One Step at a Time

Travelling through Uganda a week ago, presented me with a lot of time to reflect. Being fully immersed in my surroundings (which would be classified as very harsh and arduous in our western terms) brought a few home truths to me. 

As I have found myself in this place of ‘no rushing’, ‘being calm’ with ‘lowered expectations’ I ask myself the question, as I want to be realistic in my own life: ‘How long will this insight of mine last?” 

Back in London, walking through South End Green, up Pond Street past the hospital on my left, I was immediately aware of the amount of concrete, people with their faces buried in their phones, bumper-to- bumper traffic with fumes up my nostrils - even in August; I was filled with sadness and I did not enjoy the walk at all. 

I longed to be on the dusty, very bumpy, incredibly uncomfortable road in Uganda, immersed in dust and surrounded by jungle. Looking out to see people carrying water, bananas, wood or coal and pushing their pedal bikes, if they were lucky enough to have such a sophisticated transporter. The roads frequently are too steep and difficult to pedal, the push bikes are mostly used to transport cargo for miles. 

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The Ugandans are the friendliest people I have come across in a long time, I never experienced or observed any form of aggression or violence, no one was ever shouting; I only experienced and observed patience, kindness and content communication. Everyone made eye contact and one was generally greeted with a beautiful white smile and a wave of a hand. 

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I saw no over-weight person, nor a cripple, nor any physically deformed individual – perhaps I was just very lucky. Even the toddlers walk and carry small buckets of water on their head. One learns from an early age that one is part of a bigger system and everyone has to share the load. The people walk upright with strong postures, they bend easily, they work the fields with grace and ease. Everyone squats, from old to young. They gaze, they chat, they play with self-made balls in the streets or on the fields. To see body movement with such elegance, from old to young, hit a chord with me. 

What is life about? I wonder. What do I do as an individual for a meaningful life and what is meaningful at the end of a day? To keep on expanding, gathering, ‘self-enhancing’, seeing more places.... or making sure one has enough food and water on a daily basis to feed one’s family, to spend time with one`s family each day and to work one’s little piece of land. Maybe I should strive for some place in the middle. 

I was astounded by my own excesses once I have returned to London, I don’t have one plant to water, I have hundreds.... We ordered an Indian take-away for my first night, (a usual routine after having been away on holiday). The amount and variety of food on the table made me laugh and then I was shocked, the number of flavours in one bite.... all over- whelming and my stomach suffered for the first time in 10 days. I experienced the sensation of having eaten too much. I was disgusted. It was simply just wrong. I did not need that much. Was I over-whelmed by the variety and excessive amounts available? What made me over-eat? 

In Uganda I had a choice of two meals for dinner, there were one vegetarian and one meat option. I always chose the vegetarian. I had daily chats with guides, trackers, locals and they informed me that they live on 1⁄2 a sweet potato for lunch, an Irish potato and perhaps some peas or nuts for dinner. Meat, usually stewed beef with tomatoes and peppers, is saved for Easter and Christmas and when a very special friend visits from afar. 

I went to Uganda for two reasons. It was a trip to see the mountain gorillas for my mum’s 70th birthday. (This item ‘Gorillas’ was high on her bucket list). It took me 22 hours x2 of travel to get to Entebbe and back via Dubai. It took three days of travel by road in an uncomfortable, rattling, dusty Jeep to complete our itinerary. One bounced up and down, side-to-side constantly and one could find no rhythm whatsoever. Some things in life, one has to experience oneself, no explanation will do justice. Those trips presented me with: an Opportunity to practice patience. Time to think. Time to gaze. Time to gain perspective. 

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Nothing that is truly wonderful and special comes easy, and nor should it. One has to be prepared to do the extra yards (or miles), literally. 

However, meeting those creatures in a jungle after 3-hours of a track was worth every mile, every bump all the swallows of dust. 

The gorillas were much shorter in the leg than in the movies, they are strong and mobile. We were particularly lucky as it was the dry season in Uganda and browsing was difficult, they had to travel far for food daily and rests were needed. We caught them in their napping time in a fairly open area. 

They stretched regularly, they changed position ‘in bed’, they yawned, sneezed, snored and snoozed. They gazed as if in wonder. They played with themselves, with one another and with little twigs which they chewed on and waved. Some were more restful than others. The silverback raised his arms once and made a sound when the little ones irritated him. They scrambled very quickly into a cranny. They slept next to one another, rested their heads, arms and legs on one another and some preferred their own space. 

