HOW TO SIT WELL!

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I have written time and time again about how we have not yet evolved to cope with the demands of modern living. There simply hasn’t been sufficient time and evolutionary pressure for us to manage the radical changes we have made to our diet, movement patterns, stress responses and living environments in the last few hundred years.

It is sad that in the Western world we are made to sit at desks from the moment our schooling years begin. The scientific research supporting just how important movement is for children’s development alone is astounding. I believe it is the lack of movement that causes humans to age far too quickly and lose their gross and fine motor skills. Movement not only gives us confidence, but is also a form of creativity and expression – all of which are being stifled by the fear-based human need to create order and control.

WHY SITTING IS BAD FOR US

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READING YOUR BODY’S POSTURE

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I recently wrote an Instagram post about how being super physically flexible isn’t necessarily always a good thing. In it, I wanted to express how there is an absolute connection and continuity between your physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental worlds.

Bringing awareness to our posture or physicality can tell us a lot about our approach to life – the way we respond to stress or threats, what kind of company we keep, how our upbringing was, why we experience certain illnesses, what habits we have, and so on. Thus, decoding and making positive changes to our posture will help optimize our quality of life and ability to thrive.

CUES YOU CAN GLEAN FROM YOUR BODY:

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FEELING WIRED OR ANXIOUS POST-EXERCISE?

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Have you ever experienced post-work out panicking or an inability to wind down? Or have you ever connected the two? Unfortunately it can be one possible side effect of overworking your upper body or working with incorrect alignment.

Overstimulating your upper back and neck muscles, particularly for stressed people, can send the body into panic mode as these are the same muscles that activate when we sense danger. The brain takes this tension as an indication that you’re about to go into some kind of battle, and floods the body with stress chemicals such as adrenaline.

Increasing the blood flow, and thus relaxation around these tissues, helps reset the nervous system back into cruise-control by flooding the body with relaxation chemicals and endorphins.

Try the following to help keep you strong but calm:

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THE GYROTONIC METHOD

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This is a piece I wrote for Nourished Journal Edition 2 December 2014 (Made Publishers)

What is the Gyrotonic expansion system?

The Gyrotonic expansion system is an exercise system whose movement principles are similar to yoga, dance, swimming and t’ai chi, but whose main inspiration comes from nature and living things. As such, the repertoire includes every range of movement you can imagine. Your body curves, arches, twists, spirals, undulates, circles, stretches, contracts, relaxes and is fluidly and rhythmically guided by the ever present breath. It feels incredible.

The Gyrotonic expansion system is made up of the Gyrokinesis method, where exercises are performed on a mat and chair only, and the Gyrotonic method where the exercises are performed on custom designed Gyrotonic equipment. Both methods were developed by Juliu Horvath, an ethnic Hungarian whose professional dance career left him with a series of debilitating injuries that he later healed through his movement practise. Thankfully he has gifted his knowledge with the world, helping people of all ages and abilities to fulfill their potential through using their bodies as nature intended.

The philosophy

For Juliu, life is movement – the more movement the more life is expressed, this belief is something I fiercely support. No matter what your situation you want to always breathe life into every cell of your body by tapping into whatever natural movement patterns you can express. Never push through pain or blocks but instead find space and move gently through. Having its roots steeped in nature means the Gyrotonic expansion system can easily access life-giving and healing movement potential. Exercises, for example, mimic how cats’ spines move as they stretch, how tigers run, how seaweed sways, how snakes ripple across the ground, and so on. Gyrotonic takes us away from controlled linear exercise modalities, that are often motivated by fear and control, and into a more holistic space whereby the body, mind and spirit are all aligned and given respect and nourishment.

My experience

As someone who does various forms of movement practice, I can highly recommend gyrotonic and gyrokinesis classes. The repertoire appeals to all manner of intrinsic and forgotten movement patterns, and the smooth gliding machines help facilitate this even more so. I leave a class feeling emotionally, mentally and physically cleansed and strengthened. A body that performs the Gyrotonic expansion system regularly is strong, flexible, agile, aware, able to react with speed and able to deeply relax.

