Friday, 27 March 2009

Dear Esmeralda..........What's all this about MBTs? They look ugly and they are expensive....can they really improve my posture and health? luv Quasi

Dear Quasimodo,

MBTs ugly? Huh! you are a fine one to talk!

They are expensive however - you might find yourself lighter by some £175 if you decide to buy a pair, so there is quite a lot to consider before making that commitment.

MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technology: the concept is that the Masai do not suffer from postural related problems, because the use of tarmac is a bit scarce in the Sahara, and so the ground they walk on is uneven. This means that their feet and bodies are constantly challenged to adapt to staying upright. Hence they are stronger and their nervous systems are programmed to adapt instantaneously to changes beneath their feet.

This is in marked contrast to our Western roads and floors: they are largely flat, and we get completely caught out when we come across a pothole in the road or a badly placed paving slab.

MBTs have a rolling sole - the soles are cut away at the heels and the toes. This makes the wearer's body adapt to a roll with every step: all the muscles have to respond to this, which strengthens them. It also makes the nervous system improve it's balance mechanism by constantly challenging it. The act of walking is the practice of controlled falling (think about the process of walking just on two legs - you take one leg forward, while remaining balanced on the other leg, moving your centre of gravity forward at the same time. Look here. No wonder it takes us a year or more to learn how to do it! Quadrupeds have it so much easier.). The shape of the MBT sole makes the wearer work harder to control that fall.

Here is my experience with MBTs, Quasimodo. (No, move away a bit, if you don't mind.) As you know, I have been working on my posture for many years. About six years ago I consulted an osteopath, as I believed that the tightness, and flatness in the back of my rib cage could be helped by some manipulation. The first thing that he did was take a good look at the way I was standing, and he described it as something along the lines of "a ready to go "type. My body leant slightly forward, and I was flexed (bent forward) at the hips, and knees. My head was forward of my shoulders. even my arms were flexed at the elbow in their resting position. Was this "ready to go" body a reflection, he wondered of a "ready to go" nature? (Probably, Yes!) But crucially he observed that my weight was not distributed evenly over my feet - more of my weight was on the balls of my feet than my heels. This observation was of more help to me than the manipulation as it gave me some information that would influence my behaviour.

So for a couple of years I tried to adapt my gait so that I was walking through my heels: when I was standing, I stood more over the arches of my feet. And that did improve my thoracic posture to a degree. But then I was introduced to MBTs: I thought they would help a bit, and I was attracted by the "news" at the time that they eliminated cellulite. (What a sucker! - they don't, not mine anyway!) . They exceeded all expectations in changing my posture: my Pilates teacher noticed that my rib were softer and rounder. My thoracic problems diminished (I still feel a bit vulnerable though: maybe in time they will improve some more.). Based on my experience and that of several of my clients, I am very happy to recommend them (but for people in pain see below). They do suit all postural types - people who take their weight mainly into their heels find they can't do that as the heels are cut away, and so, once again, the weight of the body is taken over the centre of the foot in standing, and the foot rolls all the way through from heel to toe in walking.

My first pair were very ugly. No, as you say Quasimodo, nothing wrong with that, and if you were to go ahead I would choose this model.........but they do make more attractive versions these days! Here's a link to the company's website

Now, Quasimodo, your question was, would they help you? And you say your "ready to go" type posture is like mine used to be?
Well, you clearly take your weight on the front of your feet. Your hips are in flexion. Your elbows are always bent - it's all that bell-ringing. I'd urge caution: MBTs aren't that easy to jump around the clock tower on. To be honest, my dear Captain Phoebus doesn't like me wearing them to dance in.
I understand at the moment that you are attending the hospital where they are making assessments of your spinal problems. I would advise you, and anyone else looking in, to consult their health practitioner under these circumstances. As with exercise, if your problem is "old and cold" or defined as chronic, ie bearable but often or always there, (ie not requiring medical attention) then it's something to consider: but if you have acute pain, then consult the medical profession, not blogs!

If you were to go ahead and buy them, make sure you get a proper fitting, as they are a big investment. The approved stockists will offer you a short training session, so you can get used to using them correctly. You can pick them up on e-bay cheaply - that's why I wear a pair of white and pink ones! Not my favourite colour choice, and clearly not that of the vendor, as she flogged them to me for £56: they would have cost her well over a hundred, and she never wore them.

Anyway Quasimodo, get you back to the Belltower. I do hope this helps you decide whether MBTs are worth the investment.

Best regards,
Esmeralda xx

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Stressed? Overwhelmed?...............try this fast, simple, breathing technique....

