Book reviews

Book Review : The Professional Pilates Teacher’s Handbook – Maintaining your Health, Sanity and Passion

Title : The Professional Pilates Teacher’s Handbook – Maintaining your Health, Sanity and Passion

Author: Laurette Ryan

Date of publication: 2013

Pages: 93

Availability: amazon

I bought this book some time ago, but life got in the way of reading it – as life tends to do. Stumbling across it recently, I started thumbing through it and discovered to my surprise that it was a little gem.  Its short size  – 93 pages – is an advantage.  With thousands of Pilates books on the market these days, authors seem to feel compelled to stand out by cramming everything and the kitchen sink into their work  – a strategy that often backfires because busy Pilates teachers rarely have much time to devote to reading.  Sometimes you look at that huge book on your table and you become  Scarlett O’Hara – “Tomorrow – I’ll start reading it tomorrow.” Not so with this book – which is user friendly and useful as a reference after the initial read because it is also a workbook with lists and space for notes.

Laurette is a Pilates teacher and mother of four – like me.  Unlike me, she somehow manages to run a teacher training program in several states and author books, including “Basic Cuing for Pilates Teachers – a Guide for Pilates Teachers and Other Movement Modalities” and “Ready for Pilates for Everybody”, a Pre-Pilates book.  She also writes Pilates articles and has a workout blog.  Clearly, she is more organized than I am!  I briefly think that she must be one of those annoying teachers who make you (meaning me, of course) feel bad for letting your kids eat too much processed food and pasta and spend way too many hours on the computer playing Minecraft.  Happily, she does not seem to be the judgmental type.  Rather, her book is full of the advice you wish your Pilates teacher trainer gave you but did not (at least mine did not– mine was actually pretty mean).  The book is primarily aimed at newbie teachers but even veteran teachers will find some helpful tips. If social media forums are any indication, many, if not most, Pilates teachers struggle to find balance between work and family, dealing with the physical and often emotional needs of their students, and handling the financial aspect of teaching or running a studio.  This book will hopefully help teachers avoid some of the pitfalls that may accompany their choice of career.

The book is divided into two parts.  Part One addresses the four aspects of self – physical, rational/mental, emotional and energetic.  The section devoted to the physical aspect of self includes topics such teaching posture, moving equipment and changing springs, assisting clients, and demonstrating.  The reader is encouraged to note his or her postural habits, such as standing on one leg or tilting his head to the side.  Of course we movement teachers know this stuff – we know that we should not stand on one leg, slouch over the equipment or put our bodies at risk, but the reality is that we all probably are guilty of not applying proper body mechanics a hundred percent of the time while teaching.  I, for example, notice that I like to spot from one side more than the other, particularly when I put my foot on the bar for an exercise like elephant.  This book (complete with “Do!/Don’t” photos) is a friendly call for increased vigilance.

The rational/mental aspect of self is the section I found most useful.  It includes tips for avoiding burnout, and also addresses subjects such as setting boundaries with clients – financial and emotional, selling things, training friends and family and navigating the teacher/client relation when a teacher becomes friends with his client.  Although I have been teaching for many years now, I have only run a home studio for a few years.  I realize that some of the boundaries discussed in this section have indeed become blurred.  I don’t mind beating clients up during class, but when it comes to addressing things like late cancellations or price increases, I tend to shy away from conflict.  And I do have a few clients who have become friends.  This section underscores the importance of firm boundaries as an essential ingredient to a professional environment.

Part Two is entitled Grow Your Business with 6 Steps to SASS (Steps Above Service System).  The title is fairly self-explanatory.  With Pilates studios now cropping up on every corner of the globe,  the most important quality for a studio is superior teaching.  However, the details and personalization of the global experience, not just the lesson itself, will significantly impact business growth. The details bring clients back. Laurette provides some suggestions for ensuring exemplary service.

At the end of the book, Laurette offers three free handouts –  “What are the Principles of Pilates?  And How Will They Help Me?”, “Pre-Pilates Exercises to Improve Your Performance”, and “Pilates Builds Fascial Fitness”. She encourages teachers to distribute the handouts to their clients.  She even offers to send the articles in a pdf version.  This is a generous, refreshing touch in a world where everything seems to carry a price tag.

