, she continued to struggle with bulimia. Ms. Miller finally won her battle with bulimia through the help of her mentor, Glenn Black, a movement, body-toning and yoga specialist, whom she met while working at the famed Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Unfortunately, after she moved away from New York, her issues resurfaced and she began to abuse her body through excessive exercise. She sought out other body therapists, but was unable to find one who had helped her as Black. She began to experiment on her own. These experiments evolved into the Yoga TuneUp Method, which enabled her to end the cycle of self-abuse against which she had struggled for many years. She integrated the method in her yoga classes and soon gained a reputation as someone who could help others reclaim control of their bodies and their lives as she had. Ms. Miller describes her teaching as « embodied anatomy », which she defines as « heightening one’s self-awareness of the body as an integrated and interrelated tool for mapping the experiences of the body’s parts, physiology and sense”.

The Roll Model is interspersed with a number of powerful and moving testimonies of real people (names and photos included) whose lives have dramatically benefitted from the method. One woman, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, was declared legally disabled and could no longer live on her own. She was even in danger of choking because of her throat rigidity. The balls enabled her to break up tissue adhesions that were causing the rigidity and to recover a large part of her mobility and autonomy. A pilates teacher struggling with immeasurable pain from lupus described how the balls gave her immediate and ongoing relief and helped her manage her disease. Another young woman tells of how the balls helped her recover from the effects of her battle with breast cancer and resulting hysterectomy and oophorectomy. A young man, suffering from Charcot Marie Tooth, a motor and neuropathology disease, which causes numbness of the limbs, could barely move, suffered from incontinence and was forced to take large amounts of medication to control his pain. With the method, he was able to partially reverse the numbness, remove his ankle and leg braces and wean himself off his medications. He eventually decided to participate in the Roll Model teacher training program. Some of the other testimonies include: a young woman who was able to overcome incontinence by using the ball on her pelvic muscles; a body builder who suffered from crippling pain resulting from multiple car accidents; a veteran whose back pain left him immobilized; a woman who donated part of her liver and was suffering from scar tissue buildup; a woman suffering from scleroderma that was changing the shape of her face; a rape victim; and a woman suffering from severe depression. One woman reversed thirty years of numbness in her knee within two weeks of using the balls. Kelley Starett describes his lifelong battle with asthma and how he learned to breathe properly by using the Coregeous ball.

The Roll Model balls come in four different sizes. They include the original Yoga TuneUp, the Plus and the Alpha balls, which are the same, but slightly larger. The fourth ball, the Coregeous Ball, is similar to the « Pilates Balls » that are on the market, inflatable through a straw, about the size of a child’s ball and very soft. The Coregous ball can be used on the stomach during breathing exercises. The author says that you can use other balls in a pinch, but then goes on to cite their disadvantages, ie. too hard or not sturdy enough. The Yoga TuneUp balls are softer and grippier (meaning they grip the skin, facilitating the massage of the superficial fascia just under the skin) than others and they become softer with use. They should be replaced every six months or so, depending on the frequency of use. The older ones can be used on more delicate body parts. I have used the Yoga TuneUp balls for a few years, before the book was released, and I tend to agree with the author about their superiority over tennis or lacrosse balls. I have, however, heard that the pink Spaulding and pinkie balls work well too.

In Chapter 4, the “Science section”, the author briefly describes fascia and what role it plays in the body. However, she is quick to point out that there is no real need to understand what she labels the « science stuff » to enjoy the benefits of the method. Your body will understand what is happening regardless of whether or not your brain understands. She does, however, give a brief overview of fascia, primarily citing Robert Schleip. She also includes an ultrasound diagnostic image of the fascia of a person after ninety seconds of rolling on the ball, stating that the fascial tissues appear “fluffed” “which may indicate an increase and slide and guide potential and mobility.” She doesn’t offer any wild, impossible to prove claims about what exactly the rolling is doing to the fascia, instead pointing out the results of the method and underlining the effect of massage on the thousands of sensory nerve endings in the fascia. Massaging enables the sensory nerves to relay more accurate messages to the brain, increasing the body’s proprioreception. Increased fascial proprioreception purportedly diminishes the perception of pain, while the converse also holds true – increased pain causes decreased proprioreception. The balls relieve tension and increase proprioreception, which diminishes pain and increases coordination, leading to better alignment and therefore posture, which in turn further reduces pain. Finally the author gives an even briefer overview, that she refers to as “the big picture take-away from this topic” (in bold) in order to make the science even easier to comprehend.

