5 Benefits of Pilates that you may not know

  • Pilates can correct faulty movement patterns

The human brain is very efficient.  One of it's aims is to lay down movement patterns that make life easier allowing it more capacity to deal with life's anomalies.

Throughout life however, faulty or imperfect movement patterns can develop in response to pain, injury, poor technique, tight muscles, weak or inhibited muscles, repetition of incorrect movement or posture and the list goes on.

When movement patterns are altered, loss of strength and function can develop.  Movements become less efficient and injury, pain and dysfunction can occur.
Pilates is a sequence of movements designed to train and strengthen muscle, but also to train  and strengthen movement and movement patterns. Once movement patterns are improved, movement becomes more efficient. Efficiency of movement  improves performance and decreases the likelihood of injury.
If you learn to move well you will be well and progress through life with greater ease and freedom of movement.
  • The Pilates breath helps to down-regulate the nervous system

    A long slow exhale helps to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve has connections between brain and body and when stimulated can decrease heart rate, help with calmness, relaxation and digestion.
    By focussing on the pilates breath, we can easily influence the nervous system and stimulate our "rest and digest" centres in our brain.
  • Pilates sequences involve eccentric components which are good for tendons

A well designed pilates class will incorporate eccentric exercises as part of it's routine.  Eccentric exercises lengthen muscles under load.  In doing this, eccentric exercises also load the tendons  therefore help to build strength and resilience in the tendon tissue.

  • The design of the Pilates exercises helps to train and mobilise your fascia

Fascia is an important tissue within your body that influences how your body creates and transfers tissue, is involved in tissue healing and resilience and helps maintain the structural integrity of the skeleton.

Fascia responds well to the whole body movements that Pilates training offers.  Pilates also puts emphasis on moving in multiple directions with varied speed and moving with control. When you move in this way you are stimulating your fascia which in turn has an effect on your whole body.

  • Pilates helps protect your back by teaching you about your pelvic floor and about core control

Everyone has heard of core strength but what is more important is the concept of core control.  Core control is about muscle stability around your pelvis and spine.  Training muscles for stability differs to traditional strength training.  Most of the stability that makes you do what you do, aligns your joints, creates dynamic posture and enables you to move with power and efficiency occurs at a low threshold.  Pilates exercises target the stability muscles of your abdominal wall, pelvic floor, lower back and diaphragm that form the basis of core control.

Back Facts

Low back pain is definitely one of the things I treat the most.  The statistics surrounding how many of us will suffer from low back pain at some stage in our lives is staggering.  What is more concerning is the number of people who are hugely affected and left unnecessarily incapacitated by low back pain.

Over the years I have attended many courses, lectures, workshops and read many articles, research papers and the like all to do with the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of low back pain.  My approach varies between hands on manual therapy, exercise based rehabilitation, and self management techniques.   I strongly believe that movement, exercise and strength work as well as a change in attitude to pain is key.  Fear of pain can be a major cause of delayed progress with regard to rehabilitation.

A recent article by Peter O'Sullivan and his colleagues published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine sums it up nicely!  I have taken the liberty to reproduce their list of ten unhelpful Low Back Pain beliefs and Ten Helpful Facts with regard to low back pain.

Ten unhelpful LBP beliefs

Unhelpful LBP beliefs are common, culturally endorsed and not supported by evidence.

  • Myth 1: LBP is usually a serious medical condition.

  • Myth 2: LBP will become persistent and deteriorate in later life.

  • Myth 3: Persistent LBP is always related to tissue damage.

  • Myth 4: Scans are always needed to detect the cause of LBP.

  • Myth 5: Pain related to exercise and movement is always a warning that harm is being done to the spine and a signal to stop or modify activity.

  • Myth 6: LBP is caused by poor posture when sitting, standing and lifting.

  • Myth 7: LBP is caused by weak 'core' muscles and and having a strong core protects against future LBP.