I recommend this book, in particular to new teachers, or perhaps as a gift to students you may be mentoring.  It is also a useful resource for teachers who have been teaching for some time, especially those who may be opening a studio of their own.  If you decide to use Laurette’s handouts, please remember to give her credit.  You can check out her blog at http://www.pilatesworkout-blog.com.

Book reviews

Book Review: Movement Matters

Title: Movement Matters

Author: Katy Bowman

Anyone who follows the Pilates Book Review and Discussion Club forum (all ten of you 😉) knows that we are big fans of Katy Bowman.  We have reviewed four of her seven books, Alignment Matters, Whole Body Barefoot, Move your DNA,  and Diastasis Recti.  She has also written Don’t Just Sit There and Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief.  Her new book, Dynamic Aging, is on my wish list- it is not yet available in France.  A biomechanist by training, Bowman writes a popular blog, Katy Says, and has a podcast of the same name, directs and teaches at the Nutritious Movement Center Washington, and travels internationally to give movement workshops.  Nutritious Movement is also a facebook forum.

Movement Matters is somewhat different from Bowman’s other books, perhaps closest in nature to Alignment Matters, which is a compilation of blogs.  Movement is a collection of essays on movement written by Bowman over five years, not just movement as in moving an arm and a leg, or even moving one’s body, but of movement in general – small movements, big movements, bigger movements, how the movement of one affects the movement of all, how the movement of man affects movement of the world.  “I believe the expansion to an ecological model in human bod science- considering society’s impact when we investigate human movement – is necessary for scientific clarity,” Bowman states.

The back cover describes the book as a “groundbreaking investigation of the mechanics of our sedentary culture and the profound potential of human movement….”   Seems a daunting task to initiate such an investigation in only 225 pages, but one of Bowman’s strongest points is her ability to take complicated concepts and explain them so clearly, so simply, that it seems almost impossible that we ever believed otherwise or that the concepts never occurred to us before.  That is not to say that the book is superficial, rather that its simplicity is deceiving.  Each read reveals new insights.  It is not a book of facts from which to learn, although learn you will, nor is it a how-to.  It is more aptly described as a series of reflections that “invites us to consider our personal relationship with sedentarism, privilege and nature.”  I found myself going over some of the chapters again and again, not because I did not understand them but because I wanted to mentally revisit the ideas within.

In lieu of a traditional review, I will mention my favorite parts and how they affected my thinking as both a Pilates teacher and (normal?? 😉 )person, and then render my overall impression.  In the introduction, I came upon this sentence: “For many, the publication of a research article in a peer-reviewed journal was the equivalent of truth and not a single data point in a much larger library of information.“ This statement and in fact the entire chapter one, Science Moves, is highly relevant to the Pilates community, specifically in relation to the two major debates dividing the community, the neutral spine and the “is flexion bad for you” debates.  Both arguments begin similarly, something along the lines of-  “science has changed so much from when Joe was alive.  We have now learned from science that Pilates as Joe taught it was unsafe.  Because Joe was an innovator, he would have evolved his teaching to reflect the latest scientific research.”    Funnily, the same people who cite “science” generally only cite one researcher, Stuart McGill, or worse, they have not even read McGill, but cite someone else who cites McGill, without ever seeking direct answers themselves.  Even those that have read a McGill article or two generally have not read his books nor have they explored in greater the studies McGill describes, exactly how the studies were conducted, their limitations (every study has limitations), whether other studies contradict or at least limit their relevance or the reach of their conclusions.  Does anyone else see the contradiction?  On the one hand, the people making these arguments insist that science has evolved and that this evolution substantiates their thinking.  On the other hand, they refuse to submit to the idea that science is STILL evolving, and accept as gospel what they have been taught without probing more deeply.

