Thursday, July 4, 2013

How I fell into the retreat business

People have been asking, so here is my story:

Some years back, while living and working in Hong Kong, I got an unexpected and exciting request from the editor-in-chief of AsiaSpa Magazine: To go on (and subsequently write an article about) a Pilates retreat in Asia. “We are yoga’d out”, she said, “we need something fresh and different.” Full of energy I began my research, picturing myself doing teasers and leg-kicks against a jungle backdrop with a group of like-minded Pilates lovers. Where would I choose to go? Bali, Thailand, maybe somewhere more unusual like Laos or Cambodia? I was so excited! Soon, it turned out that I was going… nowhere. There were no Pilates retreats in Asia! There was no shortage of Yoga retreats or Pilates retreats in Arizona and Mexico, but it seemed my passion profession had yet to conquer Asia.
Maybe it were my pragmatic German roots (well, if it doesn’t exist then I’ll just have do it myself) or (more likely) my passion for ‘doing things’ in general, but barely 6 months after my failed attempt to go on a retreat, I was leading one. I had started Pilates Retreat Asia. Little did I know what a great journey and life changing experience lay ahead.

Having fun at the beach in Thailand in-between classes.
Today, 4 years and 7 retreats later I have trouble shutting up when anyone asks about the ‘retreat experience’. I have learned and grown and seen so much. There is the travel, mixed with the physical and the human experience. There is a whole spiritual side to being on a retreat which I (as a down-to-earth Pilates instructor) had never expected and which I would never want to let go. It has elevated my own practice and teaching to a point where I truly feel and embody Pilates as a lifestyle. From the beginning on I have always combined Pilates with a second form of body movement, from Yoga and Fletcher Pilates, over Rolfing, to functional fitness training. This gives everybody a great holistic experience and opens the body and mind. I admit, I, myself, used to say: I came to Pilates because I didn’t like Yoga. This has all changed and the retreats have played a huge role in this. You are open to change. You are open to learn something new. You start seeing the similarities and better understand the differences. This experience is guaranteed for anybody – the participants and the instructors. I have yet to meet a client who didn’t come out of a retreat week with some new way of seeing things. From “I always thought Pilates was only for really fit people”, over “if you would have told me I’d be doing a handstand 7 days ago.” to “I didn’t think a week without alcohol could be so much fun.” I have heard it all. A retreat changes things, even if it’s just to get you out of your grind for a week. Having a second teacher help steer the ship has been a fantastic and mind-saving experience and I truly admire people who lead a retreat on their own. It’s great fun, but man… it’s hard work as well. But more about the 'not so glossy' side of the business another time…

That's me, teaching an anatomy workshop during our "Fit & Well Retreat 2013"

In the meantime, if you have questions about retreats feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment here. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer them in an upcoming article.
Take care and keep your minds open,
Greetings from Turkey,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Retreat Diary - Tulum 2012

It's been an amazing week we had in Tulum, Mexico for our Inner Balance – Pilates & Yoga Retreat. This time, I thought I'd keep a little diary, so those of you who couldn't come can get a glimpse of what a retreat week looks like. As always, feel free to comment of drop me a line. The next retreat is not far off and will be in Koh Samui, from June 23rd - 30th 2012.

Day 1 of retreat
We arrived last night in Tulum. After a cold winter back home in Istanbul with lots of snow, the prospect of coming here was a real sunray. Waking up this morning to the sound of the waves and a salty breezy whafting through the white curtains of our cabana was exactly what I had been looking forward to. While Mary, my retreat partner and yoga instructor is doing her morning meditation, I go for a stroll on the beach, jumping in and out of the turquoise waves and let the sun shine in my face.

The sunbeds at Shambala Petit Hotel are waiting for our guests...
Throughout the day our retreat participants will arrive and I am so excited to finally be able to put some faces to the names I have been emailing with over the last few months. Some people signed up months ago, so that left time to get to know each other a bit through electronic media, email, Facebook, etc. We also have two last-minute sign ups this time, which makes our group of 12 complete. But for now, I'll leave WiFi, iPads and my phone (which has no reception anyways) behind and will grab Mary to join me for a yummy breakfast. 

