When exercising, I’m often guilty of not stretching properly. Whether it’s going out for a run or playing fives with my mates, I usually neglect to put myself through a proper warm-up and put myself at risk of picking up an injury.
Luckily, I’m still quite young and seem to be getting away with it just now but after catching up with expert Agathe Girard and chatting about body conditioning, I think I’ll be making an effort to prepare my body for exercise and build my core and other forgotten muscles. After seeing how much pain my dad’s bad back can give him, I’d rather avoid anything like that happening to me!
Agathe is a trained dancer who studied at the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance. After years of putting herself through many different and challenging routines, she started to pass on her knowledge of the body to others who were suffering from aches and pains or were recovering from injuries.
“I had problems with my back and my knees when I was a teenager,” Agathe told me, “and I was basically told to give up dancing because of it.” It’s all about understanding your own body and finding out where your weaknesses are and working on them.
“I didn’t actually enrol in the School of Contemporary Dance until I was thirty so it just goes to show you it’s never too late. I learned to train my body and condition myself so that I could carry on training. It’s all about understanding your own body and finding out where your weaknesses are and working on them.”
Agathe now teaches her class – Stretch and Strengthen – at the Althos Clinic and conducts both one-to-one and group sessions with people from a variety of different backgrounds. Some of the people who come to see her are advanced and are just looking for Agathe’s help when it comes to deep stretching, while some are complete novices who have never attended anything like her classes in the past.
Her own personal experiences have given her expert knowledge on just how to work different muscles in your body that are often neglected but can cause painful injuries in your back, hips, shoulders and more. Having worked with a chiropractor for five years in Edinburgh as well, it’s safe to say she knows what she’s talking about.
So, what’s involved in the Stretch and Strengthen sessions? A mixture of core exercises and deep stretching are the ingredients Agathe believes will ensure you keep your body in top condition.
“I’ve always thought it to be important that we acknowledge the imbalances that we have and that we work on them. Everybody tends to have a side of their body that’s more dominant than the other. We’re not symmetrical – inside or out – so it’s absolutely normal to find things easier on one side in particular.
“What we can do though is address the weaker side and work as much as possible on making that side as strong as possible in comparison to the more dominant side. That can make a big difference when it comes to things like back pain or hip problems.
“I always start the sessions by working on your stance and warming up the neck and shoulders. Then I’ll focus on warming up the spine and do some light exercises to waken up the core muscles.
“That’s pretty much standard for the beginning of every session, then I’ll switch the focus more onto the core and do some exercises such as planks and lunges. A lot of people don’t actually know how to engage their core so this is a very important thing to learn.
“Then the rest is all about deep stretching. One thing that I do quite differently to other instructors is I make people hold the stretches for a long time. The minimum amount of time would be forty seconds but usually it’s upwards of one minute or ninety seconds. It can be quite difficult but it makes a big difference.
“It’s important to focus on breathing as well because that keeps your mind off the fact that you’ve been stretching for so long and it’s feeling a little bit sore!” If anyone wants to know more and talk it over with me then I’d be delighted too!
Wondering if this sounds like something for you? Well Agathe is always happy to meet with someone to discuss their circumstances and determine whether Stretch and Strengthen is suited to them.
“I’m always open to meeting with someone or having a chat over the phone about their reasons for considering doing the sessions and whether or not it’s going to be worthwhile. Although it’s just a four week block, it’s still a considerable time and money commitment so if anyone wants to know more and talk it over with me then I’d be delighted too!”
Agathe’s classes at the Althos Clinic run on Tuesdays and she offers both one-to-one and group sessions. Group sessions are kept to a small size of four to five people at a time. Agathe also has her own studio in Aberfeldy where she does sessions by appointment only during the week.
The Althos Clinic is situated on Kinnoull Causeway, close to the city centre and the holistic health centre offers a range of different services including massage therapy and podiatry. You can find out more information on their website.
The clinic offer different sessions and classes to suit different needs and requirements, and last weekend we sent Colin down to try one of their ‘Trauma Release Exercise’ classes.
It started with an innocently enough with a remark to my colleagues: “I think I need to get fit”. So, after having decided to make a clean break of it on Friday with a healthier diet I got up early on Saturday morning and had a brunch of berries and porridge and walked round to the Althos Clinic to take part in the Tension Release workshop.
I was greeted at the door by the lovely Carole Reid, podiatrist at the Althos Clinic, who led me through to meet the other participants and our instructor Pam. Over the next two hours, Pam would be introducing us to the technique and demonstrating how we can utilise it in our own homes. We started by sitting cross-legged on our exercise mats while Pam filled us in on all of the history.
Then it was time to try some tension release for ourselves! We started by performing a number of exercises designed to prepare the body to release its tension. These ranged from leaning forward with your hips apart to perching against the wall as if you were sitting on an imaginary seat. I walked home feeling nice and relaxed, and an alcoholic beverage hadn’t even passed my lips! We were taught to perform these exercises until we were close to fatigue, and by the final exercise myself and another gentleman's legs had started to twitch of their own accord.
To induce the tension release fully we then lay on our backs in a position similar to the upward frog yoga pose and gradually brought our legs together until a gentle shaking began in the thighs, pelvis and hips. It was a little bit like finding the biting point on a cars clutch and everyone was amazed at how easy it was to do. We then tried it again unaided and I found that I could start myself shaking as easily as starting the motor on a petrol lawnmower!
I have suffered from chronic pain for over twenty years and I found some relief from the tension that builds up in my body by employing this technique. After the class was over, I walked home feeling nice and relaxed, and an alcoholic beverage hadn’t even passed my lips!
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