Exercise and movement

As we ring in the new year, our January issue focuses on health and wellness. Julie Ireton reports on the dance and yoga programs at Abbotsford; Karen Gordon shows us which exercises and yoga poses are ideal for people with osteoporosis; Neil McKinnon talks about the urban poling movement; Julie Houle Cezer introduces Authentic Movement; and Graham Beaton discusses ways to use exercise to control diabetes.

Check out these five great articles about healthy living!

Dance and yoga at Abbotsford
Osteoporosis and yoga
Nordic walking (a.k.a. urban poling) keeps you fit!
Introducing Authentic Movement
Exercise to control blood sugar and diabetes

Dance and yoga at Abbotsford


Exercise and music go together like ice cream and apple pie. And at some exercise classes at Abbotsford, that music is live. That’s thanks to musician Mark Rehder, who plays drums, flute and keyboard while the people around him dance.

Instructor Liz Winkelaar teaches the propeller dance class on Monday mornings. Photo: Chrystia Chudczak.
Instructor Liz Winkelaar teaches the propeller dance class on Monday mornings. Photo: Chrystia Chudczak.


Abbotsford at the Glebe Centre, the seniors’ centre across from Lansdowne, has benefited from a pilot program in Propeller Dance’s integrated approach to dance since last September. This is an artful, improvisational style of dance for people with many different abilities. These include movers with mobility issues, balance problems or even those in wheelchairs, as well as those of us that might be called temporarily able-bodied people.

“Live music is part of all our propeller dance classes,” says Renata Soutter, co-artistic director of the program. “The music is a big plus. It’s very inspiring.” Last fall was Abbotsford’s first introduction to propeller dance. Soutter notes that enrollment started out small, but seniors started dropping in to try it. She says some were a bit tentative at first. Many of these people hadn’t danced in a long time. “A lot of people were pleasantly surprised at what they got out of the dance, like the way they could be creative and playful and at the same time participate in a good fitness activity.”

The class is open to people in wheelchairs. In fact, one of the instructors is a seated dancer. “I’ve been paralyzed for a long time. I was in a motorcycle accident when I was 18,” said Liz Winkelaar, a propeller dance instructor. “I found a poster for propeller dance, I thought I should do something for my body and I threw myself into it.”

The Propeller Dance program received some federal funding to start pilot classes with seniors but for many years has been running separate classes for children. Soutter says her dream would be to have intergenerational activities. “It’s about discovering your own movement and it’s fun to see this as a teacher – and as a participant – figuring it out. It’s quite amazing,” says Soutter. Propeller Dance classes on the winter schedule at Abbotsford take place on Monday mornings at 9:30 am.


If you’re looking for something more meditative when it comes to an exercise regime, another option at Abbotsford is chair yoga. This class is also tailored to seniors with limited mobility or perhaps those who just want a gentle yoga class.

Yoga poses are done seated in a chair and when possible, standing using a chair for support. Each class includes a combination of stretching and breathing exercises designed to relieve stress and increase mobility, flexibility and balance.

Instructor Heidi Conrod specializes in teaching seniors. She also instructs chair yoga at a few retirement homes in the city. “Yoga works, it really does. Most of the seniors I’ve taught comment on how it’s helped their mobility. They noticed after a couple of times the arthritis isn’t as bad, or it helps them sleep,” says Conrod. “I’m looking forward to having fun. My classes aren’t too serious. We have fun.”
This winter, chair yoga classes take place on Wednesdays from 10 to 11 a.m.

Journalist Julie Ireton regularly reports on programs and events taking place at Abbotsford @The Glebe Centre.


Osteoporosis and yoga


Osteoporosis is a condition of reduced bone strength, when bones become more porous and fragile. Osteoporosis is often called the “silent thief” because initially the bone loss occurs without symptoms. Our bone mass peaks when we are in our late teenage years and we gradually begin to lose bone mass in our mid-30s. Women lose bone mass at a greater rate of two to five per cent per year after menopause. Osteoporotic bones can break (or fracture) more easily than normal bones.
Approximately two million Canadians have been diagnosed with osteoporosis; one in four women over 50 and one in eight men over 50 have osteoporosis. The most common osteoporotic fractures are in the spine (vertebrae), hip and wrist. Sixty per cent of osteoporotic vertebral (spinal) fractures are silent and pain-free. When a thoracic spinal vertebra fractures it usually collapses into a wedge shape and leads to a loss of height and rounded kyphotic posture. A height loss of two centimetres can be a sign of osteoporotic spinal fracture.