The early afternoon leaves us with some time to practice in our beautiful beachside yoga studio, which will be our retreat haven for the week. Once again I feel how much my own practice is influenced by the environment. The sound of the waves just a few meters away and Mary's concentrated asanas inspire me to explore an organic flow in my Pilates movements.

2nd day
It's our second proper retreat day and things are starting to happen. As we are all getting to know each other our energies melt and feed off each other. I just bumped into Janet as she was walking out from the little massage hut in the center of our miniature village. She was glowing, grinning from one ear to the other. "I just had the best massage in my life" she exclaims and floats right past me. Marco the Italian massage therapist is specializing in Ayurvedic treatments. Making sure not to miss out on the bliss myself I have scheduled my own massage for Friday, just before teaching a Flow class. Massage before teaching is risky, but after what I have heard I am sure I'll be able to let the energies 'flow' right into my class.

Marco's massage cabana. Magic hands. Hours of bliss.
Besides our daily Pilates and Yoga classes, we have a 3-hr Pilates workshop scheduled for today. I use the time to help our group, especially those new to Pilates, to get a better understanding of our core, how to access the deep abdominal muscles and how the pelvic floor and breathing factor into all this. These workshops are usually filled with laughter and new discoveries and I love teaching it. Putting the newly learned into practice we round up the workshop with an intense Pilates class.

Deepening the Pilates experience with a hands-on workshop

3rd Day
What an eventful day! Some of us left the Shambala in the morning for a day of exploration and discoveries. I usually schedule at least one excursion day into the Programme and mid-retreat is a good time. After all, we are in a foreign country and all that Yoga, Pilates, great food and sunbathing aside I find it important to encourage my retreat guests to get to know country and culture a bit. Our first stop are the Maya ruins of Coba - one of the last Maya temples that is still accessible for visitors and so we duly climb the 123 crumbling steps to the top. The view across the treetops is magnificent. Octavio, our guide, explains how the Mayan kings used to sacrifice their blood to the gods from up there. He also brought a conch and a few other traditional instruments which we all get to try, letting the wind carry our (more or less successful) melodies into the blue sky.


After lunch Octavio brings us to swim in one of the famous cenotes, circular natural water pools that can be found all over Mexico. This one is a 'closed cenote', a crystal clear, turquoise pool inside a large underground cave. The setting is magical. A wooden spiral staircase leads us down to the water edge, passing on the way several jumping platforms (at 10m and 5m) for the brave. We swim and drift around in the water, stalagmites pointing down at us from the vaulted ceiling, the walls are smooth from the lapping water and decorated with gaudi-esque rock flutes. We find an underwater rope which spans from one end of the cave to the other and practice underwater slack lining. I could have spent the whole day at the cenote, but we have Mayan football on the Programme, so we have to leave.

Team 'underworld'
Octavio has organized a small troupe of artists from a Mayan village to perform the ritual show of an ancient Mayan soccer game. On a slanted platform two teams (team Jaguar, representing the sun and team Death, representing the underworld) play against each other. The goal is to drive a heavy ball made of natural rubber through a stone arch on the top of the incline. The rules are simple: hit the ball with any body part except hands or feet. The game is enrobed in rituals, the players painted from head to toe in yellow with black spots as the jaguar and black with white skeleton bones as death. A little boy, no older than 9 maybe, sets the rhythm with a multitude of different drums, flutes and clay pipes. The whole performance climaxes when team death starts to spit fire while the jaguars are dancing over and through a line of fire demarcating the two sides of the field. After about 45 minutes the Jaguars win 3:1 and we cheer in excitement. Of course we know that today this ancient game is only performed for tourists, but we felt it was genuine and the setting inside a large open cenote was stunning. There were no other tourists either - the group had been hired especially for us. The performers wave us good bye as they take off in their little white pick-up truck.

In Mayan soccer you are not allowed to touch the ball with hands or feet.

Before we return to Shambala we have one more stop. Augustine, a disarmingly good looking and charming Argentinian, welcomes us to his little workshop. He is leading a school for clay work, helping the local Mayans to revive their ancient clay working techniques, hoping to creating a sustainable alternative to coal production and soil damaging agriculture. We all get to try our hands on the clay, spending an hour or so in an almost meditative state, each working on our own little masterpiece. After being so used to computers, keypads and monitors I rediscover how therapeutic it can be to create something with your own hands.

