Monthly Archives: March 2016

Calm.Steady.Strong: Increasing Effort with Ease

By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology

CSS website1Breathing is such an incredible part to healing and it is a vital part of developing core stability. Surgery, as it relates to tissue that attaches to the rib cage – whether it has to do with lymph nodes, breast or lung tissue, or any incision around the rib cage or belly will impact how the myofascia around the rib cage functions and affects breathing. Likewise, surgery around the pelvis, including prostate, uterus, bladder, colon or tumors wrapped around arteries or veins, can impact the function of the pelvic floor.

The good news is that core stability can be improved, and tissue can change, especially if you don’t force it. And, if you breathe easily while you are being active and move with as little compensation as you can, change can occur quickly, and steadily.

A key feature is your breathing. Many people will hold their breath when they move, and this simple act of breath-holding will impact your core. And if you don’t know what constitutes core work, don’t worry. If you breathe well when you move you are on the right track. But, if you hold your breath while you are moving, you won’t be improving your core. Instead, you will be enhance your ability to brace and be rigid. Honestly, that doesn’t bode well for recovery and healing.

This is a double lesson about improving stability and strength, while also building effortless effort and ease.



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Mechanics of Chair Pose

Calm.Steady.Strong: Rest, Breathe and Stand

8By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology

There are 4 key factors that I find support someone who is recovering from cancer and moving into better movement, better function and less pain:

  • Rest
  • Breathe
  • Good Movement with as Little Compensation as Possible
  • Getting on Your Feet

This list is bulleted because these 4 factors don’t follow a specific order. The aim is to work where you can be aware. When you are aware, there is less of a chance that you will force, and you will more easily sense the in and out of your breath (and any breath holding). You’ll also have a greater feel of how you are moving and if you are compensating which will make being on your feet less tiring and more fulfilling.

Your Exercise: Playing with Standing and Balance

We’ve worked the first 3 bullet points so far. Now it is time to come to your feet while also keeping in mind what you have already learned. I’ve also added a short bit about over-efforting and the impact of over-efforting on lymphedema.

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Until next week,


Ack! Not The Core Conversation Again

By Susi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology

Setting the Scene ~ April 2015: Toronto Yoga Conference.Chatturanga muscle copy

So there I was, sitting on the stage of the 2015 Toronto Yoga Conference, somewhat in awe that people had even showed up. (I was laughing a little then and am laughing now as I write that). And then I said something I probably shouldn’t have, and yet was compelled to. “I am surprised you are all here”. The room laughed. The ice was broken.

I probably shouldn’t admit the following, but given what I have already written, I might as well continue with this honest tact. To be 100% truthful, I didn’t really want to be in that room, or leading that workshop in the first place. I had agreed only because Ruth, the organizer of the Yoga Conference, had been unrelenting. She had been a dog with a bone . . . . and she got her bone. (Ha!)

Why was I so resistant? And what was the workshop I was so adamant against teaching? Well, Ruth had asked me to lead a workshop on Core Stability. Ugg! Until that point in Toronto last year, Core Stability was one of my least favourite topics to teach in a workshop setting – particularly for people who don’t really know who I am, or the philosophy from which my teaching arises. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon in previous “2 hour conference type ‘core’ workshops”, for people to walk out because I was not working them hard enough, or giving them a “burn.” If only they stayed another 30 minutes …

I recall a time at the Vancouver Yoga Conference, when another trainer, on short notice wasn’t able to teach because of back pain. Quite ironic if you think about it since one of his workshops was on the core. The organizers funnelled all of those participants into my session. Well, at that time I was definitely quieter and gentler in my approach than this other trainer, and many of those who showed up, quite frankly, weren’t all that impressed. Oh boy, was that a learning experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I am quite okay with people not agreeing with my approach. It happens. For me, though, it isn’t a popularity contest for how many people agree with me. What I do know, is that what I do works for my clientele and for the clientele of the teachers I train. Here is the big “AND”. I want to share what I absolutely love and in a way that I can be of most service. I didn’t see how teaching another Core Stability workshop at the Toronto Yoga Conference was going to fulfill that desire. To me, that was a big fat UGG!

Like I said, Ruth was unrelenting.

So I made a deal with her. Yes, I would teach the workshop on one condition – that we quite bluntly state the workshop has nothing to do with the following cues – navel to spine, lifting the pelvic floor, tucking the tailbone or “willfully engaging” anything. If people want to get out of pain they have to stop gripping so darn hard, and stop holding their breath. They need to get out of the notion that core stability is something “to do” and instead explore it another way – it is a concept that when integrated well, provides the environment for less pain, better function, greater agility and way more versatility in movement. It enables strength, ease and speed; it enables a person to move from fast to slow and slow to fast, turn direction . . . all in all, it enables a smoothness and a coordination that grows your capability and capacity by leaps and bounds.

Well, it seemed to work. That workshop ended up being . . . how do I say it . . . quite fun. Ruth and I had a good laugh about it when talking about what was on the docket for this year’s conference. I reminded her about how unrelenting she was (she had an awesome belly laugh at that memory), and in the end, I am glad she was, because, in that room that afternoon, we had a lot of fun busting up a bunch of core stability myths, and really getting to the essence of what core stability was all about and how to make it really work for the participants on all sorts of levels.