What to expect from a Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis class

Expect to move with fluidity, with focus on your breath whilst sitting / standing / lying on your front, back and side. You will explore how the spine moves by being guided to arch and curl, or ripple with a wave-like motion. You will feel how the arms and legs connect into this rhythm and how to move and coordinate your body as a whole.

The Gyrotonic expansion system is a complete system of exercising: it builds stamina, flexibility, strength, articulates all joints, gets your heart rate up and improves energy and fluid flow through the body. I promise you will love it.

TUNE IN TO WHAT EXERCISE SUITS YOU

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On my previous blog I illustrated the importance of cultivating a way of living that best connects you with your own individual needs. In this post I will outline three ways that help you choose what form of movement best serves you. The ultimate aim is that every day you can instantly tune in to yourself and hear what it is that your body really needs – rest, strength work, a long walk, an aerobic class, and so on.

TIP 1: WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION?

Whether you’ve worked this out or not, here it is – the motivation behind your chosen exercise has to come from a nourishing place. You cannot expect to feel truly content and have long-lasting results in life if you focus on working out to: lose weight / be different / escape thoughts / control your life, and so on. Because these motivations come from a place of fear and lack, you will always struggle and never feel truly satisfied. It is nature’s law to give you what you put out so watch your thoughts.

This is easily remedied!

Simply reframe and change your language. The aim beyond wanting to lose weight, be different and so on is surely to be happy, to feel good, to be content. So why not focus on these words and outcomes over those heavy, negative ones? This simple reframe of language comes from a place of love and abundance, and as such is a much easier long-term motivator.

So get really clear about why you want to move and use encouraging language. Day-to-day you might feel the need for different types of movement, so without judgement or ego make your decision based on what supports your intention.

TIP 2: WHAT DO YOU LOVE TO DO?

To actualise your intention you need to find what it is you love to do. No point saying you want to work out to be happy then make yourself go for an hour long run when you hate running!

So, sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, breathe. Ask yourself: “if I could be anywhere doing any exercise or movement practise, what would I choose? What kind if movement excites and motivates me?”

There is no one perfect movement practise that suits us all, we all have varied needs, just as there is no “one” way of eating, no ideal job, lifestyle, and so on. So opt out of what you think you should be doing and tune in to what it is you love to do – following what feels good will help you move towards the body, relationship, hobby, job that brings you most happiness.

Some things you could ask yourself when finding out what you most love… do you like being outdoors? Do you like taking risks? Are you someone who has steady energy and a lot of physical strength (favouring running, rowing, aerobics)? Are you someone who has bursts of energy but tires easily (favouring yoga, dancing, easy walking)? Do you like to break a sweat? Do you like to train in a hot or cold environment?

After pursuing what you love you should be left feeling invigorated and happy (certainly not utterly spent and in need of pain relief).

TIP 3: DIP INTO YOUR TOOL BOX REGULARLY

There are some fundamental movements that are always good to do as they act like a reset button for when you feel a little off-kilter or are struggling to connect with what it is you need.

RESET NO.1 – BREATHE

Spend at least one minute each day where you sit in a quiet place and pay attention to your breath. You can simply watch your breath or choose from one of the following guided breath patterns:

  • Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, pause for 1 count, exhale through your mouth for 4 counts. This is great for everything!
  • Before you eat, breathe slowly and calmly in and out through your nose – great for digestion
  • Breathe in and out through your mouth – great energy booster
  • Close off right nostril, inhale through left nostril. Pause. Close left nostril, release right nostril. Exhale through right nostril, inhale through right nostril. Pause. Close right nostril, breathe out left nostril. Repeat. Great to calm down.

RESET NO.2 – STRETCH

Stretching helps us find space in the body which chemically transfers into helping us find space and perspective in our minds. Think of stretching like a full body yawn, an internal massage for your organs and way to connect back to source. If you know what kind of stretches you love to do then go for it! If not, I have outlined below some of my favourite stretches. If you want to learn more about how to most productively find space in your body please read my previous blog Become Elastic here.

