Agendas, propellers, and life’s simple pleasures.

    My sisters and I often joke about the tribal belief system under which we were raised. We start  each day with a schedule and run around as if we had little propellers under our feet until we complete our Agenda. We  even refer to our Agenda with a capital letter “A”, as if to give it more importance and reverence. Any interruption or obstacle in our Agenda causes mild consternation and a flurry of reorganization to make sure that every item on our list will be successfully completed. Although we laugh and tease each other about our Agenda, it’s even funnier how we take turns admonishing each other to take some time for ourselves and slow down!  So far none of us are taking the bait.

    Last Saturday was a beautiful fall day. I kept looking out of the window as I composed my Agenda and started revving up my propellers. But, something wasn’t working. Maybe my propellers needed a tune up. Maybe I needed a tune up. I knew I needed something. In a completely uncharacteristic act of spontaneity, I threw my Agenda in the recycling bin, looked at my husband and said, “I need a change of scene. Let’s get out of here.”

    After I did look over my shoulder to make sure the Agenda wasn’t trying to crawl it’s way out of the recycling bin and back into my hand, we got in the car and drove. We ended up in a small mountain town which is a popular tourist attraction. However, on this beautiful fall day the town was almost deserted. We walked along the street, marveled at the warm, bright sunshine and soaked in the casual, rustic atmosphere of this small town on a lazy afternoon. 

    Those few quiet hours were more restful and restorative than I ever could have imagined. I also learned a lot on that lazy afternoon. I learned that some of lifes’ simplest pleasures can be the most gratifying. I realized that it’s okay to let go of our belief system to allow for new experiences to come forth. I discovered that if we cling to our Agenda it will have power over us and keep us from enjoying a fulfilling life. I also discovered that even propellers need a day off every now and again.

    Here’s hoping you give yourself permission to let go of your belief system, release your Agenda, turn off your propellers, and take the time for yourself to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Feldenkrais Your Pilates

I just completed teaching a three week series applying the principles of  Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement(R) lessons to Pilates. I began each class with two or three classic Pilates mat exercises, followed by a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson (ATM). After the lesson, we repeated the Pilates mat exercises to notice any changes that may have taken place in the student’s experience of the exercises.

The first workshop began with the Pilates mat exercises The Hundred and Leg Circles. I taught my favorite  ATM “Movements in Opposition.” The basic principle of this lesson is, quite simply, when something goes forward, something goes back. After the lesson, we repeated The Hundred and Leg Circles.

The second week we began with The Hundred, The Swan, and The Single Leg Kick, followed by the ATM “The Spinal Chain.”  The basic principle of this ATM is how to access individual segments of your spine through spinal flexion. It explores flexion from the bottom of the spinal chain verses the top of the spinal chain. After the lesson, we once again did The Hundred, The Swan, and The Single Leg Kick.

The third week we began with Pilates mat exercises The Hundred, The Saw, and The Spine Twist, foolowed by the ATM “The Five Lines.” This lesson facilitates the concept of sensing the length of your spine, arms and legs.  Once again, after completing the lesson, we repeated the Pilates mat exercises.

None of the workshop participants had previous experience with the Feldenkrais Method. However, all of them had experience with Pilates, both with reformer work as well as mat classes. While the focus of Pilates is on stretching and strengthening your muscles, Feldenkrais focuses on moving from your skeleton and accessing your nervous system in a gentle but powerful way to allow for new movement patterns to develop.

During our discussions at the end of each class, all of the participants stated that the Pilates exercises were easier, lighter, and more fluid. They reported less neck strain when doing The Hundred and a stronger, deeper contraction of their abdominal muscles. Interesting, isn’t it? Especially since Feldenkrais focuses more on moving from our skeleton rather than moving from our muscles. Many of them were surprised to find less shoulder strain and improved range of motion when repeating The Swan and The Single Leg Kick. Especially since “The Spinal Chain” is a lesson in spine flexion, and The Swan and Single Leg Kick are exercises in spine extension. It was a beautiful example of how movements in flexion facilitate extension. I love this stuff!

One of the ladies exclaimed “It’s like magic!” It’s not magic, it’s really quite simple. It is the intelligence of our own nervous system that finds more efficient ways of moving when we create the environment for it to happen. We can then move through our Pilates exercises effortlessly and elegantly, while working smarter, not harder.

“Feldenkrais….making the impossible possible….the possible easy….and the easy elegant!”

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Barefoot in the grass. Another example of neuroplasticity.

