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Fun toys to get you outside this summer

Summer is officially here. It’s time for pedicures, beefing-up on barbecue skills, and generally doing anything that calls us out into the fresh air and sun. It is the best time to take fitness outdoors too, and I don’t mean lugging the treadmill out of the backroom to the porch. In case you forgot, there’s no age limit on playing outside.  Bikes, roller skates, skateboards, and jump ropes are great go-to summer toys, but here are a few other fun outdoor ideas you might have forgotten:

Trampolines

My parents claimed this was the best investment they ever bought our family. We used it regularly, every summer, for 15 years, with lots of giggling, lots of exercise, and luckily, no broken bones.

Kites

Kites are beautiful, artistic, and fun to run around with in the hopes of setting aloft. Make it a DIY party and gather some friends, craft your own, and have a kite-flying contest. Here’s a cool do-it-yourself kite from Popular Mechanics.

Water Guns – or better yet, Water Balloons!

Personal politics about warfare and guns aside, this is a great way to cool down and laugh when it’s hot. Play capture the flag with teams of friends. Or have a little one-on-one couples therapy. Loser makes dinner.

Unicycle

Not only a mode of transportation, it’s a great way to work on balance skills and impress friends. When starting out, a good spot goes a long way. Be patient and you’ll soon be speed cycling with the best single wheelers out there.

Pedalo

A wooden German toy that’s been around for decades, it’s a slightly safer variation on the unicycle. The pedalo builds balance and body awareness. Preparing you to be a natural on the…

Tight rope

Go to the local hardware store and get a strong, thick rope. Tether it, securely to 2 points, starting at just a few inches to a foot off of the ground.  Have tight rope walking competitions. See who can balance the longest, walk forward and backward, maybe even jump up and down. If you’re an adult at a barbecue with friends, watch out for “beer confidence”. No sprained ankles, please.

Retro Toys – Pogo Sticks, hula hoops, and Slip n’ Slide?

These were all popular for good reasons…except maybe slip n slide, with personal memories of grass stains and elbows burns. A lot of the flash back toys are silly mayhem for adults and kids alike. As a parent, you might be able to show off your impressive muscle memory skills to the young ones.

What are your favorite outdoor toys? Send us your ideas!

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Why we love fitness clubs. A brief history of Gyms.



Funny how words and meanings change overtime. For example, the term salon commonly referred to a gathering of intellectuals to discuss issues of the day, and yet most of us now can’t help but think of the place we go for haircuts.

Another word that’s evolved in meaning is the beloved gym. From ancient times up until even the past 50 years, gymnasiums were considered higher institutions of training the body, mind and spirit. Like a Western equivalent of the Shaolin temple, gymnasiums encompassed not only fitness but; philosophy, community, the arts, and social and political change – a far cry from the health club down the street.

The original Latin gymnos literally means “naked” because what better way to show off physical and raw athletic prowess in ancient Greece than in the buff. Later the word gymnasium would refer to public run high schools in Germany, and gyms were called Turnvereins. Confused yet?

Gyms as we know them in the United States evolved from a political movement in Germany during the early 1800s, with a belief that a healthy mind and body would instill patriotism, a belief in liberty, and unify Germany into one country. They were called Turners (meaning: one who does gymnastics). Thanks to the Turners we have the parallel bars, horizontal bar, the sidehorse, and most gymnastic events still popular in the Olympics.

Large numbers of Germans emmigrated to the US in the mid 1800’s, the Turners included.  They fought with the Union army in the Civil War. But with the end of the war, the Turner’s political edge – their main driving force in Europe- faded in the United States, and their focus shifted to establishing Turnvereins – community centers that mixed social conciousness and fitness. In areas of the country with historically large German immigrant populations, you can still find Turnvereins existing today. Organizations such as the YMCA, were inspired by Turnvereins.

With the Industrial revolution and a growing economy, Americans liked the idea of fitness, leisure exercise, and clubs to occupy more free time. Gyms have continued to evolve and change, until we finally have the posh spots of today – places of little social or political importance, but major on the fitness, health, and fashion spectrum.

We have much to thank the Turners’ for; from the yoga and pilates practiced today, to those scarring junior high physical education classes.  Yes. They were big advocates for physical education in schools.


In a bad economy, gym memberships are one of the first things to go. And with education cuts deepening, PE classes are all but out the door.  Perhaps it’s time for a new localized movement building community, creativity, knowledge, and physical health all in the name of a stronger America. Gyms, Turnvereins…can just we pick a new name though?

Sidenote: If you happen to be in St. Louis, MO, there’s a memorial to Frederic Jahn, The Father of the Turner movement, within Forest Park. It features a large bust of Jahn in the center of an arc of stone, with statues of a male and female gymnast, one on each end of the arc. The monument is on the edge of Art Hill next to the path running north and south along the western edge of Post-Dispatch lake. It is directly north of the St. Louis Zoo.

Taking off

Rethinking our general purpose

As you may have noticed, there are less postings these days. Seems we are being distracted by life, and calling it a hiatus, until summer.