  • Get into your feet –  roll the souls of your feet on a tennis ball, sit on your heels, sit on the front of your feet. Find more foot opening tips here.
  • Standing roll downs – Start standing with your arms hanging losly by your sides, inhale fully and on your exhale scoop your belly gently back towards your spine, nod your chin towards your chest and begin to roll down through your spine until you are folded over looking towards your thighs or knees or feet (depending on your flexibility), your arms will hang loosely with your hands gently dropping towards the floor. The aim here is not to touch the floor with your hands but to simply hang and gently allow your tissues to stretch, relax and open. Relax your feet into the floor, bring your weight into your toes, soften your knees, relax your hips, neck, jaw and eyes. Stay here for 5 calm breaths. Take a full inhale and on your next exhale gently bend your knees deeper and tuck your bottom underneath you in order to rely on your legs to help you roll back up again vertebrae at a time unil you are back up to standing. Now turn your palms to face forward then take your arms up the sides of your body, hold your hands together above your head and gently sway your torsos from side to side stretching through your arms, side ribs and waistline. Release your arms down and stand still for 10 breaths.
  • Twist your spine to energise your system and cleanse your organs  – explained here

RESET NO.3 – MOVE QUICKLY!

Sometimes our nervous and lymphatic systems can becomes a bit sluggish or locked into fear and anxiety patterns that interfere with our natural healthy functioning. Our lymphatic system is the fluid system that runs throughout our body – seeking out, fighting off and detoxing any foreign bodies that may cause harm. Without movement this fluid becomes sluggish and less effective at battling off viruses, toxins and disease (imagine murky swamp water) – this can manifest in anything from cellulite, allergies,  fatigue, or hormonal imbalances. Because the lymphatic system runs linearly, when we bounce up and down it affects change in the fluid super effectively. As you move around quickly, imagine the “swamp water” getting diluted and flushed clean with fresh spring water.

  • Run on the spot as fast as you can for 20 seconds
  • Dance
  • Skip
  • Jump on a trampoline (more info here)
  • Stand and simply hake out your whole body!

BONUS TIP: GET OUT IN NATURE

Whenever I am feeling a little lost or out of tune with things I always trust in mother nature to pave the way to better health, happiness, vitality, strength and well-being. She is of course the reigning force which embraces and connects all life-cycles – humans, plants, animals, water, the sun, the moon, genetic expression, evolution, and so on. When we are all tuned and synchronized everything moves and thrives with the least amount of effort. Unfortunately modern lifestyles result in negative brain patterns then wreak havoc on a number of things including our ability to gauge what kind of exercise we should be taking and when. Sadly we have taken it to both extremes with people who train far too hard, fast and frequently, and people who sit all day and still fail to take the stairs on their way home.

This too is easily remedied by getting out in nature – take a slow walk around  your nearest park or green space taking in everything you can see, smell, hear, sense, touch, taste and so on.

THE BENEFITS OF BOUNCING

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Ever since I can remember I have loved jumping on trampolines – I’d spend hours flying up and down and trying my best to ‘double-bounce’ siblings. Little did I know at the time that this fun, dynamic movement was also super physically beneficial. As I’ll outline below, jumping / bouncing flushes stagnant liquid out of the body, strengthens bones, and improves posture, heart and lung capacity. I truly believe that nearly everyone can benefit from investing in a trampoline or mini-trampoline/rebounder. Old or young, fit or unfit, strong or weak a little bit of bouncing each day will bring health and well-being to so many of our systems.

THE BENEFITS OF BOUNCING:

Cleans the lymphatic system and boosts immunity

Our lymphatic system is the fluid system that runs throughout our body – seeking out, fighting off and detoxing any foreign bodies that may cause harm. Without movement this fluid becomes sluggish and less effective at battling off viruses, toxins and disease (imagine murky swamp water) – this can manifest in anything from cellulite, allergies,  fatigue, or hormonal imbalances. Because the lymphatic system runs linearly, when we bounce up and down it affects change in the fluid super effectively. As you jump, imagine the “swamp water” getting diluted and flushed clean with fresh spring water.

Strengthens bones 

As you travel down from your upwards bounce  there is an increase in ‘g-force’ (gravitational force), so when you land there’s a greater weight and impact that travels through your bones. This impact helps remineralise and strengthen your bones. The same principle is practiced by astronauts who use rebounders to help rebuild the bone density lost while being in space with zero gravity. Rebounder bouncing also helps build stability and flexibility around your joints, as landing on the elasticated surface limits any jarring and compression which is normally experienced when exercising on hard surfaces.

