Monthly Archives: June 2009

UPDATE – Hardwired for Rhythm


How fortuitous to make mention of the Music Instinct in yesterdays blog. Some of the best interviews in the documentary often came from the mouth and mind of Neurologist Oliver Sacks.

As it happened, Dr. Sacks made an appearance on, of all places, John Stewart’s the Daily Show last night. Glad to know John and I share similar interests…or at least the person who books his guests.

Promoting his Nova special Musical Minds, which airs TONIGHT on PBS. Check your local listings and set your DVR for a mind-blowing exploration on the plasticity of human brain and our instinctual connection to rhythm and music.

(Excerpt from

Can the power of music make the brain come alive? Throughout his career Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and acclaimed author, whose book Awakenings was made into a Oscar-nominated feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, has encountered myriad patients who are struggling to cope with debilitating medical conditions. While their ailments vary, many have one thing in common: an appreciation for the therapeutic effects of music. NOVA follows four individuals—two of whom are Sacks’s case studies—and even peers into Sacks’s own brain, to investigate music’s strange, surprising, and still unexplained power over the human mind.

Hardwired for Rhythm

Music is powerful.

We are all born with a certain level of instinct in regards to music, rhythm, dance. It would stand to reason why young children often move to music before they can speak or walk. But why? Scientists are still trying to understand. What they have discovered is the amazing power of music and dance to aid in healing movement, speech, and even memory. It is even possible to change the shape and use of one’s brain with music. The plasticity of the brain, is much more changeable than once believed, regardless of age.

A new documentary premiered on PBS this past weekend on this subject, “The Music Instinct: Science and Song”. Many of the topics, from the unified field theory of physics ,to human cognition and healthcare are explorable on the website. It is a documentary worth checking out. Music is weaved into our everyday lives much more than we realize.

According to research, your brain can create the same endorphin “high” listening to a favorite song, similar in scope to falling in love or taking certain drugs.

If nothing else today, do this for yourself: Crank up your favorite song, let go and dance around a bit. It doesn’t have to be “good”. Just jump around.

Your body and brain will thank you for the release!

If you are seeking new music inspiration,  I recommend checking out the song of the day here.…And don’t forget to let go!

Let Go – Releasing tension essential for balance


Feel like life is fueled by stress?

Without it, would nothing get done?

Is life about constantly running from one event or meeting to the next?

Long for a week or two vacation,  just sitting on the beach?

Welcome to the party.  You are one of the millions of tension junkies that believe this is what normal life should be.

Yeah. We need stress. It’s the necessary fight or flight instinct.  In modern life, encountering dangerous situations is rare, but, the instinct is always there. The human body is prepared for disaster. Tension junkies live in disaster mode everyday.

Among innumerable symptoms, prolonged stress breeds muscle atrophy and joint imbalance. Keeping the body in a high alert state creates significantly greater risk of petering out quickly…In other words, illness and ultimately death comes much faster. Nice thought, eh.

Constant stress and tension is unnecessary energy expended. It’s like running your car in the garage, day in and day out, keeping it ready because of the fear it might not work if you turn it off.  By learning to release stress, muscles lengthen, energy in the mind and body is preserved, and happiness ensues.

As a tension junky, here’s the most important realization to grasp right now:

The biggest challenge in modern society is to stop, relax and turn inward. Letting go will be the hardest part.

There it is. Challenged defined. Once realized, begin to attempt simple relaxing techniques. Whatever can be done, be it 20 minutes or 2 minutes, will get you on your way to being a more centered person.

progressive relaxation

progressive relaxation

#1. Find 15 minutes of solitude to practice progressive relaxation. It’s kind of like reverse psychology for yourself. Lying down is best for this, although you can sit up. Spend a few moments investigating each part of the body, inhaling and contracting, or bracing the muscles. Slowly exhale, releasing the bracing completely. Letting the muscles feel warm and heavy, completely relaxed. Try it a couple times from head to toe. After, scan to see if there are any remaining tension spots and focus extra attention on them.  Don’t skip a muscle: eyes, jaw, abdomen, even your toes.

#2. Find 10 minutes to focus on your breathing for relaxation. Inhale and take in fresh air and relaxation, slowly exhale out muscle stress and mind clutter, feeling your body sinking into the ground or chair.

#3. Find moments throughout the day when your stress responses are triggered. Your heart beats fast, breathing is shallow, flinching to avoid traffic, or the brain feels stressed. Recognize these moments and take a second to recover, breathing slowly, relaxing the muscles, and let your mind and body know that everything is okay. Being flexible and able to lower stress levels at will is great stress management.