Chapter 5 brings us to the Anatomy Section. The book is a self-care book for « regular people » and not just movement professionals. Accordingly, the anatomy section is extremely simple and easy to understand. Ms. Miller uses a model skeleton and the book contains pictures where she points to the bones in question, which is much easier for a layperson to understand than an illustration. She uses colored illustrations to show some of the major muscles. The rolling sequences themselves include pictures of the bony landmarks and muscles relevant to each sequence.

After the anatomy lesson, the author presents the nine key Roll Model techniques, which she explains through photographs, a written description and an explanation that is entitled “what is happening physiologically”. Each technique is assigned an “icon”. The icons are used during the sequences. The techniques include sustained compression, skin-rolling/shear, stripping, crossFiber, pin and stretch, contract/relax, pin/spin and mobilize, ball plow and ball stack.

Chapter9 brings us to the actual rolling sequences. The seventeen sequences include a global shear warm-up, sequences for the lower body (feet, ankles, knees, hips and buttocks), the spine (lower back, upper back and ribcage), the shoulders to fingers, the head and neck and lastly, three sequences that she calls back, front and side seam sequences. The author also encourages the user to play around with the sequences and the techniques and to find what works best for him, and perhaps to invent some of his own. Each sequence begins with an “embody map”, with illustrations of the major muscles that will be addressed, and photos of Ms. Miller pointing to the relevant bony landmarks on the skeleton model. She next presents a check-in section, followed by the sequence itself, and then a recheck section. The sequences are exceedingly easy to understand, almost as easy as a dvd. Each sequence contains several exercises and each exercise has written and photo instructions. With two to fifteen color photographs presenting each exercises like a video reel, thereby eliminating the need for any guess work, the sequences are pretty much idiot proof.

While not inexpensive, you definitely get bang for your buck. From the anatomy to the science overview to the breathing and posture sections and the hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of photos and illustrations, I am at a bit of a loss to come up with anything the author left out. For those that complain that there is too much information, the user does not have to read every word in the book, although I would recommend going through it at least once. After a few sessions, there is no need to even read the instructions that accompany the sequences, because there is an icon that shows what technique to use and the photographs are very clear and detailed. Everything about this book is meticulously designed to make it user friendly, the many color photographs, the large print, the different typefaces and color titles, as well as the glossary of terms. There are also appendices with recommended reading and viewing, including the websites as blogs of Thomas Meyers, Sue Hitzmann and Katy Bowman).

Does it work? I bought the balls long before the book came out and found them very useful for managing my battle with piriformis syndrome. I use them almost daily. I also use them to lessen some shoulder tension and pain. My tendency is to just use them here and there where I feel pain (these days, pretty much everywhere – the joys of aging..) and not to use any of the suggested sequences. After reading the testimonies in the book, some of which were nothing short of miraculous, I was motivated to try some of the techniques that I might not have ever attempted, for the fingers and for the neck and jaw and for the diaphragm. I did the neck release when I woke up one morning barely able to turn my head and was surprised to regain most of my mobility almost immediately. I did not try the coregeous ball at first. When I finally got around to doing it for purposes of this review, I found lying on the ball to be fairly unpleasant at first, but it did bring awareness to the breath and lessen tension in the chest and ribcage. When I tried the other sequences in full, I was mildly surprised to realize how much tension and sensitivity I had in other areas. I say mildly surprised because, as a pilates teacher , I am well aware how a problem in the foot or the jaw can have repercussions elsewhere in the body. I think that this book definitely has a place in the library of anyone suffering from chronic pain, as well as anyone who regularly practices a sport. It is an excellent complement to a pilates practice and a good gift for friends or family. I brought a ball with me on vacation and let my mother in law try it on her arthritic hands. I will send her a set of balls because I don’t want to part with mine!