I truly cannot overstate my enthusiasm for the Science Moves chapter.  As tempting as it is to go into more detail and describe each of the different subchapters, to do so would be way beyond the scope of a review and would not come close to doing Bowman‘s arguments justice.  I will instead list the subchapters and some of what I deemed the more important sentences to give an idea of the content. The subchapters are: Muscle: A simple Model, Expand Your Muscle Model, You’re More Than (Two of Your Parts, Proof, Putting all Your Eggs in One Comment Basket, Don’t be A Stupid, Sometimes Science is Sedentary, and Dear Katy.  The following are some of the statements within the chapter that most resonated with me.  :

“Research titles shouldn’t read like magazine headlines; every study presents just a tiny aspect of something…. a conclusion drawn from a single research paper might change when compared to one drawn from a more robust literature review.”

“My assumption is that if you’re interested in evidence, you’re interested in all of it.  And that if you use a scientific publication to support your behavior, you are extensively reviewing the literature yourself, and that a new idea sparks a surge in research in reading, and not only in online commenting.”

“Being certain about “how certain things work when your certainty is based on a limited perspective can leave you many avenues unexplored.”

I will say something about how this relates to my experience first as a Pilates student, then as an apprentice and now as a teacher.  I believe that Pilates teachers should always ask questions. and should always seek answers, continually, eternally.  No matter how wonderful your teacher or mentor or that workshop presenter or blog writer is, no matter how talented, no matter that his or her list of credentials is as long as my arm, he or she does not know everything.  There is no reason for you to accept everything he or she says as the gospel.  Think for yourselves.  Seek your own truths.   Disagreeing with someone is not a sign of disrespect and someone who discourages questions is likely not entirely confident in the veracity of his assertions, or else is just an arrogant ass – I know a few.    When I was going through my Pilates certification, I asked questions because that it how I am wired. (My second grade teacher told my parents to buy me a book about reproduction because I was, it seems, asking “questions” in class.)  But asking questions during my certification was highly discouraged and some people were frankly unpleasant about it.  But then, a lot of people in that program were jerks – that is a story for another time and possibly petty, but truthful 😉.   It just wasn’t done to ever question what we were taught.  This was in stark contrast to my training as a lawyer, where students were encouraged to ask questions and even to disagree with our professors if their arguments were well presented.

Following the Science Moves chapter are Nature Moves, Food Moves, and Just Move.  Just Move was also a favorite chapter of mine.  Those who read my review of Bowman’s book, Whole Body Barefoot may (but probably don’t) recall that I expressed my astonishment as Bowman’s ability to write so many books, teach, and run an education center, while at the same time maintaining the healthy outdoor lifestyle she espouses and spending quality time with her kids.  She must have read my mind because in Movement Matters, she explains just how she does it.  It seems that what I do, multi-tasking (answering emails while brushing my teeth and listening to my ten year recite her poetry lesson) is not the answer.  The answer is something called stacking.  Instead of doing four things (not very well) at the same time, you do one activity that fulfills four objectives.  For example, Bowman goes foraging for fruit with her kids – in one fell, she spends quality time with her kids, she educates them, she climbs trees, working her muscles and bones, she and her family get the fresh air and vitamin D they need and she sources healthy food for her family.  Sounds like a brilliant idea.  Unfortunately, when I suggest to my kids that they join me in foraging for food, they barely look up from whatever electronic device in which they are engrossed to scowl at me and remind me that their idea of fruit are gelatin candies in a fruit form.  Well, uh, that went well.

I have to say that while I thoroughly enjoyed Movement, it did make me painfully aware of my own shortcomings as a mom, as a “healthy, active, sporty” person and as an environmentalist (which I really don’t claim to be although I do recycle and use those long-lasting, low-energy lightbulbs).  My shortcomings as a mom because I don’t send my kids to nature school and I let them drink sugary drinks (only one a day) and ruin their eyesight and dull their intelligence with computer games.  My shortcomings as a healthy sporty person – just as I am reading about how Bowman loves research and questions and is continually seeking answers and I think that we must be soulmates and how are surely destined to be BFFs, then I read some brilliant statement about how we humans today constantly outsource our movement and use exercise the way we take vitamins, to fulfill what we should be getting and doing in our everyday activities but are not.  This outsourcing has consequences on a personal and a global level.  As I nod enthusiastically in agreement, and think that I need to note this down, I take a photo of the page with my IPhone because I can’t be bothered to get up and find a pen and paper.  Then, slowly, it dawns on me that Katy (I would get to call her Katy as her new BFF) would not want to be BFFs with a lazy bum like me – in fact, she would probably hate me….  ☹