When we come home, we are beat. It has been a long and exciting day. We had put an (optional) evening Pilates in the programme and in order not to disappoint the few that didn't join on the excursion I soon find myself on my mat in the studio. I am pleasantly surprised as each of our 10 participants show up for class. We take it mellow, working on fascia release and alignment. I simply do what I feel my body needs right now, this evening and since we've all done the same things, the groups needs are the same than mine. The session becomes a perfect ending to a wonderful day.

Day 4
Today, everybody is happy to spend the day at the retreat concentrating on our practice. Mary's vinyasa morning class is picking up on speed and flow and ends with some arm balancing and headstand poses. A set of private sessions is followed by a delicious lunch. Today's guacamole is prepared with a local recipe and spicy, perfect for Mary and myself. For appetizers we have a wonderfully fresh cevice and the main course of seabass wrapped in bananaleaf leaves us pleasantly full. In the afternoon, while everybody lounges on the beach, I go for a long walk. White sand, turquoise water, windswept palm trees - the scenery is picture perfect. In the evening Pilates class we focus on precision and it makes me super happy to see and feel my students' attention and deep concentration. Later, after dinner, Mary's open sittings (an invitation the use the candlelit studio for some Meditation time) are starting to become popular - she started on the first evening with three people. Tonight, there are already 6 of us.

Daily Pilates, Yoga and fresh shrimp cevice for lunch -
what else do you need?

Day 5
Early wake up. At 6.30 am we are packed and ready for our second excursion, a kayaking and bird-watching trip to the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve. Octavio, who knows more about the Mayan calendar than birds, introduces us to Miguel and Antonio our wildlife guides. Both are extremely knowledgable and speak perfect English. They are also extremely good looking - which becomes a much discussed and giggled about topic later on the way home... Not having had time to eat anything in the morning, Antonio earns extra bonus points with his wonderful homemade Mexican tortilla breakfast feast which he had prepared for us. Feeling thus energized, we are ready for some exercise. For the next hours we paddle our stable sea kayaks along the mangroves, observing roseola spoonbills, herons, ibis, nesting ospreys, the magnificent fregatte bird and many more whose names I don't recall. We even see a stingray in the shallow water. When we finally return to the pier where we had left, we can't believe we've been on the water for over four hours!

We return to Shambala for a late lunch and despite the long and very physical day we all gather in the early evening for a wonderful restorative yoga class from Mary.

Day 6
After all the excitement of the excursions it feels great to pick up on the routine of Yoga, Pilates, 3 delicious meals and plenty of beach time. Every day Mary and I have set some time apart to work individually with our guests. These personal one-on-one sessions help us as teachers to get to know each body and personality a bit better. We work on specific issues, such as physical restrictions, a deeper understanding of the practise or how to modify certain exercises for later in the group sessions. We also talk and laugh and answer questions. Of course everybody loves a bit of personal attention and I feel very strongly about making time for everybody during the course of the week. Our reward are the happy faces, the deeper abdominal scoops, the greater focus during the group classes. As one of our participants told me after the evening Pilates session: "After my private today I felt as if you had tailored the group class just for me. It felt like 'I know theses exercises, I understand exactly what she is talking about'." Before the retreat she had been completely new to Pilates.

Who would go to Mexico and NOT
have a Margarita? Happy birthday Heidi!
Oh, and I also finally had my massage today after having listened to the ravings about Marco's magical hands for days now. Some even fitted in 2 sessions and supposedly the Italian earned his 10 out of 10 unanimously. All I can say is that I blissfully floated through my 5pm flow class and that I felt very creative with my transitions.

After dinner we all decided to celebrate our last evening 'outside' of the resort and went to town for drinks and some live music. Several margaritas, piña coladas and daiquiris later we all fell into our beds, already planning our reunion with a retreat in Turkey in 2013.