  • Myth 8: Repeated spinal loading results in ‘wear and tear’ and tissue damage.

  • Myth 9: Pain flare-ups are a sign of tissue damage and require rest.

  • Myth 10: Treatments such as strong medications, injections and surgery are effective, and necessary, to treat LBP.

Ten helpful facts about LBP

A positive mindset regarding LBP is associated with lower levels of pain, disability and healthcare seeking. Once red flags and serious pathology are excluded, evidence supports that:

  • Fact 1: LBP is not a serious life-threatening medical condition.

  • Fact 2: Most episodes of LBP improve and LBP does not get worse as we age.

  • Fact 3: A negative mindset, fear-avoidance behaviour, negative recovery expectations, and poor pain coping behaviours are more strongly associated with persistent pain than is tissue damage.

  • Fact 4: Scans do not determine prognosis of the current episode of LBP, the likelihood of future LBP disability, and do not improve LBP clinical outcomes.

  • Fact 5: Graduated exercise and movement in all directions is safe and healthy for the spine.

  • Fact 6: Spine posture during sitting, standing and lifting does not predict LBP or its persistence.

  • Fact 7: A weak core does not cause LBP, and some people with LBP tend to overtense their ‘core’ muscles. While it is good to keep the trunk muscles strong, it is also helpful to relax them when they aren’t needed.

  • Fact 8: Spine movement and loading is safe and builds structural resilience when it is graded.

  • Fact 9: Pain flare-ups are more related to changes in activity, stress and mood rather than structural damage.

  • Fact 10: Effective care for LBP is relatively cheap and safe. This includes: education that is patient-centred and fosters a positive mindset, and coaching people to optimise their physical and mental health (such as engaging in physical activity and exercise, social activities, healthy sleep habits and body weight, and remaining in employment).

It may seem a little controversial in places especially around posture not causing low back pain and core weakness not being a contributing factor!  However my thoughts on these two points are as follows:

  • The best posture is a varied one.  No one posture is bad for your back.  Inactivity and sustained amounts of time in any posture can overload tissues
  • Core strength and Core control are two different things.  Core control is about having a good network of core muscles which are able to control spinal movement and contribute to efficiency of movement and distribution of load as we move.  Individual muscle strength of core muscles is less important, rather how we move as a unit

Source: O'Sullivan PBCaneiro JO'Sullivan K, et a lBack to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain

Here is a lovely graphic for you:


Sinus Congestion

Sinus Congestion

Did you know stress and sinus congestion can be treated together with acupuncture?

Have you ever wondered why anyone would look so serene and relaxed with facial acupuncture needles? And why would we needle the face and what for?

Facial acupuncture can be very relaxing. Along with stimulating blood supply to local areas and releasing the stressed muscles in the forehead and jaw, it has great benefits of clearing sinus congestion.

Recently I've had remarkable results with chronic sinus congestion (and this time of year it can be at it's worst when mixed with head colds). One client using acupuncture as a last resort after 20 years of suffering, has found that it's the first treatment that's helped with immediate results. Medications were no longer needed, with surrounding eye and head pain relieved and a huge change in swollen facial tissue.

It is helpful to release the neck and shoulder muscles with sinus and headache issues. Often sinus mucus and lymph is unable to drain properly due to muscle tension in the neck, head and face. Unusual pain and numbness in the face, eye and nape, nose bleeds, sinus headaches and migraines can greatly be helped with releasing the muscle pressure off the nerves at the lateral neck and jaw, and often connected to stress muscle tension held at the top of the shoulder blade.

I love combining relaxing shoulder and neck treatments with sinus and headache issues, its a great way to unwind, de-stress, de-congest and get clear headed! Oh and stop the medications......

If you have further questions, feel free to email me at: acupuncture@tiaki.net.nz

To read more about Niki click : Niki Brownlow Acupuncturist

How Pilates helped me Post Hysterectomy

Three weeks post surgery, I’m feeling pretty good. So how specifically is Pilates serving me well.