Keep your brain in your body! Science has long separated the brain from the rest of the body. It is slowly bringing the two back together. Tension is not just held in your mind, it is held in the body, in every muscle and every cell. Research is beginning to coordinate movement, breathing, aesthetic therapies, even music and language skills, to create a more centered body and mind…a more healthy individual.

With that said, here is another stress lowering technique:

#4. Enjoyable exercise or activities brings stress levels down, and keeps the mind and body in balance.I must stress enjoyable. Treadmills might not cut it. Go Outdoors, swim, play an instrument, play with children, paint a picture, dance to music, find an outlet. Create your own release.

From an exercise perspective, effectively letting go of neck and shoulder tension, or hip tension, allows true movement from the center of the body. Keep this in mind when exercising. Explore different muscles in the core, by simply breathing and letting go.

Everyday life should be a balance of vacation and work, of stress and calm, of chaos and silence. Balance and flexibility make for a happier lifetime.relax-linea

Weight and Fashion – And Michael Jackson?

My plan was to blog about the plus size fashion industries rise…finally appreciating the fact that most are not over 5 foot 9 and under 110 pounds…crystal_italian_vogue_1

Let’s face it, most of us are not Kate Moss.

Slowly. Very slowly, the cultural and social awareness of this fact is beginning to catch on. We all appreciate things that shine. We would all love to emanate beauty and confidence.



Here’s a pretty good piece on Fashion geared toward larger women, from the Daily Beast.  Although, the said self procaimed  “fatshionista” term, seems self depricating. It may just be a first step in claiming an identity and taking a stand.

I especially enjoyed the mention of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, sisters and creators of Rodarte, probably the best fashion line in the US.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy

Laura and Kate Mulleavy

In a strange twist of fate, Michael Jackson died. And another end of our societal disorders spectrum emerged.

0828_michael_jackson_gettyPoor Michael Jackson was the epitome of image conscious disorders and self loathing…think of the various surgeries, health frailties, and ultimately his lack of weight. Think of how many people surrounded Michael Jackson, and yet, how ultimately lonely he seems to have been. His death is untimely, but please think of it as a cautionary tale in the vein of Heinrich Hoffmann. Speculation about MJ or not, if you know of anyone who demonstrates the signs of an eating disorder, health issues,  anxiety, or depression, please do not think twice about trying to help, whether a friend, neighbor, or relative.  Awareness, individual or public, will always be the first and hardest step to addressing a problem.

Thriller was the first album I bought. And Michael, yours, was the first poster I ever chose for my bedroom wall .

Thank you for your amazing lifetime of art and inspiration to the world.

poster on my bedroom wall

poster on my bedroom wall

Too Hot to Workout?


Throughout a large part of the country the temperatures are soaring. If you are in these temperatures. Beware of working out outdoors, and follow a few simple guidelines.

Working out indoors is preferable in 100+ temps, or days with bad air quality.

Cut back your regular routines until your body adjusts.

Early morning workouts are best right now. The temperatures are lowest. Evening workouts come in second.

Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a big factor.

The older you are, often the greater the risk for heat stroke, dehydration, etc. Use caution.

Take our workout time and practice focused meditation and deep breathing. This can be even more rewarding to your overall health and mind!

If all else fails, a mint julip on the front porch with a friend isn’t a bad idea either….

Stay Cool!


Want a stronger back? Stop fixating on abdominals.


An article appeared yesterday in the New York Times Magazine discussing the myths behind doing deep abdominal crunches for a strong back.

I couldn’t agree more. When repetitively overdone, such exercises can create new injuries.



Think of your core as your entire trunk, front, back and sides, beginning just below the collar bones and going all the way down to the back of the inner thighs, just below the gluteus maximus. Your whole body coordinates to create a length, strength, and flexibility.

Here are a good guidelines to keep in mind.

#1. Don’t over do one exercise. There is no magic exercises creating perfection. A few well done, thoughtful exercises are better than 50 sloppy ones.

#2.  Play with gravity in your movements. Make sure to strengthen and lengthen all the muscles of your trunk. Do some sitting, standing, lying down (front and back), or balancing.

#3. Mix up your routine. Don’t get too comfortable in one series of movements. Challenging your brain and muscle memory is key in staying strong. Every muscle counts, each one helps another to do its job.

#4. Moderation. Start small, slow and steady. If you push out the gate too hard, you could injure yourself, or get frustrated very quickly.



Here are some excellent moves from the New York Times online article. Anyone who takes mat classes with me will recognize several of these movements. These movements can be modified based on injuries or weaknesses. For more beginning exercise routines, check out the post on The easy tv workout.

A Letter to President Obama on Smoking

Dear President Obama,

Hey. How’s it going?

Word on the street is you got a full plate. What with; the economy, a new dog, auto-makers, global warming, Iran, banking systems, North Korea, a young family, national health care,  social issues of various shapes and sizes…and not to mention you’ve been at your new diggs for little over 5 months.

