More stormy weather and neuroplasticity. The legacy continues…

    Two weeks ago I went to visit my sister and her 2 young children. One of my duties was to help my niece with a school project. It was a summer project that was due on the first day of school. Yikes! I’m glad they didn’t assign summer projects when I was a kid.

    One afternoon, my niece and I sat at the dining room table and worked on her project. My nephew was upstairs alone playing wii. All of a sudden, the sky grew dark and thunder began to rumble in the distance. My niece looked around nervously as lightning started to light up the sky. I asked her if she was scared. She said no. What about your brother? She assured me that he would come downstairs if he got scared.

    The storm got quite violent. After a particularly bright bolt of lightening and ear deafening thunder clap, we heard the sound of little feet running down the stairs. My nephew came around the corner, and I asked him if he was scared. No, he said, he just wanted to check on us and make sure we were alright. Uh-huh.

    Another  lightning bolt lit up the sky, accompanied by thunder so loud the entire house shook. Even I was starting to feel unsettled. My niece looked at me and said, “Maybe we should get some cucumbers.” And my nephew said, “Or we can go out on the porch and sing songs. But they have to be in English. I don’t know any in Serbian.”

    I was dumbfounded. “How did you know about that?” I asked. They told me that my older sister had them read my post about stormy weather, cucumbers, and neuroplasticity. I fought back tears. I was deeply touched and humbled that my story had such a profound impact on my young niece and nephew. Instead of cowering under blankets, we talked, laughed and looked for cucumbers. Even after the power went out.

    Sometimes…. all you have to do…. is just tell a story.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Sugar Plum Tree

                                                         THE SUGAR PLUM TREE

    “Have you ever heard of the Sugar Plum Tree? ‘Tis a marvel of great renown! It lies on the shore of the Lollipop Sea, in the harbor of Shut-Eye Town.” This was my absolutely favorite nursery rhyme when I was a small child. I would beg my mother to read it to me over and over and over again. Of course, she did. She would hold up the book and show me the magnificent picture of my Sugar Plum Tree. Over and over and over again. My 2 older sisters would patiently listen to the story and dutifully look at the pictures. Over and over and over again.

     I  loved that story. And that tree was very real to me. One day, in my childhood wanderings around our yard, I found a seed from a sugar maple tree and decided to plant my own Sugar Plum Tree. Sugar maple tree, Sugar Plum Tree….it was a short leap from one to the other in the mind of a 4 year old. And, I was bored. My 2 older sisters were in school, and I had some extra time on my hands. So, I planted that little seed in our back yard. I announced what I did to the rest of the family that evening at dinner. They assured me that I would certainly have my own Sugar Plum Tree in due time. I kept a watchful eye on the exact spot for the next few days.

    Eventually, a small sapling appeared exactly where I had planted my seed. My efforts had paid off! There was great celebration in our house, because I finally had my very own Sugar Plum Tree! My father replanted the tree to the front of the house, where it would be easier for me to keep an eye on it. Every morning I would go outside and check on my tree. My Mom and Dad explained that the tree was too small and too young to bear fruit. It would take time. I understood that. I could be patient.

    Finally, the magic day came! One morning my mother and sisters woke me up, and told me that my Sugar Plum Tree had finally bloomed. I ran outside with them, and sure enough, every branch of my tree was covered with candy! It was a miracle, but one that I never doubted would happen, because I planted that seed and held on with child-like faith that my tree would grow.

    Of course, as I got older, I realized that my father had bought the sapling and planted it at the exact place where I had planted the seed. And, of course, it was my mother and sisters who trimmed the tree with candy for me. Was I disappointed to learn the truth? No. If anything else, it just renewed my conviction that miracles do happen, and you never know what will grow from one small seed.