Day 7
This morning we said good bye to our studio with a last class lead by both of us.  Practicing in a studio which is only a few meters from the sea to the sound of the waves and the breeze of the salty air has been a real treat. When do you ever get to stand still in vriksasana sharing the floor with two palm trees growing right through the roof of the studio? Over these days, Mary and my teaching, her vinyasa flow, my detail oriented Pilates, have really become entwined and connected in so many ways. I love the constant discoveries that we experience when we open ourselves to learning something new. I also find confirmation in what I do through exploring different forms of movement. Yoga and Pilates are often a mirror of each other, expressed though different channels. Synergy can only be created if one does not get stuck op on differences, but rather by a search for a common thread and by embracing difference as an opportunity for growth. Often it is not more than simply another way to reaching the same goal. "I came here for the yoga, but now I also love Pilates." was one of the most rewarding comments I got from a participant.

Let's do it all over again in 2013! (Or come to Thailand with me in June...)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pilates (life) style - interview with Suzanne Gerber

Interview with Pilates 'guru'
Suzanne Gerber
For nearly five years, Suzanne Gerber sat at the front of our industry's favorite mag, Pilates Style. In her role as editor in chief, she has met and trained with pretty much everyone, and has experienced, sampled and vetted almost every new thing to come down the Pilates and fitness pike. As a freelance writer, she's covered travel, alternative health, food, nutrition, celebrities, home, art, fashion (and more) for publications including Natural Health, Body + Soul, Fit, Travelgirl, Fit Yoga, Islands and Sport Diving. We first met on a retreat I was leading in Ubud, Bali, a year and a half ago. I was lucky enough to catch up with her somewhere between New York, Oregon, Florida and a diving trip to the Philippines.

For many years you were the editor-in-chief of PilatesStyle Magazine. When and how did you first become interested in Pilates?
Back in the early 1990s, when I was something of a gym rat, I took a lot of class with our fitness director, Lou Cornacchia, who was always ahead of the curve. One day she told us she was going to teach us something new that she was studying, called Pilates—but she quickly added that we couldn’t technically refer to it as Pilates because there was this lawsuit, and that we should say we were learning the Pilates method. But of course, it was classical mat Pilates—very pure and deep! And for me, it was love at first Ab Series.

I continued to take mat classes at my gym, loving them, but it wasn’t until the opportunity to edit the magazine came along in 2006 that I began working privately with instructors on apparatus. And how lucky am I to say that my very first private instructor was none other than Brooke Siler!

But you never thought of becoming a Pilates instructor yourself?

Mareile, I’ve thought about becoming everything from a scuba instructor to a geologist to a Pilates instructor. When I fall in love with something, I want to do it to the max. But in reality, I’d rather get to practice it, learn about it from some of the best teachers in the world, and share it with anyone who’ll listen.

You must have tried it all - from classical Pilates to the latest props and trends. Do you have a current or all time favorite?
I love it all—and I’ve learned from (almost) every single teacher I’ve had. I definitely enjoy adding on some of the newer things I learn (like Jumpboard on the Reformer, which wasn’t part of Joe’s original repertoire, or some of the highly creative ways that, say, PhysicalMind instructors modify the classical lineup to work with the uniqueness of the body that’s there. But in my heart of hearts, I am devoted to Classical Pilates—and I’m very lucky to get to work with some of the top instructors at True Pilates, New York, home to Romana’s Pilates (and run by Tom Gesimondo).

What's your view on combining Pilates with Yoga and/or other forms of movement?

I’d compare that to blending classical French haute cuisine with, say, Vietnamese food. That’s Fusion—and it can be delicious and a fun change of pace. But you can’t call it classical French cuisine! At home, on my mat, I mix things up all the time: Pilates, yoga, Gyrotonic (which I am also mad for), isometrics, cardio, weights, old-school stretch moves and whatever my body wants to do. But I would never tell anyone I’m “doing Pilates.” It’s really important that we keep the distinction straight. As time marches on and more and more instructors start adding their own flourishes and modifications to Joe’s brilliant Contrology, we run a very real risk of not only watering down the Method, but of losing it for future generations. We must have “gate-keepers,” to preserve his system and keep it pure. That said, we do know that in spite of Joe’s genius, we as a society are always learning more about anatomy, physiology and movement as a science. Furthermore, back in Joe’s day, people didn’t spend ten hours a day hunched over their electronic devices. Postures and habitual patterns have changed us for the worse. Therefore, I believe, there are small adjustments or corrections that a really smart and experienced classically trained instructor can make to even better serve his or her client/students.