I’d be smoking if I were you.

Smoking can be construed as cool. (Picking your nose could be cool too, i just don’t know that guy) I certainly thought so at one point.  Anyone who smokes knows it is true at one point in their lives. Be aware, the strongest propaganda can back fire.

At 21, anti-establishment, within collegiate reason, was my rule.  An on-air personality for an Illinois NPR jazz affiliate, I longed for a deep sultry voice, and the character of Frank Black – the 60 year old construction worker from Mississippi who hosted the weekend blues show, just without his hardships.  I started drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and hanging in dingy diners, where locals would roll their eyes at another college kid coming through. I fell in love with Tom Waits, John Lee Hooker, Billie Holiday….all the good raspy voices with lots of soul and artistic angst.

My relationship with smoking began, because it was art romanticized. Smoking seemed soulful and pensive. Many times it was the only quiet moments spent with my 1000 mph thoughts. Smoking was a mediation.

Problem is, my body doesn’t consider smoking to be artful, and neither does the world around me. It’s hard being a pilates instructor and a smoker at the same time. (Though I’m sure President is worse). Covering up the scent, sneaking them in the car, hiding behind the building. I work out. I eat better than most. Couldn’t I have my vice? (I still feel my logic isn’t totally flawed here.) Attempting to stand defiant, my conscience always felt off.  Damn it.

The decision was to quit once. Only when ready. Otherwise, just keep smoking. About 11 years after I started, on April Fools day, 2007, it was time. I quit. I just stopped. And it sucked.

Green tea curbed the nicotine cravings. Sitting down to a routine pot of tea and mandarins in the evening instead of cigarettes and wine on the back porch helped.  Locking myself in the bathroom for 5 minutes, or stepping outside, and inhaling deep breaths, as though smoking, to relax helped.  Keeping a notebook to jot down thoughts or expletives when frustrated or “full-brained” helped.

President Obama, sounds like you have some pent up energy and stress. Try finding decompression alternatives. I know you exercise, but try channeling the smoking energy into new personal ceremonies, habits, and/or meditations for yourselfnot for the greater good of the country. Yeah. Easier said than done, but keep it mind, OK? You have to own personal habits…or disown them as the case may be.

I still think smoking looks cool in certain contexts. But, I choose not to be cool in that way anymore. There’s gotta be other ways to identify artistically…other ways to be anti-establishment without hurting…other ways to have meditative moments without hiding.

Good luck and don’t quit if you’re not ready.  It won’t work. You’re still cool no matter what. I got your back.

Hey, best of luck with everything!  If you need a movement instructor to help you and the White House staff, I’d be happy to start the Mind/Body Fitness Movement from the White House. Imagine the health care savings from lowering stress levels!

…just adding another side to your plate.

Best Regards,

Stephanie L. Ellison


The Easy TV Workout


Missed your workout today, but not your favorite tv show?

So you’re at home watching The Housewives of New Jersey, or Mad Men, or Thirty Rock, or whatevers, and commercial break hits. Instead of hitting fast forward on your DVR, challenge yourself to my commercial break workout. Quick, easy, nothing is missed but some couch potato intermission drool.

The average commercial is approximately 30seconds. Most of these challenges require about 2 -4 commercials, although you could go the entire commercial break if you choose at some point. At this rate you could be getting in 5 minutes of exercise a day. Enough to make a difference in a week. You’d be surprised! Take the challenge!

BREAK #1. EXTENSION with Arm Push (Adapted from Somatic Patterning by Mary Ann Foster)

The arm push will strengthen rounded shoulders. Lying on your belly. Put both arms to the sides and bend your elbows. Palms are flat and all 5 fingers are touch floor! Widen and sink across the front of your chest. Reach your elbows out to the sides to widen across your shoulders. Keep your neck long by reaching out the top of your head. Slowly press your entire hands and forearms into the floor. Sense the force of the push traveling up your arms, into your back and down your spine Continue to push your arms down and out into the floor and raise your head and chest off the floor. Keep the back of your neck long. Let your chest feel broad, your neck free, and your spine feel long. The shoulder blades should be drawn together behind you. The arms stay straight. Hold for at least two commercials. If you feel pain in your back, walk your hands out in front of you further, or prop your belly with a pillow.  If you feel pain in your gluts or legs. Stop.

Extension with arm push

Extension with arm push

don't do this

don't do this


Nothing fancy about this one. Tried and true. Do not do it on your hands, thinking you are making it harder. On the hands is actually easier for your to avoid your core and to tense your shoulders. The forearm plank is good core stability work. Lengthen in the position. Keep stretching your chin and neck past your fists. Keep your armpits reaching for your hips. Hold at least 2 commercials.


