An Interview With Tracy Markley, Author of The Stroke Of An Artist And Tipping Toward Balance
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Markley of Tracy Markley's Fitness. Through extensive research and a fascination for health and wellness, Tracy goes above and beyond an average trainer in order that each client will reach their full potential and not be limited by their ailments. I hope you will feel inspired from reading this article and encouraged to find out more through her much recommended books!
How would you describe what you do?
I am a certified Fitness Trainer, as well as a Pilates and Yoga Teacher. I also train clients privately.
What distinguishes your work from other Fitness Instructors?
I train with the method of building from the inside out because I believe your brain sends a message to your centre to focus and balance in order that the centre is stable for movement. No matter which method I use to train a client, I train them all with the same physical goal: to make sure they are strong from the centre and work their way out. That is my approach for years and it works.
Do you focus on one area more than another?
No, it is all kinds of areas mixed together. I had my own studio in California for 17 years. When I moved to Florence, Oregon, there is only one big gym in town. I worked there for 4 years and branched out on my own. I have a studio in my home with reformers and mats and free weights, ropes and balls. It is a big room and my private clients and my groups are here. It is not like a gym so at the most we are 8 people. Because the groups are small my work is always personal as I watch everyone for safety. If there is a shoulder issue going on I am on them all. Sometimes I have 7 group classes a week and then the rest are private clients. Sometimes private clients will join a group class.
Is your specialty in Seniors and Stroke survivors something you developed yourself or was this part of your training?
It is a combination. When I first got my business I was working full time in a doctor's office and going to school at night. One teacher in the college advised me to join IDEA FIT and through IDEA I was contacted by a girl right before I graduated college who asked if I wanted to buy her business. She rented a 12 by 12 room from a chiropractor and was giving private sessions. She wanted out and I brought the business. I started to get people coming to me with with arthritis, fibromyalgia and lupus. I had not been trained to care for these type of clients so I went to the library to read up on this so I could be of more assistance. I searched the internet for contacts and I found a nurse who worked for a company that did certifications and education on exercise and diabetes, arthritis and fibromyalgia. Then I found Paul Chek, who was ahead of his time, especially back in the day of his teaching. With all these teaching from Physical Therapists I kind of adopted a learning back then about the importance of the functioning of the core before the core fitness became a fad and everyone was doing this.
It is pieces from a lot of people but primarily Physical Therapy based teachings. I had people coming to me from Physical Therapy who were doing certain things after a back injury and I thought, "Why are we not doing things to avoid back injury"? I was in that mindset over 20 years ago. It made sense to me. It has always been my thing.
When did you realize that treating seniors and stroke survivors had become an area of expertise?
I grew up in Long Beach, lived in California all my life and ran a personal training studio for 17 years in Henton Beach. After my divorce I closed my business and came to a small town, Florence, Oregon, where my mother and step dad live. It is basically a retirement community with a lot of seniors. So I started working more with seniors, major stroke survivors and people with neurological issues. I returned to my mindset on how I trained with my clients all these years ago. This method worked well with seniors who had lost their walking ability, their balance or had neurological issues whereby the brain was not clearly communicating with limbs for safe functioning.
The last two years have been a learning experience and I have had to sit back and ask questions about things I have been doing the last 10 years. Now that I knew how well this method was working, I wondered why? What is behind this?
Has your research into these answers become the basis for your two books: The Stroke of An Artist and Tipping Toward Balance?
Yes that is exactly why I wrote my 2 books. And it has been a great learning experience. There are two main reasons for writing the books:
- I want to help people who need the service
- I want to share what I know and have developed over these years. I do not think the knowledge is always available for people in the fitness industry and Instructors may rely to heavily on Google and YouTube.
Who are your greatest mentors?
The way I have learned, the way it made a lot of sense and resonated with me, was to put together the teachings of a few people that I had learned from.
One source was from 2 courses that I took with Paul Chek. The first was a course about the Scientific Anatomy of the Core and the second the Scientific Anatomy of the Spine. Paul Chek was studying at the time with people in Europe and was way ahead of his teachings. I liken him to Joseph Pilates. I then researched it more and studied it too.
How do you explain the science behind Your Method?
The brain sends a message to certain parts of the body in the core to stabilize the body before movement, particularly the multicine muscle that goes down the spine. Studies show that the brain sends a message to that particular muscle to help stabilize the body because the body is ready to move. If the brain is sending a message to the centre of the body to stabilize before you move your legs and your arms and that whole balancing system is weak and not functioning to its best, it is going to make it harder for the body to stabilize. As the pelvic floor, multicine muscle and transverse muscle are all in the same neurological loop, all three muscles need to be strengthened for them to work well. If the transverse muscle is weak some of the scientific studies have shown that the pelvic floor and the multicines will also be weak. The transverse muscle has to be to be strong for all 3 of those muscles to work to its full potential.
How much is aging a factor when strengthening muscles?