So, I am going to give it another go this year. If this blog post has inspired some curiosity in you, if you are considering coming to the Toronto Yoga Conference, and if you are interested in learning from me, ask yourself the following:

  • Do you sometimes wonder why people work so hard at something that isn’t paying the dividends?
  • Do you have pain and yet think your core is strong? Are you open to considering another view?
  • Would you like to connect with your core in a new way that has little to do with pulling the navel to the spine, tucking the tailbone, or pulling up on the pelvic floor?
  • Would you like to feel taller, lighter, more easeful, younger, and just altogether better?
  • Would you like to work less hard and make way far more gains?
  • Are you done with being tight, sore and achey; rigid, grippy and tense?

I can’t promise that you won’t walk out. If you do come and stick it out, you will learn how to work in a way that creates a heck of a lot more ease, strength and power.

I really look forward to meeting you at the conference, perhaps in a room full of skeptics. Give it a try, and see what you think about gaining ease, relieving pain and having a heck of a functional core.



ps. A treat to send you on your way: This cartoon was inspired by one of my grads (Dawn Ross) and a conversation she had with a client. Shortly after this conversation he stopped working so hard, and his back pain went away – very, very quickly.


The Psoas: The Queen of Compensation

psoasSusi Hately, B.Sc. Kinesiology, C-IAYT

Compensatory patterns are one of my favourite topics to talk about, write about and film. When we reduce compensation, and learn to move more purely, we have better biomechanical integrity, the forces move better through our bodies, and we “transfer load” more efficiently. Ultimately, pain reduces, fatigue lessens and we feel lighter, taller and much more at ease.

To highlight how this concept works, let’s explore one of the Royalties of Compensation – the Psoas muscle, which I affectionately call, The Queen of Compensation.

The Psoas is a deep, strong muscle that cuddles into the lower half of the spine. Specifically, it begins at the 12th thoracic vertebrae, snuggles along each of the 5 lumbar vertebrae and attaches onto the femur at the lesser trochanter. Depending on the source, some consider it to be a primary hip flexor, others describe it as a spinal stabilizer.

Many people often complain that their Psoas feels tight, and feel the need to “stretch it out”. These same people then become frustrated because, while they take time to stretch the “begeezers” out of it, the stretching doesn’t seem to make any difference.

So What Is Up?

To give the Psoas the opportunity to work at its most functional length it needs to have the cooperation of a balanced weight-bearing pelvis. (It also needs a supple rib cage, a well moving skull to spine relationship, and fluid breathing. I will address those relationships in an upcoming blog post). As the pelvis becomes more balanced, the Psoas will be able to provide stability, strength, grounding and centering. Without a balanced weight-bearing pelvis, “stretching” the Psoas will merely be a lesson in frustration.

What is a Balanced Weight-Bearing Pelvis?

A balanced weight-bearing pelvis refers to the state that allows for our upper body to transfer weight or “load” adequately to our lower body. If the weight transfer of the upper body – via head, neck, rib cage and spine – through the hip sockets, legs, knees and feet is inadequate, the Psoas sometimes steps up to provide extra assistance, in an attempt to make up for the imbalance. Unfortunately this is quite inefficient and doesn’t provide much in the way of support or stability. Over time, this inefficiency can lead to problems in the hip joint, misalignment of spinal vertebrae, SI issues, and generally speaking – poor stability and strength.

Balanced Pelvis: A Snapshot

There are several muscles that contribute to a balanced pelvis. They include the hip abductors, hip adductors, hip rotators and pelvic floor.  We can also include some of the abdominal muscles as well as the latissmus dorsi, gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstrings. How each and/or all of these function will impact how the pelvis “sits” in relationship to the rib cage, spine, skull and limbs. So what to do? How do we address this long list of muscles? Where do we start?

Calming the Compensation and Improving Pure Movement

One of the key concepts I have honed over the years of helping people reduce compensatory patterns and move better, is to recognize that rarely is the issue the actual issue. In this case, my students will tell me that their Psoas is tight, or “behaving badly”. That they have tried multiple things to release it and still it isn’t improving or “doing what it is supposed to do”.  This tells me the Psoas, if I can continue to humanize it, is behaving the way it is in response to other forces at play, or in response to what other parts of the body aren’t doing.  So my first step is to simply see how the body parts it attaches to are moving. In this case the legs and the spine. Here is a practical example of what I might do with a yoga practitioner.

tree level 5Step 1: In standing. I look at how the person is standing and their overall posture. Are their ears over their shoulders, over their hips, over their knees, over their ankles? Is there a twist, a lift, a side shift of one body part relative to another?

Step 2: Bring the right foot into Tree Pose. I am look to see if the right femur is moving purely in the hip socket, if the foot or knee is driving the movement or if the hip joint (femur in hip socket) is actually driving the movement. Does the pelvis move (rotate or tilt), does the spine shift, or does the rib cage move as the right foot makes its way to the left standing leg? How about the skull or the quality of breath? In summary, did their standing posture from step 1 change with the movement into Tree Pose?

Step 3: Repeat to the other side.

This simple movement will highlight where other compensations are showing up. I then will ask my student to move only in the range that those compensations don’t occur. Usually the range becomes much smaller, which can initially bring about the feeling of “you have got to be kidding me“. With a few repetitions, the student begins to feel much more ease, lightness, and a lot more “true stability”. Their other muscles begin to work better because the skeletal segments they are attached to are moving better.

If this seems like an overly simple and straightforward approach to supporting the Psoas to not be in the role of the “Queen of Compensation” it sometimes finds itself in, it’s because it is. Move this way when you are practicing on your mat, and you will see some very cool and perhaps mind blowing changes in how your Psoas feels, not to mention the rest of your body.

And if you aren’t a yoga practitioner? That is okay, I can work with you to support whatever activity you are finding yourself struggling with. The principles are the same.

Enjoy your exploration,


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