Physical activity and exercise are an important part of preventing and treating osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, stair-climbing and aerobic classes are the most effective ways to maintain strong bones. Strengthening such as resistive exercises using free weights (dumbbells), weight machines or exercise bands can improve strength in both muscle and bone. Balance training such as Tai Chi, yoga and dance can reduce falls and fracture risk. Posture training, practising proper upright posture and strengthening “core” muscles can improve posture and help prevent forward curvature of the spine (kyphosis). Yoga can be an excellent form of exercise for people with reduced bone density because it includes weight bearing, strengthening, balance and posture training.

However, certain postures and activities cause increased compression forces on spinal vertebrae and increase the risk of osteoporotic spinal fractures. These postures include forward bending and rounding of the spine, sitting with a rounded spine, and fully rotating or twisting the spine. In order to reduce the risk of an osteoporotic spinal fracture in yoga:
– keep your spine “tall” and elongated in all poses
– avoid rounding the spine in all poses
– bend forward by hinging at the hips (not flexing your spine)
– limit spinal twists to 70 per cent effort and avoid forcing spinal rotations or bending
– avoid over-reaching and pulling when forward bending or twisting
– keep your arms stretched overhead in child’s pose

Examples of recommended yoga poses if you have reduced bone density or osteoporosis include:
– mountain pose
– cobra
– warrior poses
– plank pose
– chair pose

Yoga positions to avoid if you have reduced bone density or osteoporosis are:
– abdominal curl-ups, roll-ups or sit-ups – replace with boat pose with elongated spine
– lying double-leg raises – modify to single-leg raises
– shoulder stand, head-stand, plow pose
– seated forward bend – replace with lying hamstring stretch with strap
– pigeon pose – replace with lying ankle-over-knee stretch

For more information regarding osteoporosis management please visit the Osteoporosis Canada website: www.osteoporosis.ca.

Karen Gordon is a registered physiotherapist and trained bone-fit physiotherapist who works at Glebe Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic and at the Arthritis Society.

Nordic walking (a.k.a. urban poling) keeps you fit!


Push ups, leg lunges and hill repeats are part of Jodi Bigelow’s Nordic class. Photo: Courtesy of www.xtaski.com
Push ups, leg lunges and hill repeats are part of Jodi Bigelow’s Nordic class. Photo: Courtesy of www.xtaski.com

Nordic walking, or urban poling, is like regular walking except it’s done using poles similar to ski poles. It is a gentle but firm activity, walking along and using the poles to propel forward. Originating in Nordic countries, urban poling was traditionally used by off-season skiers wanting to cross-train to keep their bodies conditioned and their cores tight.

However, urban-poling master Wendi Paterson encourages people of all ages and fitness levels to try this form of exercise, whether you call it Nordic walking or urban poling. According to Paterson, “Walking only works the lower half of the body. But adding poles and propelling forward makes the activity more challenging. Urban poling is a really good exercise because it intensifies regular walking by increasing energy output by 20 to 46 per cent and works most muscles in the body.” Leg stabilizers and core muscles in particular are used.

For the first week or so doing urban poling, Paterson says, most newcomer women in her classes feel a triceps burn after their workouts. According to urbanpoling.com, other benefits of urban poling are that it involves more than 1,800 abdominal contractions per mile and that 30 minutes of it is equivalent to 50 minutes of walking without poles. “One of the most popular activities worldwide is walking. Add poles and you have an all body workout,” says Paterson.

Push ups, leg lunges and hill repeats are part of Jodi Bigelow’s Nordic class. Photo: Courtesy of www.xtaski.com
Push ups, leg lunges and hill repeats are part of Jodi Bigelow’s Nordic class. Photo: Courtesy of www.xtaski.com

Urban poling is a popular winter activity because it can easily be combined with snowshoeing. Within a short driving distance, anyone can do urban poling and snowshoeing in any of Ottawa’s networks of forests and trails, such as Gatineau Park, Andrew Haydon Park or Britannia Park. Urban poling without snowshoes is also popular for downtowners such as residents of the Glebe who are looking for alternatives to running and an activity that is less stressful on the joints. Says Paterson, “Nordic walking is harder than brisk walking because you have more muscles working. Snowshoeing just increases that intensity.”

