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730 E 38th Street
Minneapolis, MN, 55407

A revolutionary approach to fertility. Through our flagship programs Fertility Pilates™ and Movement For Fertility™ we teach and instruct women about all the ways that aligned exercise & movement naturally foster the process of trying to conceive. We are also proud to offer Merciér Therapy to women seeking to get pregnant.

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Movement is fundamental to life.

Marie Wittman

Movement is fundamental to life. It precedes the creation of an embryo as the egg and sperm move to meet in the Fallopian tubes. Movement of blood comes before the formation of the heart. And the transition from womb to world is completed through the instinctual movements that are a part of birthing. 

Yet, daily activities that require natural movement are disappearing from our culture. We no longer need to walk, gather, or even garden to collect food for nourishment. We carry out our days work without using our muscles much to get there or during our time there. Socializing with friends and family involves as little movement as a stroke of a finger. And so on.

Though modern life no longer necessitates we move, our biology requires it nonetheless.

A growing body of research is demonstrating that there are serious negative health outcomes stemming from our modern lifestyle. The research also shows that being physically fit - even exercising every day - does not exclude us from suffering from the very same health issues as those people who do not do exercise.

One the whole, the role that movement plays in fertility has yet to spread beyond the circle of academics and researchers. Certainly, exercise is often encouraged and a few benefits (mostly psychological) are frequently mentioned.

But what exercise is best? Could there be some types of exercise that be hindering your efforts to conceive? Are there more advantages than feeling less stressed?

Should the answers to these questions and more be of interest to you, please read through the details for our fertility care services.

Movement For Fertility™

Marie Wittman

The Movement For Fertility™ is a program that I have designed to support the health of your reproductive cycle. It is not a generalized exercise program. While all exercise and movement is beneficial to reproductive health (for example, increasing hormone circulation), Movement For Fertility™ is different from other forms of fertility exercise because it specifically addresses the biological processes within your body in order to enhance and nourish your fecundity.

I have adapted exercises from practices like Pilates, physical therapy, and Nutritious Movement™ so that each movement stimulates certain aspects of your reproductive system. This is quite different from the many other fertility exercise programs that only speak to the general ideas of what exercises does for the human body. 

For example, many fertility exercise practices suggest that a woman will experience increased blood flow by doing their exercises. This is true. Any movement will increase blood flow, however, the vital detail is whether that increased blood flow is actually going to the areas that will directly improve your fertility. Movement For Fertility™ differs in that the exercises have very specific alignments in order to channel the blood flow to the areas important to that phase in your cycle or significant to stimulate in order to address a particular issue such as short luteal phase or PCOS.

Below is an exercise we do in the Movement For Fertility: Follicular Phase protocol. Beginning at any point from the first day of your period, do this exercise 1-2 times daily until you expect to ovulate or around the time you start to notice fertile cervical fluid. 

 

Double Leg Stretch for Improved Ovarian Function

Setup

Lying on your back, ensure your tailbone is relaxed down into the mat and then exhale as you lift the head and shoulders off the mat just to the point that the lower tips of your shoulders are still touching the mat. Once your ribcage aligns with your pelvis the upper abdominals should naturally engage to hold your head up rather than just the neck muscles. Bend the knees into your chest and place your hands on your shins.

Movement

Inhale as you reach your arms straight back by your head and reach your legs straight out from the hips. Hold for 3 counts. ♥ Make sure that your tailbone did not lift off the floor and that your ribcage stayed aligned with your pelvis.

Then circle your arms out to the side and around toward your legs as you pull the legs returning to the starting position. ♥ Again keep your tailbone anchored on the mat as you bring the knees back in over your hips.

This is one full repetition; follow each step another 4 times for a total of 5 repetitions.

Notes

Maintaining the alignment and stability of your pelvis and ribcage are vital for supporting the health of your ovaries so pay close attention to these areas when doing this exercise. Also make sure that your torso and head do not move during the exercise. 

“Pilates is...”