 In my Feldenkrais Advanced Training last month, we talked about going barefoot. Barefoot walking, barefoot running and even barefoot hiking. Yikes! I can’t even stand the thought of walking barefoot in my own home, let alone in the great outdoors. Feet were meant to be kept out of sight and supported by shoes. I used to believe that going barefoot was somehow uncivilized. However, after listening to my colleagues relate the richness of their experiences of walking barefoot, I was intrigued. I was curious, but skeptical as I considered the subject.

     My feet often hurt. Walking barefoot would hurt even more, wouldn’t it? But I couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to be barefoot outside. So, during the next break, I ventured outside. I looked around to make sure no one was watching me. After all, I didn’t want to look silly. I slipped off my shoes and socks and stood on the sidewalk. It was uncomfortable at first, but then the sun-warmed sidewalk started to soothe my feet. I could feel the small pebbles and imperfections in the sidewalk. I took a few steps, and the coarse, warm concrete almost felt good. When I went back inside, still shoeless, I marveled at how smooth and cool the hardwood floor felt on the bottom of my feet, something I had been oblivious to the past three days.

    When I went home that afternoon, I wondered what it would be like to walk in my yard barefoot. Cautiously, I took off my shoes and socks and attempted to walk across my yard. Well, that hurt! I stood still, getting the nerve to hobble back to my shoes when something strange happened. My feet began to relax and mold to the shape of the ground. The earth beneath my feet was comforting. I started to slowly walk across my yard, enjoying the texture of the grass as I walked, noticing the change in the temperature as I went from sun to shade. I continued walking, aware of a new sense of flexibility and dexterity in my feet. I was immersed in the sensations coming through the soles of my feet. This was fun! And, my feet felt wonderful.

    I started playing in the yard in my bare feet, feeling a childlike curiosity as my nervous system responded to the primal activity of going barefoot. My feet were contacting the ground like little cat paws. I didn’t know my feet could do that!  I got really courageous and stood on the river rock bordering the lawn. Wow. What seemed absolutely impossible a few hours ago had turned into a fun, interesting and completely gratifying somatosensory experience! The flexibility of my own nervous system over rode the cognitive part of my mind and my preconceived belief that going barefoot was bad, uncivilized, or that it would somehow damage my feet.

     By simply changing my belief system, I was able to enjoy a rich, rewarding experience. It made me wonder how many other new experiences I may have missed out on simply because of my personal belief system. Most of us hold ourselves back from trying new experiences, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Maybe we are afraid of getting hurt, looking silly, or being ridiculed for doing something different or unconventional. Even worse, perhaps we feel that we are too old to learn or try something new.

    The truth is, it’s the simple things that bring about significant changes and a new sense of vitality to our lives. So, go ahead, try something new and different. You may be surprised how good it feels.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Moose and squirrel….a glimpse of Colorado wildlife.

    For some reason, this year has proved to be most gratifying in experiencing Colorado wildlife. I thought I would share some of these sightings with you.



    This last one is Bruno, my Italian Greyhound, letting you know that it’s okay to get a little wild sometimes!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

The kindness of strangers.

    I spent a lot of time back East last fall. I love autumn. And I love the outdoors, as long as I don’t have to get too dirty. There is a beautiful park not far from my parents’ house that had some nice hiking trails. I spent a lot of time in that park and on those trails.

    One late afternoon I went to the park for some serious exercise. I climbed the familiar trails and started to feel adventurous. So, I wandered off the trail and went exploring. It was exhilarating! The weather had started to turn cooler and I could feel the dampness and the chill in the air even though the sun was shining through huge white clouds. I loved the fall colors and the smell of the woods. Fall has always been my favorite season, and I was having a great time. Eventually it was time to head home.

    I turned around, reversing my tracks toward the trail, the parking lot and my car. Along the way, in a spirit of playfulness, I began playing ninja games in the woods. I turned  my wilderness expedition into a little martial arts training. I was happily balancing over a log that had fallen across a small creek when I realized something wasn’t quite right. What was I doing standing over a creek? I didn’t remember any creek. I shook off a sense of unease. I began reversing my path once again, certain I could find my way back to the trail.

    I wandered about for another half hour before I came to the obvious conclusion. I was lost. In the woods. By myself. With no cell phone. I tried to orient myself to my surroundings, figure out which direction would take me back to the trail, and tried again. Nothing looked familiar. I started to get worried. I wasn’t even sure if I had told anyone at my Mom and Dad’s house where I was going. I finally came to a steep incline. At the top I could see the reassuring sight of a neat little neighborhood. Surely somebody would be home even though it was the middle of the day and the middle of the week. They could point me in the right direction back to the park.

