Review of “Core Awareness: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise and Dance” by Liz Koch

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Title- “Core Awareness: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise, and Dance.”
Author- Liz Koch
First published- 2012
Edition- Revised
Year- 2012
Format- Hard copy and digital
Pages- 214
Availability description- Amazon and from Liz Koch’s site http://www.coreawareness.com

Review –

I was originally interested in this book after reading the title and description. Being both a Yoga and Pilates teacher, I’m always looking for new ways to enhance my client’s and student’s practice. The description of this book by somatic educator Liz Koch had my curiosity about her approach to increasing strength and flexibility and gaining a deeper core awareness.

A majority of the book comes from Koch’s somatic teaching experience and focuses a great deal on the psoas muscles. Both personally and professionally I find the psoas muscles fascinating and I’ve read several books on the topic. This was another reason I was drawn to purchase this book. Let’s dive in to the book.

Chapter 1 – This first chapter is really an introduction and had me hooked right away. Koch covers several ideas of movement today, that I myself agree with. For instance how some people look at the body in parts instead of as a whole. To fix a knee problem, knee surgery is offered instead of looking at what could be causing the imbalance and injury. This chapter covers topics like neutral body, positioning, anchoring, initiation of movement, breath, etc.

Another idea she covers is what is true strength. Take a look at body builders who can have a six pack stomach but still lack the core strength and control needed for even simple movements and posture. They can look powerful but lack the ability to have good posture, resiliency and proprioception (awareness of where their body is and how it moves through space). She sums it up pretty simply in one sentence…”True strength emerges when the inner connections between all the various expressions move in harmony”.

One of the few times she actually mentions Pilates is in this first chapter where she talks about how the Pilates method is a great way to both strengthen and lengthen muscles. She also mentions ways to increase proprioception and how to modify a position if its too demanding. Ways that we all know as movement teachers such as: narrowing the range of motion, providing an assisted support or choosing a different position.

Chapter Two – This chapter begins to focus on the psoas muscle and ways to engage the psoas. Koch does a great job of describing the location and function of the psoas. Also, in this chapter she begins to talk about energy and how it is held in the body. She touches on how the body can hold emotions such as fear, especially the psoas and where it is the location of fight or flight response.

This chapter reminded me of another great book I read on the psoas “The Vital Psoas Muscle” by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones. Staugaard-Jones talks more of the energetics of the psoas muscles and links it to our Solar Plexus Chakra. As a yoga teacher, I’ve always been interested in the chakras so I found “The Vital Psoas” fascinating. Koch only briefly touches on this link however. I was hoping for more on this topic. If you are interested in the energy lines or chakras and how they can affect health and vitality in the body I would recommend reading one of my favorite books “Anatomy of the Sprit” by Caroline Myss.

Koch closes this chapter by mentioning that the psoas does not respond well to manual manipulation such as myofascial release or deep massage. She says it is better to understand the muscle and how to release it. She suggests and introduces Constructive Rest Position (CRP). Interestingly enough, Staugaart-Jones also mentions CRP in “The Vital Psoas Muscle” and even mentions that it was something that Joseph Pilates was interested in and practiced himself.

Chapter Three – This chapter is all about centering the pelvis. Koch writes about different ways the pelvis can brought out of alignment such as poor positioning, muscle dominance and limited range of activity causing symptoms such as mid/low back pain, knee and ankle problems, pelvic and groin pain, shoulder pain and even headaches. As teachers we know that the body is interconnected; what happens in one spot affects both above and below as well.

Chapter Four – I can sum this chapter up in two words: “flowery” and “woo-woo”. I started to get a little lost and losing interest in the book at this point. Koch writes about the Earth, gravity, bones, rooting and grounding with the Earth. Now as a yoga teacher I love the “woo-woo” stuff but even I got lost in this chapter and the point Koch was trying to make.

Chapter Five – This is just another flowery chapter continuing on the themes mentioned in Chapter Four. Koch talks about the “spirals of life” and how “Core awareness is a powerful means for healing emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds”. Again I was a little lost and about to give up on the book at this point.

Chapter Six – This chapter is the first in the second section of the book where we get to the movement part of the book, or as Koch calls them, the “explorations”. We are again introduced to Constructive Rest Position or CRP. Every exercise that is covered in the rest of the book will be based off of CRP. CRP is an active resting position that helps to “decrease excessive nerve excitation” and help to unravel “all forms of tension throughout your body”.

Chapter Seven – The first exploration focuses on awakening core awareness. CRP is further discussed and a detail account of how to perform CRP is given. As I mentioned above it’s a very interesting exercise that I’ve previously explored after reading about it in “The Vital Psoas Muscles”.