Aging plays a big part. It is just life starts to be weaker. For example, we have someone coming to us who is 65 and their biceps muscles are really weak. We are starting to do exercises to strengthen the arms. People may try to do a sit up to strengthen the core but we need to work on those muscles that will strengthen the system of the core. As well as doing bicep exercises three times a day we also need to work on those muscles.
Let’s take the example of babies. First they lay on the ground and when they sit up their cognitive skills start building up. Now for instance they can sit up and they want to reach for a toy on the ground. The brain is programming how to not fall over when you are sitting or reaching for the toy. The brain is processing how far the arm has to to reach to pick up the toy to bring it back as it is connecting to the brain to balance so the baby doesn't fall on the floor. As people get older or develop neurological issues that system starts to break down and they have to rebuild it or work on it to stay there before it goes away.
Do you provide each person with an individualized programme?
I like to work one on one before a person joins a group class. But in my group classes I watch them like a private class. I like to meet the client first in order to take a history of what they are looking for and why they are coming into my group class. Sometimes people come to socialize and they do not connect to their body.If they really want to get it I approach them. There are certain exercises I do with all my clients no matter what. But I do individualize what they are going through.
In my book “Tipping Toward Balance” I put samples and short stories of clients who came to me because they were tripping and losing their balance. Three of the clients found it difficult to hike as they could trip on roots on the ground. They were not processing brain to their feet therefore suffering from spatial awareness and not knowing how high to lift their feet.
At the beginning I just knew what I was doing was working as I was seeing the results. For example, by stimulating the nervous system when working on an arm after a stroke that would normally curl up, the arm no longer curls up. What I did not understand at the beginning was the extent of my success and the tremendous impact of my work.
As people get older or have a stroke their awareness gets smaller so the world gets smaller. One client explained to me that he had lost his spatial awareness. He doesn't feel people around him. After 6-7 months of work and the client coming 5-6 times a week he got off the balance ball and said I have something to tell you. Before treatment he had felt his world stopped here, indicating a very small narrow area. Now he said that he felt his world stopped here - and he spread his arms out much wider. He was basically telling me that he has got his spatial awareness back. As I learn more about this work I learn the extent to which it positively affects people. I find it increasingly fascinating.
My first book, The Stroke Of An Artist, was written to share my experiences of how life can change when following these exercises on a daily basis. I wanted the book to be educational. The plan had been that I would do a book launching with this particular client, Gary, only he ended up passing away in a surgery that went wrong. It was through this client that I recognized the extreme potential of my work. If I would have limited my education I would have also limited his recovery and he would never have understood that he hired a trainer that did not search out a knowledge base that could help him. He would have thought the stroke limited him. It was so profound.
How do other Professionals respond to your new method?
It depends. For example, I got in touch with a neurological Physical Therapists in Texas. I found them on Facebook. They understand they are doing amazing things with clients and we started to follow each other. They have a really high knowledge base and I was intrigued with the things they were doing with their clients. They use walking robots, bosu balls and balance ropes. But then there are Physical Therapists I have met that do not go beyond the textbook they needed to read in order to pass their exam. It is all personal.
Do you augment this method with other teachings?
I find this work fascinating and I am always intrigued to learn more. I do not try and wing it, for example I know a company that does exercises with clients with Fibromyalgia and I will contact them if I have a client with Fibromyalgia. I believe you have to have that something to guide you, ideally a combination of different pacts of knowledge, experience with different clients, listening to your intuition and your gut feeling, along with good communication with your client.
An example is Gary in my first book, The Stroke Of An Artist. We had great communication and were very much in tune with each other. I trusted my intuition and he trusted his intuition. Sometimes there is no protocol and you do not know what pathways of the brain are coming back first.I would need to meet him where he was when he came in. He could sometimes come in and show me what he could do with his arm that he could not do last week. We followed his brain when his brain was making new pathways or got spatial awareness back. It made me think: what are we going to do next? I listen to clients and protocol and information. If your hip is hurting - we are going over to a different part of my studio. I follow what is flowing naturally with the body.
What has been the impact of your two books?
My books were written in order to share my knowledge and help people. I got an interview with a man in Australia who had 3 strokes and came across my first book, The Stroke Of An Artist. He is now trying to help people with strokes. We had a Skype interview and shared what he saw worked and what I saw worked. Our goal is if it works lets share it. There is no point in having something without sharing it. Some people call what I have developed a new system, theory or a new philosophy. All I know is what I have come across in my educational process and through working with my clients - and I have seen that it works so I continue to do it.
I myself learned so much from my work with Gary and the writing of my first book.
