Episode 76: Pilates for Health and Fitness with Amalia Brassfield
Dr. Kevin: Hey Desk Jockey this is Dr. Kevin Christie with another episode of The Modern Desk Jockey where I try to bring everything health and wellness to you, the desk worker, to try and help prevent some of the ill effects of prolonged sitting and today I have Amalia Brassfield and she is a Pilates instructor with a ton of experience and she really brings a lot of good valuable information about you know, Pilates, about desk sitting, about the body and really tries to bring it all together and does a great job of it to make it applicable to you as a desk jockey and how Pilates can be a great option for you to not only get into great shape but also to stay healthy and pain free.
***This is a podcast transcription so please excuse the spelling and grammatical errors that occur due to the transcription process***
Pilates has an interesting background, and it really does a great job of targeting the key aspects of the body to really try to prevent a lot of these chronic musculoskeletal injuries and so she’s right in our backyard here in Delray Beach, Florida which isn’t too far from my office in Boca Raton, Florida. I’m going to take her up on a session of Pilates, I’ve done it in the past, but I need to get back into it, so I’m going to be doing that next week with her and today you’re going to listen to this episode and get a lot out of it so I’m excited about this. So if you’ve never tried Pilates, I highly recommend giving it a chance. If you have and have gotten out of it, get back into it, it’s just a really good way of getting into good shape and being pain-free. So before we jump into the episode I want to remind you this is the beginning of 2018, we’re excited at Health-Fit Corporate Wellness to we’re going to keep on providing a lot of on-sight care and ergonomics, whether it’s on-sight or digital based ergonomics and if it’s anything that your company needs and you have the ear of the HR or the wellness director, or you are the HR or the wellness director, you can contact me at Kevin@moderndeskjockey.com, and I can go over some of the options we have for companies to really bring in this type of health and wellness at a very very reasonable price tag to help everybody out there. So that’s Kevin@moderndeskjockey.com and now here is my interview with Amalia Brassfield.
Dr. Kevin: Welcome to the show Amalia, I appreciate your time, I’m excited to dive into Pilates and some other aspects of health that we can try to educate the desk workers. So before we get into the details of that, tell us a little bit about yourself both personally and professionally.
Amalia: I’ve been in this industry for about half my life. My sister was a Pilates instructor when I was in high school,and she exposed me to the idea of Pilates,so I got exposed to it a little bit before it was super mainstream. I was a hairstylist so I didn’t suffer from the desk issues but it was an industry-related pain that I was feeling very early in my life. So in my early 20s having terrible sciatica and the only other person I knew who had it was my grandfather, it was the only time I ever even heard the word sciatica, I knew that was bad. I knew if I had what my grandpa had that I needed to do something about it.
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely.
Amalia: So I decided to go to a studio that was local and found an incredibly intelligent instructor who I scraped together my pennies – it was worth it to me to see her more than it was to go out to dinner and stuff like that, I just wanted to understand my body better and it sparked an interest and I started getting certified then.So I’ve been at it for about 20 years and professionally for about 10-15 years.
Dr. Kevin: And where do you perform this at? Which locations? Which area?
Amalia: My studio is in Delray Beach, Florida, just a little bit south of Atlantic Ave. on (03:24)
Dr. Kevin: So you’re not too far from where we’re at. So we got a nice little south Florida connection here. So we’ve got desk jockeys all over the world,but it’s good to have someone in our backyard here.
Amalia: Yeah, absolutely, I think the community of healers here is strong. I think that’s how I ended up coming upon you and your call to a Pilates instructor.
Dr. Kevin: Yeah, you know I’ve been doing this podcast for about a year and a half and I’ve had a lot of wide ranging topics and Pilates has been something on my list for quite a while and I finally sat down, scheduled down my podcasting like I need to get this done and so I was glad that we were able to connect on that and would be able to really convey a lot of the benefit’s you know for the healthy desk jockey and even the ones that are suffering from some musculoskeletal conditions and how they can use this as an extension of their healthcare potentially.
Amalia: Absolutely, I mean it’s pre-habilitative and rehabilitative. Pilates I think is mistaken, the perception of Pilates is really quite skewed from what it was originally intended, and a lot of people don’t know this, and even a lot of Pilates practitioners don’t operate on this level, but it was physical therapy. First, it wasn’t for dancers and bendy live beautiful women, and even though that’s awesome, it’s for everybody truly.He was attaching springs to hospital beds to create the first machines that we now know is the reformer and the Cadillac and everything and he was rehabilitating really informed people but this also then translated very well to the strong and connected dancer and that speaks to its broad application, no matter how athletic or how informed, Pilates can really meet you where you are and take you to the next level.