Marie Wittman

I have noticed a resurgence in news articles on Pilates lately. Unfortunately, not much has changed over the years. Well, there are fewer pronunciation brackets behind “Pilates” in the articles, which says the general public knows how to say the word, but the article authors still find it necessary to explain that Joseph Pilates was the creator and give some history on his life. As many of you know I am hardly opposed to history. But the fact that it is essentially the same information and that it is used to basically explain what Pilates is reveals that the public is still unclear on what Pilates is. Why after all the articles, DVDs, books, and news shows are people still uncertain of exactly what it is?

What is Pilates exactly?

Is Pilates exercise? Is it a form of physical therapy? Is Pilates like yoga? The verdict varies by region, as I have come to learn through my travels. In Los Angeles, the answer was most frequently exercise; in London more people approached it as a form of physical therapy. The confusion is not just among people who are new to Pilates. Those who tell me that they have done Pilates before can be just as misinformed as those who have no clue what the Hundreds are. So why is Pilates is still misunderstood?

It is partially a consequence of the way newspaper and magazine articles represent Pilates. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times was titled “Pilates evolves to work for every body.” Evolves? Pilates was designed from the beginning to work for every body! Although the body of the article makes gestures toward this point, the title definitely suggests otherwise. More to my point here, the heavy focus on Pilates for special populations portrays Pilates as more for those who need some form of modified exercise. In comparison, a recent article on the new book by the fabulous Pilates teacher Brooke Siler emphasizes the fitness side of Pilates. What is more, this article claims that Pilates is “thought of as yoga’s younger, cooler sibling.” These articles illustrate the many and varied pictures of Pilates that have been presented to the public for years, and the influence such media has in shaping how people think of Pilates is quite profound, as I recently experienced.

Redefining Pilates

Gratz Foot Corrector - based on Joseph Pilates's original design

Gratz Foot Corrector - based on Joseph Pilates's original design

I (re)define Pilates for people on a weekly basis (and I will provide my definition shortly). But a recent conversation with an acquaintance demonstrates my point on how influential first definitions of Pilates can be. About eight months ago I met a woman who was suffering from some foot pain. Talking through some of her symptoms I had an idea that Pilates could help her but she had not yet seen a doctor, so I advised her to first find out what a doctor said and we could go from there. As the weeks passed, each time we crossed paths she would narrate a long list of doctors’ visits, exams, and the continued pain. Eventually she found out that it was plantar fasciitis. Great! I knew what we were dealing with and I explained to her how Pilates could keep her active while allowing the inflammation to go down and then we could work on strengthening her entire body so that she would not have the issue again, especially important because she stands a lot at her job. “The Foot Corrector would eventually be her best friend,” I thought to myself.

We booked a session, but she cancelled. Then each time I saw her she would spend a half-hour telling me about her many doctors’ appointments and the continued pain. I would explain in detail how Pilates could help her but she never rescheduled that first appointment. Eventually I just listened as she recounted the latest on her foot problems because I believed she simply did not wish to try Pilates. That is fine. Pilates is not for everyone. I get that (although I secretly think they just haven’t tried authentic Pilates).

Then, one day, I figured out why she turned to everything else but Pilates: she saw Pilates as just exercise. I don’t recall our exact conversation but I believe I was telling her about the work I was doing with a client, and she looked at me puzzled and asked “Pilates can do that? I just thought it was about toning the waist.” Ahhh ha! Even though I described Pilates exercises that would be ideal for her ailment, she was not hearing what I said because in her mind Pilates was only exercise. All that she had ever heard about Pilates was the fitness aspect.

Misconceptions such as hers cause a great deal of people to miss out on experiencing Pilates. While the representation of Pilates in the news contributes to it being misunderstood, how teachers present their services and how our clients talk about their experiences play a role as well. I will discuss both of these topics in future articles, for now I simply want to provide a definition of Pilates that will more accurately define what it is. Being a trained historian as well, I think the best definition is found in how Joseph Pilates defined his work: a “corrective system of exercise.” He designed and taught his method to restore each individual’s body to health. He described Contrology as facilitating “the attainment and maintenance of normal health” (Your Health, p. 20). Thus, since each body and the impact daily life has on the body are different, the journey toward health through Pilates is unique for everyone I teach. It is exercise as well as physical therapy. It is an education on alignment. It is stress management. It is cognitive coaching. It is, in my opinion, health insurance of the best kind. So, while Pilates can be many things the common thread is health, and therefore my definition is “Pilates is health movement.”