Paterson says urban poling is popular with all ages, and she teaches classes with students’ ages ranging anywhere from 20 to 80 years. Urban poles differ in size and shape from ski poles because of the straps and length. The straps on urban poles are easier for people who have arthritic hands, as they are smoother and reduce energy loss. “When you’re using urban poles, your hands should be moving slightly as you walk. You don’t want a death grip,” says Paterson.

With the canal close by the Glebe, it’s a perfect activity for anyone living in this neighbourhood. Because of regular snowplowing on the canal paths in winter, ice tends to build up on the asphalt. To prevent slips and falls, Paterson recommends that people use shoes with good grips or “yak traks.” Whether winter boots, running shoes or regular walking shoes, footwear for urban poling should be determined by where the hike takes place. Most outdoor-gear stores sell urban poling equipment and prices go from $35 and up. Paterson also suggests that people new to urban poling try it out in a class, as classes help people learn technique and build camaraderie.

Push ups, leg lunges and hill repeats are part of Jodi Bigelow’s Nordic class. Photo: Courtesy of www.xtaski.com
Push ups, leg lunges and hill repeats are part of Jodi Bigelow’s Nordic class. Photo: Courtesy of www.xtaski.com

One Nordic-walking instructor offering classes in the Glebe is cross-country ski coach Jodi Bigelow. In a six-week course that takes place in Glebe parks and along the canal, he aims to teach exercises that are targeted enough to build co-ordination and both upper- and lower-body strength, but simple enough to be integrated into everyday routines such as walking the dog. By incorporating poles into a light workout within a natural setting, Nordic-walking students can expect to get acquainted with exercises that – if done regularly – will improve and maintain their muscle tone, stability and fitness level.

Bigelow accommodates beginners by encouraging them to self-monitor and respect their limits and to increase slowly from a restricted number of repetitions to full sets. By the end of the course, they should have the tools and knowledge to finish a workout that makes them feel good and aware that their whole body has been engaged.

Bigelow’s next Nordic fitness course out of the Glebe Community Centre will take place Tuesdays from February 18 to March 25 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Designed to utilize one’s natural surroundings to create a total body workout and produce a more toned, stable, healthier, and fitter body. Expect the use of Nordic poles, some jogging, slack lining, and other specific ski training techniques. This outdoor fitness program is designed to utilize the natural surroundings to create a total body workout and produce a more toned, stable, healthier, and fitter body. A variety of outdoor activities will be emphasized including the use of Nordic poles. For more information see www.xtaski.com. For more information about urban poling and about other classes in Ottawa visit http://urbanpoling.com/find-a-class/ontario.

Neil McKinnon is a freelance writer who focuses on fitness and sports.

Introducing Authentic Movement


Editor’s note: If outdoor whole-body exercise with an instructor does not light your fire, perhaps you would be drawn to indoor movement in the company of peers. If regularly practised, such a discipline can support physical and mental health for the rest of your life, no matter how vigorously or minimally you choose to move. One such experiential body practice now known around the world is Authentic Movement.

Imagine that you are in an uncluttered studio with a wooden floor – the ideal location for Authentic Movement. A few people gathered in a circle have come to standing after collectively making decisions about the format for the day’s practice.

A bell or chime sounds once, and some participants who have begun walking in the space choose to move to the sides of the room to become “witnesses,” while others close their eyes, signalling that they have become “movers.”

The movers’ task is to listen and respond physically to inner impulses that surface. The witnesses, who may sit or stand, bring their attention to seeing and receiving the movers’ physical movements without projection or judgment (neither praise nor blame) and to an awareness of how they experience their own embodied responses.

Three spaced rings of the bell bring the moving portion to a close and a sharing phase begins. Depending on the decisions of the group, sharing may take the form of speaking – from one’s own experience as mover or witness with no cross-talk – or as writing, drawing or moving. What is shared in the circle remains strictly confidential. It’s all quite simple – moving, witnessing and sharing!