Dr. Kevin: For our desk, jockeys out there can you explain a little bit of what, I won’t say exactly,but what Pilates is and then maybe transfer into what the reformer is so we can get that full picture.
Amalia: Sure. Well, Pilates is a lot of different things to different people but as I said I think it’s rehab based and it teaches the body how to best use the muscles to move the body versus just teaching movements. So instead of lifting your leg by any means necessary, we start training your body to stop overusing your Rectus Femoris and start using your Iliopsoas group. And that may sound like Greek but the point of it is when you sit a long time and you shorten that hip crease and you sit on your tailbone and tip your pelvis and you get all that pain that happens from sitting, the body starts to utilize muscles in inappropriate ways and Pilates re-teaches the body how to use the muscles, it’s not just movement and it’s not just core-strength, it’s truly developing different patterns neurologically on how to move the body. Does that answer the question?
Dr. Kevin: No, it’s perfect and before you dive into the performer aspect I just want to touch on that a little bit because we hear a lot about movement and mobility and all kinds of circles of health and just in general but it’s a lot of times it’s the quality of movement and that’s where a lot of people are struggling with is that they may see a fitness instructor, heck they may see a chiropractor— they may see a physical therapist, it could be anybody it really runs a gam—or they just go to Dr. Google and they say okay I need to be able to do these movements, whether it touches the toes or I should have this type of mobility on my shoulder but they’re getting, unfortunately, they’re compensating, they get the mobility or the movement and the quality is poor and that’s what I’ve always understood about Pilates is that it’s really trying to retrain the body to focus on the quality of movements really. Is that correct?
Amalia: 100% yes. Mobility could happen through tendons and stress out joints instead of properly stretching muscles and fascia and strength can reinforce…you can do a squat and be in the wrong or the less ideal position that your body has been moving through forever and you can continue to over utilize quads and stress out your knees and not activate your glutes and hurt your back, or you can do a squat and it looks the same to a lay person, but small little tweaks and where you put the energy, where you put the thought and how you can activate the muscles can completely change the movement. A lot of people think they can’t squat because it hurts their knees, it doesn’t if you are activating the muscles properly and you can re-teach the body that.
Dr. Kevin: Exactly, and that’s one of the biggest misconceptions is that you know especially as we age and when I say as we age, sadly we’re not just talking about the 70 year-olds, we’re talking about… I know a lot of 30-year-olds and even 20-year-olds that come in, you look at them, and they’re like a model of health and fitness,and then you put them in an overhead squat to see the quality of movement, and it’s pretty terrible, and they wonder where they have the knee problems.
Amalia: And you know where the pain shows up is not where it starts. That’s the other problem with physical therapy is that usually if your insurance is paying for it they have a very limited scope of what they are treating you for and where the pain shows up is often not where it started so with Pilates you get to just look at the movement and the body from a broad perspective. Start from the ground up literally, look how the feet function, look how that sends the messages up the body and then you can kind of, everything shakes out with the work. Instead of just… it’s like putting a band-aid on it, taking a pill or whatever versus really going deeper as to why the problem is happening. So that it’s the real medicine and it’s just fixing the whole system.
Dr. Kevin: There’s this saying of ‘don’t chase the pain’, as a health provider too many of us are chasing the pain as you said and they got a knee pain,and they just go after the knee, they don’t look at the maybe the foot and ankle or the hip or movement and things like that, it becomes a problem and then to touch on one thing you said there at the very end was that the movement and the mobility quality of movement can be the medicine. That’s kind of also a saying I’ve heard is ‘movement is the medicine.’
Amalia: It is. I always say that,and I believe it. When you feel like poo,and you go,andyou have a good mindful session with someone who knows what they’re looking for you always feel better. I don’t care if it’s that time of the month or your back hurts or you’re under the weather from a virus unless you are just down and out throwing up or whatever, almost always movement makes you feel better. But if you go to someone who kind of don’t understand how to address pain, that can sometimes you know flip. [laughs]
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely, and I see it a lot in my clinic because we do have a lot of folks that are in pain and they are injured and I try to explain to them that I can put out this fire and yet you can come to me for whether you want to call it maintenance or performance or wellness care and I have a lot of active folks that do that but really where their long-term resolution and their health is going to come from is if they get into a very well instructed fitness and when you say fitness, there’s obviously a lot of different things and Pilates falls into something that is not only going to benefit the person that is feeling no pain and just is looking to get into good shape and feel good and all the different benefits that we get from it, but again like you said it could really prevent a lot of the creeping injuries to come up on them.
