joyous movement jennifer dene

Joyous Movement & My Surprise Athleticism

Athleticism has never been in my blood. If you throw a ball at me I’ll close my eyes and my running style has been likened to some form of interpretive dance. 

So you can imagine my surprise when, in 2008, I was asked to start teaching fitness classes at some of Sydney’s top gyms and health clubs.

(Me! The girl who spent school lunches hanging out in the library!)

At the time I was studying journalism at the University Of Technology, Sydney, and had joined a gym in Bondi Junction.

Even though I enjoyed taking classes I never imagined that I could be the one on stage. Yet there I was, mic’d up and ready to roll. I guess the fitness gods finally decided to cut me some slack.

My first gig was teaching a program called BodyBalance™. Visualize a dimly lit studio, a pre-choreographed flow of tai-chi, yoga and pilates, and a playlist that rotated between Seal, Sting and Sade. Oh how I loved it!

Teaching BodyBalance™ was the first time I realized that I was actually quite good at this whole physical activity thing  (as long as you didn’t throw a ball at me or ask me to run).

In fact, by the time I left for America, I had gathered quite a following in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and Lower North Shore, with my classes regularly holding 90-100 people.

I’m telling you this because yesterday, seven years hence, I decided to put on one of my old BodyBalance™ workout DVDs. It was going to be great!

Right?!

15 minutes in and I was giggling so hard that I had to I hit the pause button.  As it turns out, BodyBalance™ was extremely easy (and I may not have been the total badass trainer that I thought I was)!

One quarter-way into the workout and all we had done was some deep breathing, a basic yoga salutation and the modified Pilates Hundred.

The L.A fitness crowd would have died of boredom.

Personally, I kind of loved it.

Breathe. Move. Flow. Be gentle to your joints and kind to yourself. That’s the kind of fitness that I can get behind.

Its simplicity allowed the hour to be spent in a state of movement meditation and, as previously crowed, it made me feel like I was good at something physical, which counts for a lot.

I wanted to share that story to remind you of one of my healthy living truths: you should exercise to feel good, not to prove a point.

A lot of women I know think that exercise has to be grueling to be effective. This is absolutely not the case. Your motivation to exercise comes from doing something that makes you feel great, in body, mind and spirit.

Exercise shouldn’t feel like just another chore, and daily joyous movement can become something that you crave.

Plus willpower is finite, which means that you need to find a form of fitness that inspires you to do it on a regular basis.

With that in mind, I give you permission to do the following:

  • Stop any form of exercise that doesn’t make you feel good
  • Ignore the latest fitness advice from glossy magazines
  • Don’t worry about how your expression of movement ranks on the hot-right-now scale
  • Find your own interpretation of athleticism
  • Exercise to feel good, not to prove a point

Let me know how it goes.

With love,

reduce low back pain jennifer dene wellness

Pilates To Reduce Low Back Pain

This 10 minute Pilates workout video will help you reduce low back pain by stretching, strengthening and stabilizing the muscles that support the spine. 

Is back pain putting a real cramp in your style? If so, you’re not alone. Studies show that women are more likely to experience back pain — as well as other forms of chronic pain — than men.

(As if dealing with periods, child-birth and menopause weren’t enough, now we get to bear the brunt of chronic pain. Those men seem to get off so dang easy!)

To be fair, it’s not really the men’s fault. Things like differences in pelvic structure, hormonal changes and the physical impact of pregnancy are all contributing factors.

But just because you’re more likely to experience back pain, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Whether you’re looking to prevent low back pain or reduce its intensity, a gentle Pilates routine that focuses on strengthening and stretching the muscles that support the spine will go a long way in helping.

So grab your exercise mat and press play on today’s home workout video.

Pilates To Reduce Low Back Pain

 

 

P.S. Did you know that back pain can be caused from having overly tight hips? Try these stretches and feel the difference!

Yoga For Anxiety

8 Minute Yoga Flow To Reduce Anxiety

Feeling anxious, tired, stiff or a little tightly spun? Today’s gentle yoga for anxiety workout is for you. In this 8 minute video I’ll walk you through five gentle stress-busting yoga poses that you can do every day to stretch your muscles and switch off your mind.