You have practiced with many renowned teachers, including Brooke Siler, Bob Liekens, Alycia Ungaro, Katherine Corp, Kathy Grant, Connie Borho, Siri Galliano, Rebecca Leone). As a client, what do you feel is the most important quality an instructor should have?

It’s hard to reduce great teaching skills to “one most important quality.” And it’s also hard to quantify. For starters, an instructor should truly be a master of his trade. (I’ll just say “he,” rather the cumbersome “he or she.”) That is, he should know how to perform (and modify if necessary) every exercise in the classical repertoire. Beyond that, he should be extremely knowledgeable about anatomy, movement and breathwork, and be an excellent “body reader.” This way, not only will the student be safe, but she will derive maximum benefit from the work. Last, I think a great instructor can effectively communicate (verbally and tactilely) the work and motivate! After all, Pilates isn’t something we do for a year or two then abandon for say, Tae Bo or Kettle Bells or whatever new trend comes down the pike.

Do male instructors teach differently than females? Can you give an example?

Some do, sure, but everyone teaches differently from everyone else, whether male or female! I’ve had women instructors push me hard and guys be soft, and vice-versa. I don’t think you can make this generalization.

Let's talk about retreats. What's the best part about attending a Pilates or Yoga retreat?

Ha! There’s not one best part. It’s the whole, can I say gestalt? It’s exciting to be in a beautiful nature setting (which they to be), and inspiring to work with new teachers and alongside practitioners from other countries. Working in a new place almost by definition opens you up to new ideas and makes it easier to try different things. And the intensity of a retreat—three to six hours of practice a day—really gives you “traction” in your practice. I also love that they almost always offer “add-ons,” like yoga, or Gyro, or Rolfing or meditation, and fantastic bodywork. Personally, I’d go on at least one a year if possible!

Did you ever have a bad retreat experience and if yes, what was the reason?
My retreat experiences have ranged from extraordinary all the way down to merely excellent-with-an-asterisk. It’s important to know who the leader(s) is(are). Experience and skill aren’t enough. A leader must be the spiritual core of a retreat, and if that person has his own issues, they can come up in an intense setting like a retreat.

Overall, what's more important for you - the location (including accommodation), the size and composition of the group or the quality of instruction?
In real estate, there’s a cliché is that the three most important things are “location, location, location,” but I disagree. Of course, location is super-important, because it literally sets the scene for the retreat. And not just, say, “Bali.” You need to be at a destination that can support all the needs of the group, from food to a good practice space to cleanliness, safety and, for instance, not having a bug problem (a factor in the tropics to be sure). Having a skilled, mature leader is probably almost as important. I’ve yet to be on a retreat where the people were anything other than fantastic. For reasons I don’t quite understand, Pilates and yoga retreats seem to attract a uniquely “cool” type of person. In fact, I’m still in touch with a quite few people I’ve met on a number of them.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I think retreats are the perfect blend of vacation, deepening one’s practice, having an adventure of a lifestime, and self-care bordering on self-pampering. (Smile.) I did a nine-day retreat with Mareile in Bali, and got to know her as an instructor, artist, and friend. Her amazing skills in Pilates, communication (she’s fluent in at least three languages), organization and dealing with people, coupled with her warmth, sincere compassion toward her students and killer sense of humor are truly extraordinary. It was an absolute joy to “sweat our prayers” together in Ubud, and I encourage you to take one of her retreats if you possibly can. For the record, she did not ask me to say a single word of this and is probably blushing as she reads this!

Thanks, Suzanne, for this interview. Blushed as I am, I will leave it at that ;-)... I do have a few retreats coming up in 2012, though, including a Pilates & Yoga retreat in Mexico with the amazing Mary Chan and a very special Pilates & Body Movement retreat in Thailand, which will be especially interesting to the instructors amongst you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Daily 10 - part I

Welcome to the South of France! Being on vacation, doesn't always make it easy to keep up an exercise routine and I am no exception. So, I've decided to challenge myself with what I call 'The Daily 10' - a true and hopefully feasible attempt to live "a Pilates Lifestyle". Here is how it works:

Going for an ice-cold dip in the river
will definitely be part of an upcoming
Daily 10.
Throughout the day, try to come up with creative ideas and exercises on how you could incorporate a healthy routine into your everyday life. The idea is NOT to drop everything in order to go for a 45-min run or follow an hour long Yoga DVD - it's the accumulation of small things that count. This idea might not be the most effective if you only do it once or twice, but if you manage to keep up your Daily 10 routine EVERY DAY and truly make it part of your life, I assure you that you will see results.