Apart from a rigorous teaching schedule at the start of 2011, the Mind Body Moderate is making a rather extended move to Los Angeles.

While making peace with our own statement that change is something we can always rely on, this doesn’t mean it’s easy.

It would be nice have an ideal sense of place in the world, but for some of us, it remains aloof. Which is better? : To live in St.Louis – home of gooey butter cake and 2 for 1 slabs of pasta, but with fresh air and an overall easy pace for living? Or to be in Los Angeles – land of gyms and healthy fare, but mired in pollution and traffic?

The best guess is somewhere in the middle. And it’s a middle that’s personally parted. So watch out LA. We’ll see your healthy food and raise you some toasted (meaning deep fried) ravioli and that classic Midwestern kindness (masking deeper cynicism). Until then.

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.
– Mark Twain’s Autobiography

New Pilates Classes/Core Conditioning in St Louis

Bumbershoot Aerial Arts (2200 Gravois Avenue, 63104) is an aerial and circus arts school close to downtown St. Louis where people can discover their inner monkey. There are few places like it.

Core conditioning and awareness of movement are important building blocks to gaining strength and staying safe in the air. It’s one thing to climb a rope, and another to know how you got there.

To aid in your circus skills, or to just gain strength for everyday life on the ground, Pilates mat classes, private training on Pilates equipment, and aerial conditioning classes are now offered at Bumbershoot.

It’s the only classical Pilates classes near downtown and the only colorful studio space like it around!

Bumbershoot Pilates Classes – Fall 2010

INTERMEDIATE PILATES MAT Tuesdays  and Thursdays  at 6pm

A faster paced, classical Pilates mat class, with emphasis on flowing movements outward from a strong core.  Advanced exercises are explored. Previous Pilates experience or instructor approval required. Knowledge of proper modification for your body is required. 55 minutes

BEGINNER MAT Saturdays 10 am

Kick off your Saturday morning with a stronger core! This Pilates mat class is open to all and focuses on fundamentals and beginner classical mat. Learn how to simultaneously stretch and strengthen your muscles. Gardening, sports, and even trapeze become much easier with a stronger center. 55 minutes

Joseph Pilates partaking in fitness fun

Private and small group instruction by appointment. For information on these classes and instructor Stephanie Ellison, please click on the classes and instruction page here.


The Science of Living a Healthy Life

In case you missed it, The Wellness issue of NY Times Magazine came out last week.

There is, of course, loads of fodder for healthy living; relationships, mental health, exercise, the food critics diet, and even a little interview on the many joint replacements of Jane Fonda.

The article Weighing the Evidence on Exercise promotes the long term metabolic and health affects of exercise, and shuns the assumption exercise will immediately aid weight loss.  Out of this entire wellness magazine, the last sentence in the above article proved most striking.  It is a quote from Associate Professor of Kinesiology at U Mass, Amherst, Barry Braun, and his words speak volumes:

One thing is going to become clear in the coming years, Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair”.

What does that mean?

Let’s be clear. It doesn’t mean a treadmill desk is going to be the answer to life’s problems.

What it does means is all the little things we do throughout the day add up to make a big difference. It means, keep moving!

“Getting rid of the chair” means balancing our relatively recent technological advances with what the human body is built to do: move.   We have not yet evolved to large brain blobs being fed by tubes and hovering in glass jars, so might as well keep those limbs working.  If we open up to new concepts and ideas regarding balancing our lifestyle choices (changing dated habits in our work, family, home and school schedules) the world will follow suit. Afterall, the world is our playground, not our work station.

Perhaps the new motto for the next decade should be: “Sit Less. Live Longer.”

…Or for those with a darker sensibility in the aging spirit of post punk I like “Sit still and die.”

Your own genius suggestions are highly encouraged.

Pilates, guys, and core strength

Joseph Pilates was a manly man.

Strutting his stuff well into his 70s, smoking cigars and sporting tighty whities, this former boxer and circus strongman (“living Greek Statue” to be precise) mainly taught his method of exercise to men, until he came to New York and moved his studio into the same building as the NYC Ballet. Once Pilates became associated with dancers, it seems the menfolk started to disappear.

To set the record straight, Pilates is not just for dancers. Joseph Pilates himself called his exercises a corrective method of movement. Many athletic men still complain of a bulging belly and back pain, When properly executed, Pilates exercises improve muscle imbalances, building strong, flexible trunk muscles, backs free of pain, and younger, taller posture in any body.

Here are a few key insights men should know when beginning Pilates or any core strengthening regime:

Strength need not come from strain.

The subtly of Pilates can, at first, be frustrating, and might not jive with traditional notions of a manly workout. Try to leave the power workouts at the door, at least in the beginning. A good Pilates instructor will not allow clients to power through an entire workout without proper muscle control.

The challenge of Pilates is in the details.

Pilates core strength comes from muscle awareness and control. (Joseph Pilates named his exercise method, “Contrology”.) Finding control requires some thoughtful and, often, small movements. These beginning steps shape the more advanced work that comes later. Without awareness of all muscles, both large and small, the benefits attained will be limited. It’s training for the body and mind.