    As a young adult, during one of my visits home, my mother asked me if I remembered “The Sugar Plum Tree”. I opened my mouth and recited the entire poem word for word. My family just stared at me in shock. I was stunned.  I hadn’t even thought of that poem for over 20 years, and yet I remembered every single word, never once faltering as I recited my beloved nursery rhyme. Once everyone had regained their composure, my mother finally said, “You mean, after all those times you made me read that to you, you actually had it memorized?”  I could see my 2 older sisters having similar thoughts; “After all those times we had to sit and listen to it….”

    Obviously, I didn’t know I had that poem memorized until the I recited it at that exact moment. Had I consciously tried to remember it, the cognitive (thinking) part of my brain, and it’s good buddy (my ego) would have gotten in my way. But, the part of my brain which stores emotional memories took care of my Sugar Plum Tree and allowed it to continue to grow and bear fruit through the years.

    A framed copy of the Sugar Plum Tree hangs in my office today. Every time I glance at it I am reminded that miracles do happen. All you have to do is plant a seed, have some faith, and watch what grows.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement(R) in the Rocky Mountains

I was honored to teach a workshop for the Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies during their recent intensive training segment. To teach Awareness Through Movement in an open mountain meadow with students sensing themselves in the sun or the shade, in the wildflowers or next to a lake was the ultimate somatosensory experience. Our support staff consisted of a gracious and dignified mountain dog, as you can see in some of the pictures. The mountains and the sound of the horses whinnying in the background completed this spectacular classroom with a view!

To learn more about the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies and the wonderful work they do as well as their training programs, go to You won’t be disappointed!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Unlock your jaw….with Feldenkrais®

A lot of people experience neck pain, jaw pain, tooth pain, headaches and TMJ dysfunction when they simply do not have to. Often times our aches and pains are a result of unnecessary tension in our muscles, or from faulty movement patterns. After a period of time, these habitual patterns can cause excruciating pain, joint dysfunction and joint destruction. Not only can the pain make you miserable, it can become debilitating and incapacitating, resulting in a diminished quality of life. However, you can interrupt the harmful patterns by introducing new ones. Would you like to learn how? Try this simple but highly effective movement exploration based on The Feldenkrais Method®.

1) Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent, or place a large pillow under your knees to eliminate stress on your low back. In The Feldenkrais Method® it is important to make yourself comfortable so your nervous system can integrate the new patterns it is experiencing with the movement lesson. In the spirit of making yourself comfortable, you may need to support your head with a folded towel. Don’t use a pillow, it is too soft to provide your nervous system with the appropriate feedback (proprioception).

  • Take a few minutes to relax, take a few deep breaths, and feel your weight gently sink into the floor.
  • Bring your attention to your face, neck and jaw. Does your neck feel tight? Does your mouth or the muscles of your face feel tense? Are your teeth touching?
  • Don’t try to change or “fix” anything, and don’t place any judgement on what you are sensing. Instead, be aware of what you are feeling and sensing in your face, jaw and neck.
  • Stop and rest your attention for a few moments.

It may sound strange to “rest” when you probably feel like you have not done anything yet, but it is important to rest your attention to give your nervous system time to process the information you are sending it.

2) Once again bring your attention to your face, neck and jaw.

  • Slowly begin to open and close your mouth in a very small and easy range of motion. Do not open your mouth all the way, and do not let your teeth touch as you close it. Stop and rest.
  • Continue to open and close your mouth by making the movement even smaller and slower. Make it small, smooth, soft and easy. Stop and rest with your mouth gently closed without your teeth touching.
  • Continue the gentle movement of opening and closing your mouth in a smooth, continuous, rhythmical way. Stop and rest.

3) Gently open your mouth in an easy range of motion, and in a position where you feel no sense of stress, strain, or discomfort.

  • Gently take your lower jaw a little to the left in a comfortable position. Again, slowly and rhythmically  open and close your mouth while leaving your jaw to the left. Do not allow your teeth to come together. Pay attention to the joint of your jaw, which is located just in front of the opening of your ear. If you hear a clicking of your jaw, or you experience and pain or discomfort, make smaller and smaller movements until you find a range of movement that is comfortable for you.  Stop and rest.

4)  Again, open your mouth in an easy and comfortable range of motion and gently take your lower jaw a little to the right.

  • Open and close your mouth in a comfortable range of motion while leaving your jaw to the right. You may want to take a moment to compare the 2 sides of your jaw and how they move. Often times, one side moves easier than the other. If you hear a clicking of your jaw, or you experience and pain or discomfort, make smaller and smaller movements until you find a range of movement that is comfortable for you. Stop and rest.

5) One last time, return to just opening and closing your jaw as you did at the beginning of this movement exploration.

  • Notice the sensations in your face, neck and jaw now. Notice the quality of the movement as compared to when you first began this movement exploration? Stop and rest. Give yourself a few moments before you slowly bring yourself to sitting and eventually to standing. Take a brief walk around the room before you continue with your day.

This simple movement lesson will help increase your awareness and help you identify when you are holding excess tension in your face and jaw, allowing you to interrupt these patterns and let new patterns emerge. This simple movement exploration will help you unlock your jaw, relax your neck and shoulders, and can be done anytime you may be feeling stressed. It can also help you fall asleep more easily if you have occasional insomnia. Discover The Feldenkrais Method® and learn how to decrease aches and pains, improve the quality of your movement and the quality of your life!


Support yourself for better sleep and a healthy spine.

    A lot of people complain about waking up with pain that they didn’t have when they went to bed, saying that “they slept wrong”. As someone who truly appreciates the value of a good night’s sleep, I don’t believe that there is a “wrong” way to sleep. However, there are ways that you can support your spine in a neutral position by using pillows at night to decrease the incidence of waking up with musculoskeletal pain that you didn’t have when you went to bed. Here are a few suggestions:

    1) If you sleep on your back.

        Use a pillow under your knees to support your low back in a neutral position. Play with different sizes until you find the one that is the most comfortable for you. Be sure that the pillow you use under your head is the correct size to support your head in a comfortable position.

    2) If you sleep on your side.

        Place a large pillow between your knees. This eliminates the strain on your low back and hips by putting your lumbar spine (low back) and pelvis in a neutral position. You may want to support your legs all the way to your ankles. Put another pillow in front of your chest and let your arm rest on top of it. This takes stress off of your shoulders and puts your cervical spine (neck) in a neutral position. Again, make sure that the pillow for your head is properly supporting you in a comfortable position.

    3) If you sleep on your stomach.

         Body pillows are great for stomach sleepers. Place the pillow in front of you so you can position yourself over the pillow as if you were lying completely on your front. You have the sense of being on your stomach, but your spine is being supported in a more neutral position. This eliminates the strain and pressure to your low back caused by excessive extension as well as neck strain from lying on your stomach for prolonged periods of time.

            I recommend using traditional pillows that you already have in your home. You can spend a lot of money on special therapeutic pillows and be disappointed in the results. You already have pillows in your home, so put them to good use and save your money.

          Don’t worry if you position your pillows and wake up to find them on the floor or thrown across the room. It takes a while to get used to the pillows, and we all move around and re-position ourselves a lot during the night. Your body will become accustomed to the pillows and you will subconsciously readjust them in your sleep as you move.

Wishing you good nights, good sleep, and good health!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Stormy weather, cucumbers, and neuroplasticity.

    I love storms. I love the way the sky darkens and the wind starts to build. I even love the clap of thunder and the lightening strikes (as long as they aren’t too close). I love to sit outside and watch them, but of course I go inside when things get a little too intense. Why am I not afraid?

    When my sisters and I were small, a particularly violent thunderstorm started developing. Terrified, we cuddled together in the kitchen with my mother, who kept trying to distract us and keep us calm. Suddenly, my mother opened the refrigerator and pulled out several cucumbers. She started slicing them, and we all sat around the kitchen table eating cucumbers and playing games. Although we still jumped at the closest lightening strikes and the loudest thunder, we kept talking, playing and eating cucumbers even after the power went out.