Improves muscle tone, posture and balance

It is impossible to bounce and not use your abdominal, leg, hip and thigh muscles. Because the rebounder creates an unstable environment we are forced to engage and challenge our deep skeletal and superficial muscles. This instability also stimulates the vestibule in the middle ear (responsible for balance) and is thus great for challenging nervous system function. While bouncing you’re working on reaction speed, core strength, posture, balance and control. It also requires a lot of concentration and focus – great brain gym!

Increases heart and lung capacity – improves cardio fitness!

This one is obvious, but often bouncing is so much fun you don’t actually realise that you’re out of breath! As you’re bouncing your heart is working harder to help circulate blood around at a greater rate and your lungs are pumping harder helping to feed cells with fresh oxygen so they have the energy to keep you going. All this extra blood and oxygen flow is also extremely beneficial in detoxing excess hormones and toxins stored in your body, but to also increase red bone marrow and stimulate tissue repair.

TIPS:

  • Wear loose clothing so you can really get everything jiggling and moving!
  • Go barefoot
  • Start slow but increase each session
  • Avoid eating or drinking an hour either side of bouncing (ideally eat afterwards as your metabolism will be increased so can deal more efficiently with what you’re eating)
  • Use it as a warm up, cool down or full work out
  • Try to keep your vision at eye line
  • Start with hands on hips then play with clapping hands above / behind your head

WORKOUTS

Beginner

  • Stand parallel and simply bounce up and down without taking your feet off the rebounder – keep knees soft and just connect with the up and down elastic nature of the rebounder’s material
  • Bounce for 3 minutes 3 times a week; increase the bouncing by one minute each week
  • Play with foot positioning – make feet wider /more narrow / shift the weight from side to side

Intermediate

  • Stand parallel and bounce up and down catching air each time you bounce
  • Bounce for 10 minutes 3 times a week increase the bouncing by one minute each week
  • Play with star jumps and jumping from one foot to the other

Advanced 

  • Stand parallel and jump high with little down time / then try slow deep jumps with a long down time
  • Bounce for 20 minutes 3 times a week
  • Play with kicking the legs out in front, to the sides and behind. Bounce on one foot

KIDS KNOW BEST ABOUT FOOT LOVE

Below is a great video narrated by a child on exactly why we must not jam our kids feet into these ‘stylish’ but alarmingly harmful shoes. If you have children, please let their feet be free whenever you can, and in times when there are potential dangers on the ground then choose footwear that allows their little feet to move and feel their way around.

For us older lot, it is definitely not too late to free your feet. In order for us to find our nimble feet again we too must work towards wearing footwear with as little support as possible. For a lot of us this needs to be done slowly and mindfully as stiff, inarticulate feet that have become heavily dependent on overly supportive shoes cannot be cured in an instant. Adults need to tease their feet back into healthy movement patterns by releasing tension, increasing flexibility and creating authentic stability.

I have  written before about the importance of taking care of our feet – Remind yourself by reading it again here and don’t forget to add in the suggested exercises and massage techniques! Remember these main tips:

  • GO BAREFOOT AT HOME  – allow your foot to spread and explore its full range of movement. This alone will help to mobilise and strengthen your whole body.
  • GO BAREFOOT OUTSIDE ON NATURAL TERRAIN  – having the soles of your feet make contact with the earth recharges the body with negatively charged free electrons. This is essentially earth energy which is crucial to the health of every cell in our body!
  • ALTERNATE YOUR SHOES  – so your feet don’t get stuck in the same mould day in day out
  • SOAK YOUR FEET IN MAGNESIUM/EPSOM SALTS  – 100% natural muscle relaxant that also takes the acidity out of the body helping you feel way more chilled out, can also help with headaches, respiratory disorders, sluggish digestion and joint pain.
  • MASSAGE YOUR FEET  – with a tennis ball, or spiky massage ball, or with your own hands! Get to know your body and help it yourself! Doing this stimulates all sorts of important pressure points that respond to different parts of the body including organs, bones, muscles, nerves and so on. This is a key tenant of reflexology.