Ok, ok, I just started myself, so let's see how I do before I make big promises, but I would be more than happy to find a few friends to join me in the task and share their ideas and reflections.

Here's my first successfully completed Daily 10:

1. 3 minutes of wide plie squats and single-leg back kicks while brushing my teeth (worked my glutes, thighs, challenged my balance and ended up with really clean teeth!)
2. Enhanced my regular hot shower with a sense-awakening cold-water finish (felt fantastic and boosted my blood-circulation)
3. Substitued a 3rd piece of toast with a fresh peach from the garden at breakfast (fruits are an important source of fibre and a great choice if you crave something sweet)
4. Took baby Timo for a ride in the stroller and pushed him up the 800m steep driveway from house, (same idea as taking the stairs instead of the elevator...)
5. While watching over my son Iluka playing in the pool, I did planks on all different surfaces and heights (floor, rocks, wooden box) instead of simply hanging in the deck chair.
6. In the afternoon Timo and I really needed a nap, which as a breastfeeding mom is still important, but when I woke, I did a nice long set of Kegels in bed.
7. 10 minutes of raking pine needles (great for arms and abs - try switching arms for some fun and a challenge)
8. Soothed my crying baby with a little dance to some great Jazz. (If you don't have a baby, dancing with a 6kg sandbag might feel a bit silly, but maybe grab your spouse instead. It'll make a welcome break in the day and get those endorphines flowing)
9. Watched Leah Stewart's great cadillac class on Pilates Anytime (since I couldn't set aside the time to participate in the class, not to mention the fact that my in-laws don't own a cadillac ;-), I felt great after and enjoyed learning and watching probably as much)
10. Had sex (definitely a worthy substitute to the missed class)

So here you have it. Today, I am still as motivated as yesterday and I will keep you posted on my best Daily 10s throughout the summer.

It's all about setting realistic and attainable goals. Feel free to adapt this idea to a 'daily 7 or 5', depending on what you think you can handle. Maybe start off with 5 and set a goal to progress to 10 by the end of the summer. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What is Rolfing? An interview with Ea Holm

I have decided to share with you from time to time some insight from my fellow movement and bodywork specialists. So, to kick off this series of interviews, I would like to introduce you to Ea Holm, a Certified Rolfer and Licenced Massage Therapist from Denmark.
Ea Holm working her Rolfing magic on a client.

Ea completed her Massage therapy training in New York in 2003 at the Swedish Institute of massage therapy and continued to work as a Massage therapist in New York and London for the next 7 years doing both therapeutic and clinical massage. In the search for new skills to develop her work she came across Rolfing and fell in love with the 'Rolfing touch' and the way it could create longer lasting postural changes. She embarked upon the Rolfing training in Munich and graduated as a certified Rolfer from the Rolf Institute in 2010. 

Funnily, I just recently found out that, being from Munich myself, the European Rolfing Association has her seat in the same building than my brother's architecture office. And yet, Ea and I first met in Hong Kong where she is now runs a successful Rolfing and clinical massage Practice.

Ea, Can you explain in 2-3 sentences what Rolfing is?

Rolfing is a holistic type of bodywork that aims to realign the structure of the body. During the course of 10 sessions we use soft tissue manipulation techniques to re-balance the fascia (connective tissue) that permeates the entire body as well as movement re-education techniques to achieve freer effortless posture and movement..

What are its main benefits?
Rolfing can change a persons posture to become more effortless, upright and comfortable. Movement becomes freer and more fluid as tension and strain patterns are relived. People who have been rolfed tend to stand and move with more surety, stability and less strain, breathe more easily and deeply and move with more ease and grace. Long-term injuries that were based in postural problems often resolve as the body is rebalanced. Emotional issues and trauma stored in the tissues can also resolve during the process and often clients report increased energy and a more positive outlook on life.