Forearm Plank


You know how to do them. So go for it. How many can you do in a commercial break?

Little tips: Try to keep your neck tension free by reaching through the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Pull your belly button to the spine to help from placing too much tension on the knees.



BREAK #4 BALANCE CHALLENGE: Balancing on one leg and toes

Practice you balance by standing on one foot for one commercial break. Shift to the other foot for the next commercial. And then balance on your toes for the third  commercial. You can always extend the time. Keep the thought of lift the spine and your posture in mind as you practice your balance. Let your eyes look up to where the wall and ceiling meet to help keep your neck long.

balance on one leg

balance on one leg

Balance on your toes

Balance on your toes

There you are. Not only did you get your tv time in, but your work out as well. Who knows? Maybe it will catch on and become the party game of every tv show watching party across America. Okay. So I’m dreaming big. You could also challenge your kids or grandchildren as well. No matter what, just have fun with it, perhaps making up your own commercial break workouts. Good Luck!

Make Yourself a Little Nervous (trapeze debut)


We all have our imperfections we wish we could change. It’s hard to be a woman and not have body issues.  Nevertheless, I had always dreamed of doing something daring and pretty. St. Louis has Aerial Arts classes for adults. Without forethought, I registered.

I was by far the oldest in the class, the youngest, Ruby, was twelve. Intimidated by my own body, there were definitely feelings of doubt. The soreness and bruises in the beginning were pretty crazy. But the drive to prove to myself I could do this was so strong, that the bruises became marks of fierceness.

I had a goal: to get through 3 months of trapeze and perform in a recital. (It’s all I talked about for 3months). For the recital, I unwittingly invited everyone I could muster, realizing later, the stakes were now raised.

And I did it.

It’s imperfect, just like me, but beautiful in its imperfection. I did it.  I was a trapeze performer. Funny thing is, without realizing it, the shaping up and being healthier thing just happened. It was too much fun to notice. The whole experience has been mentally and physically exhilarating.

Which is why I am sharing it with you…not to mention every ex boyfriend and junior high nemesis to see. Geesh. I prefer internet photo anonymity, but I’m swallowing my pride and embarrassment hoping my experience can inspire someone else. Not to specifically do a trapeze class, but something new, just slightly out of your comfort zone. Make life a little more breath taking!

Weight: It’s All the Rage, All the Time


An article about the American obsession with celebrity and weight showed up in last Sunday’s  New York Times. One phrase seemed strikingly poignant:

…Americans equate body size with Puritan values...

Let’s put it into context.

Speaking to the yo-yo weight of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Kirstie Alley, Charlotte Biltekoff, an assistant professor and researcher of food and values at UC Davis, was quoted saying, ” Americans equate body size to Puritan values. Thin means self discipline and hard work; fat implies laziness, gluttony and lack of willpower. A dieter signals publicity that she/he is “in the process of self-denial, recovery, and reform.

Dr. Rebecca Puhl, an expert on weight stigma at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity is quoted as saying, ” People who internalize these stereotypes are more likely to engage in binge eating and other unhealthy behaviors that lead to weight gain.”

The solution? Just be healthy. Embrace your shape. Make peace with who you are today, not dreaming of who you will be in a month. Look, I know. It’s a friggin’ tall order.

Relinquishing the cultural norms takes some strength.

Take Beth Ditto

Beth Ditto and Karl LagerfeldRock and Roll Singer and Indie Fashionista extrordinaire, Beth seems to be known more for her body size than her music, liberating masses of women through her self confidence in her shape and sexuality.

 love magazine

It is awesome Beth is out there, making creative and social waves, but, realize, she is morbidly obese. Truth.  It’s the same as recognizing many of our young celebs are anorexic.

lindsay lohan 3 210409

Our cultural expectations anticipate celebrities and public figures to be thin, and yet 1 in 50 Americans are morbidly obese. In between these two ends of the spectrum is you, me, and everyone else. Wherever you land in the spectrum, recognize the desire to be beautiful, physically and mentally, can not be fulfilled from the outside looking in, although we are programmed to believe so via media, culture, yadayada. Beauty is there in every body type, you just have to embrace it. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) offers great information not only on eating disorders, but on ways to promote within yourself a healthy body image.  This information is useful to everyone.

This is a call to everyone; big, small, man, or woman, celebrity, or not….Own your own shape and uniqueness from every angle, inside and out. Create your own style. Make a statement. Most of us will never be Twiggy, but there is much more glamour and seduction in a well placed curve. Once you own your body, promise to take care of it. Eat healthy when you can, find movement you enjoy, and laugh. Strive to create a sound mind and body for you. The word weight will begin to lose its stigma.