Amalia: Pilates is usually the thing that people go to once they’re hurt and that’s because most people don’t really value preventative medicine I think we’re very gory in wanting to lose more weight, we want to lift more weight, we want to look a certain way, and that’s what we think fitness is until we’re in pain and then we start backpedaling about… and it’s like if we did this before-hand our form would be better, you’d lift more weight because you can work-out without long periods of injury and pain and all that. It’s good like I said pre-habilitative as well as rehabilitative.
Dr. Kevin: Yeah, it’s a great work-out without the collateral damage that you see from a lot of other workouts. When I say great work-outs as far as like yeah it might push you and you might get abs and all that fun stuff,but there is some collateral damage with some of these other workout programs…
Amalia: And if it brings you joy, I’m all for it! I do CrossFit, I used to do triathlon avidly,and let’s be honest the stuff we love to do isn’t always good for your body but if you do the stuff like Pilates you can, it facilitates the things that make you happy, you know?
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely! I agree with that for sure and so before we move forward with some other questions, give us a little break down of the reformer and what that is and why it’s so valuable.
Amalia: The reformer is probably the most well-known piece of Pilates equipment. If you could picture I refer the Chuck Norris Total Gym because Chuck Norris and Total Gym ripped off the reformer but people have seen the infomercial, and I have no problem with that if it reaches more people if it benefit’s more people.It’s basically a bed that’s attached to springs, and there’s a bar that can be used in many many ways, but you can picture yourself lying down with your feet on a bar in front of you doing a leg pressing movement, and that’s one of the classic exercises called footwork but you can orient your body in so many different ways that one machine can do as much as twenty thousand square feet of gym equipment and then some and what it does is give the body feedback and support.So it makes themovement more difficult,or it can also support a movement depending on what the body needs. That way you start to realize oh I’m off balance. One leg is going out further than the other… it shows you a little bit more about your movement than if you were just moving in space.
Dr. Kevin: It makes perfect sense,and I’ve been on it before,and it works. [Laughs] You’ll feel it, you definitely will.
Amalia: And you feel it like nothing else. So even the fittest person can come and be surprised but then also you have a lot of older people who are dealing with pain and injury,and they become insanely active. People in their 80s just you know killing it in life and traveling and just high energy and it’s amazing how varied the machine can be.
Dr. Kevin: Perfect. Solets transition to talking to our audience a little bit and asking the question what your biggest concern for the desk jockey is?
Amalia: The obvious answer is sitting like we talked about and sat because it changes the posture and we can do something about the sitting. So I suggest that you change positions a lot, that you stand at a standing station, that when you’re sitting that you’re not sinking into your chair and sitting on the tailbone and doing what you can as far as that’s concerned but when you change the posture from sitting on the shoulders tipped forward and the head tipped forward and the psoas muscles really tight.When you stand and when you walk you have changed a lot about your body structure and so everything you do is kind of pulling on your bones, which is why Pilates instructors and chiropractors work really well together ideally because we’re working on the same premise that we want the bones to be in proper alignment and that’s a combination of proper length in the body and proper strength in the body and how that balances out.So the biggest concern is sitting,but if you can’t get away from it you can change positions, you can advocate for yourself in your office and if you don’t want to buy your standing station ask your boss or whatever. I think that it is becoming the way of the future. People do realize that it is pretty detrimental to health and that there are things that we can do about it.
Dr. Kevin: That’s what we talked a lot about on different episodes where it’s like a combination of if you can get movement throughout your day because I’ve always talked about it… if you sit for 60 hours a week and it’s not just at the desk but you’re driving to work and all the different ways you’re sitting, even if you’re active outside of that you’re really not able to offset all the sitting and really the way I look at it is you need proper ergonomics, you definitely need the movements throughout the day and then you need to supplement your movement with a really good fitness routine… whatever you choose to do and obviously that will give you awell rounded ability to fight off the negative effects of sitting and what I like about with Pilates as you mentioned before is that it targets specific muscles and muscle groups to function in a way that whether it’s… try to break this down a little bit, whether you’re just moving, you’re walking, you’re jogging,or you’re walking your dog or if it’s picking up your child or brushing your teeth…those small movements can really actually become problems if you sit all day for a living and you do nothing to really correct that and so it’s not just running marathons or going to the gym and working out hard where you can hurt yourself, it’s also the small stuff, and so you really need to be having some fitness routine, like a Pilates that is, targeting your weakness. And that’s what I liked about it too, and I’ve done it, it was it’ll show you and the instructor where your particular weaknesses are,and then you can target that. So it’s like the Pilates is the test and it’s also the solution which is phenomenal.