Happily, my sadness is short-lived.  At the end of each chapter, Bowman includes a question and answer section entitled Dear Katy.  In the Dear Katy section of the Just Move chapter is a letter from someone who read an advance copy of the book and like me, is “freaking out” and feeling guilty because although she thought she was a good human being, she has realized that “just by living in a peaceful manner”, she could actually be “contributing to all the world’s problems”.  No worries, says non-judgey Katy (whom I again am convinced will be my new BFF), and she proceeds to assuage our/my guilt by stating that there are numerous ways that we can contribute to making the world a better place.  Ok, I can do this – hmm – turning the car key instead of clicking on the automatic key – no, I don’t like that one (I love my automatic sliding door); sourcing raw ingredients – um, no; spending some time on a local farm, squatting to weed or harvest – no, no and no!; using loose tea instead of teabags – ok, I can get on board;  and buying (I am good at buying) handmade items from those making a living from making them and under conditions I deem acceptable – does buying fair-trade chocolate count?

In conclusion, Movement Matters is a must-buy.  You will read it again and again.  Hopefully, it will motivate you to, like me, “question everything, including what you’re doing right this moment and what has made what you’re doing possible.”  And if you conclude that you should and could be doing more, then hopefully it will help you take at least baby steps to get you started.  And at least you will be off facebook if you read a book.  Although – if you are reading this review on facebook, then kudos – you are stacking!!

Book reviews

Book Review: Discovering Joe Pilates

Title: Discovering Joe Pilates – a Whimsical Exploration of Joe’s Inventions

Authors: written by Christina Maria Gadar; illustrated by Taís Haydée Gadar

Year of Publication: 2017

Availability: www.pilatespersonaltraining.com, also available on amazon.com and amazon.fr and probably amazon in other countries.

Reviewed by: Rebekah Le Magny

I will let you in a little secret.  I only review books that I like.  That is not to say that I will lie and write a positive review of a book that I don’t enjoy.  I just prefer to read a book first and then offer to review it once I am sure that I like it.  For me, the book review forum is an opportunity to share with my Pilates peers the books that I love.  I don’t really enjoy sharing negativity.  (If you strongly suspect that your dress makes you look hideous, please don’t ask me- I don’t want to lie, so I will hedge and may jump out the window to avoid answering).   I ordered this book as soon as it came out and happily, I loved it!   I am supposed to be finishing up my review of Movement Matters, but decided to do a short review of Discovering Joe Pilates first….

 

Review:

Christina Maria Gadar is a Romana-trained Pilates instructor who has been teaching in her Sarasota, Florida studio, Gadar Pilates, since 2000.  She is also the author of Pilates, An Interactive Workbook: if You’re Going to Do It, Do It Right (reviewed by Sunni Almond for this forum).  Obviously, this has nothing to do with the quality of the books themselves, but Christina’s video trailer for her interactive workbook is one of the most exquisitely executed displays of Pilates that I have seen.  Click this link to watch it – it is a must-see-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK5gulrdRUQ

and the following link for the video trailer of Discovering Joe Pilates.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pAWKtebr90#action=share

Discovering Joe Pilates features Christina’s two beautiful children, both of whom practice Pilates regularly.  Marcello is ten years old and Taís Haydée is eight years old.  Taís is not only one of the models, she is also the illustrator of the book and her illustrations are truly delightful (they have been made into greeting cards – note to self – try to find them).  The book features a photograph and description of each of the major Pilates apparatus (apparatus by Gratz), together with an illustration of the apparatus as seen through the eyes of a child.  A reformer becomes a skateboard, the Cadillac becomes a monkey playground, the spine corrector a turtle.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the ladder barrel described and drawn as a snail.  A few weeks ago, my young student (twenty-three years old, practically still a child) referred to the ladder barrel as the escargot (snail in French), a description that I found hilarious and that had never occurred to me.  How wonderful to rediscover Pilates through a child’s eyes. Christina describes her book as being “for kids and the young at heart.” I’m not sure when it happens, but at some point, sadly we lose our child eyes!  Let’s try to get them back!  Too often we become absorbed at “fixing” our students and forget that Pilates should be fun.  In keeping with the fun, creative spirit of the book, each photo and illustration is also accompanied by a limerick!