Book reviews

Book Review: The Breathing Book

Title : The Breathing Book – Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work
Author- Donna Farhi
Published
Format : Paperback
Pages: 237
Availability : Widely available – amazon

Donna Farhi is a renowned yoga teacher and teacher trainer. Her experience and skill have made her a popular guest teacher and retreat leader throughout the world. She has authored four books including Yoga, Mind, Body and Spirit, Teaching Yoga, Bringing Your Yoga to Life and The Breathing Book. The Breathing Book is a bit different from other books on breathing. As Farhi explains, it is not a “how-to-do”manual but rather, a “how-to-undo”manual. We spend our lives constantly striving to achieve and accomplish, always trying to catch up (Farhi refers to this as the “hurry up bug”) We convince ourselves that we will take the time to relax later, always later. We are always “trying hard” in our lives. This is not the correct approach to breathing. Instead of trying hard to learn a specific technique of breathing, she suggests that we instead we learn to identify and remove the obstacles which obstruct our essential breath. It is more about uncovering and rediscovering than about learning something new.

Breathing seems simple. After all, we do it as soon as we are born. We breathe when we are sleeping. As simple an act as it may seem, breathing has a direct impact on every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. The quality of breath is essential to the quality of life. True, no one has to teach a baby how to breathe, but somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we have forgotten how to breathe correctly. And now, as adults, we must unlearn our unhealthy breath holding patterns and rediscover what we knew as small children.
The book begins with a number of exercises ranging from ten to thirty minutes. But these aren’t typical exercises. Farhi refers to them as inquiries – inquiries that the reader makes of his own body. First he must become conscious of the connection between breath and movement. Next he learns to become conscious of his own breathing patterns and identify any obstacles obstructing his natural breath. These inquiries are executed alone or with a partner, standing, sitting, supine, squatting…The book follows with a brief anatomy lesson, describing the primary respiratory muscles and the secondary respiratory muscles, and the role of the three diaphragms (thoracic, pelvic and vocal) in the act of breathing. A restriction in any of these diaphragms will prevent quality breathing. Farhi next describes common breath holding patterns: including reverse breathing, where the belly moves in on the inhalation and not, as it should, on the exhalation; chest breathing, where the abdomen is in a state of constant contracting, preventing the thoracic diaphragm from its downward journey; collapsed breathing; hyperventilation: throat holding; and breath grabbing; and frozen breathing. These holding patterns must be unlearnt.
Farhi proposes a number of gentle yoga stretches to relax the body and stretch the tight muscles that restrict the body from moving as it should during a full breath. She also includes several restorative yoga poses. These poses are designed to relax the body. Achieving deep relaxation allows the reader to “follow the lure of the breath”, not grabbing, but letting the breath come naturally and enjoying it. Farhi also includes a few traditional yoga breathing techniques, including Kapalabhati,,considered a cleansing breath in yoga, and alternate nostril breathing. She also includes breathing through a straw (breathacizer, anyone?). She provides some fun alternatives to breathing through a straw, including bubble blowing, chanting, singing or blowing through a musical instrument. Farhi also includes a number of exercises to be performed with one’s partner.
In the last part of the book, Farhi includes practice guides for specific problems, from asthma, to eating disorders to pain relief.