    Later, my mother told us that she didn’t want us to be afraid of storms. You see, her mother was terrified of storms and would cower in the kitchen, tremble with each bolt of lightening, and cover her ears against the sound of thunder. Her father, on the other hand, would sit on the front porch, watch the storms and happily bellow out songs in Serbian. So, my mother had a choice. She could cower in the kitchen with my grandmother and reinforce the pattern of fear, or, she could face her own fear and sit on the porch with my grandfather and witness the storm. She chose my grandfather. The result? She lost her fear of storms.

    What my mother did for us and my grandfather did for her was a simple but brilliant example of neuroplasticity. They both created an environment where we could learn new patterns of behavior in how we respond to the experience of a thunderstorm. Each one of us were able to process our own individual learning experience, not in a cognitive (thinking) way, but in a visceral, organic way. Even though we were frightened, a safe, comfortable environment was provided. The natural flexibility of our nervous systems (which is present in all of us during our entire life time) took over and showed us new and different ways to respond to the scary situation.

    Life is full of unexpected storms. Sometimes the lightening can be blinding, and the thunder deafening. The sky can become so dark we feel that we may never see the sun again. But, now we know we have choices.We can cower and try to hide from them until they’re over, and live in fear of the next one. We can find someone to sit next to, and listen as they sing through them, and learn from their courage. We can have someone guide us through with grace and dignity, allowing us to learn our own strategy for weathering the storm.  Trust the intelligence of your nervous system to figure out the right strategy for you, and realize that you have many options rather than being stuck in a pattern or habit that may not be serving you well.

     I remember that day every time a storm comes up or I make a cucumber salad. It’s also another opportunity for me to silently thank my mother for the many gifts she gave us. Here’s the funny part: years ago I asked her, “Mummy, why cucumbers?” She replied, “It was the only thing I could find in the refrigerator!”

Be healthy! And look for the cucumbers in the storm.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

The balance challenge continues….

So, what would happen if you did fall? I remember skiing with my father and my husband about 20 years ago. My father (who was an excellent skier as well as a martial artist) took a very bad tumble.  My husband witnessed the fall, and quickly skied up to him to offer assistance. My Dad was laughing as he got up, and my husband was stunned that he wasn’t hurt. He said, “George, you fell like a 30 year old!”  And he got up again like a 30 year old. At the time, my father was in his early 60’s.

My Dad knew how to fall. Most of us do not, which leads us to develop a fear of falling. After all, most of our activities as adults are performed in an upright posture: standing, walking, running, dancing, sitting, etc.  As a result, we lose our connection with the ground, we don’t trust our balance, and we also lose the  flexibility (both physically and emotionally) to get back up. So, what can we do about it?

1) First of all, spend more time on the floor. Get down on the floor at least once a day and just lie comfortably for a few minutes. Allow yourself to get familiar with the floor and how it supports you. Try rolling side to side. Explore rolling to one side and gently spiral up to sitting. Play with crawling around the floor, and just notice what it feels like to be on the ground.

2) Practice getting down and up from the floor. Don’t make it a big deal, just play with it a little bit. Notice how you choose to do this. How can you make it easier, more comfortable and less effort? Let the floor be your friend, your teacher and your guide. Don’t be in a hurry to get up, but play with different movement patterns to get down and up from the floor.

3) Practice controlled falling. For this activity I highly recommend getting assistance from a Physical Therapist or Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner. If you have ever considered taking a martial art class, perhaps now is the time. The practice of falling, rolling, and getting back up is a huge part of the training. Some martial arts such as Tai Chi is an excellent way to connect with the floor and improve standing balance and is offered in many senior centers and well worth looking into.

If you currently have balance problems, a neurological condition, history of falls or osteoporosis, do not attempt these exercises, but do consult with a licensed physical therapist for assistance.

Remember, at some time in our lives, we all fall: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Having the confidence that we know how to land is crucial to being able to get back up again.

My Dad at age 77, skiing with the confidence of someone who knows how to fall. And get back up.

Be healthy!