Amalia: yes, it shows you,so it’s like you know what to do by doing the work. When someone comes in they can tell you everything about their pain and their injuries,but the movements show you, aha, now I see why your back hurts, because your ankle mobility is horrible and your gait is off for that reason or whatever. I always hear, and I know that you probably know better,but something you said reminded me of this is, people say Pilates strengthens all the little muscles and they think of it that way because they go to a gym and they see the novelist equipment, and there is some cartoon man and the muscles are outlines like which muscles are working and what those novelist equipment that those exercises are focused around are that superficial muscles in a literal sense, like they’re closer to the skin. That doesn’t mean that we’re working is small, it’s just not superficial. And not to say we don’t work for large muscle groups but for instance, the Rectus Abdominis is the only muscle that people even think of as their abs. And we have many layers that are far more, that are bigger like Transverse Abdominis is bigger than Rectus Abdominis, probably by three times. So if we want a small waste, if we want a supported back, if we want to be able to breathe effectively which sitting does compromise tremendously, we have to be aware of how to engage and access that,but none of the other exercises are getting there. it’s not just the little muscles; it’s the very big muscles that are getting ignored [Laughs]
Dr. Kevin: Yes, that’s what happens. It’s the reverse when you talk about some of these bodybuilding or old school type of fitness where it’s doing biceps curls, and chest bench press and stuff where they’re working all of the beach muscles and they’re not really able to have the stabilizers, and all the other muscles that really help with function offset that and where Pilates is going to give you the full thing…if you do Pilates regularly you’re going to be in great shape; aesthetically and functionally and then you’re also going to get the health benefit of it and preventing a lot of the injuries and especially if you’ve dealt with it in the past and so that’s always been something that I’ve really liked about Pilates.
Amalia: Yeah, the person who’s sitting 60 hours a week as you mentioned they might be really antsy, they might be a fitness oriented person and they’re just kind of in that role in life and they might end up really wanting to burn calories, run hard, run hard, go to CrossFit, go to a boot-camp and what’s happening is the pattern in the body caused by sitting is getting pounded on and reinforced by this high-intensity nod as like kind of aware movements, and it’s a huge recipe for injury.So in there, infused between those two dichotomies of sedentary and highly active needs to be this awareness time where we start to build better patterns so that weightlifting and that explosive movement doesn’t kill your body.
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely, for sure. I wanted to get a little specific, there obviously are desk jockeys, they deal with a lot of low back pain,and neck pain is two of the most common issues we see. Obviously we see other ones but specifically how does Pilates – I know you’ve touched on it too so if it’s reiterating a little bit that’s fine but how can Pilates help prevent and manage those two conditions,and you can start with whichever one you want.
Amalia: Well they’re very very related as you know, I mean basically sacral pain and cervical pain, the curvature in the spine, the natural curvature is kind of spring-like and when you take something, part of that curve out of the spine or move it inappropriately permanently that buoyancy leaves the body and then all the impact whether it’s walking or jumping or whatever you do starts to impact the spine negatively really.So it’s really from a gross perspective it’s the same thing whether is neck pain or back pain, we’re looking for where your pelvis is, where your ribs are, how your headsets on the spine, if your feet are externally rotated when they ought to be parallel, if they’re loaded fore-foot versus the heel, these are all things that tip the spine, the pelvis, the rib cage, the neck and head out of alignment and cause long-term pain.So when you’re working, instead of just working on your biceps, you’re thinking about where all the other parts are in the body, and we’re deciding what they’re doing and why not just swinging your arm and working your bicep but deciding like where your head should be where your ribs are, what your core is doing, all of the rest…that way you’re reinforcing positive muscle patterns, and that is a little bit of reiteration of what we talked about before but you know the postural things are whats hurting and especially that straight lack of cervical lordosis is killing people who sit at a desk so that trap tension that people feel when nobody what somebody puts their hands on your shoulder you’re like oh my god! That’s everyone nowadays! [Laugh]
Dr. Kevin: Yeah. Just to clarify a little bit for the audience, the cervical lordosis is just like arching or a curve to the neck that you want to have,andunfortunately, when we get that forward head posture or that chin jutting out, we lose that a lot and it’s a problem. And you mentioned the Trapezius, we actually did an episode called avoiding the mousetrap, and it’s how we see so many desk workers with right-sided trigger points in their upper Trapezius muscle because they use the mouse on the right side only so, it’s a play on words that we had, and it’s a big part of it.And again, yes, pelvic positioning is a big problem when we’re sitting and a lot of our low back conditions and obviously the neck and the head positioning is a problem and that’s again one of the things that I know in Pilates that is a focus that when you’re doing these movements you’re maintaining the right pelvic leveling, you’re maintaining good cervical chin retractions and good postures and stern them up and you’re really maintaining these good positions while you’re doing it so you’re not putting the body in a harmful position and you’re actually going to start activating and getting in the functional movements and the right positions.