The Breathing Book is as much about mindfulness and living in the present moment as it is about breathing. As noted above, it is not a book that teaches us a correct way to breathe, but causes us to question ourselves, our bodies and how our lifestyle affects and perturbs our breathing and consequently, our well-being. It is not a book that provides answers, but one that asks questions. It is up to the reader to find his own answers. How does he breathe? What are the obstacles? How can he remove those obstacles?
Is this book for you? Perhaps I can help you answer that question by describing by my own experience. Performing some of the preliminary inquiries when I first purchased this book a few years ago led me to realize that I was holding my breath. A lot. We are supposed to have a natural pause at the end of every inhalation and exhalation, but we are not supposed to actually hold our breath for more than a few seconds. Additionally, I was holding my stomach in most of the time. Contracting one’s abdominals at all times prevents the diaphragm from descending as it should. This has a host of negative effects. I realized how difficult it was (and still is) for me to actually relax my stomach. Society conditions us to pull our stomach in, (perhaps to appear thinner?). I am able to relax my stomach muscles while performing breathing exercises in the privacy of my home, but not while I am out and about. ( Lest any of you feel “judgey”, come back and talk to me after you’ve had four kids!) A few years ago, I thought I had herniated a disk. I was determined to heal it on my own by holding my back very straight to give the disk the chance to heal and the herniation to be reabsorbed. Consequently, I held my back very straight, engaging my abdominals at all times. After about a month, I started experiencing nausea regularly. I assumed I had developed acid reflux . Both my parents and my brother suffer from it. I sadly resigned myself to giving up acid foods, chocolate, basically everything I love. Soon after, I experienced chest pain. For about five minutes, I actually thought I was having a heart attack. I don’t have any risk factors, but my father has heart disease. After a bit of research, I started doing some breathing exercises and relaxing my abdominal muscles. And lo and behold, all of my nausea and chest pains disappeared and have never returned since. I have resumed eating my beloved chocolate and drinking my green chai tea. Since that time, I have questioned everyone I encountered who suffered from a herniated disk and inquired as to whether they also had digestion problems. Almost everyone responded in the affirmative.

I will not say whether this book is for you, but I would suggest that you take a few moments to examine your own breathing. Does it flow freely and naturally or do you find yourself gasping for breath. Do you shoulders rise when you inhale? If so, it is possible that you are a chest breather, which causes you to use your secondary respiratory muscles, the scalene, trapezius, sternocleidomastoid and pecs as your prime movers, instead of the primary respiratory muscles, diaphragm, intercostals and abdominals. This can cause tension, neck and shoulder pain, headaches… My father, who as I mentioned has heart disease, is a chest breather. Just saying…. If you find that you are not breathing well, than this book could help you. The Breathing Book, unlike some of the other books on breathing that I have read, is not an intimidating read reserved for yogis and teachers. It is a book to keep by your nightstand, to reach for when you have a few minutes for the inquiries, a book to give to your eighty year old mother or your chronically stressed best friend. IS it for you? Well, you decide…