Chapter Eight – This exploration is all bout engaging, lengthening and toning the psoas. Koch talks about how and why we initiate movement and goes deeper into CRP. This chapter gives a great breakdown of CRP and some great tips on how to release the psoas in CRP. This chapter regained my attention and was giving me what I hoped to receive from this book; great tips and ideas on how to release tension in the body and find core awareness. Explorations include different ways to release the upper psoas and the lower psoas. These are techniques that I’ve started adding in to my yoga classes, but haven’t found them useful for a Pilates session yet. Also covered is ways to use CRP to find pelvic and shoulder girdle stability.

Chapters Nine through Eleven – The final chapters include more exercises or explorations using CRP to center and balance the pelvis, articulate the pelvis, to explore the arms-pelvis relationship, spinal curling and arching, and core unraveling.

Overall, the book was not what I was expecting. The anatomy nerd in me was hoping for so much more from this book. I wanted this to be a great resource on anatomy, physiology and movement but I was disappointed. While I am interested in CRP and can see it’s usefulness for easing tension in the body (especially the psoas and spine) and helping to work on stability in the body, it’s not as useful to my teaching as I had hoped.

I also find the title misleading as Yoga and Pilates are mentioned only once or twice, and there is no mention of how these explorations can be related to either types of movement. As an experienced teacher I can take what I can from the book and the exercises/explorations covered and include them in my teaching. I didn’t find any information in here that can do differently for the body what just following the Pilates method already does. Pilates alone can teach the body stability, proprioception and help us with posture, strengthening, lengthening, and engaging of muscles. As we as Pilates teachers well know.

I do find the exercises/explorations interesting and they really were the meat of the book. If you are interested in the book I suggest borrowing it to skim the explorations that are discussed, as they include photos and detailed descriptions of the exercises etc. This would also be a great book for anyone interested in somatic awareness/practice.

To buy or to borrow? – If interested in reading it I would see if you can borrow a copy.
Reviewed by – Christopher Roberts

Hidden Sugars in Salad Dressing

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When most people decide to eat healthier or try to lose weight the number one meal they usually turn to is salads. I mean doesn’t a big bowl of veggies topped with some lean protein sound like the best idea? Especially during these hot summer months.

But wait! Don’t forget the dangers of hidden sugars in your salad dressing. Most commercial salad dressings contain about 8-9 grams of sugar in ONE tablespoon! It’s like crumbling a candy bar on top of all those gorgeous and healthy vegetables.

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Keep your salad lean and green by making your own salad dressings. Here are a few quick and easy ideas for a delicious and low calorie/low sugar salad dressing:

  • Use a little lemon juice only on your greens
  • Mix a little apple cider vinegar and herbs with some olive oil
  • One of my favorites is just balsamic vinegar and little olive oil
  • In a blender blend together 1 tablespoon of oil, some lime juice, 1 tablespoon of honey and some chopped up chives/green onions
  • Blend together some lemon juice with about three tablespoons of tahini and two tablespoons of water/oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add fresh dill for a creamy lemony dill dressing.

If you do decide to try some lower sugar store bought dressings make sure to read the ingredients and measure out your dressing. Simply pouring it over your salad will probably be way more than the suggested serving size. What may look like a tablespoon to you could be about four or five in reality.

Stay health and happy my friends!

Healthy Swaps!

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This week we are going to talk about HEALTHY SWAPS! The graphic above has some of my favorite ways to eat cleaner, healthier and with less calories/sugar/fat, etc. In the comments below post one healthy swap you made today! And come back all this week as I’ll be sharing some of my favorite swaps as well as recipes using some of these swaps.

How to Avoid Wrist Pain in Downward Dog

 

Anatomy of Downward Dog in Yoga

Anatomy of Downward Dog in Yoga

I hear often from both students and teachers of Yoga about complaints of wrist pain in Downward Facing Dog. Some people see Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svasana as a rest pose. Downward Dog is in fact a rest pose as part of the Vinyasa or Sun Salutation sequence but it is actually very active. Let’s take a look at the pose.

The physical benefits of Downward Dog are many and include:

  • Energizes the body
  • Stretches the posterior chain of the body including shoulders, back, and hamstrings
  • Strengthens core, arms and legs

The reason that most students feel pain or discomfort in the wrist in this pose is to do with weight. Downward Dog requires a lot of distribution of weight. The number one reason for wrist pain in this pose is that the student may just be dumping their weight into the wrists. Meaning they are using their wrists to support the majority of their body weight by putting too much of it forward. So how can we fix this?

Have the student engage the muscles of the upper back and shoulders more by externally rotating the arm and shoulders slightly and keeping the shoulder blades on the back. This will create more strength in the arms and upper body to be able to hold the weight and create more support. Make sure that all the fingers are spread and the weight is evenly distributed through the finger pads of all fingers especially the pinkie and thumb. By pushing equally into the pads of the fingers they can create some space in the palm and wrist and take weight off of the carpal tunnel. Sometimes the pain in the wrist can be inflexibility in those muscles and in the arm.

Now have the student push back more into the heels to transfer some of the body weight into the legs to take some out of the arms and wrists. They can still do this with a bent knee if they have tight hamstrings. Now have them activate the core muscles as well as the glutes. Activate the inner thighs and keep reaching the sit bones up and back.