It’s very cool to be good at yoga these days but unfortunately — not really! — I’m neither particularly cool or good at yoga. I don’t like the heated studios that have taken over the yoga community, and I also have a really hard time slowing down my busy brain and staying in the zone. So I don’t go all that often.

(Excuses, excuses!)

Saying that, there are a few yoga poses that I absolutely love, and the five that I’m showing you in today’s video are at the top of that list. These moves are the reason that I’ll try to hit the mat once every week or two, and they’re what I call on at home to soothe both body and brain.

As I’m not a yoga teacher, or a particularly loyal student, I’m teaching this series in my own novice way (pros: consider yourself warned). This sequence is designed to help you reduce anxiety and calm your central nervous system, which means we will be moving slowly.

Being able to slow down and enjoy the movement experience is much more important than the poses themselves. Don’t worry about getting from A-to-B with any great haste and remember that you’re here to learn how to use the body to unwind the mind.

Here are the poses that you’ll be doing:

Tree Pose

Here’s why you’ll like it: As a balancing pose, Tree will make you feel more grounded. With one foot firmly rooted into the floor you know that you are safe and stable in your own life, while the lightness and length of the spine helps elevate your energy (and reminds you that there’s always room to grow).

Here’s what you need to know: Keep the lifted foot AWAY from the knee-cap; be true to your body and keep your joints safe!

Seated Spinal Twist

Here’s why you’ll like it: This pose is energizing for the spine, a great stretch in the shoulders, hips and neck, and stimulating for the digestive system. I know when I feel anxious that my gut gets all knotted up, so I use this pose to gently wring out that tension.

Here’s what you need to know: If you struggle to sit upright try sitting on a folded blanket to decompress your low back. Got back or neck issues? Move gently or avoid this posture.

(Modified) Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose

Here’s why you’ll like it: Reversing circulation in the legs relieves fatigue in the lower limbs. Some also say that changing the direction of blood flow gives you a new perspective on life… check it out for yourself and see what you think.

Here’s what you need to know: This pose is an inversion, which means you need to avoid it if you have serious eye problems, such as glaucoma, or neck/back problems. You can also let your legs rest against the wall if that’s more comfortable for you.

Pigeon Pose

Here’s why you’ll like it: Many people don’t like Pigeon pose because it can feel pretty intense, but those knots in your hips may represent blockages in your life — hips don’t lie, as Shakira so enthusiastically reminds us! At a minimum that tightness is a result of your sedentary lifestyle and adding movement and breath will bring a lot of relief.

Here’s what you need to know: For knee issues you will want to take the modification OR try these hip stretches, including a seated-chair-pigeon pose (much more gentle on the knees and back).

Sivasana

Here’s why you’ll like it: This pose requires nothing of you, which is not something that you can say about many activities in your day-to-day life. Lay back, relax and let gravity do its job.

Here’s what you need to know: If you feel tension in the low back you can roll a small blanket and place it under the knees. Once settled, focus on your breath, imagine that your body is melting through the floor and let thoughts come and go without blocking them or engaging with them.

Yoga For Anxiety: 5 Poses To Unwind Body & Mind

 

Now I’d Love To Hear From You

What daily practices do you use to help reduce anxiety? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

With love,

Pilates resistance band workout

18 Minute Pilates Resistance Band Workout | Intermediate Level

Today’s Pilates resistance band workout will  strengthen your muscles, improve your posture, and increase your flexibility. All you need is a resistance band (a.k.a exercise band or Theraband) and your workout mat.

Pilates emphasizes core strength, postural alignment, mobility and breath, making it a really important component of your overall workout routine.

But to fully reap these benefits, your flow should be focused around the six Pilates principles: breathing, concentration & control, centering, balanced muscle development, flow, and relaxation.

Before we unroll our mats for today’s video, let’s take a quick peek at each of these principles.

Breathing

In the words of my old mate Joe Pilates: “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.” Breathing calms our wandering mind and allows us to focus on our physical body. In Pilates we INHALE through the nose and EXHALE through the mouth; a strong exhale activates the deep abdominal muscles. If you get confused with the breathing just remember to exhale on the most challenging phase of each movement.