BEAT THE BLOAT: MOVEMENTS TO AID DIGESTION

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Given the standard diet, lack of physical activity and stress level of the general population, feelings of being bloated or constipated are an increasingly common complaint. It is so important that you visit the bathroom (for number twos!) at least once a day – ideally after each meal. If this isn’t the case and you’ve already worked on the obvious areas – taken out all processed food from your diet, increased your exercise, reduced your stress levels and optimised your sleep – then add these 5 easy movement patterns into your daily routine.

How these movements help digestion:

  • They stimulate fluid flow around the whole body, but in particular the gut. This helps stagnant food waste move speedily through your large intestine, meaning your stool won’t be dry and dehydrated from waiting in your bowel for so long
  • They encourage you to breathe! Increasing the depth of your breath and properly utilising all respiratory muscles regulates peristalsis or the wavelike movement that propels food through the gut. This means better nutrient absorption and quicker evacuation of digestive waste
  • They rebalance irregular tissue tension. Releasing tension in a tight lower back and the back of the legs allows the abdominal tissue to more readily engage which releases intra-abdomial pressure; addressing hunched shoulders and a compressed chest opens up the front of the body giving the gut far better space to go more smoothly about its business

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1) BELLY BREATHS

INSTRUCTIONS: Breathe in through the nose allowing the belly to fill, breathe out through the mouth allowing the belly to soften back towards the spine.

CUES: On the inhale, visualise filling your whole body with fresh, clean air; on the exhale sigh out old stale air and any emotions that are no longer serving you. Imagine breathing into the back, front and sides of the body – making space and releasing tension in every joint.

Breathe in for 5 counts, pause for 5 counts, breathe out for 5 counts – repeat for 1 minute.

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2) TWIST

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INSTRUCTIONS: Lie on your back with your legs bent and ‘glued’ to each other – beginners keep your feet on the floor, others take them up in the air, arms wide out to the sides. Exhale – take legs to one side and head to the opposite side, inhale – bring your legs and head back to centre, exhale – go to the opposite side.

CUES: Every time you exhale make sure you gently sink, wrap and lift your abdominals – your shirt should get baggier! Gently massage the spine into the floor as you go from side to side (i.e. no arching the back).

Take the legs from side to side for 1 full minute.

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3) PILATES SCISSORS

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INSTRUCTIONS:

Lie on your back, stretch both legs up in the air, curl upper body forward, exhale – pull one leg towards you and stretch the other one away, exhale – swap to other side, repeat.

CUES:

Really emphasise the exhale – you should hear the breath being blown out through your mouth and see your belly sinking back towards your spine. Keep shoulders soft and collarbones wide. Feel the middle to lower spine gently massaging into the floor, stretch open through the back of the leg that is pulled towards you and the front of the hip of the leg stretching away. Think of the reaching the crown of your head and your toes up to the ceiling – always think of making space throughout every joint, avoid compressing and tensing.

Scissor the legs for 30-60 seconds

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4) YOGA COBRA

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INSTRUCTIONS:

Lie on your front, forehead resting on the floor, arms bent hands at shoulder height, palms down. On an exhale gently roll your shoulders back, press lightly through your hands and pull your breast bone forward so that you lift your upper body away from the floor. Inhale to bring the spine back to the floor. Repeat.

CUES: Keep your abdominals drawn gently up towards your spine. Use your lower abs to gently tuck the pelvis under to avoid compressing into your lower back – do not squeeze your butt! This movement is about opening the chest wide and getting your upper back to move; you shouldn’t feel any discomfort in the lower back. 

Cobra for 30- 60 seconds

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5) THE MARVELLOUS MOVING CAT

All cues and tips here!