They did not smell like an animal to me, they smelled like a very dirty person who had not had a shower in 3 weeks and had plenty of intensive work-outs. The odour, however, was musty, rather than overwhelming. 

My favourite picture is the one of Rafiki (which means friend), the leader of the group of 14, stretched out, one foot stretched into a bifurcation, looking upwards to the sky. 

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I will remember the soles of their feet, their nipples – identical to those of human beings, their hands and fingers, the funny big toe resembling a thumb to enable them to use their feet like hands. The thumbs on their hands are also very short as long thumbs will get in the way when they swing from tree to tree, called branching. 

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Back to the studio, back to Autumn. The time of year when leaves fall, things slow down and trees prepare themselves for winter, shielded by their coat of bark. This Autumn I want to take things slower, I want to do less, drink less, eat less – never have I said ‘nothing or zero or stop’, nordid I say ‘everyday, intensive, hard, fast’.... I want to be realistic daily, weekly, I want a balanced, overall approach to my whole life. I want to be present when I eat, train, walk, read, talk. I want to stop doing 2-5 things at one time.

I am going to set small goals, to keep me on track and to help me prioritise better, as this city called London, is a jungle full of opportunities and options that bombard us every day from every angle. We get persuaded so easily by ourselves and by others. I hope to keep on reminding myself of my incentives and my promise to myself to slow down and to be present.

For training; The Ladder Approach: One step at a time; ladders go down, they stay still and they go up, it is not a one-way traffic upwards – don’t fool yourself. Try to gain perspective from your position on the ladder and learn and gain from each step. There is no rush and I promise you there is no end destination. All you get when you reach the top of this ladder is another ladder. The higher you aim, potentially the bigger your fall. Yet, horizons also broaden when you have gained some height. What does make sense then in your life?

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For being; I want to be creative this Autumn, I want one project, it is either going to be photography or painting. I will commit to one on the 30th of  September 2018. 

For business; For the family; For friends: For dancing; Etc. 

Many insights were revealed during our ‘Catch That Fall’ Retreat – June 2018. A few of them are still very fresh in my mind. Mr Stolzenberg confessed at the end that he always had a ‘zero-to-hero’ approach and he always got injured. He thought that if he did one class a week that he would get strong and flexible. He realised how wrong he was and he realised how much work one has to put in, however hard it is at times, it will be possible. It takes a lot of dedication but the onus is on you, it is you that have to put in the work, no-one else can do it for you. 

Mrs Utting said that she did not wish for anyone to suffer, however, it was comforting to know that other people suffer too from pain and discomforts. That we all have our own issues and that we have to deal with them and mostly we can. 

I hope to inspire you to be kinder to yourself about your self- expectation, I want you to take a little bit of time and really think what matters in your life. Take one step back. Do one thing fewer. Do it properly. Be authentic in your choice(s) for your life. Assume accountability, put in the work and stop blaming ‘having no time’, ‘having too much work’, ‘being too tired’ ......... start and commit to something small, one step at a time and enjoy it. 

I am not dependent on exercise/movement/connection for my survival, however, I fully know that I derive so much more meaning, joy and contentment when I do move, am creative and have proper connections with people daily. 

I wish you all a wonderful Autumn. Do choose from our SFS Menu what will enhance your life holistically. There is enough on the list to offer you a meaningful choice, perhaps choose something that you always secretly wanted to do, however never felt ready or good enough to do. 

Look out for the colour in the leaves when they “autumnize” be one of those beautiful white smiles that greet people with your eyes and when you can avoid walking up Pond Street in traffic! 

Suz xx 

The Empowering Story of Joanna Portner

“One thing that SF Studios has instilled in me is that I am “normal” and need not be scared to use my body”

 

I was first introduced to Suz at SF Studios by my back surgeon, who had operated on me 9 years ago. 

Since the operation, my back always gave me pain which rarely dissipated. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with herniated discs in my lumbar spine, my neck (together with a cyst on the disc in my neck) and, most worryingly, a herniated disc in my thoracic spine. This last herniation was impinging on my spinal cord and I was told that it could lead to paralysis in my legs. It also gave me constant excruciating pain in my ribs and referred nerve pain in my shoulders. 

I was reluctant to see another “physiotherapist” as I had seen so many who had failed to help. It was frustrating just lying on a bed being treated with a bit of massage once a week and never benefitting from any long-term relief. I was taking paracetamol every 4 hours, anti-inflammatories every morning and tramadol every evening, but still had interrupted sleep due to the pains in my ribs and shoulders. However, my surgeon thought I would really benefit from seeing Suz so I arranged to have a session in around March 2017.