    Relieved, I walked up the hill onto some one’s back yard. I heard snarling. I looked up and found myself face to face with a snarling, drooling German Shepard that must have outweighed me by about 20 pounds . Uh-oh. I lowered my eyes and began talking softly to her, hoping she would calm down. I was hoping I would stay calm. What I was really hoping was that her owners were home and would keep this bad day from getting worse. The front door of the house opened and her owners came out.
    I explained where I had been, and said that I had wandered off of the trail. Would they please point me back in the right direction to the park? They exchanged a funny look. “Where did you say you were?” the young man asked. “Well, I was hiking in Hopewell Park. I just need you to tell me how to get back to the trail.” There was that funny look again. The young man said, “I’ll take you there.” “Oh, no, I don’t want to inconvenience you,” I protested. “Ma’am,” he replied, “you are a good long way from Hopewell Park.”

    By this time the German Shepard was wagging her tail and licking my hand. We got in the young man’s truck and he drove me back to the park. It took over twenty minutes to get there. “Wow, I guess I did wander pretty far off of the trail,” I said, rather sheepishly. My kind escort dropped me off at my rental car with a gentle admonition about staying on the trails next time. I assured him I would. But at that point I was pretty sure I was done hiking that park for good.

    The truth is, there are times in life when get lost, either literally or figuratively. Perhaps we get carried away with our own enthusiasm or sense of adventure and wander too far off of our chosen path. We can become so disoriented that we start going around in circles, expending a lot of energy but going nowhere. Maybe we are simply not paying attention. Maybe we have wandered so far off track that there is no way of getting back without help, or in my case, the kindness of strangers.

    On the other hand,  veering off track helps expand our horizons. Stepping a little way off of the path can lead us to new and uncharted territory. It can open us up to new ideas and new possibilities. It can help take us out of our habits and patterns that may be holding us back from achieving our full potential, or getting more satisfaction and joy out of life.

    And sometimes the teeth of a German Shepard is actually a smile disguised as a snarl, but I wouldn’t count on that one. Here is hoping you have many safe adventures, and may you never lose your way.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

The buck stopped (us) here. A lesson in boundaries.

    We went hiking in  Rocky Mountain National Park last week. We were happy to be in the mountains and see the beautiful fall colors. We chose a trailhead that was at the base of a picnic area where dozens of people were making all sorts of loud and delightful noises. I figured that meant the trail would be busy with other hikers. That ruined our chances to see any wildlife. Oh, well.

    We hiked about 300 yards up the trail. The trail was deserted. I heard a noise in the woods to my left. I grabbed my husband’s arm and whispered, “Mike….look!” We saw two female elk with a young calf, less than 30 feet from us! Never before have we come this close to a small herd of elk. My husband immediately pulled out the camera. He whispered back, “Oh, wow! The calf is nursing!” He was so focused on taking pictures that he didn’t see what I saw next…. a huge bull elk had quietly appeared out of nowhere and was staring us down. Uh-oh.

    “Ummm, Mike,” I whispered, “There’s the bull!” No response. Trying to stay calm, I said again, “Mike! There’s the bull!” I tried to smile at the enormous beast (the bull, not my husband) and assure him that we meant no harm to him and his family. My husband finally turned to look at him. After he regained his composure, he started walking toward the huge buck to take his picture. The elk responded by running and turning in place, letting us know he was ready to charge to protect his territory and his family if necessary. He walked across the trail and stood there, blocked our path and stared us down once again. He lifted his huge head and began swaying it slightly to show his rack, another form of aggression. His message was loud and clear. We were in his territory. We weren’t welcome. We were crossing the line in the sand and overstepping our boundaries. We weren’t respecting his personal space. That bull was prepared to defend his home, himself and especially his family.

    We slowly and quietly started to tiptoe backwards down the path (no easy feat in hiking boots). We didn’t turn around until the bull turned away from us to check on his herd. Once we were off of the trail, we couldn’t even speak to each other. We were overwhelmed by the experience of what we saw, as well as relieved that the bull had the grace to stand his ground without charging at us, and gave us the opportunity to leave in peace with our dignity intact.  

    There is a lesson in boundaries from this experience. It is important to set boundaries for yourself. It’s important to respect the boundaries set by others. It’s important to respect someone else’s property. It is especially important to be respectful of someone else’s family. It’s okay to come in to some one’s territory when you are invited, but understand what the limits are, and don’t push them. You never know where the bull is, quietly watching and ready to charge. Just in case the need arises.    

The female elk grazing in the woods.

The young calf getting some nourishment.

Need I say it?

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP