Pacific NW Pilates blog

Pilates for Scoliosis: Workshop and PNWP Daily Practice

by Melanie Byford-Young on October 2, 2014

photo 4PNWP’s Scoliosis workshop always attracts a full house. Just last weekend, Jean Leavenworth led a weekend of illustration and practice. 



Scoliosis. The word sounds daunting and the diagnosis sounds frightening. In truth, many people have scoliosis and are not aware of it. Pilates exercise is an effective therapeutic treatment. I recently conducted a sold-out Pacific NW Pilates Pilates’ Scoliosis course. Professionals in physical therapy, therapeutic movement and advanced Pilates actively seek genuine insights into scoliosis and sound, integrated exercises.

Definition of scoliosis

Scoliosis is a condition described by twists and turns of the spine. To be diagnosed as scoliosis, the spinal curve must be at least 10°. There is always a physical combination: a side-bend of the spine and a rotation. Here’s a technical example: A right thoracic curve is convex to the right, and rotated to the right, with the apex being in the thorax. Problems are pronounced when the curves are 50° or greater, or when the curve progresses. When that occurs, organs, including the liver, lungs or intestines, can get compressed and compromised, and the spine will likely collapse at one or more segments. If conservative management and bracing fail, spinal rods are used to fixate the spine, and prevent further collapse.


Scoliosis may be congenital or acquired

Scoliosis doesn’t necessarily cause pain or limit lifestyle, although it can. It may be congenital: you were born with scoliosis. You may have developed scoliosis at puberty (idiopathic). Or scoliosis may have been acquired because of the sports you play, your job, a fracture, or from carrying children on your hip. Ninety-percent of young athletes who play a one-sided sport will develop scoliosis unless their training is well managed.

Pilates exercise and scoliosis

Exercise and movement is critical for anyone with scoliosis, at any degree of compromise. Exercise goals include staying strong and supple, to maintain — or improve — the curve angle, depending on a person’s age and the cause of scoliosis. There are many opinions and approaches on how to ‘properly’ work with scoliosis.

Although I do not subscribe to any one specific school of thought, Australian researcher Paul Hodges has done fascinating work evaluating the muscle properties on each side of the scoliotic spine. His research has shown that the muscles on either side of the spine adapt to the load on them and as a result, function differently on the concave and convex side. The concave side essentially pulls the curve, and the convex side becomes the tonic load bearing side resisting gravity.


This logic underscores how to prescribe and adapt therapeutic exercise. Movements can be modified to address the needs of each side of the spine and body, and to protect the regions of the spine that move without adequate control. For example, Mermaid/Side bend exercise can be done on both sides of the body, but we will have a different goal for each direction. For someone with a right thoracic curve, when side bending to the right, we will focus on the quality of finding “straight” before beginning a right side flexion. We will closely monitor the spine just below and above the curve to ensure those regions do not compensate or shear.

When returning to the start position, we will have to focus attention on not collapsing back down to the left. When we take this same client into left side flexion (into the curve), we will have to focus on maintaining ‘length and space’ instead of collapsing. In other words, re-teaching optimal left side bend vs. collapsing.

That evaluation and prescription of therapeutic exercise is the substance of Pacific NW Pilates’ Pilates for Scoliosis workshops and what we apply daily in the studio. If you have scoliosis or are a professional seeking additional training, please call us: (503) 292-4409.


Melanie Byford-Young, STOTT PILATES Master Instructor



Three Things You Won’t Hear Here

by Leslie Braverman on September 28, 2014

There are many declarations heard in gyms that you’ll never hear in, say, our PNWP studio. Pilates is simply different. And I’m in truth-teller mode.

Here are three things that you’ll never hear me — or any of our certified STOTT PILATES teachers — say to you:

“Squeeze your shoulder blades together for good posture.”

Have you ever walked into a store, admired a dress you on a mannequin — and then noticed all the clips in back making the dress to make it look like it had been altered? Well, squeezing you shoulders blades together creates the illusion of good posture when viewed from the front — but you will look terrible in the back.

Squeezed shoulder blades

In Pilates, we speak about specificity of cues when teaching. The shoulder blades, in their ideal position, should sit flat on the rib cage and the inner borders should be parallel to each other and roughly four inches apart. Broad cues can easily lead a well-meaning student’s shoulder blades into a “fix-it” position.

Excellent Pilates teachers want you to have good posture, instead of just making it look like you have good posture.

“No pain, no gain.”

This one makes me wince. In fact, there is a lot to be gained by avoiding pain during exercise. It is important to know the difference in pain and gain.

Pushing through a workout that is challenging in order to get stronger is a positive experience of pain. Pushing through pain during exercise because of poor joint positioning, inappropriate resistance. or improper muscle recruitment can lead to injury. Your Pilates teacher should help you to learn the difference.

Here are simple tips to help you know when exercise pain is okay:

1. You can breathe.

2. You are not straining and using unnecessary muscles (i.e., you are not recruiting your neck to do leg work).

3. You are exercising in positions that you want to practice (i.e., you are using your arms in good standing and sitting posture).

4. Muscle soreness lasts for only a couple of days and you do not experience joint pain.

“I can help you lose weight.”

Let’s be clear. Pilates is an excellent exercise choice for building core stability, balancing strength and flexibility, improving body awareness and posture.

It is not, however, at the top of the list as a cardiovascular workout nor does it address your diet.

You might notice that the pair of pants in your closet that you never wear because “they make you look fat” suddenly look good. That’s because your shape may change, but, perhaps, not the number on the scale.


Yours faithfully,

Leslie Braverman, PNWP Owner


Therapeutic Pilates is Built for Injuries and Special Populations

by Melanie Byford-Young on September 19, 2014

The longer I work in the movement therapy profession, the more I wonder if anyone is “normal.” What is normal? Why is it that some people who look perfect suffer from more pain and issues than people who have arthritis, joint replacements and scoliosis?

Why do so many North Americans have hip and knee replacements? Why do people not know if they have osteoporosis? Why do so many athletes end up with injuries that prevent them from continuing in their sport? Why do some people feel worse after exercising? Is there really such a thing as a motor moron?

These are just a few of the questions I will address in my upcoming “Injuries and Special Populations” (ISP) course at Pacific Northwest Pilates (November 13-16, 2014).

We need balance and variety to stay healthy

The reality is that walking on concrete, sitting for prolonged periods of time, and being a weekend warrior takes a toll. The human body was designed to move, and to move in a variety of ways. One sport or movement pattern over and over will give you accuracy in the short term, and arthritis in the long term.

To movement professionals, knowledge is power. Power is not merely torque output. Power is the ability to blend intelligent assessment with appropriate strategy: To work from the inside and the outside.

ISP reflects our studio philosophy

ISP is an overview course to help instructors begin to develop clinical reasoning skills to effectively work with clients who were born with, or have acquired movement challenges. Instead of giving a recipe for working with a condition (e.g., spondylolisthesis, when a lumbosacral spinal vertebrae slips out of place and onto the neighboring vertebrae), we educate instructors to understand, reason and be able to work with an individual who happens to have spondylolisthesis, and any other issues.

I teach the influence of the neural system on learning and motor programming, and vice versa. Most of all, I teach instructors how to be comfortable working with every individual who walks in the door.

That defines our studio. Were you to visit Pacific NW Pilates to observe our exceptional instructors for a day, you would see them working with a wide range of clients:

  • without injuries
  • with neurological conditions including Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy
  • hip, knee or shoulder replacements
  • athletes working through shoulder impingement and patella femoral issues
  • ballet dancers
  • stiff clients and those with hypermobility issues.

Everyone has an individual program and is progressing using the Pilates principles, programming and equipment as an intelligent approach to movement.


Melanie Byford-Young, STOTT PILATES Master Instructor

Analysis of Foot & Gait with therapeutic Pilates solutions for walking and running performance


Pacific NW Pilates Education (PNWPE) is the professional training side of our mission. We just wrapped Melanie’s Foot and Gait Workshop yesterday afternoon. Here’s a peek into what has been attracting physical therapists, physios, expert personal trainers and Pilates instructors to Melanie Byford-Young’s Pacific NW Pilates Education  workshops and courses. She has been studying — and refining — biomechanical and orthopedic therapeutic solutions for more than 25 years. Her knowledge, skill and zesty, rat-a-tat delivery has made her a magnet for professional movement audiences in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.