What makes Rolfing different to a sport or deep tissue massage?
A deep tissue or sports massage aims to take tension out of tense muscles. Often a client will complain of tension in a certain area and the Massage therapist will work on that particular area to resolve the issue. A Rolfer will be aware of the problem area, but will work with the aim to re-balance the structure of the entire body rather than targeting the problem head on. The problem will then most likely resolve as the structure becomes balanced. Resolving injuries this way can be more time consuming, but the results will last longer, and sometimes forever.
What brought you to Rolfing?
I had been a massage therapist for 7 years when I started my Rolfing training. I felt frustrated that my massage clients kept coming back with the same aches and pains every week, even though I had relieved the pain the previous week. At the same time I was struggling with a nagging recurring pain in my right hip. A friend of a friend offered me to be the demonstration model of a Rolfing course that was taking place in London where I was living at the time. I had my 10 sessions; my hip pain resolved and I fell in love with Rolfing. A year later I started my Rolfing training in Munich.
There is a rumor that Rolfing is painful - is that true?
Rolfing can be intense, but it is less painful these days than it used to be. When Rolfing was developed Rolfers used a lot of pressure and strength to lengthen shortened areas of the body's fascia. This approach is effective, but as rolfing developed and ideas were exchanged with other areas of bodywork such as the  osteopathic and the craniosacral communities, the Rolfers realized that more subtle techniques can be as effective. You will find Rolfers who work with a lot of pressure and Rolfers who work more gently, depending on when or where the Rolfer was trained and what his/her preference is. Personally I do both. Certain bodies are very responsive to the subtle techniques, while others call for direction through deeper pressure. Different areas in the same body may also respond differently and I will therefore choose to work in different ways on them. I will however always work within the clients pain-limit. If the area I am working on tenses up because of pain I will back off until the client relaxes and I can resume the work on the area more gently. I can not achieve anything if the body is tensing up in pain.
What types of people take Rolfing sessions? Is there such thing as a 'typical' client?
Anybody can benefit from Rolfing. I have clients with serious injuries and postural problems that desperately seek relief of pain that bothers them on a regular basis and I have clients that are dancers or yoga teachers who have no serious problems, but who want to fine-tune their bodies to achieve better movement or perfect a particular pose that they are working on.
Rolfing sessions are quite costly (often more than a regular massage). Why is that?
The benefits of Rolfing last longer and can be potentially life changing. Most people who receive massage sessions have them on a regular, often weekly basis. After your 10 Rolfing sessions you might need an occasional touch up session, but you should not need to come back every week, because the change in posture and movement patterns will reduce the daily aches and pains you would normally go for a massage to relieve. Another reason for the higher cost is that the rolfer uses more energy in the sessions. Having been a massage therapist before I became a Rolfer I can say that I get mentally more tired after doing a Rolfing session than after a massage session because the subtle techniques requires a lot of intense mental attention in order to communicate with the clients body. For that reason I can not do as many Rolfing sessions in a day as I could do massage sessions.
You have co-hosted two Pilates and Yoga retreats - how can Rolfing benefit a person's Pilates or Yoga Practice?
Yoga and Pilates aim for alignment and graceful movement, just like Rolfing. I always encourage my clients to do yoga or pilates (or something simliar), because these practices work to align the body and strengthen the core and therefore complement the work I do very well. The changes that take place in the body during the Rolfing process can really be felt during a yoga/pilates class. Poses that were previously difficult are suddenly easy and the experience of using the body with the structural changes will make it easier for the nervous system to remember the changes and keep them. Rolfing supports a yoga/pilates practice and vice versa.

In the world of bodywork, do you have an idol, mentor or other person who has marked you? How important is it for you to have such a mentor?
Ida Rolf is obviously the hero of all Rolfers as she discovered the importance of fascia in the body and came up with the 10 session process. Her method is brilliant and the more Rolfing I do, the more I start to understand the cryptic quotes she left behind. But besides her I admire Thomas Myers a lot. He has done very valuable research for the Rolfing community and the world of body workers in general. He conducted a number of dissections to determine the directional lines of pulling that are present in the fascia in all bodies. After carefully determining these lines he came up with a map of lines that is very similar to the meridian lines of Chinese medicine. When the methods of Western medicine comes to similar conclusions that Eastern medicine came to 4000 years ago then I think we might be on the right track. Reading Thomas Myers books gave me a lot of inspiration and faith in the work I do. I think this type of inspiration is important, especially when you live in a place like Hong Kong where we are only 2 Rolfers and nobody has ever heard about Rolfing, so it is difficult to find inspiration through the Rolfing community in Europe and the States.