Book reviews

Book Review: Trail Guide to the Body

Title: Trail Guide to the Body: A Hands-on Guide to Locating Muscles, Bones and More
Author: Andrew Biel
Published: Fourth edition, 2010. However, there is a fifth edition, published in 2014. More on this later.
Format: Spiral-bound
Pages: 433, including indexes
Availability : widely available (purchased on Amazon)
Photos: No photos, but hundreds of color illustrations. Certain copies include a dvd. Purchasers of the fifth edition have a number of digital resources available to them.
Other related items available but not included: student workbook, flashcards, field guide, powerpoint, audio guide.
Description: Andrew Biel is a licensed massage therapist. According to his editorial description, he has served on the faculties of massage therapy colleges and taught cadaver studies. He is President of Books of Discovery, which is described on the Books of Discovery website as “an educational multimedia company, specializing in user-friendly musculoskeletal, palpatory, anatomy, and kinesiology tools for the manual therapy fields.” Trail Guide to the Body (let’s just call it “Trail Guide” for short) was first published in 1977 and has since been reissued several times. I am reviewing the fourth edition because that is the one I happen to own. The fifth edition, published last year, apparently includes an index of trigger point locations and pain patterns of over 100 muscles, which sounds quite interesting. If anyone has the newer addition, please let us know what you think. Trail Guide is recommended reading for certain state and federal licensing tests administered by various massage therapy boards and associations.
Trail Guide, like most anatomy books, begins in Chapter 1, Navigating the Body, by explaining and describing the different regions of the body, planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, transverse), the different types of movement, i.e. extension , rotation, etc. (later described for each region of the body) and the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, nervous, and lymphatic systems. The rest of the book is broken down into six chapters, one for each body region – Shoulder & Arms, Forearm & hand, Spine & Thorax, Head, Neck & Face, Pelvis & Thigh and finally, Leg & Foot. Each chapter begins with topographical views. As the author states, knowing the “lay of the land” is important before embarking on any journey. Following are the subsections “Exploring the Skin & Fascia”, which guide the reader through mini explorations meant to be performed with a partner. Next are detailed illustrations of the bones and bony landmarks, called “trail markers”. The book provides several bony landmark trails in each chapter, the idea being that the reader will come to a much clearer understanding of the different structures of the human body and how these structures are connected if he is provided with a “trail”, hence the name of the book. Each page contains numerous illustrations, with step by step instructions for finding one’s way across the trail. After the bones subsection, each chapter proceeds to describe the muscles in each region – their actions, origin, insertion and nerve innervations, together with step-by-step palpitation instructions. Often the page contains a bubble description “When Do You Use Your ….”. The author provides examples that are easy for the reader to understand. For example, you use your suboccipitals when shampooing and your trapezius when holding a phone between your shoulder and ear.
Review: Trail Guide is a wonderful resource for manual therapists and movement experts such as pilates teachers. Although pilates teachers do not need to “talk anatomy” to their students, it is essential for them to have an understanding of the body’s structure and how these structures are connected and to be able to identify what they are seeing in their students. The book is very easy to understand. The illustrations are extremely clear (color helps – a lot) and the language used is quite simple and informal. The book also includes a pronunciation guide. For those of you who want to to know if, for example, the word “tubercle” is pronounced tu ber kl or tu ber kl, it is the former. At times, there is a hint of humor in the text. For example “ants and bees, both revered for their intelligence and diligence, have roughly 250 and 900 nerve cells, respectively, in their entire bodies. Humans, who do not always demonstrate such qualities, have an estimated 10,000,000,000 nerve cells in the brain alone.” The book is best read with a partner because it is intended to provide not only a visual but also sensory understanding of the body. However, even without a partner, at least for the purposes of a pilates teacher, it is very easy understand and having a partner, although preferable, is not essential. Unfortunately, no one in my family wanted to be the object of my palpitory studies (I wonder why). .
To Buy or Borrow: to buy.
Additional Information : a new book by the same author entitled “Trail Guide to Movement – Building the Body in Motion” is now available.