 Some great modifications are:

  • Roll up a mat or use a wedge under palm of hand so there is less bend at the wrist
  • Put the student in Dolphin Pose (same as Downward Dog but on forearms). Have them keep forearms and palms flat and put a block between their thumbs.
  • Have them work on developing more wrist flexibility and strength by doing arm exercises with small pound weights.

Vegan Ice Cream

It’s been a hot summer and the temps are still pretty high. A great way to cool off is with ice cream, but who wants all that fat and sugar? Try this recipe for a vegan ice cream using frozen bananas. You can alter the recipe by adding different toppings or add ins. The basic recipe is frozen banana and vanilla extract. You can try a strawberry ice cream by adding frozen strawberries, or add cocao powder to make chocolate ice cream.

Don’t be Deceived by Food Labels

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I’ve had several conversations this week about beverages. My friends in my Summer Health and Fitness Challenge group on Facebook have asked about the beverages they like to drink. I’ve had questions about Gatorade, Diet Coke and even flavored waters.

I like to eat (and drink) as clean as possible. I’m not saying that you have to drink just water all day long, all the time. There really are so many other and healthier options, but any type of soda, in my opinion, is a big “NO!” always. I advised my friends to find beverages not so loaded with sugar and chemicals.

Now let’s talk about flavored waters. Taking a look at the label on the flavored water above its seems great right? Words like “natural flavor” and “essential vitamins” just jump out at you! But you really need to learn to read the ingredients and the label on the back of the bottle. Let’s take a look.

FullSizeRenderLooks good, yes? No calories, no sugars, no carbs etc. Take a closer look at the ingredient listing though. A list of ingredients for water shouldn’t read that long!

  • Sucralose – otherwise known as Splenda is a chlorinated version of white table sugar. Although approved as safe by the FDA, some studies have shown that it may cause damage to blood cells, and the liver and kidneys
  • Yellow 5 – used to add coloring is an approved food dye by the FDA, but is banned in most European countries. Studies have shown that this food dye can cause hyperactivity and ADHD in children, migraines, and blurred vision
  • Blue 1 – another food dye banned in most countries but approved in the US. This dye is also linked to instances of ADHD and allergies.

It might just be me, but when I choose a water to drink, the ingredient list shouldn’t be as long as a Harry Potter novel. It should just read WATER. Maybe “natural flavorings”.

So what are some healthier beverages to drink? How about water, green tea, or natural fruit juices. I actually love to make my own naturally flavored waters. Grab a big pitcher and fill it with water and add some freshly cut fruit. I love to make flavor waters and you can do many different flavor combinations: cucumber slices and mint, lemon and lime slices, fresh berries, etc.

It’s been a hot summer, so the thirst is real, but make smart choices in the beverages you choose!

Wellness Warriors

Wellness-Warriors-Version-2I’ve been really focused on growing my tribe; a group of people that I connect with and we can come together to share a common goal and interests. I’ve found my small tribe, but I’ve been struggling with what we should call ourselves (if anything). We come together to inspire and motivate each other to reach our health, fitness and wellness goals. Everyone in my tribe has the main goal to be #healthyandhappy.

I’m currently running a Health and Fitness Challenge group on Facebook for the month of July. I had a request to extend the challenge a little while longer as everyone was enjoying it. I was trying to think of a clever name for the group of rag-a-tag misfits that we are, and put a call out to the group. I got a response with the word “warrior” and it immediately clicked for me.

Then I had this thought about calling the people I work with, my tribe if you will, “Wellness Warriors”. This, to me, just says so much in two simple but powerful words. So as I sat with this today I thought “Well, what is a Wellness Warrior?”

  • A Wellness Warrior is someone who is active in working towards living a healthy life and inspiring others to live a healthier lifestyle. We are inspired to live lives that are happy and healthy.
  • A Wellness Warrior strives to achieve calm and balance in their lives by reducing stress through physical activity.
  • A Wellness Warrior is a person focused on living a more sustainable lifestyle and makes choices that are environmentally and socially responsible. We realize that we need to protect our planet for future generations.
  • A Wellness Warrior makes small steps everyday to create a long lasting and greater impact on their diet, health, fitness, wellness and lifestyle goals.
  • A Wellness Warrior nourishes their body with real food and believes in eating as clean as possible.
  • A Wellness Warrior engages in holistic health therapies such as massage, acupuncture, Reiki, etc.
  • A Wellness Warrior believes in magic and that life is better with a little sparkle. We believe in fairy tales and happy endings.
  • A Wellness Warrior lives with passion and everything they do for themselves and for others comes from a place of love.
  • A Wellness Warrior lives a life full of compassion for themselves and every living creature on the planet.
  • A Wellness Warrior dances like no one is watching.
  • A Wellness Warrior realizes that life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.

Are you a Wellness Warrior? Ready to join our tribe? Sign up in the email contact form to join our tribe of people passionate about creating a healthier lifestyle.