Pilates has gifted me awareness of my body. The importance of the large ‘moving’ muscle groups, and equally smaller ‘stabilising’ muscle groups. This awareness has enabled me to see the extreme sensitivity of my muscles during my recovery period as knowledge. To notice the micro movements in the body, such as the movement in my inner abs when I type. Who would have known?! Three weeks out from surgery I can’t notice this, but one week out I definitely could. Wow, what a gift to experience that extra degree of sensitivity and awareness. Pilates has given me an awesome body.


The ability to know my body as a system and as individual parts. Pilates has taught me to use my body as a system. It’s also given me the conscious ability to isolate different muscle groups to work alone within this system to maximum effect. This has helped me to consciously turn on and off muscles during recovery so I can move safely and independently. Very cool. Which moves me nicely on to strength…


because pilates has taught my muscles to work in isolation as well as part of a system, each muscle is strong in it’s own right. While we typically work the system in Pilates, we ensure that system is working in a way that maximises each muscle’s individual strength and flexibility. Through this we’ve added to the strength, flexibility and support of teh system. This has meant that when I haven’t had fully operational abdominals, I’ve been able to consciously turn off those muscles that need to repair and turn on other muscles to do the work, which they have the ability to do by themselves in a stable and safely supported way.


All those weird exercises we do that put us off balance have enabled me to completely take this one for granted. And it’s been pricelessly useful. When walking upstairs, especially in the first few days when lifting my leg was like a turtle in slow motion, I could easily stand on one leg for ages. The hospital physio was amazed how stable I was on one leg without holding on to anything – until I told her I do pilates. I can stand on one leg and dry my feet, or put on my trousers. This has been a huuuuuge help.

So often we forget how much pilates is doing for us until we stop doing it. In this case though, I am so thankful for all the benefits of it for pre-op preparation and post-op recovery. So keep it up! We never know when the benefits of our pilates will be a strong foundation for the things that life throws at us.

Mindfulness vs Emotional Intelligence

Modern Science meets Ancient Wisdom or something more??

  (When doing some research for this blog around “mindfulness” I came across “Mindfulness in May”! What a wonderful concept. Too late too little however for me for this year but it is definitely on my radar for next year. However – more on that another time.)


When I think of Mindfulness I immediately link it to spirituality/meditation and Yoga. Whilst I practice and teach yoga – meditation is something that is very new and somewhat foreign for me. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and (despite my yoga affiliations) I don’t necessarily see myself as a spiritual person. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there in the same boat. I spend part of my life in a Yoga World and often see myself as the “Misfit” given my lack of meditation and spiritual connection!! I wonder if it really matters and surely practising (and in my case teaching) yoga in any way shape or form is of benefit! I find myself joking that running is my meditation. If I need to clear my mind and get some clarity of thought I go for a run!! Is that in itself practicing mindfulness??  



Mindfulness in Today’s Society
So what is mindfulness and how does it fit in today’s society.?? Over recent years the term mindfulness has become common in mainstream society. It has inspired programs such as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR), which has been interpreted and copied many times since. Research is continuing to document the mental and physical benefits of practicing mindfulness. The Greater Good Science Centre, University of California, Berkley

What is Mindfulness??
Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is a form of active mental awareness rooted in Buddhist tradioions; it is achieved by paying total attention to the present moment with a non-judgemental awareness of inner and outer experiences” – PsychologyToday.com.   OK so this is where my impression that mindfulness is a spiritual practice comes from. “Mindfulness is a lifetime engagement – not to get somewhere else, but to be where and as we actually are in this very moment, whether the experience is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral” John Kabat-Zinn,  

Why Practice Mindfulness?
There are many documented reasons for practicing Mindfulness. I liked this list taken from The Greater Good Science Centre, University of California, Berkley:  
  • Mindfulness increases positive emotions while decreasing negative emotions and stress
  • Mindfulness changes our brains – research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion and empathy.
  • It helps us focus. It improves memory and attention skills
  • It enhances relationships and fosters compassion, enabling us to be more understanding of the emotions of others