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EXTRA HELPFUL TIPS

  • Sit upright when you’re eating! How can you expect your food to move through your system if you’re hunched forward over your plate squashing the life out of your guts? Sit tall, give your belly some space!
  • Wait an hour after eating to do these movements as you want your blood to go into your belly to get those intestinal contractions going, rather than into your heart and muscles
  • Avoid drinking at the same time as eating – save your sips for 30 minutes before, or an hour after eating to avoid diluting the digestive enzymes needed to help break down your food
  • Take probiotics after a meal or eat fermented foods with your meal to help balance out gut bacteria and encourage better breaking down and absorption of your food
  • Consider these emotional connections to constipation – “where are you holding on in your life and what would happen if you let go? What might happen to your work or relationships if you released control and let things happen spontaneously? What is needed for you to have a greater trust in the unknown?” Read more about the emotional / digestive connections in Deb Shapiro‘s Your Body Speaks Your Mind

PRIMAL MOVEMENT 3: LUNGE

Push, squat, pull, lunge, bend, twist and gait are all movements intrinsically encoded into our bodies and contribute to our overall health and well-being. They demand strength and control and we MUST keep performing them despite the many modern conveniences that have us avoiding them. Unfortunately most of us can no longer execute these movements in a healthy way due to tension patterns, weakness, old injuries, poor co-ordination and a host of other factors. So it is of utmost importance that you not only understand why these movements are so important but also how to perform them in a safe and effective manner. There is no point in just battling through blindly. Take time to read this post, put yourself in front of a mirror and use these images to guide you.

In this post I will illustrate the third primal movement pattern: LUNGE(Click here to read Part 1 – PUSH and  here for Part 2 – SQUAT)

LUNGING

Lunges are another essential movement pattern that contributed to our successful nomadic roaming and evolutionary dominance thousands of years ago. Lunges are fundamental to everyday movement – they directly improve the performance of walking, running and climbing. With the amount of time we spend sitting in modern life (which creates weakness, illness and low energy levels) the lunge is one of the most effective movements to restore flexibility and strength in our hips, thighs and lower back – so get up and get moving!

Lunges are great for the whole body but are particularly beneficial for the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs and spine. Thus said they improve:

  • Posture
  • Metabolism
  • Control
  • Balance
  • Co-ordination
  • Symmetry between both sides of the body
  • Fat burning and muscle tone

HOW TO LUNGE

Start off simple with my first step below – static lunges. Move with mindful intention and attention: understand and allow your body to relearn how to lunge correctly. Once you have set the blueprint of a healthy lunge into your neuromuscular system then move onto the next steps.

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KEEPING READING UNTIL THE END FOR THE ALIGNMENT CUES

STEP 1: Static lunge

Begin standing with your hands on your hips or loose beside your body, take a big step forward and hold.

Point both feet, knees, hips and shoulders straight ahead. Have your spine absolutely upright as if you were standing. Eyes looking straight ahead. This is your beginning position:

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Bend your back leg aiming your knee straight down to the floor, straighten up the back leg a bit, bend again to the floor. Repeat x10, then repeat with the other leg in front.

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STEP 2: Walking lunges

Step one leg forward, bending both legs – push from the back foot and bring the back leg forward stepping straight into your next lunge. Repeat x10 on each side (you may need to walk around the room if you don’t have the space to walk in one long line)

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STEP 3: Swing-through lunges

Stepping forward and backward lunges. Step one leg forward into a lunge, take that same leg backwards and bend into a lunge, take the same leg forward and bend into a lunge. Repeat x10 then swap sides.

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STEP 4: Deep stretch lunges

Begin in a squat position with arms forward:

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Step one leg back, shooting the arms backwards and stretching the back leg. Bend the back leg and step it forward into the squat position again. Repeat alternating to each side x5.

x15

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CUES:

  • Connect your front foot firmly to the floor but have slightly more weight in the heel.
  • Spread the toes of your back foot and press through the floor to help bring you up and down (step 1) or forward and back (steps 2-5).
  • Point your knees over your second or third toes – never ever let the knee knock inwards/point over the big toe.
  • If your knees feel uncomfortable make the angle of your front leg be 90 degrees / have your heel under your knee as opposed to your toes
  • Keep your head on top of and in line with your pelvis – whether you’re upright (step 1-4) or on a diagonal forward (step 5)
  • Draw your abs into your spine and draw your head up towards the sky.
  • Keep your collarbones wide and shoulders wide.
  • Find the opposition between pressing your feet to the floor vs drawing your head to the sky – this contrast will help to maintain healthy space around all joints while also building strength throughout your body.
  • As you move think of being light, fluid and elastic – never heavy footed or compressing / sitting into your joints
  • If you want an added challenge perform all steps while holding light hand weights then advance to heavier weights or kettle bells.