Allowing the shadows, murmurs and whispers of the body into the light. Photo: Julie Houle Cezer,
Allowing the shadows, murmurs and whispers of the body into the light. Photo: Julie Houle Cezer,


Although well recognized as a useful tool in dance therapy and contemporary choreography, Authentic Movement is less well known both as a term and a practice among the general public. In today’s information age, North Americans are aware of the mind-body practices of tai-chi chuan, qigong and various forms of yoga that have their origins in other countries and in centuries past. However, they tend to be less familiar with the legacy of somatic (body-focused) practices and techniques that developed on this continent in the 20th century. Some important concepts and techniques were introduced to dance and therapeutics in the past century that influences education and performance in dance and theatre as well as in sports training and preventive medicine. They include:

* Ideokinesis by Mabel Todd and Lulu Swiegard;
* the movement re-education approaches of the Alexander technique of Frederick Mathias Alexander and the Feldenkrais method of Moshe Feldenkrais;
* integrative movement studies such as Irma Bartenieff’s Bartenieff Fundamentals that extended the work of Rudolf von Laban to internal connectivity;
* the muscle-mind connection explored by Milton Trager in Mentastics and massage;
* the experiential anatomy studies of movement in the form of Body-Mind Centering by Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen;
* the physics of improvisational partnering through mindful and sensing contact developed by Steve Paxton, Danny Lepkoff and Nancy Stark Smith et al. and now known as Contact Improvisation;
* and finally, the subject of this article, the evolving somatic practice of “movement in depth” introduced by Mary Starks Whitehouse (1911-1978) and later refined and crystallized into a form called Authentic Movement by dance therapist Janet Adler.


Mary Starks Whitehouse, a dancer who worked with Mary Wigman and Martha Graham, decided in the 1950s, after many years of teaching dance, to study the theories of Carl Jung. In her subsequent work, informed by Jung’s writings, Whitehouse explored self-reflection as a mode of inquiry and experimented with “active imagination,” or play without judgment, as a method of seeking self-knowledge – all through movement. Using improvisational structures and free movement, she looked for ways to reveal the “core of the movement experience… the sensation of moving and being moved” and to bring about the gradual revelation of the whole self, both unconscious and conscious, through an exploration of embodiment. What she observed in movement-in-depth sessions, even with trained dancers, seemed like an “unlearned truth” that was “simple and inevitable.” Because it could be identified as belonging to the mover without the ego getting in the way, “authentic” seemed the appropriate description. Whitehouse remained committed to a fluid approach to studying the “way of the body,” and resisted any suggestion of formalizing the practice throughout her career. (Contact Quarterly, summer/fall 2002, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 14, 15).

By contrast, one of her students, Janet Adler, a dance therapist with a background in developmental psychology who worked with autistic children, began to focus attention on the transpersonal relationship between the mover and witness and to define loose guidelines for practice, especially around creating a safe “container.” What followed from Adler’s studies and her founding of the Mary Starks Whitehouse Institute in 1981 was the dissemination of core practices to dancers, therapists, teachers and artists, with subsequent local variations pushing the envelope of the form.


Some of the consistent and identifiable core principles of Authentic Movement are: 1) it is a personal practice, yet also collective and transpersonal; 2) movers turn their focus inward to internal impulses and need not relate to witnesses; 3) both witnesses and movers practise non-judgment of themselves and others within a physically and psychologically safe space (“the safe container”); 4) they work to develop an inner witness that stays connected and communicative even when working with the subconscious and unconscious.


In Canada, one of the principal investigators of the work has been Judith Koltai, who for the last 40 years has continued to evolve her teaching and investigation in the form of Embodied Practice (Authentic Movement and Syntonics®), particularly as it applies to the perfoming arts. In Ottawa, it was she who first introduced this work of “moving from within” to the local dance community at Dance Network in 1996 and her influence is still felt and appreciated by a local group of peer practitioners that has been in existence since that time.

For more information on Authentic Movement in Ottawa, go to authenticmovement.ca.

Julie Houle Cezer has been practising Authentic Movement since 1996 and at various times has used the practice as a source for choreographic material and creative process, as a moving meditation and personally, as a place to ground herself.