 

Part vs Whole, Part II

Marie Wittman

In the last post I talked about the importance of training the whole body in the Pilates method and I was not intending to do a series on the notion of part vs whole, but my research this week has brought to mind another element in this idea.

In addition to not dividing up Pilates into exercises isolated to this or that part of the body, there generally is a focus on whole movement patterns rather than partial movement patterns. One example that comes to mind is the comparison between the traditional bicep curl and the Pilates Arm Circles/Curl on the Reformer.

Movement Patterns

Movement patterns are the coordination of mobile and stable parts of our bodies that enable us to move throughout the day efficiently and effectively, and frequently with very little conscious attention on the process. For example, walking involves a significant amount of balance and coordination from heel to head, as we spend more time in the single leg phase of the walking cycle than in the double leg phase. But we rarely think of this when we walk from the house to the car.

Basic movement patterns, such as walking, are so entrenched in our daily lives that we do not think about how much is involved in performing them. If you have ever broken a toe or suffered from lower back pain, you will likely have come to some awareness of this, but most of us forget the realization once the injury has healed or the pain has subsided. Yet, whether we think about it or not, movement patterns are fundamental to our day and keeping them efficient and effective should be a primary objective in any exercise program that is to be beneficial.

Returning to the comparison of bicep exercises: certainly, strengthening this muscle through any exercise can have functional benefit. A person who does 10 reps of bicep curls with heavy weights several times a week will increase the force the bicep will be able to produce, but how often in our daily tasks do we lift an object with our shoulders held still and our elbows stabilized in at our waist? The strength will be there but the movement pattern was partial in training and so it does not fully correlate to our day-to-day function.

Now, let’s consider the Pilates exercise most similar to the traditional bicep curls: Arm Circles/Curls on the Reformer. In actuality, the Arm Circles are not a concentrated exercise for the biceps. The biceps are more working in coordination with the anterior deltoids, coracobrachialis, and pectoralis major. Additionally, well-executed Arm Circles require stabilizing muscles, such as the serratus anterior, trapezius, and rotator cuff muscles (and the Powerhouse). Yet, Arm Circles incorporate a movement that is a lot more similar to those that we carry out in daily activities, such as lifting a child up from the ground or collecting the grocery bag from the trunk. Now, the Curls are more focused on strengthening the biceps. However, the starting arm position is forward and away from the torso, and this requires those shoulder and torso muscles mentioned above to both stabilize and move the arm more than what takes place when bicep curls are performed with the elbows in at the waist.

Daily movements often involve more than just the partial movement that we see in the traditional bicep curl, and training that partial movement pattern, while it does build strength, it does not help refine the whole movement pattern. Why does a refined whole movement pattern matter? It goes back to the point of efficient and effective movement because it will translate to less compensation from other parts of the body, less vulnerability to an injury, and therefore less doctor visits (and doctors’ bills).

As I have said before, the movement we do all day long, every day has a greater impact on our overall health than the several times a week we “work out.” And if our “training” (i.e. whatever exercise we do) simulates the movement patterns common in daily life, the separation between exercise and movement disappears and when it does we are effectively “working out” all day long. There may be hard workout days and restorative workout days, and our favorite exercises can happen whether we are in the studio, at the park, or in line at the market. In any case, if we are performing our exercises in the studio with good technique and reinforcing good, whole movement patterns, these skills will carry over into how we move when we are not thinking about it.

Part vs Whole

Marie Wittman

Looking at the body as a whole rather than a collection of parts is a fundamental aspect in Pilates. Yet, there are Pilates instructors out there who market or promote the idea of “Pilates for abs” or “Pilates for the butt.” This type of promotion is like nails on a chalkboard to me because it totally misses the essence of Pilates. Joseph Pilates took the whole body into consideration and he developed Contrology as “good for the body” not just for particular parts of the body. Even the emphasis we place on the strength, stability, and flexibility of the (broadly speaking) pelvic region, is not just about “core strength” because the integrity of the Powerhouse is connected to the structural soundness of the whole body.