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Melanie Byford-Young uses expressive gestures. Gait patterns are demonstrated with theatrical style. She reveals the secret source of — and reasons for — biomechanical accommodation. She shows videos of her willing parents, business partner and a client demonstrating their particular style of walking. And a sold out group of attendees was on the edge of their seats.

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On Saturday afternoon, Melanie — known for her exuberant and deeply insightful workshop presentation style — started out with an exercise to anchor the position and function of the bones and function of a foot.


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“Very little range of motion is required to walk or run efficiently. Only hip extension, ankle dorsiflexion and first toe extension need full range of emotion.”

The workshop moved between classroom, in-studio demonstrations and live action assessments. We commandeered the entire studio and half the building’s empty weekend corridors. Attendees had a chance to pose their burning questions and get full advantage of Melanie’s workshop curriculum and on-the-spot diagnostic and prescriptive insights.

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She employs a unique blend of researched theory in a lecture setting. This workshop about the mechanics of walking and running — a Pilates-based approach, was rich in fast-flying facts and illustrations. Melanie addressed what professionals are likely to encounter with individuals ranging from elite athletes to seniors.

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PNWP owner Leslie Braverman and PNWP instructor (and Portland dancer) Holly L. Shaw were part of Melanie’s expert team. Workshop attendees included fellow Oregonians; others traveled from Vancouver, B.C., Toronto, and San Francisco. The prize for travel miles went to Carolyn from  Christchurch, New Zealand.


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We are mad about every one of our Foot and Gait Workshop attendees. Every ONE!


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(For more images from the workshop, LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. And check out Melanie’s blog post about her workshop.)

PNWP is finalizing its 2015 roster of STOTT PILATES® courses, PNWPE workshops, and guest courses. Visit our website and keep track of what’s new on our social media. Note: Workshops sell out fast.


Reed College Dean Ellen Stauder Reflects on Pilates and Photography

by Trixie September 3, 2014

Remarkable, accomplished people are drawn to Pilates. Over time, shared solutions build trust and respect, binding our clients and instructors into a PNWP family. One such PNWP client, Ellen Stauder, is our guest writer this week. Here, Ellen generously describes her relationship with the customized benefits of Pilates — and photography — during life transitions. […]

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Therapeutic Pilates Aids Post-surgical Breast Cancer Movement

by Melanie Byford-Young August 27, 2014

In my years working in therapy and Pilates, I have had the honor of working with many people diagnosed with breast cancer. It is one of my personal commitments and passions to be a partner to those fighting and surviving this disease — to be there on good and bad days and be a supportive, […]

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Emily Takes Pilates Long Stretch on Reformer

by Trixie August 7, 2014

Our lovely long stretch demonstrates a long stretch Emily Keane has progressed through PNWP —from front desk to PNWP Education manager — all while mastering the progressions of STOTT PILATES exercises and attaining her certification. She’s been sunshine to work with and a joy to observe in the studio. The event of her career transition […]

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Robin Wright Shoulders 101

by Trixie August 1, 2014

 Pilates Reformer for Claire Underwood Look Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in House of Cards is a terrifying personalitiy and a physical ideal. Her character’s image and power is evident in Wright’s shapely neck and strong feminine shoulders. Her dresses — all drool-worthy — showcase her extraordinary shoulders and arms. It all makes me pea-green […]

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Pilates for Runners: Foot and Gait

by Trixie July 26, 2014

The Foot — in Action PNWP Owner Melanie Byford-Young is an expert in her own right, and, like passionate trailblazers, she never stops learning. That’s one of the traits that makes her such a sought-after teacher. Melanie will be teaching a foot-and-gait workshop for PT, medical and therapeutic Pilates professionals this September in Portland, Oregon. Here, […]

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Pilates Posture: The Right Curves

by Trixie July 18, 2014

 Good posture is not a straight line habit   Pilates is known for enabling and enhancing beautiful posture. But here’s the truth: Developing good posture and movement patterns doesn’t follow a straight path. For the record, the back is meant to have lovely curves. If it took you 40 years to learn how to stand […]

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