 

“This barrel will stretch out your spine

And hopefully not make you whine.

Resembling a whale

That swims with its tail

The barrel is simply divine.”

 

The book also contains a short section on Joe Pilate’s life (illustrated with Joe in the snow wearing nothing but his famous briefs) as well as another part devoted to Joe’s successor and Christina’s mentor, Romana Kryzanowska.

As a mother of four (including an eight-year old daughter who also loves to draw), I was particularly touched that the book was the collaborative effort of Christina and her children.  My smaller kids do like to come play in my own home studio, particularly on the ladder barrel, but the studio is mostly off limits to them as it is what we call an intimate (translation – small) studio and my kids tend to be energetic (translation – noisy and disruptive). I hope to share with them one day my passion for Pilates; they currently have only a vague idea of Mom teaches and have not manifested much enthusiasm about learning Pilates, although my youngest son is beginning to show some interest.  Perhaps this book will spark a flame and we can explore Pilates together… Pilates is a gift to be shared, particularly with our children.

I was also deeply moved by Christina’s acknowledgement of “the special person who helped me see rainbows again”, whom Christina credits as having “inspired her into bringing Pilates into the lives of young children” and in whose memory the book is dedicated.  A portion of the royalties from the book will be donated to the Benjamin Gilkey Fund for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research.

I just sat down with my daughter and went over the book with her.  She loved it and we made a date to go play on the equipment tomorrow! 😊 Discovering Joe Pilates is a wonderful book to share with your children and for your students to share with their children.  It will also make a great gift to give to your favorite students themselves, those that are “young at heart”.

Book reviews

Book Review: Whole Body Barefoot

Title : Whole Body Barefoot – Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear

Author: Katy Bowman

Date of Publication: 2015

Pages: 117

Availability: Yes, amazon may be evil, but I do love amazon prime next day delivery.  I wait impatiently for the delivery person, checking my mailbox incessantly, like a teenager waiting to catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber.  My excuse is that my local bookstore does not carry books in English, but I confess to ordering even French books from amazon.

Review:

When I was in college, I was a bit short of money and I had a habit to feed.  No, not drugs.  I was running up huge phone bills from calling my then-boyfriend, (my now-husband of 24 years) in France.  So, in addition to my pizzeria job and work-study, I had to find other ways to make money.  No, not stripping or prostitution.  Geez, people, get your mind out of the gutter.  I participated in some medical and psychological experiments run by the medical school.  So you see, I can fully empathize with the need to participate in potentially harmful experiments for money.  What about you?  What if I asked you to participate in an activity that was proven to be harmful to your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back, which in turn would cause problems for shoulders and neck as well, from compensation.  What if this activity was risky not only because of the greater potential to trip and sprain or fracture a limb, but also caused unsightly deformities and often led to long-term pain?  How much would you ask before you undertook the risk?  What if I said that you would not even receive monetary compensation, but that during this activity, you would look (temporarily) fabulous with mile-long legs and that would be the ONLY compensation you would receive?  Does that sound crazy?  If not, then throw on a pair of vertiginous Louboutins.  The idea makes me shudder, especially since today’s heels are so darn high – at a size 5 1/2 to 6, those heels are not made for small feet.  Lest I sound judge-y, let me say that some of my favorite people wear heels.  I know of some amazing Pilates teachers who wear towering heels on a regular basis.  I would rather be barefoot.  That is not to say that I do not succumb to siren call of vanity on a regular basis.  I would not be caught dead wearing the gladiator things that Bowman recommends and ballet flats give me cankles.  The horror.  The horror.