Amalia: Yeah it’s really common for people to think that good posture is lifting their rib cage up. That is partially an answer to sitting at a desk all day because the head is jutting forward and the shoulders have rounded the ribs lifting makes you feel like you’re lifting up like being upright and you have all this mid-back tension,and then it encourages that straight neck, that rounded forward shoulder position. So when we correct the posture a lot of people are feeling rounded just because their shoulders and head are so far out of alignment but these are aware-nesses that you cannot necessarily like come to by yourself. It does help to have some trained eyeballs on you,and also you know just little things like teaching you how to use a foam roller at home and what feedback you’re looking for in your own body. We’re trying to make people masters of their own body so that you’re not fully reliant on this person forever but you start to have those light-bulb moments,and you’re like yeah, I get that, that feels better. So that’s the idea is that we’re not teaching you to be ripped or strong first, we’re teaching you to know your body, what the feelings are that you want to feel and then build on that. How can you be strong under those circumstances?
Dr. Kevin: Perfect! That’s really valuable information; I appreciate that. I think the audience will have a good understanding of what Pilates is so let’s give them a resource. What would be like one book or blog or website that you would recommend for the desk worker maybe as it pertains to Pilates?
Amalia: Well, Return to Life is Joseph Pilates’ like abook on the mat series. It’s a short little read,and he’s a quirky guy,and there is a little bit about his philosophy in life. He was a guy who believed in having fun and experimenting. He was a circus performer, he was a gymnast and so a lot of Pilates practitioners and no disrespect to them, it’s just where we split I guess in philosophy believe that Pilates is only the exact exercise that is done by him at this certain point in time, what he called ‘Contrology’ and then there’s a more contemporary interpretation. I guess I fall more into that category and this is why because Joseph Pilates was a gymnast and he did walk around Central Park on his hand,and his feetand he is pictured doing yoga with his students in like goddess position that is not included in the repertoire. So, in my opinion, his philosophy was very inclusive. It’s about getting the body to move functionally and to move well and he that this is a system that he provided to do that but that’s not that you should stay strictly within those parameters, you should kind of see, experiment with the body… see how it feels, see what it feels like. And there’s a little bit of that in the Return to Life, he even tells his instructors how to wash, like you should scrub your skin vigorously.
Dr. Kevin: [Laughs]
Amalia: He was a weird German guy.
Dr. Kevin: [Laughs] Absolutely, thank you!
Amalia: I mean about Pilates directly I think that’s a good one… I have to say that there are not a lot of Pilates books that are rich, there is just kind of manuals but that one kind of has a little taste of it.
Dr. Kevin: That sounds good. How can our audience reach out to you?
Amalia: I have Infinite Conscious Conditioning on Facebook and Instagram, that’s my studio Infinite Conscious Conditioning.My website is the same – infinteconsciousconditioning.com – we call it conscious conditioning because that’s what Joseph Pilates called it and because we want people to know that we will work on functional movement, we will work on picking things up and sitting down in a chair properly just as much as we’ll work on the hundred and all of the classical movements just with that philosophy in mind of just good beneficial movement.
Dr. Kevin: Perfect! That sounds great. Any last words for our desk jockeys before we let you go?
Amalia: No, I mean besides I think the message that you’ve been sending which is to get moving, to vary the movements, to vary life in whatever way possible so that the money you make at your desk is worth it. [Laughs]
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely, it’s true, you can only do so much with it if you’re not healthy, right?
Amalia: Absolutely, yes.
Dr. Kevin: If we don’t have our health we don’t have anything.
Amalia: Yes, I second that.
Dr. Kevin: Perfect, well thank you for your time,and I will talk to you soon because we’ll connect after this, okay?
Amalia:yes, thanks so much.