Joe doing Balance Control 3 (or Star) on the Reformer

Joe doing Balance Control 3 (or Star) on the Reformer

“Pilates for ____” also misses the mark because it does not reflect Joe’s reasoning on why one would even need to do his method in the first place. He defined his exercises as “conceived and tested […] with the idea of properly and scientifically exercising every muscle in your body in order to improve the circulation of the blood so that the bloodstream can and will carry more and better blood to feed every fibre and tissue of your body.”[1] As we can see, he was thinking of the dynamic interactions between muscle activation and the functionality of tissues (a point that I see only a handful of medical and scientific professionals making today). As many of you will already be aware of, Joe also believed strongly that there is a relationship between physical movement and mental health. He wrote: “Moreover, such a body freed from nervous tension and over-fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind that is always fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.”[2] And he was conscious of neuromuscular improvement:  “By reawakening thousands and thousands of otherwise ordinarily dormant muscle cells, Contrology correspondingly reawakens thousands and thousands of dormant brain cells” (which is why Pilates is so excellent for managing neurological health issues.[3] He also looked at the bigger picture of health and talked about good nutrition and getting plenty of rest. He also understood that injuries were not localized at the site of pain and he looked at the whole body to uncover the root problem instead of simply addressing the symptom.

Clearly Joe conceived of his system as much more than toning a certain muscle group. Personally, and I have an inkling many of you will agree with me, I think Joe’s vision of health was way ahead of his time (and we know that he thought this himself). In fact, I see a lot of information emerging from current research that is in line with what Joe said. And I would argue that in many ways the research community is indebted to Joe’s work. Was he spot on about everything? No. I believe that there are some elements in his work that we now know to be imprecise. In my constant search to provide clients with the best movements for their bodies I have really challenged my understanding of the Pilates method and held it up against the latest research and what other health professionals are saying. To be very honest, it has not been easy for me to question some of the fundamentals of what I have believed and taught for more than a decade. Lately, I have had some amazing discussions with colleagues, and I will share any insights we have as we work them out. Regardless of our developing understandings of the body, what will not change is the Pilates approach of looking at the whole body and thinking of how movement (or exercise as we call it) benefits every body, every body part, from the superficial muscle groups to the cells throughout all our tissues. So in a call to arms, so to speak, please join me in talking about Pilates as it really is: good for the body in so many diverse ways. Let’s give the man more credit than Pilates is for abs because his work is truly brilliant!

Post script:

Sean Gallagher commented on this post in Facebook and I thought it worth while to share the point he raised. He drew attention to a very excellent point that was indeed missing from this post, but not from my opinion nor my more academic writings on the subject. In striving to put a lot of what is being touted today within historical context, I did not signal the context in Joe’s time. I did not intend to suggest that all that Joe wrote about the body were original ideas. All knowledge rests upon the past, and Joe’s comprehensive system is a blend of synthesis and unique perspective just as much as the next person’s.

[1] Joseph H. Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology ([n.p.]: J.J. Augustin, 1945), p. 14.

[2] Pilates, Return to Life, p. 23.

[3] Pilates, Return to Life, p. 10.

 

Does physics have any bearing on fertility?

Marie Wittman

It has been several months since I have had the time to write a post. While I have had many things I wanted to share with you, I just did not have the opportunity. Throughout the summer, autumn, and now winter I have been feverishly reading up on subjects such as mechanobiology, inactivity physiology, and the reproductive system. This was partially because I immersed myself in two new certification programs and partially because I have become fascinated in the subjects. The topics may appear unrelated in many ways, at least they were in my mind to begin with, yet, at some time during the countless hours of research and studying I started to see connections between them.