So – the book.  This is actually one of three Katy Bowman books addressing the feet.  She seems to have a thing about feet.  I have not yet read Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet or Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet, but have plans to do so.  The problem is that Katy is such a prolific writer, I just cannot catch up to her.  I just received her latest book, Movement Matters (planning to review), as well as last year’s Diastasis Recti, which was reviewed by Christopher Roberts. (We have also reviewed Alignment Matters and Move your DNA – In case you haven’t figured it out, we are big Katy fans on this forum.).  It turns out that she has yet another book coming out next month.  Damn it, Katy (I am calling her Katy because her blog is called “Katy says”), how is it that you can write books faster than I can read them?  Katy’s bio in Diastasis Recti says that, in addition to her books, her award-winning blog and her dvds, she “directs and teaches at the Nutritious Movement Center Northwest, travels the globe (…), and spends as much time outside as possible with her husband and two young children.”  Um Katy, in addition to helping me with my posture, feet and pelvic floor, can you please send me some time management tips, because I rarely have time to drag a comb through my hair and my beauty routine is limited to the most basic personal hygiene.

Katy first addressed the issue of foot alignment in her first publication, Alignment Matters, offering very compelling arguments against wearing heeled shoes, not just women’s high heels, but also the lesser heels in men’s and children’s shoes and women’s “flats”. Katy repeats this assertion in Whole Body Barefoot, exploring it in greater detail.  One of Bowman’s strong points is to take biomechanical concepts and to break them down so they are easy to understand, using layman’s words and basic illustrations in lieu of complex diagrams or mathematical equations.  In the first part of the book, “Think”, Katy explains the problems that shoes cause, including something she describes as “ankle shmear”.  Now, I found some definitions of shmear in urban dictionary.com – either “a small amount of condiment applied to a food item or “to rub one’s (usually naked) rear against any surface such as the carpet, wall, chair in a smooth -flow flick movement.”  Ew.  I will let you read the book to learn what Katy means by shmear.  She asserts that our feet are designed to be barefoot for the most part, but minimal footwear may be necessary to protect the feet from the elements.  After a lifetime of confining feet in shoes, it would be foolhardy and cause injury to immediately begin wearing minimal footwear without preparation.  The solution is to transition to minimal footwear by wearing progressively lower heels and by performing exercises to strengthen and stretch the feet.

The second part of the book is entitled Move.  This section describes the correct stance and (except for the parallel v. slightly turned out feet position) pretty much aligns with how Pilates teaches us to stand, lengthening the back, untucking the pelvis and softening the ribs.  I am not entirely convinced by Katy’s assertion that the proper alignment of the foot is with the outer edge parallel, resulting in a slightly pigeon-toed look.  This contradicts what we have learned in Pilates as well as Esther Gokhale’s stance that feet should be very slightly turned out as that as the stance of in the indigenous populations in Africa and South America, where there are virtually no back problems (see our review of Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back).  However, Katy’s arguments (they are set out in more detail in Alignment Matters) are compelling and Katy is after all, a biomechanist. I will leave you to form your own opinion.

Katy then describes about a dozen exercises to strengthen and stretch the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the feet.  She suggests walking on uneven terrain as often possible because limiting our movement to flat, man-made surfaces such as concrete does not allow us to develop maximal strength, flexibility or adaptability.  A reduction in any of these, as we know, will eventually have negative consequences further up the chain – the knees, hips or back are often the victims of crimes against the feet.  Lastly, Katy provides a lengthy list of websites from which to procure minimal footwear.

Pilates teachers – do you need this book?  Well, we have the Pilates foot corrector and the toe gizmo, but this little book provides some great ideas for additional ways to work the feet, including pillows, towels, books, yoga blocks.  This is a great addition to your wellness library.  I did not enjoy it as much as Alignment Matters, which literally had me lol’ing from beginning to end (there was a little part on the passing of gas, for example and Katy insisted that we not shy away from using the word vagina.  I recall that she even said vagina, vagina, vagina just to make her point).   However, while I did not lol as much as I did upon reading Alignment, I found the book very helpful and very user -friendly, a nice book to own and to recommend to your students.  I know of no one who tootsies could not use a little lovin’.

Book reviews

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!