Since my first session with Suz, I have never looked back! I began with some one-to-one session. Suz started with a thorough holistic assessment and asked me about my whole life, not just my spine. She also assessed my movements and she palpated every joint in my body and tested the movements.  She explained to me her finding and assured me that we could do a lot to help me, however, that she was going to teach me how to move and she said that her aim was to ‘see the movement as my friend and not my enemy’. This approach helped me gain confidence and work on my strengths. Rather than being negative and telling me what I couldn’t do, Suz was incredibly positive and made me feel like I could and would get stronger and stronger. She affirmed my strengths and values as a whole person. 

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Suz nudged me gently, however with strong intention….. and I finally felt confident enough to join the movement classes. I have met some lovely, supportive and fun people! I also started working with Marco who although works on the same principles of movement as Suz. His Movement Conditioning Classes (MC Classes) focus on strength and varies the movement and focus each week. It keeps the classes interesting and enjoyable (and it’s great to sweat!). 

I’ve also attended some of the weekend workshops which complement the weekly classes with information and insight into how your body works and how you can improve things like breathing. I can now hang on the ladders like a monkey and pull myself up. I can plank like I’ve never planked before! If someone had told me that I would be doing such things two years ago, I would have laughed! 

One thing that SF Studios has instilled in me is that I am “normal” and need not be scared to use my body. I was always scared that I could not exercise like other people since my back was weak and prone to problems. I now know this to be untrue and am able to do as much, if not more, than any “normal” person with no back problems.

I rarely take painkillers anymore and feel strong and happy when I’m moving with Suz and Marco. I even went on the retreat to France with Suz and Ginny in June and had a life-changing experience, forming fantastic friendships with people who share a love of movement and becoming stronger both physically and mentally. 

I enjoy going to SF Studios a couple of times a week and relish the holistic approach to movement and mental happiness. It is a calm and positive place where you are encouraged to work to your strengths rather than dwell on your weaknesses. Suz and her team are so friendly and I always walk away feeling refreshed and prepared to take on the rest of my week! 

“More than anything else, I want to empower each and every individual that crosses my path, to remind them what a beautiful strong person they are and what they are capable of”.

60 seconds with... Fiona M.

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You attend Suz and Marco’s classes, can you explain me the difference between the two methods?

It’s a given that both Suz and Marco are 100% dedicated to the fundamentals of their practice. 100% appreciated by me. Given this shared commitment to detail. I would say Marco is more routinely focused on the bricks and blocks- The chords. Suz is more instructive; improvises; more into me flow/movement, while on top of detail. 

 

What do you expect from them?

With Suz – expect the unexpected high energy, fun, an ability to connect and engage on a personal level with everyone. A full assessment of your place, your being. 

With Marco – it is my M.O.B. I know what to expect – value his work highly as a comfort point to Suz. Both methods speak to each other/blend. 

 

Why do you need both of them (class with Marco and 1:1 with Suz)? 

Great to combine 1 :1 with classes – different dynamic, perspective. Appreciate strength with Marco. Sense of ongoing development and settings sights and goals and possibilities with Suz. Back to base, being grinded with Marco. Enjoy my week immensely with Suz. 

Marco is technique, movement conditioning.  Suz is movement, feeling, flow. 

A Brief Movement History by Seb

We all know that exercising and movement is beneficial for our bodies and minds. It provides a psychological and physical benefit, which in today’s fast-paced lives is of huge benefit to our sense of wellbeing. 

 

Throughout the centuries, the rationale and philosophy of movement and exercise have changed dramatically. We went from the Palaeolithic era between 2.6 million and 100,000 years ago – where the movement was utilised very much as a method of survival – to the ancient farming and agricultural times which took hold around 10,000 ago. At this point in movement evolution, actions were still very manual but significantly far more repetitive than for our primal ancestors. As advances in technology improved and machines were used more, there were obvious advantages in terms of profitability, mass production of supplies and time efficiency – but at what cost to our health? We now had mechanisms which we could rely on to keep the world around us functioning, without having to rely on good old-fashioned manual handling skills.  Consequently, human movement efficiency plummeted and the health status of workers systematically declined in line with continued technological advances. All of this is hugely relevant information when it comes around to the question of exercise choice and its role in building resilience for our bodies biological systems.

The fitness and health industry is a multi-million pound one, constantly advertising to us and promoting fancy equipment, all with health claims to be ‘the one’.

What’s important when choosing whether to pursue a regime of physical activity is that it engages you. This must be of utmost importance. The term ‘challenge’ is highly subjective and its meaning has and can mean many different things to a multitude of individuals. One person’s walk in the park may mean another’s marathon. Everyone’s preference for physical activity is going to be different and that’s a good thing.