In my second book, Tipping Toward Balance, I put in a set of 8 exercises that seemed to play a big role with helping peoples’ walking gait or dropped foot and help people not trip and fall anymore. I had many clients that had come to me whose tendency to trip and fall, walking slowly or sitting down cautiously went away after following these exercises. I kept on doing this and it kept working with people. The mindset is thinking of the brain sending a message to the centre of the body by communicating with the nerves, stabilizing the body from the centre in order to move. It is like I am helping people to rebuild these skills they developed as a baby from rolling to standing.Just like we have to build up biceps and glutes, we also have to work the deep muscles in the core and spine allowing clear communication with the brain.
Can anybody do these exercises?
People can do these exercises easily wherever they are. Most of my clients own the balls to do these exercises. Here is an example. I have learned there are certain exercises to strengthen the spine and the central nervous system. I had never been aware as to the extent this is true.
I had one client after a stroke who could not see colours very well. It took him a long time to process colours. I suggested he try standing on the balance disc and then I held up colours for him to distinguish. He got them immediately. I then tried to make more of a connection into what is happening through consultation with other specialists in this area. The answer I got back was because my exercises are stimulating the brain and nervous system. This is what is happening and it makes sense. I needed to look back and understand why these things were working and make the connections. If someone had survived a stroke or other neurological disturbances, the brain needs to build news pathways and the centre of the body needs to be strong. If the brain needs to get new pathways to the hand or to the feet after stroke and if the center of the body is weak it is almost like the brain is trying to send a message to the limbs and the centre of the body is too broken down and weak so it slows down the process. Like you are going down the roads a b and c and you cannot get there because b is all rocky. If I get the centre strong then the pathways can come back more effectively.
The brain can help heal itself in most cases - most because there are so many different types of strokes. But if your brain has the ability to build pathways to help your hand move again after a stroke the centre of the body needs to be strong in order to have a healthier path to build the pathways. I have seen it. An 89 year old man had a stroke and his hand closed up. I worked with him to try to enable him to open his hand. One day I also had him stand on the balance disc to stimulate the brain and the nervous system. Once on the balance disc he could open his hand and then as soon as he came down from the ball the hand closed up. But after a period of time the hand opened on the balance disc and stayed open.
What is next?
There is still so much more to learn. There have been studies with fascia. We have so many nerves that go through the fascia and some studies are saying fascia initiates the movement more than the muscles initiate movement. It is all so intriguing
I have just experienced more fascinating consequences of using the bosu ball which is like the half ball. The idea is that once on the ball your central nervous system is being stimulated and it is very powerful. I have seen one client who is 76 and used to trip and fall no longer trip and fall - it is quite amazing.
The idea is that you have to focus. You are trying to rebuild subconsciously if you are walking down the street you do not trip and fall. When standing on a bosu ball abs are engaged, you are standing tall, maybe at the beginning they are holding a bar depending on the particular client.I have them focus head to toe and know what their feet are doing, know their abs are in and standing tall. I am very consciously making their whole brain and body consciously aware of what they are doing so subconsciously they are also aware of what they are doing.
Do you have goals to take your work further afield?
I would like to teach my work to other professionals, for example through workshops, so other trainers can use it with their work too as it is so powerful and impactful and life changing.
My clients would get in tears the results are so powerful and real that you get your life back.
I can help teach other professionals how they can teach their clients better. I would also like to teach a course at IDEA one year. I would like to develop an online course so someone could take an online course with me.
What is your Message to The World
To strengthen mind, body and spirit by physically going to your centre and rebuilding from the centre. It is like the image of a strong tree trunk that instead of being hollow is strong so the tree can blossom with fruit.
Mentally and emotionally be true to your centre and try to be as balanced as possible from the inside out. Sometimes your heart is torn with jealousy and you know why you may be envious of a person, but listen to your heart and understand why, yes I am tripping and falling, but lets understand why and fix it. Be open completely because a lot of times our blocks stop us from moving forward. The mental, emotional and physical are all entwined. If you are mentally blocked to what somebody is trying to teach you, you will not be able to reach your goal. I would say to people - be real, feel what you feel and do not judge it.
We have become so black and white, negative and positive, right and wrong there are no longer in betweens for people to be real with themselves and build from the truths of where they are at. For people to be good to yourself, do not judge it so harshly. Give yourself a chance so if you are feeling like crying or you are fatigued and tired accept that you feel like crying and you are fatigued and tired. Do not make excuses. You may be fatigued and tired one day. Try to be as kind as we can to ourselves and - I have to work at that too - we are always in a hurry.
How do we work on the fact that we are always in a hurry? Yoga and Meditation?
Meditation is different for everybody. Somebody’s mind might not quiet down. But when standing on a bosu ball, completely in the moment, noticing that your abs are engaged, your feet are balanced head to toe aware of everything and present - that is a form of meditation.
When in yoga I use the same mindset with everybody. Standing on the bosu ball sometimes I make them close their eyes and they have to grasp for awareness in this space. In yoga I will say - spread your toes, know what your big toes are doing, make sure feet are not rolling out to the sides. This is a way to make everyone present. Even in Pilates. Be in the moment as much as you can.
To find out more about Tracy and her work please go to the following links: