Jaclyn Forrester

Your Parents Were Right About Posture

By Jaclyn Forrester

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How many of you had your parents or teachers constantly nagging you to “sit up straight”? Weren’t you always wondering why it even mattered? When you’re young, there are far more exciting things to worry about than the length of your spine, but once sports and activities come into the picture kids innately tend to stand taller, focus on accuracy, and recognize the benefits of being stronger and more flexible. Over time, most of us grow out of daily sports events and into adulthood and jobs that increasingly require us to use technology that encourages our bodies to favor a curved-forward position. As our eyes and head look down at phones and computers, our upper back curves and our shoulders roll forward, shortening the muscles in the front body and elongating the muscles in the back body. The ribcage folds in, no longer needing to provide a strong breath for activities such as running and playing sports. The lower back absorbs pressure, which leads to over 80% of Americans suffering from low back pain. 

Improving posture seems like a solution that is too simple for all these ills, but here we break down a few key effects of poor posture:

BREATH

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Your breath is controlled by your diaphragm, a (very cool) muscle on the underside of your ribcage. As you inhale the diaphragm lowers, giving your lungs the ability to expand. As you exhale, the diaphragm raises, expelling the air out of the lungs. 

With a long spine and supportive posture muscles, your diaphragm is able to lower and raise efficiently. Often we see clients with an exaggerated curve in the thorasic (upper) spine. The ribs attach directly to the spine, and the diaphragm attaches to the ribs. When clients present an exaggerated curve in this segment of the spine, it compresses the diaphragm and it is unable to expand and contract the way it is designed. When the diaphragm can’t work efficiently, it means air is not fully filling or leaving the lungs. 

We are seeing this exaggerated curve more frequently due to the evolution of our technology. You walk through a coffee shop and everyone is curved forward looking at their phone or a laptop. It’s everywhere; and it takes work to step away and see the effects.

FUNCTIONALITY OF MOVEMENT

All movement is supported by the trunk, whether you’re running, playing sports, doing yoga, sitting at your desk, or cooking dinner. The spine, your core and your ribcage are all working cohesively to keep you upright. But staying upright and moving efficiently are two very different things. Joseph Pilates said, “you are only as old as your spine feels”, and we agree. The ability to move freely through your spine, to articulate the vertebrae, to have the muscles on either side of the spine to function evenly decreases discomfort and increases the ability to move efficiently with balance and control. These skills are necessary for sports and, as you age, to keep you from falling!

Ability to articulate 

This is an important skill but why? Think of your spine like a chain between a truck and a trailer. If the chain is supple, it is able to adjust to pulling, pushing, flexing and extending in a variety of directions. Now imagine if the chain is stiff or has a kink in it. Is it going to have the ability to flex, extend, and adjust? Not easily. Your body’s ability to move freely revolves around the mobility of your spine. It’s important to work slowly and efficiently to keep the spine supple. There is also a need to be aware of how your spine feels and moves. In one of my favorite workshops by Jennifer Gianni, she used the term “take inventory” over and over. I have incorporated that term into my sessions and classes since then - “take inventory”. How do you feel today, how do you feel in this exercise, how do you feel through this movement pattern? Everyday can be different, and it’s essential to evaluate that and adjust your workouts and movement patterns around how you feel.

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So how can you improve your posture? The first step is recognizing when you are practicing poor posture; bringing awareness throughout your day and retraining your body. You can create a mental checklist- shoulders round back and down, eye line forward, back of head in line with spine, shoulders stacked over hips. Now, take a few long deep breaths and notice that your body is better able to expand and contract through the ribs. Allow the shoulders and neck to relax. This will likely bring calmness to you as well give your body a better ability to breathe.

The next step is finding balance within the muscles that support good posture. Balance in two primary qualities- even tension, and strength. For example, in order for your shoulders to line up with your earlobe and the crest of your hip bone, the muscles in your chest and in your upper back need even tension. Otherwise one pulls more than the other resulting in your shoulder being pulled forward or back. Similar scenario with strength: if your abdominal muscles are stronger than your back muscles, overtime your abdominals will be overworked and will compensate for the muscles in your back. 

Pilates has long been known for focusing on posture, form, and alignment. Finding a reputable instructor to guide you in this work will help you to recognize when you’re practicing proper form and working through the muscles evenly. Keep an eye on our instagram - we’ll be sharing a few of our favorite posture techniques soon!

Finding My Niche

By Jaclyn Forrester

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Before we get into the details about how Niche began, let’s start with a little about me! I grew up in the country, surrounded by horses, fields, and long fence lines. My mom ran a horse-boarding barn so that she could stay home with my brother and me, and my first memories are of horses in the alleyway being brushed and saddled. Buck, my pony (who was given to me by my Grandfather before I could even walk), was on his own schedule and would allow me to ride for ONLY as long as he wanted. Since I preferred to ride bareback, he would simply drop his head when he was over it and I would slide right down his neck. I’d scream, and cry and immediately run back to the barn to find someone to help me catch him. For a pony that never wanted to work hard during a ride, he could sure run away from you quickly! 

When I was six we sold the boarding barn and moved to a place that was more quiet and peaceful for my parents. My Dad and cousin constructed what felt like a mile of fence lines, and as I grew older, I’d walk them from one side of the property to the other.

Thinking back, I realize that this was my first brush with some of the core principles of Pilates: balance and coordination.

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Then for Christmas one year my parents gave me sweet Jethro, my very own horse. It was like a fairytale! Jethro and I were best buddies. We jumped, went to shows, went trail riding - I learned the importance of posture and alignment (also important principles of Pilates!) And unlike Buck, he would let me ride bareback for as long as I wanted. He was a dream!

In high school my interest shifted from horses to friends, working out in the high school gym, and going to football games. At 16 I got my first job, working at the front desk for a chiropractor. The primary doctor was Dr. Payne (the irony of his name still makes me laugh!) He was wonderful, intelligent, compassionate with his patients, and willing to teach me. I soaked it up. Going into college, I was certain I would become a chiropractor.

I began my college education at Emory and Henry College, my dad’s alma mater, but I felt that I needed something bigger, so I transferred to Radford University my second year. I entered their Exercise, Sport, Health and Education program, and my professors there inspired me everyday. I took a deep dive into human science and movement - studying cadavers (yikes!), strength training, athletic taping, nutrition analysis, and other juicy materials.

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After college I moved to Richmond. Though I was passionate about my degree, I didn’t know what to do with it. I realized I wasn’t super excited to continue formal education at that time, so becoming a chiropractor was out of the picture. I began searching for a career path that would incorporate my degree. Through my research I found Pilates, and was thrilled that one of the best Pilates trainings and certifications you can study, STOTT Pilates, was right here in Richmond! I called and met Kimber McQueen, owner of Balance Pilates, who hosts the training. After I trained, I began teaching Pilates and strength training at Balance, Hermitage Country Club, Westwood Club, Core Pilates, YMCA and Core Kids Academy-- all at one time! As my experience progressed and positions shifted, I was offered the director role at Westwood.

I knew within a year of being the director that I wanted to open my own studio, and when I stepped down in 2014 that was my sole mission. 

There were trials and tribulations, many attempts to merge, to purchase, to open. Finding a location was MUCH more challenging than I expected. I began in a small space with one reformer, a TRX band and a few props. In that first year I learned, on a very small scale, the ins and outs of running a business. It was a valuable learning experience, but I knew I wanted to offer classes and have a team that inspired me. Being the only instructor was lonely. I wanted to create a community that elevated each other and made a significant difference in people's lives. 

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Finally I found a space. It took a full year, way longer than I expected. But it was perfect! Filled with light and in a cool part of town, and I was confident that between my drive and the energy and location of the space, it would draw the community I was dreaming of. Now I needed a new name. The thesaurus became my go-to. I searched and searched for hours! I narrowed it down to a few options and talked them over with my husband, friends, and Carrie Walters, my logo and brand designer. Unanimously they voted for Niche. Within three months of finding the space, my landlord (who also owns a construction business - convenient!) built the space out, the branding was created, the instructors were hired, the class schedule was set, and on March 26, 2017 the doors opened!!

It was one of the most invigorating and incredible days of my life, and the single most significant achievement of my professional career. 

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Now, a little over two years later, I still pinch myself when I walk in the door. It’s everything I could’ve dreamed of. I love our team; you can’t imagine how dedicated and incredibly talented they are. Our clients are from all walks of life. They come in with goals and previous injuries and they work hard, they achieve their goals, then exceed them, and seeing them each day is truly a joy. They keep us inspired and striving to learn more so we can help them more. The strength of a supportive community is real. Many times I’ve heard people say, “I come in here and feel calm, it just feels good in here.” I’m not personally one for crystals everywhere or gushing about energy vibes, but seriously...there is something special happening at Niche. I truly believe the energy in the space is a direct connection to the love that’s been poured into it, by me, my incredible team, and all of our incredible clients. I’m honored to call it my creation.