Book reviews

Book Review: Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates

Title : The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates
Author: Brooke Siler and the Editors of Women’s Health
Publisher: Rodale
Year: 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 426
Availability: Widely available on amazon, etc.
Description and Review:
Brooke Siler is the founder of the extremely successful studio, re:AB Pilates, in New York City, a bestselling author (The Pilates Body, The Pilates Body Kit, Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge and her most recent book, The Pilates Health Big Book of Pilates). She has also created several pilates dvds. Before I review her most recent book, I feel that I should admit to being a little biased. My interest in pilates was first sparked after reading an article about pilates in Vogue Magazine in the 80’s that featured Brooke and actress/model Michelle Hicks. The Pilates Body was my first pilates book purchase, long before I had ever taken a pilates class. I also have Brooke’s other books. Because I have something of a pilates and wellness book obsession, I logically bought The Big Book of Pilates as soon as it became available. I was skeptical however, that it could possibly contain anything new. After all, there are now thousands of pilates books on the market (an amazon search yields 6,858 results ; while some of those may be repeats, that is still a lot of books). Well, I was wrong. I was excited to find new inspiration, particularly for my home workouts. Sometimes, however, life gets in the way, even of pilates. Last year, I bought a house, sold a house and moved my family of six and all our stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. More stuff than a family of six and possibly a developing country should have, including a hell of a lot of books. And so my home workouts suffered and my library was in a state of disarray. But now that things have settled down and that I been able to go through the book in greater detail. I am once again excited about it.
This book is called the Big Book of Pilates with reason. Not so imposing in size, it its 426 pages are absolutely crammed with information, a surprising amount of information. There are over 263 exercises in the book, at least according the cover. Now I confess that I did not go count them all individually (you are welcome to do so ), but I am willing to believe it. The first few chapters are devoted to a description of pilates, a brief biography of Joseph Pilates, an explanation of pilates terms, safety considerations, a question and answer section (Brooke answers the question that every pilates teacher inevitably gets asked – “what is the difference between pilates and yoga,” as well as others, such as whether pregnant or injured people do pilates, what to wear, etc.). I even learned that Joseph Pilates’ niece, Mary Pilates, pronounces the name “Pilates” differently than what I thought to be the correct pronunciation. The book contains photos of the large and small pilates apparatuses (Gratz) and a section on the piIates “elders”, as they have come to be known, with the ones that everyone knows, Romana, Carola, Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Jay Grimes, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen and Mary Pilates, but also Bruce King and Bob Seed. It also includes a ten page section on nutrition entitled Pilates for Your Plate. The writing style is informal and motivating. The format is also designed to motivate, nice glossy pages, hundreds of beautiful color photos, detailed instructions, with diagrams and arrows and other comments accompanying the photos
The mat series is divided into three levels, not the classic three levels that we may be used to seeing, but instead something rather similar to how a teacher would structure a class. Each level has a starter section, a main section and suggested endings, including work on the wall, standing exercises, arm weights exercises. Included are also instructions on transitions and some fresh takes on the classic exercises, such as squat thrusts, jump through to the hundred transition, up-stretch combo. There is even a special section on pushups and planks, which includes a lot of fun variations, such as spider planks, plank jacks, and elephant planks. Each level ends with a page showing the entire sequence for quick reference. The pushup section is followed by a section entitled archival starters and endings and includes some standing and balance work.
Chapter 7 of the book brings us to the home studio section of the book. This part shows us how we can use props to create a complete and inexpensive home studio. The props include the magic circle, arm weights, toe corrector, elastic bands, ankle straps, handles, steps, large ball and medium ball. There is also a homemade toe corrector and something interesting called a tensatoner, (which I have, unfortunately been unable to locate on the internet). Elastic bands and a door stopper, can, for example, be used to replicate many of the reformer and cadillac based exercises, including the arm series, rowing, kneeling arm springs, swakate and many, many others. Following the band section is the ball section. Lest the purists start to grumble, Brooke clearly states that the balls are not part of the classical pilates system; in fact, her exact words are “let me say loud and clear that there was never such a thing as a Pilates ball.” However, as she demonstrates, there are many fun ways to integrate the balls into an at-home pilates workout if one doesn’t have a reformer or Cadillac, chairs or barrels on hand. All of the exercises shown are takes on the classical exercises, including the push-through and the rollback from the cadillac, the saw from the mat, the swan from the ladder barrel and the swimming from the spine corrector, as well as several others. The triad ball stands in for the small barrel in several exercises, such as the helicopter and the bicycle. Stackable steps are used in place of the chairs for exercises such as footwork, going up and pushups. The aforementioned tensatoner is used in place of a foot corrector, can also stand in for a magic circle and is also used with the steps in the wunda-chair-like exercises. Finally, there is also a section devoted to the magic circle.
Following the props section is a chapter called Pilates by Posture that briefly summarizes the most common postural problems (i.e. flatback, Kyphotic-lordotic posture, swayback and scoliosis) and recommends exercises to correct them. Next, the book includes a chapter, Pin-Point Pilates which targets particular areas of the body, abs, back, , glutes, arms, thighs, legs, and feet. Following Pin-Point Pilates is Pilates by Purpose, where the reader takes a quick test to choose a fitness goal, cardio, and calorie burn, breathing and endurance, flexibility and mobility and strength and stability. Each goal has a suggested workout plan. The subsequent chapter is entitled Pilates by Pursuit, and includes the exercises most appropriate for running, swimming and cycling. The last chapter, Pilates RX, suggests exercises to ease chronic aches in the back, neck, knees and shoulders. Finally, there are two pages devoted to resources: continuing education, online classes, clothing, books, dvds and accessories.
To borrow or to buy: definitely buy. As I mentioned above, I bought this book because I loved Brooke Siler’s previous books. I was certain, however, that, with the multitude of pilates books now available, this would be a rehash of the same old information. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong, a rare thing (just kidding. It is only rare for me to admit to being wrong). Not only would I recommend The Big Book of Pilates to my students who cannot come in more than once a week or who are off on vacation for months at a time (as the French are known to do in the summer), but I would also recommend it to teachers for their own at-home workouts, for newbie teachers to help them structure their classes and even to veteran teachers to freshen and spice up their work. The book has so much information that there really is something for everyone.