A Change of Focus

In 2015, I will shift my focus to elucidate these connections, but before I start a foray into months of posts on fertility and reproductive health, I would like to give you a little background into why I am writing on such a topic. Heretofore (I just love this word), I have strived to address a wide audience of Pilates teachers as well as those interested in Pilates and its health benefits. This is about to change to some extent. After a few months of consideration, I have decided to specialize in an area that, as I have come to discover, has received little attention.

I will continue to work with a diverse clientele and I will certainly share any information that I research and feel is relevant to you all, but I will be talking a lot more about fertility and reproductive health, primarily female but male as well.

A Little History

Okay, so here is the brief back-story. It all began earlier this year when I started reading up on the Justisse Method. This is a method of charting the female cycle that provides: 1) a hormone-free, natural birth control method or 2) a method to improving the chances of conception through awareness of the fertile period in a woman's cycle. Once I learned about this method I was pretty disappointed in my personal medical practitioners: my general practitioner, ob/gyn, and genetic specialist. Not once did any of them even allude to any such possible alternative that happens to be safer for me than the options they presented when my genetic disposition to blood clots was discovered. In a broader respect, I was dismayed that charting our cycles is not discussed more as an additional way to be better attuned to our health. There is a lot we women can learn about our health through charting. It was actually the insights into my own health that sparked these last months of research on women’s reproductive health.

After reviewing my charts with a Fertility Awareness educator, I was made aware of some possible health imbalances. This information really surprised me because there were no other signs even hinting at underlying health issues. When looking into these concerns all my research turned up the same handful of suggestions: eat a healthy diet (and there are countless different versions on what that exactly entails), try acupuncture, manage one’s weight, and avoid excessive exercising but do exercise to some extent. Of course, the last one caught my attention.

Cue Hours in Libraries, on My Computer, & Talking to Experts

So, I set out to learn more. A hefty collection of books and journal articles has cluttered my computer, studio, and home. I have become aware of so much and I have been amazed at some of the wonderful alternative and complementary approaches to the more visible medical interventions, like IVF and medications. However, detailed information on exercise and fertility is shockingly meager.

The most popular exercise recommendation is: “exercise 3 times per week for 45 minutes at a time.” However, this is vague and may be ineffective depending on a person’s level of daily activity. On the other end of the spectrum, scientific research has dedicated some time (still meager in comparison to other health matters) and resources to studying the extreme exercise habits of athletes. But in all this research, I did not find anyone talking about the impact that inactivity may have on reproductive physiology. Granted, the research into this field is still relatively new and is for the most part just beginning to be applied to optimizing health in general by physical culturalists (to borrow a word from Joseph Pilates). Nevertheless, the new paradigm of inactivity physiology can expand our understanding of how modern lifestyles (with its paucity of whole-body movement even among those who engage in regular bouts of intense exercise) factor in the dysfunction of the reproductive system.

Fertility & Physics

Layering physics into this picture opens the door to natural and non-invasive approaches to tackling fertility challenges that have mechanical causes. There are mild and proactive approaches and there are techniques that are a bit more accelerated (for those women facing infertility now). So, to circle back to my opening, yes, physics does have a bearing on fertility. In the months to come I will flesh out this and the other topics I have touched upon and hinted at here. The goal of this post was simply to introduce the subject and share a little bit on how my personal journey has developed into my specialization in women’s reproductive health.

My hope for this work is that by sharing just how significant alignment is to the health of all our systems and specifically our reproductive system, we will see a decrease in idiopathic and mechanically infertility. I also hope to join with the many educators I have met these last few months who are teaching women about the many natural approaches we have to supporting a healthy, full-functioning body. Lastly, I hope to learn more from all of you. Because the more I research, the more I realize just how much there is to know and I cannot possible cover it all. So, I welcome your comments, questions, and valuable insights. 

Ultimately, there are many paths toward optimal health (which is vital for reproductive health) and we will not all benefit from walking down the same avenue. I will share with you everything that I have learned (and will learn) in hopes that it might expand the conversation beyond the talking points that have dominated thus far.

 

The greater our breadth of knowledge, the more informed we will become—which leads to a thorough consideration of all aspects when we make decisions that will change our lives.