Exercise to control blood sugar and diabetes



Diabetes is a disorder characterized by high levels of blood sugar due to changes in insulin production, insulin sensitivity, or both. This long-term elevation in blood sugar levels has serious health effects. Specifically, it can damage small blood vessels. This damage may then affect vision, kidney and nerve function, bone health, and can lead to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Exercise and Diabetes
2.4 million Canadians are estimated to have diabetes.
Exercise can improve blood sugar regulation and reduce insulin resistance.
People with diabetes are advised to participate in 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and at least two sessions of resistance exercise per week.
Speak to a naturopathic doctor on how to prevent and manage diabetes.

The prevalence of diabetes is increasing worldwide. While in 1985 it was estimated that 30 million people were diagnosed with the disease, last year the number of people was estimated at 371 million, more than a tenfold increase. This trend is even greater in Canada, where the number of Canadians diagnosed between 1998 and 2009 increased by 230 per cent. It is currently estimated that 2.4 million Canadians have diabetes, and that the incidence will continue to grow1.

One of the most important ways to manage diabetes is through physical activity. It is currently recommended that people with diabetes participate in both regular aerobic and resistance exercise. It has been shown to be effective in improving blood sugar regulation, reducing insulin resistance, substantially lowering the mortality risk in people with diabetes, and decreasing the risk of several other diabetes-related complications (bone and muscle loss, foot ulcers, nerve damage).


Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrate (sugar) and fat in the body. While eating a meal, insulin is released from the pancreas and enters the blood stream where it stimulates cells of the body (liver, muscles, fat cells) to take up sugar absorbed from food. The cells of the body then use sugar for energy or store it for future use.

In diabetes, the control of blood sugar is impaired. In type 1 diabetes, the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed and insulin is not produced. This lack of insulin impairs the take-up of sugar by body tissues. Further, blood sugar levels cannot be properly regulated and remain elevated.

In type 2 diabetes, cells of the body become resistant to the effects of insulin, again leading to elevated levels of blood sugar. Moreover, as type 2 diabetes progresses, the pancreas can lose the ability to produce enough insulin, so there may be a lack of insulin as well as a loss of insulin sensitivity.

Exercise has been shown to be very effective in helping regulate blood sugar levels and improving the long-term health of diabetics. Exercise stimulates active muscles to take up blood sugar without the need for insulin. This effectively lowers blood sugar for at least 24 hours following exercise2. In addition to this non-insulin-mediated absorption of sugar, exercise has been shown to lower the insulin resistance found in type 2 diabetes1.

To achieve the benefits of blood sugar regulation, people with diabetes should take part in both aerobic and resistance exercise. A minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, aerobics or dancing) and at least two sessions per week of resistance exercise (weights and other forms of strength training) is recommended1.


For the majority of individuals with diabetes, participation at a moderate level of physical activity (i.e. brisk walking) is safe. However, individuals with certain pre-existing health concerns (autonomic or peripheral neuropathy, unstable angina, vision problems or foot/leg ulcers) should speak to a health professional for further evaluation prior to starting a new exercise plan.

It is important to be aware that resistance training and vigorous aerobic activity, such as aerobics, jogging or brisk walking up an incline, can lead to an unsafe level of blood sugar in diabetics, both during and after exercise. For example, vigorous exercise can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in diabetics who are on insulin or insulin-secreting medications1, 2. Thus it is important to speak first to a health care professional about how to monitor and regulate blood sugar before, during and after exercise.

Exercise is an essential component of the prevention and management of diabetes. It can help to regulate blood sugar levels, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and reduce risk of complications associated with diabetes.

If you have diabetes, or if you are at risk of developing diabetes, it is important that you ensure that your blood glucose levels are monitored and properly controlled. Diabetes treatment and blood glucose control should include a personalized diet and exercise plan that is tailored to your specific situation. In practice I help diabetic patients, or those at risk, to improve their blood sugar control through diet and exercise. If you have questions about diabetes, exercise, how to exercise safely with diabetes or how naturopathic medicine can help you, please call 613-290-6115.

Graham Beaton is a naturopathic doctor practising at the Ottawa Collaborative Care Centres.

1 Sigal, R.J. et al. “Physical Activity and Diabetes – Canadian Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee.” Can J Diabetes 37; 2013:S40-44.
2 Colberg, S. R. et al. “Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association joint position statement.” Diabetes Care 2010; 33 (12): e147-e167.


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