Pilates

Book Review: Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates

Title : The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates
Author: Brooke Siler and the Editors of Women’s Health
Publisher: Rodale
Year: 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 426
Availability: Widely available on amazon, etc.
Description and Review:

Brooke Siler is the founder of the extremely successful studio, re:AB Pilates, in New York City, a bestselling author (The Pilates Body, The Pilates Body Kit, Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge and her most recent book, The Pilates Health Big Book of Pilates). She has also created several pilates dvds. Before I review her most recent book, I feel that I should admit to being a little biased. My interest in pilates was first sparked after reading an article about pilates in Vogue Magazine in the 80’s that featured Brooke and actress/model Michelle Hicks. The Pilates Body was my first pilates book purchase, long before I had ever taken a pilates class. I also have Brooke’s other books. Because I have something of a pilates and wellness book obsession, I logically bought The Big Book of Pilates as soon as it became available. I was skeptical however, that it could possibly contain anything new. After all, there are now thousands of pilates books on the market (an amazon search yields 6,858 results ; while some of those may be repeats, that is still a lot of books). Well, I was wrong. I was excited to find new inspiration, particularly for my home workouts. Sometimes, however, life gets in the way, even of pilates. Last year, I bought a house, sold a house and moved my family of six and all our stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. More stuff than a family of six and possibly a developing country should have, including a hell of a lot of books. And so my home workouts suffered and my library was in a state of disarray. But now that things have settled down and that I been able to go through the book in greater detail. I am once again excited about it.

This book is called the Big Book of Pilates with reason. Not so imposing in size, it its 426 pages are absolutely crammed with information, a surprising amount of information. There are over 263 exercises in the book, at least according the cover. Now I confess that I did not go count them all individually (you are welcome to do so ), but I am willing to believe it. The first few chapters are devoted to a description of pilates, a brief biography of Joseph Pilates, an explanation of pilates terms, safety considerations, a question and answer section (Brooke answers the question that every pilates teacher inevitably gets asked – “what is the difference between pilates and yoga,” as well as others, such as whether pregnant or injured people do pilates, what to wear, etc.). I even learned that Joseph Pilates’ niece, Mary Pilates, pronounces the name “Pilates” differently than what I thought to be the correct pronunciation. The book contains photos of the large and small pilates apparatuses (Gratz) and a section on the piIates “elders”, as they have come to be known, with the ones that everyone knows, Romana, Carola, Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Jay Grimes, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen and Mary Pilates, but also Bruce King and Bob Seed. It also includes a ten page section on nutrition entitled Pilates for Your Plate. The writing style is informal and motivating. The format is also designed to motivate, nice glossy pages, hundreds of beautiful color photos, detailed instructions, with diagrams and arrows and other comments accompanying the photos