With proper control, even a football player will struggle with 2 pounds weights if they lengthen muscles outward from a strong core, rather than tense up and inward to power through. It’s like the Aesop moral, “better to bend like the reeds than break like the tree trunk”.

Keys to good Pilates: Stretch the spine and draw in the abdominals during all movement.

This is often referred to as “scooping” your abdominals. Lifting the spine upwards and allowing space between the vertebre to corset the trunk muscles inward.

Practicing the Pilates scoop.

Here is an exercise to work on the Pilates scoop from Jillian Hessel:

Sit up as tall as you can, lifting up out of your hips. Place your hands on your lower abdomen with your fingers spread apart. Imagine you have a belt slung low across your hips.Inhale deeply through your nose for 5 counts. Exhale through your mouth for 5 counts, imagining you’re tightening the belt and drawing your hip bones closer together. Your fingers should interlace as you exhale completely.

Your core is a corset of muscles with several layers that wrap around your trunk. Pilates exercises draw this corset tightly inward to support the spine rather than push outward away from the center.

Now do that same scoop as you perform a forearm plank on a fit ball. Hold it for one minute. Stretch the neck long. Keep the shoulders broad. Continue to draw the trunk muscles in as you breathe.

Proper core strength aids in preventing diastase, back pain, belly bulge, neck and should tension, and many other issues.

Find a good instructor and practice the basics regularly to gain insightful muscle control and core understanding to compliment any exercise activities. Then you too can strut around in tighty-whities with your shirt off being the manly man that you are…on second thought…keep that at home.

For more information, check out this Wall Street Journal article discussing the growing popularity and importance of core training.

The Gardener’s Workout

It’s officially Spring…The season of Golf and Gardening backs pains.

Warm rays from the sun bring the need to weed, rake and plant. The one thing my gardening clients have taught me is that pain will not hold them back. The gardening must go on.

When engrossed in an activity like gardening we often lose personal awareness, which is partly why it is so appealing. Nevertheless, by the end of the day we regain that awareness quickly when a stiff back or neck presents itself.

What to do?

Here are a few tips and exercises to keep you in peak gardening condition for as long as possible.

– Use a Timer!

Get the timer out of the kitchen and bring it with you. Every 20 – 30 minutes, stop. Do some stretches. Change position and/or activity. Is it annoying to have to stop and move around? Of course it is, but keep in mind this will save you some aches, pains, and several more years of gardening.

– Mix it up

As mentioned above, change position and activity regularly. Multi-task. Instead of focusing on getting the yard raked in one day, spread it out along with a few other “have tos” over several days. This way your body is not stuck in one position or a repetitive motion for hours on end.

– 7th Inning Stretch. The Mid Gardening Workout

When your timer goes off and your body is craving a stretch. Here are 4 great movement options:

#1. cat and cow/ #2. child’s pose

Cat and Cow / Child's Pose

#3. quad stretch

Quad Stretch. Press your hand into the fence or wall for stability.

#4. elbow stretch circles ( from one minute movement)

– Gardening core strength.  The Pre/Post Gardening Workout

Your core is not your just your belly. It is the entire ring of muscles around the trunk and can even include muscles of the thighs and shoulders. 5 to 10 minutes of simple core strengthening exercises done both morning and night might help in preventing back aches.  Here are 6 exercises that will help:

#1. The Spine Extension and #2. The Forearm Plank (from the Easy TV workout)

#3. The Dead Bug Exercise (from Finding Your Fulcrum)

#4. “Clamshells” Side Lying leg movements

Lying on your side, bend the knees and make sure neck and shoulders are comfortable. Keeping feet together lift the top knee. Do not allow the pelvis to rotate backwards, torquing the back. The goals is to move only the leg, keep the pelvis and back stable. 10 to 20 times on each side.

Clamshells. Neck is long and relaxed. Pelvic bones push forward. Back is still. No twisting.

#5. “Chicken Wings” Side Lying External Shoulder rotations

Remain lying on the side. Using a light weight ( no more than 3 lbs.). Keep elbow glued to the side ribs as the forarm rises and falls. Shoulders stay down. Neck stays long. 20 on each side.

Chicken Wings. keep neck long and elbow in side.

Another view

#6. Wall Squats

Are a great way to build gardening strength while working proper knee and hip alignment. With or without a fit ball, Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Keep knees in line with toes as you bend downward. It is safest not to go past a 90 degree angle. Keep the tailbone reaching down to earth and the belly button scooped upwards towards the back of the ribs. Try 10 squats.

Wall Squat

Consider a back brace or corset support while gardening

It might not cure your back problems, but a brace or core support will remind you to stay aware of proper back placement when leaning over or squatting outside. It will help you be aware of your back.

– If all else fails, ask for help!


Get some help already!  I know you love to do it yourself, but it’s not worth the pain and perhaps ultimately having to cut gardening out all together. Plan, design, organize and get some minions at your disposal.

– More Information

A great website with wonderful ergonomic tools and ideas is offered through the University of Missouri Columbia, called Gardens for Every Body.

Happy Gardening!