What about Emotional Intelligence (EI)
But what about this more modern concept of Emotional Intelligence?? Being a business owner I spend another part of my life in the business world and this term emotional intelligence gets tossed around with similar terms such as transformational leadership and disuse atrophy. Wikipedia describes Emotional Intelligence as a way to“Use emotional information to guide thinking and Behaviour” This is a more complex definition: “The set of abilities (verbal and non-verbal) that enable a person to generate, recognise, express, understand and evaluate their own and others emotions in order to guide thinking and actions that successfully cope with environmental demands and pressures” Van Rooy From the studies I have read regarding EI, it has been proven that people with higher EI have greater mental health, exemplary job performance and more potent leadership skills. EI is being used as a predictor of leadership, academic performance, job performance, trust work family conflict and stress (Ashkanasy and Daus 2002)


The Link to Leadership
Let me introduce another term: “Transformational Leaders” These are people in the work force who act as mentors to their followers by encouraging learning, achievement, and individual development. They provide meaning, act as role models, provide challenges, evoke emotions and foster a climate of trust – empowering their followers!!   Harms, P.D., Crede, M. (2010) “Emotional Intelligence and Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analysis. Leadership Institute Faculty Publications. Paper14. One of the predictors of a Transformational Leader is someone who possesses Emotional Intelligence.   Surely in order to have EI – you need to have mindfulness??  

What have I learnt??

Do all of these terms mean the same thing??

Are these modern terms just an ancient practice given a more modern name to give it a more scientific spin and make it a more acceptable and less daunting term in the corporate world?

Does one need to practice yoga and meditate in order to achieve this?? It would appear to me that the ancient practice of Mindfulness is now being transformed in to modern science, and it’s being published in such journals as the Journal of Organizational Behaviour.

There now seems a more mainstream reason for being mindful rather than to find “inner peace” It seems to me that possessing Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence in today’s society is a way of giving people an edge!

Call it mindfulness or call it emotional intelligence it seems that the goal here is to be able to relate to your own emotions as well as what other people are feeling, and use those emotions to to get the best out of ourselves and others! Use and understand emotions to facilitate thought and behaviour and you’ll not only reach a state of mindfulness yourself but also help others to reach their full potential!! There’s a lot to learn here and this is just the beginning….   Now where are my running shoes……


How to Run Smarter and Avoid Injury

How to Avoid Running Injuries this Winter

By incorporating these simple strategies in to your training, you can reduce the risk of running related injuries!

1. Choose your footwear wisely! Not all shoes are made equal so choose a shoe that is right for you! Seek advice here from a Podiatrist if in doubt

2. Stretch!! (Boring I hear you say!!) Maybe join a group class such as yoga if you find doing your own stretches a chore

3. Shorten your stride!! Latest research contradicts previous ideas that lengthening your stride was best!! Over striding is a common mistake that can lead to decreased efficiency and increased injury risk. If you shorten your stride, you’ll land “softer” with each footfall, incurring lower impact forces. Longer strides increase the force at heel strike, however shorter strides encourage landing on the middle of your foot where we naturally have better shock absorption. A shorter stride will usually lower the impact force, which should reduce injuries,”

4. Strength train. You don’t want to “bulk up” and have bulging muscles. You need just enough core, hip, and lower-leg strength training to keep your pelvis and lower-extremity joints properly positioned. You also don’t want to overload individual muscles and joints. “Healthy running should be as symmetrical and fluid as possible,” says Michael Fredericson, M.D., associate professor of sports medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. “If you don’t have muscle balance, then you lose the symmetry, and that’s when you start having problems.” If you don’t like strength training on your own then try a group class such as Pilates, which targets whole body, functional strength.

5. Listen to your body and know your limits!

Run Smart

Run Smart