Concentration & Control

Intentional movement focuses on form and alignment, rather than speed and repetition — it is better to do five perfect reps of an exercise, than 20 without paying attention. I encourage you to listen to your body, maintain your alignment, and modify any exercises that feel too challenging.

Centering

The core is the center of the body and acts as both your anchor and your compass. In Pilates we initiate the core before every movement, even for something as simple as lifting an arm or a leg. To activate your abdominals, exhale through your mouth while drawing the belly button towards your spine. If you notice your belly push out during an exercise, stop what you’re doing and reconnect your abs.

Balanced Muscle Development

Our body is designed to move in multiple directions, and we can use our Pilates workout to honor that. In today’s video we are tapping into EVERYTHING: front and back, side to side, bend and flex, and stretch and strengthen… it’s going to feel great!

Flow

Rhythm and flow is my favorite aspect of Pilates. It feels so natural for my body to move in a way that is fluid and functional, while also creating a calm sense of balance for body, mind and spirit. At first you may feel a little clunky trying today’s routine, but after repeating it once you will be able to flow with ease.

Relaxation

Remember, Jennifer Dene Wellness is about feeling fit, feminine and fabulous in the simplest way possible. Don’t make exercise harder than it has to be, and don’t believe the hype that workouts need to be exhausting to be effective. Use as much effort as you need to in order to perform each exercise correctly, but then no more. Relax your shoulders, relax your jaw, and at the end of the session take a few moments to simply lie on your mat and enjoy the stillness.

Choosing The Right Resistance Band

In the video I chat about choosing a the right resistance band for Pilates workouts. The bands that you can buy in a set of three, with three different weight tensions, tend to be too heavy and short for Pilates. Instead, I buy a long roll of Theraband and cut it into three generous lengths; blue is a nice weight for intermediate fitness levels. (Purchase your exercise band here.)

Now let’s do it to it!

Pilates Resistance Band Workout

This is an intermediate Pilates mat workout. If you are a beginner, move more slowly and take the most basic option in each exercise. I wanted to get as much done in 18 minutes as possible so I’m moving at quite a clip, you can always pause the video if you need a little more time. I recommend repeating today’s workout three times this week.

 

Now I’d Love To Hear From You

Did you enjoy today’s Pilates workout? I hope so! Which of the six Pilates principles do you find most challenging, and which comes most naturally to you? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

With love,

JDW Signature

Upper Back Stretches Jennifer Dene Wellness

4 Feel-Good Stretches For A Tight Upper Back

In today’s workout I’m sharing four upper back stretches that will make your spine feel divine. All you need is an exercise mat, so come on in and join the fun!

Remember a few weeks ago when I shared three stretches for tight hips? In that post I talked about how our sedentary lifestyle is really doing a number on our muscles and joints. Sitting is the new smoking and it’s wreaking havoc on our bodies.

Another side effect of our habitual postures is tightness in the upper back, neck and shoulders. Here’s why:

Most of our day-to-day tasks keep our arms in front of our torso (hello computer work, texting, driving, ironing, and cooking). This contracts the muscles at the front of the body and weakens the muscles of the back, which are constantly being lengthened.

Yep, lengthened. Your “tight back” might not be a symptom of muscle contraction, but actually of muscle strain.

Rounding the shoulders or low back when sitting or standing (and constantly reaching forward) over-stretches the spinal extensors and weakens the shoulder stabilizers. Rather than being a good thing, this “flexibility” is a sign that your spine isn’t properly supported and your own weight is dragging your body out of alignment.

What happens then?

Our fascia — the connective tissue that wraps around the muscles, bones and organs  — gets stiff and inflexible from being stuck in the same position all day. Imagine the fascia as a cobweb that has wrapped around your muscles. Cobwebs that get ignored get more and more dense; fascia that gets ignored also gets more dense (or knotted) creating tension and reducing mobility.

So what can we do about it?