The mat series is divided into three levels, not the classic three levels that we may be used to seeing, but instead something rather similar to how a teacher would structure a class. Each level has a starter section, a main section and suggested endings, including work on the wall, standing exercises, arm weights exercises. Included are also instructions on transitions and some fresh takes on the classic exercises, such as squat thrusts, jump through to the hundred transition, up-stretch combo. There is even a special section on pushups and planks, which includes a lot of fun variations, such as spider planks, plank jacks, and elephant planks. Each level ends with a page showing the entire sequence for quick reference. The pushup section is followed by a section entitled archival starters and endings and includes some standing and balance work.
Chapter 7 of the book brings us to the home studio section of the book. This part shows us how we can use props to create a complete and inexpensive home studio. The props include the magic circle, arm weights, toe corrector, elastic bands, ankle straps, handles, steps, large ball and medium ball. There is also a homemade toe corrector and something interesting called a tensatoner, (which I have, unfortunately been unable to locate on the internet). Elastic bands and a door stopper, can, for example, be used to replicate many of the reformer and cadillac based exercises, including the arm series, rowing, kneeling arm springs, swakate and many, many others. Following the band section is the ball section. Lest the purists start to grumble, Brooke clearly states that the balls are not part of the classical pilates system; in fact, her exact words are “let me say loud and clear that there was never such a thing as a Pilates ball.” However, as she demonstrates, there are many fun ways to integrate the balls into an at-home pilates workout if one doesn’t have a reformer or Cadillac, chairs or barrels on hand. All of the exercises shown are takes on the classical exercises, including the push-through and the rollback from the cadillac, the saw from the mat, the swan from the ladder barrel and the swimming from the spine corrector, as well as several others. The triad ball stands in for the small barrel in several exercises, such as the helicopter and the bicycle. Stackable steps are used in place of the chairs for exercises such as footwork, going up and pushups. The aforementioned tensatoner is used in place of a foot corrector, can also stand in for a magic circle and is also used with the steps in the wunda-chair-like exercises. Finally, there is also a section devoted to the magic circle.

Following the props section is a chapter called Pilates by Posture that briefly summarizes the most common postural problems (i.e. flatback, Kyphotic-lordotic posture, swayback and scoliosis) and recommends exercises to correct them. Next, the book includes a chapter, Pin-Point Pilates which targets particular areas of the body, abs, back, , glutes, arms, thighs, legs, and feet. Following Pin-Point Pilates is Pilates by Purpose, where the reader takes a quick test to choose a fitness goal, cardio, and calorie burn, breathing and endurance, flexibility and mobility and strength and stability. Each goal has a suggested workout plan. The subsequent chapter is entitled Pilates by Pursuit, and includes the exercises most appropriate for running, swimming and cycling. The last chapter, Pilates RX, suggests exercises to ease chronic aches in the back, neck, knees and shoulders. Finally, there are two pages devoted to resources: continuing education, online classes, clothing, books, dvds and accessories.

To borrow or to buy: definitely buy. As I mentioned above, I bought this book because I loved Brooke Siler’s previous books. I was certain, however, that, with the multitude of pilates books now available, this would be a rehash of the same old information. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong, a rare thing (just kidding. It is only rare for me to admit to being wrong). Not only would I recommend The Big Book of Pilates to my students who cannot come in more than once a week or who are off on vacation for months at a time (as the French are known to do in the summer), but I would also recommend it to teachers for their own at-home workouts, for newbie teachers to help them structure their classes and even to veteran teachers to freshen and spice up their work. The book has so much information that there really is something for everyone.