What’s important for the fitness industry’s reputation going forward is that people don’t feel pressurised into certain activities. Engagement once again is the key term here. As healthcare professionals, we have an obligation to inform, encourage and enlighten when it comes to movement and pain management. Problems begin to arise when trainers, coaches and ‘specialists’ preach and insist that there is one way only as a path to follow. To ensure sustainability of health and a long-lasting sense of well-being, the professional should guide and allow the patients and clients to feel comfortable pursuing and engaging in physical activity safely and with an enhanced understanding of their limits and capability and why it is important for them.

 

·       TRX

·       Kettlebells

·       Medicine balls

·       ViPR

·       Swiss Balls

·       Resistance bands

 

The above demonstrate just a small example of the wide range of fitness toys, which are now commonly used in the gym and healthcare setting. The concept and introduction of these fitness tools can be traced all the way back to where we started this blog article, talking about movement in the Palaeolithic era. Movements from this period were hugely varied with spontaneous bursts of speed, demonstrating joint mobility and ravaging displays of strength. These fitness tools provide other avenues for coaches and clients to be creative through their movement education. An important point to mention here though is that any movement program that is being introduced must have a method and concept to allow appropriate progressions and regressions based on capability and efficiency.

 

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This flow chart shows 7 elements which are key for the attainment of the vital body. By addressing these factors in equal measure, you are providing the body with the best chance of staying not just injury free but flourishing in the exciting, fast-paced and engaging world we live in today.  

In short..... Get moving!

 

Seb Hicks

 

 

60 seconds with... Jane G.

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You attend both Suz and Marco’s classes, can you explain the difference between the two methods?

Marco and Suz have different personal styles as you would expect. But what I love about both is that they complement each other. They start from a similar knowledge base and use the same principles and methods. Sometimes, you see a theme during a week, whether they intend it or not, so you feel you are building on a particular focus as the week goes on.

 

What do you get from each of them?

I always feel fantastic when I leave their classes. Both encourage and push and I always feel that I’ve progressed, even just a little, in each class.

 

Why did you choose our Studio rather than a gym or a traditional Pilates studio?

I originally started at SFStudios on a friend’s recommendation and very quickly feel in love with the personal, friendly approach used by all the teachers. The atmosphere is always a happy energetic one. 

EXHALE - The lost art of breathing out

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If you’re familiar with any of my classes, you might have noticed that there is one thing that I often insist on: keep your ribs down. It’s the main component of the hollow body position, which plays a major role in many athletic endeavours, especially gymnastics. However, the reason why I place so much emphasis on this position - here, as much as in the classes - is not performance, but optimal breathing. 

To do what it’s meant to, the diaphragm needs to be in its neutral position: a dome shape. When the diaphragm contracts, our lungs are pulled down and expand, drawing air into our body. When it relaxes, our lungs are deflated and air is pushed out of our body. We call these two basic actions inhalation and exhalation. 

Pretty straightforward, right? Well, not always. 

If not effectively opposed by our abdominal wall, our ribcage has the tendency to flare, normally on the left-hand side. Within a certain amount, this is normal. In many cases, however, this tendency becomes dysfunctional and generates problems. By flaring out, in fact, the diaphragm loses its dome shape and, with it, its ability to work as a breathing muscle (it essentially stiffens up and becomes a postural muscle). We find ourselves in a state of hyperinflation, a fancy term used to highlight the fact that our back is over-extended and our breathing is compromised. 

In this scenario, we are unable to use our diaphragm. Without realising it, we adjust our postures and movements in ways that help us compensate for that, turning our neck and shoulder muscles into our main ‘inhalators’. This extra duty adds up to the already heavy workload of these structures, causing local stiffness and soreness, and a general increase of tension and stress. We find ourselves in constant “fight or flight” mode, which causes chronic anxiety and depletes our energy levels, making us sleepy and drowsy. 

 

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©FitnessGenes 

What should we do? The short answer is: we need to breathe out - more effective, more consistently. 

For that to happen, our ribcage and spine have to allow our diaphragm to assume its natural dome shape and work as it should. Once the shape has been restored, we can practise our diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing to get a sense of what it means to breathe without using neck and shoulders. Once also good function has been re-established, we can get fancy and reinforce it through some exercises. 

The hollow body position mentioned initially is a good starting point: it activates the abdominal wall, especially oblique and transverse abdominal muscle. These muscles offer a dynamic control of the position of our ribcage, and, therefore, support the regular activity of our diaphragm. 