The Exercise - This seems to work for most people - not all of course! I've put the exercise before the introduction because you may be in a hurry! If you can, find somewhere private - the loo is always good if nowhere else is available...........(........speaking from personal experience here........). First, place your right thumb on your right nostril, and flatten it, and your right forefinger and middle finger on the centre of your forehead. Breathe in through your left nostril and out through your mouth three times, elongating your out breath as long as you can. The in-breath should be a more normal length, or you may end up feeling dizzy. Then change sides. Just three each side. That's it. You will feel calmer, and more able to deal with your challenges. They may be the same but how you feel about them will have changed.

About Stress and Breathing.
You may be in a situation where your boss is making impossible demands, dead-lines are looming, perhaps the children need picking up from school, and just one more thing...........the imminent arrival of your in-laws for a month's stay the balance. Before, you felt energised by life's challenges, but now you feel overwhelmed. Your posture changes: your jaw and neck tighten, your shoulders hunch and constrict your chest, your breathing becomes shallow. Apprehensions flood your mind. You can hear yourself breathe. Time whizzes by.

Effectively, your body is going into an evolutionary response to danger - you are in the equivalent psychological state to being in the Savannah surrounded by possible predators! Your body is getting ready for being on high alert, where fight or flight may be your only options.
Unfortunately neither fight nor flight are appropriate responses for this sort of 21st century stress!

A calm body and clarity of mind are our most useful assets, and the key to attaining this state is via your breathing.
Breathing is a basic function, so fundamental, that unless you practise yoga or Pilates, or meditation, you probably do not give it a second thought.

And yet by making an intervention with your breath, you have the power to change your state of mind. You can make time slow down, you can clarify your thoughts and allow solutions to reveal themselves. You may just realise that things aren't that bad after all............ and all by changing your breathing pattern, from fast and shallow, to centred, balanced, and calm. Your posture changes from hunched and defensive, to more upright and open, and all your natural functions from your nervous system to your digestive system are optimised.

Did you know for instance that a healthy body excretes more than 70% of it's waste products by breathing? So if you think about the consequences of shallow, tense breathing it must be that more of your waste stays in your body........and that way lies ill-health.

As a Pilates teacher, part of my job is to teach people to breathe! And as a therapist I often deal with people's phobias: panic breathing is a symptom of phobia and by treating the breathing response, the phobia often diminishes. I intend to share more of what I have learnt on the subject in later blogs...........but this little anti-stress exercise is one that I learnt about twenty years ago from a guy called Trevor da Silva, who was a health, fitness and stress release specialist. It's one of many yogic breathing methods.

I love this exercise because it is simple to remember, and engenders calm within a couple of minutes.........I was even able to make the most of my mother-in-laws stay!
Check out my web-site -

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Good Head and Shoulder Posture?........... No? Then read on.........

Here's an additional "lecture" after many of my Monday evening class arrived nursing their necks! You will find a simple corrective exercise at the end.

"Forward Head Posture" - or "Head Poke" or even "Turkey Neck" - how you hold your head in relation to your shoulders affects not just the comfort of your neck and shoulders, but also has repercussions on the rest of your spine, can tighten your hamstrings, and even your achilles tendons.. The "backline" of your body is put out of alignment by the tightness of the muscles which attach your head to your neck and upper back.

Think about a perfectly positioned tent pole, and its relationship to the guy ropes which keep it there - now push the tent pole from the top, even just half an inch and what happens to the guy ropes? The tent pole is your head and spine, and those guy ropes are your muscles and tendons, and they suffer!

Your (average) head weighs between 10 and 14lbs, and it should be centred over your ribs and shoulders. Say it weighs 10lbs - for every inch you carry it forward, it weighs an extra 10lbs to your neck and shoulders. No wonder they ache! Combine that with a tendency tilt your head to one side.? or slightly rotated?....... (To replicate this try holding 10lbs of potatoes close to you, then a few inches way, then slightly to the right.......all day.......).......and the problem is compounded.

So your posture is fundamental to your health. People often think that it is difficult to maintain good posture, that it's hard work .....but when we have poor posture, energy drains away from us in pain and tiredness. Good posture is an energy efficient way of preventing the energy-draining (not to mention money draining) consequences of bad health.
So use the muscles at the back of your neck to bring your head back over your rib cage and into good alignment!

The Exercise
A good and simple corrective seated exercise is to sit up on your sit-bones, lace your hands behind your head, and press your head back into your hands - 3x30 secs every half hour or so if you are sitting at a desk all day. And be aware of your posture when you are driving.

If you come to class, then ask me if you are not sure if you are doing it correctly.