I’m so glad you asked! We need to take a three-pronged approach to tackling these aches and pains:

  1. Strengthen the spine. A tight back is different from a strong back. Do these three upper body exercises (and pay particular attention to move #1 “Cactus Glides”) 
  2. Strengthen the core. This is going to support your spine from your abdominals, and help you to improve your posture throughout the day. Here is a 10 minute crunch-free core workout. 
  3. Stretch the upper back through a variety of movements. Mobilizing the thoracic spine (upper back) through flexion, extension and rotation will help to take your fascia from sticky to supple. Try adding the four exercises in the video below to your daily routine.

Download Your Stretch Series

I’ve created a nifty one-page PDF for you to download, which includes instructions and photos of the four stretches from today’s video. That way you can keep it on your computer to remind yourself to stretch your spine throughout the day! Click here to download your free PDF.

Now I’d Love To Hear From You

Once you’ve had a chance to do these stretches I’d love to know how they felt in your body. Let me know by leaving a comment below.

With love,

JDW Signature

Release Tight Hips

Got tight hips? Try these stretches.

Thanks for joining me for another JDW blog post! I’m really enjoying sharing this new content with you each week, and I hope that you’re finding it fun and useful. (If so, perhaps you can leave a comment below!)

In today’s post I’m sharing three exercises that you can do at home to release tight hips. These exercises will improve mobility in the hip joint, reduce aches and pains, and allow you to move more freely.

These days it seems that everyone has a problem with their pelvis. Whether it’s weakness, strain, feeling tight, or being out of alignment, having a dud hip can put a real damper on how you feel physically.

Of course this is exacerbated by our daily habits; sitting for too long — guilty as charged — and not taking the time to stretch each day only makes things worse.

Here are some other factors that might be putting the grip in your hip:

  • Weak core strength
  • Weak legs
  • Imbalanced muscular development
  • Past injury
  • Overuse of the hip joint
  • Incorrect seated posture

A Quick Anatomy Lesson

Don’t worry,  this won’t take long and I’ve made it super simple 🙂

The hip joint has two main functions: it provides mobility for the lower body and stability for the pelvis. It’s also a major weight-bearing joint.

As you take steps to improve the health of your hips I want you to keep four things in mind:

  1. Having “tight” hips (particularly at the side of the hip) is not always a bad thing; if they are too loosey-goosey then your pelvis isn’t supported, which puts pressure on the low back and the knees during movement.
  2. Yet the hip joint should also have a wide-range of motion, to allow the legs to move freely. Over time, repetitive movements in the same range, and planes, of motion will decrease hip mobility.
  3. Having tight hip flexors (those muscles at the front, either side of the groin) doesn’t mean you have strong hip flexors. Sitting keeps the psoas muscle in a state of constant, and passive, contraction, making it tight but also weak.
  4.  Ultimately we’re looking to strike a balance between pelvic stability and mobility. You can improve the stability of your hip with exercises that target the gluteus medius (aka the side of your bum), and increase mobility with targeted stretching, regular movement — try to stand as much as you sit — and being mindful of your posture throughout the day.

Moves two and three in this Killer Leg Workout will strengthen the gluteus medius.

Bonus Tip

Tight hips are not only the result of physical neglect, your emotions play a part in the health of your hips as well.

When you have a stressful experience your body tends to react with a muscular contraction, either tensing muscles to fight, or contracting inwards to hide.

But because that contraction isn’t always followed by movement — unless you get up and do jumping jacks after each stressful email — stagnant muscular energy gets stuck in your body.

And where does that energy go? To our hips, one of the largest joints in the body and the connection point between our top and bottom halves.

Now you know why and how you need to give your hips a little more TLC, let’s jump into these three stretches. Props for this workout include: a chair, a tennis ball/lacrosse ball/fascial release ball, and a foam roller. Don’t have the equipment? Get creative and join in with the moves that you can!

Now I’d Love To Hear From You

Are you enjoying our at-home workouts so far? Let me know by leaving a comment below. There you can also share any kinds of exercises that you would like to see more of!

See you soon,

JDW Signature

If Like Training At Home, You’ll Love These:

Low Impact Cardio Workout

3 Fun & Effective Arm Exercises Using The Wall

Want To Kick Your Health Up A Notch? Check out my 1:1 health coaching program here.