 

Marco Litto

Thoughts on Perceptions

HOW WE APPROACH SOMETHING MENTALLY CAN HAVE A HUGE IMPACT ON WHAT WE GET OUT OF IT - by suz

What’s your perception of the photo above? We've had so many comments – from “great picture” and “fantastic shot” to “intimidating”, “elitist”, “a little creepy” and “super strong”. 

Does it inspire you? — "I want to be able to do that!" Or did it terrify you? — "I could never be able to do that! 

How do I respond to the comments about the picture of Marco and me? I am chuffed that people think we are elite however it alienates us, which is so sad – I certainly don’t want people to feel that we are out of their league because it’s absolutely not like that in our work at all. 

The greatest gift in my life is having a connection with another person, helping them overcome whatever stands in their way to being the greatest, happiest, most confident person they can be — living and enjoying their life.

I meet so many great people on a weekly basis and hear their mental struggles: ‘I want to lose weight first and then I will come”, “I should get fitter first and then I will join a class”, “I do not want to be the weakest in the class” or "will I be that weakest person, hiding in the corner?” They are all common themes. 

Believe it or not, I too was like that at one stage in my life but then I realised that there were so many people with the same thoughts, the same fears, trepidations, inhibitions and feelings of “I am not good enough” or “I don’t want to make an idiot of myself” or just feeling embarrassed. 

I too was making that yearly promise to myself of ‘I will do this and this and then I will go the gym’ but finding myself one year later in exactly the same place. When you get so far away from that place that you want to be, the simplest thing is to give up and walk away from your dream. We can create new excuses like “I am too old now” or “I never had the time”.

At SF Studios, everyone is welcome. There are no superheroes or super athletes here. We are what we are and we are where we are because of our passion, commitment and desire to improve. 

At the end of the day it is a scientific formula — the more you put in wisely and correctly, the more you get out.

Start by turning up. Get onto your mat. Get into your shoes. Get onto your saddle. Just start and then keep on going.  

The Backbend: Overcoming Fear to Fulfil an Ambition

To BE ABLE TO DO A backbend I, like many of my clients, had to overcome what was going on in my head as well as in my body. I had to learn to overcome my false beliefS. - by suz

My body was so over-developed on one plane by running, doing triathlons and so much Pilates — that I overdeveloped my core muscles in the front of my tummy. It looked great and everyone was super impressed. My ability to perform sit-ups was off the chart in terms of strength BUT my back was aching so much in bed at night and the only comfortable position I could find wasn’t so good for my neck. Nurofen became my short-term solution. 

Back in the studio, I looked at people doing backbends with great admiration but I was the one shaking like a leaf when I was standing with both arms above my head, aiming to bend backwards, even just a few degrees.

My mind said “my back is not built for that". Also everything in my upbringing – my parents, the media, my physio and teachers around me, taught me that these types of movements were ‘inadvisable’ as they might damage the spine. (Yes, they can cause damage when performed wrongly and too vigorously, as with any other exercise.) So I consoled myself with my impressive core instead. 

Finally I acknowledged my fears to Marco and was so surprised when he shared with me how he had struggled too, and how long he had worked to get to the point of backbend.

We stripped it down, I took a leap of faith and Marco helped me. He guided me from the foundations of a back bend and encouraged me to stay with it. Of course it was tremendously hard and uncomfortable but amazing to remove the barrier and it gave me such a feeling of self-empowerment. And guess what – my back never broke! 

Not long after we started, I noticed that my back pain in bed had subsided. No more rolling about, adding pillows and trying to find a comfortable position. I was not aware of my back in any position, in fact when I was aware of my back, it felt great. I started to experience flexibility in my spine at all levels and my neck also felt better. 

I also realised how weak and stiff I was in the sides of my body (lateral flexion) and finally understood how important these muscles are to my core and started to focus on them instead. 

The beauty now is that I still have a six-pack without having to train. That’s because these muscles work in so many other ways. My sleep is pain free. I have confidence that I can move my back in any direction and feel strong, yet light. 

My back-bend journey still continues because I love a challenge and will always see if I can squeeze something more out of a single bone – that is my nature! I am a confident back-bender now, I never ever in a million years thought I would ever say this. 

We want to give this gift of “empowerment and freedom” to you too. All those people out there who think you're not fit enough, skinny enough, strong enough or not good at coordination — it does not matter how old you are.

If there is anything inside of you that wants to be able to do something, whatever that is… turn up, be honest, trust, commit and start the journey.