Besides Rolfing, you dance, fly trapeze and do acro-yoga... do you need to be Rolfed as well?
Yes! All bodies are a work in progress. To improve in my many activities I can always use a fine-tuning session. I use the Rolfing principles in everything I do, but sometimes we need somebody else to remind us of the things we already know.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Keeping it Real - How to fit in your exercise

I was debating changing into gym pants just for
the picture, but then decided to show things
as they really are...

Let's face it - with a baby of 6 weeks and a 5-year-old on summer holidays, the occasions where I've actually been able to unroll a mat and spend some time on sequenced exercise, have been rare. But this doesn't give me (or you) the excuse to say: "I just don't have time to exercise!" In fact, with a bit of motivation there are much more opportunities to throw in a few squats and plies than, let's say, finding the time to actually sit down and write a blog post...

So, while you are waiting for that magical hour where all kids are sleeping, the dishes are done and important e-mails replied to, here is what you can do:

Tone you arms
Lets start with the easiest one. You might have noticed: Spending most of your day with a 4-5kg package in your arms helps to build muscle. If you have a baby that likes to be (or should I say 'needs to be'?) carried all the time, just like my Timoté, see it from the positive side. As you'll get stronger, the weight will increase automatically. Perfect!

Awareness plays a big role to re-building and re-shaping your body. So, while you carry, pick up, lie down and burp your baby, always be aware of your posture, especially your shoulder girdle area. When you hunch down to pick up your baby from the crib, use not just your arms, but also employ your abdominals and strong back muscles. When you carry him/her, make sure you switch arms and sides to avoid posture imbalances. And always: Stand up tall and proud, gliding your shoulder blades down your back. Sit, stand and walk as if your Pilates teacher is watching you!

Wake up your abs
Before you start thinking of the good old Hundred or a proper Series of Five, start thinking small. Strong abdominals don't necessarily show in the form of a six-pack, but rather in good posture, and a well-supported spine. If you've practiced Pilates before, remember your basic core activation and warm-up exercises, and make them part of your everyday life. Practice transverse breathing while lying down in bed, do the clam while breastfeeding in the morning... Pull your abdominals 'in and up' while you push the stroller, sit up a bit taller and lengthen your spine while writing e-mails or sitting in the bus... There are so many easy ways to integrate Pilates basics into your everyday life – it doesn't always have to be a full 60-minute workout. It's important to give your body time to rebuild, especially in the first weeks after delivery, so these 'little' exercises will help prepare you for longer and more challenging sessions in the future.

Shape up your legs and booty
I don't know about you, but I've been walking loads in the last few weeks. I guess this has to do with the fact that Timo doesn't like it much if I stand still, so walk'n'carry is the motto of the day. Just like the arms, I find it's almost automatic to work your legs when you have a baby. And if you feel good and fit, why not add squats and lunges to your daily carrying activities? It makes me feel a whole lot better and baby loves it too! Other exercises, such as the clam or leg lifts can be worked in while feeding sideways, lying in bed. Try it out and let me know if you come up with a move you'd like to share. For balance and stability I recommend standing on one leg while brushing your teeth, adding small squats. (Better do this without baby in arm, though ;-)

And by the way... while I wrote this, I've successfully completed a non negligible amount of pelvic floor strengthening kegels!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Life Less Ordinary

In May, right in the middle of starting a new life in Istanbul, 8-months pregnant, a husband and 4-year old in tow, Asia Spa magazine asked me whether I would like to write an article about myself for their upcoming Adventure issue. "Sure", I said, "that shouldn't be too hard". Stories and experiences to draw from I had plenty, but taking a pencil (I correct: sitting down in front of my laptop) and trying to condense it all to a few pages of text in a magazine, turned out to be a not-so-easy exercise.

Writing about yourself is a bit like masturbating in public (excuse my language and please tell me if you can think of a better analogy): It feels good but somewhat embarrassing at the same time.

The result of my 'public exposure', a 6-page article entitled "A Life Less Ordinary", can be found in this month's issue of Asia Spa, which I have posted here as a PDF for those who really want to read it. Would be great to hear some comments.