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Barnett puts her exercise techniques in words, motion

Larkin Barnett comes from a long line of Spokane physicians.

Her grandfather, Edwin J. Barnett, was the chief of staff of what was then Sacred Heart Hospital in the 1930s.

Her father, Robert Barnett, was a well-known Spokane pediatrician. Both were prominent medical innovators and researchers.

Larkin Barnett, 56, has devoted her life to human well-being, too – but from an entirely different angle. She’s a movement therapist.

For more than three decades, she has used her background in modern dance to conceive and teach a simple fitness technique which she calls the key to a fit body, graceful movement, powerful muscles and a stress-free life.

Barnett has returned to Spokane from Florida to teach classes in this technique to rehabilitation patients, athletes and people who simply want to learn how to be stronger, better balanced and more relaxed.

She is the author of four books about her technique, including the recently published “Practical Pilates Using Imagery” (Lorenz Educational Press, 240 pages, $34.95) and three titles for children – “On a Lark: Creative Movement for Children,” “Pilates and Calisthenics for Children” and “Creative Yoga for Children” – from the same publisher.

Barnett will be speaking at Auntie’s Bookstore on Wednesday evening, but she said it will not be a lecture or a reading. She will actually teach the audience her basic technique, which she calls the ABC exercises (Alignment/Breathing/Core Control).

She said the audience will leave knowing these new “life tools.” Children are welcome.

“Before I leave planet Earth, I want to get this technique out to as many people as possible,” said Barnett.

Here’s a synopsis of her basic ABC technique:

Alignment – These exercises line up the bones to allow muscles to move more efficiently.

Stand up and pull your stomach muscles in toward your spine. Think of your pelvis as a fish bowl, with the rim at your waistline.

Tip your hips forward to dump water out in front of you, then tilt your fish bowl backwards, to splash water on the floor behind you.

Now balance your pelvis, tighten your stomach muscles and keep your “fish bowl” perfectly balanced – even while walking and sitting down.

Breathing – Breathing deeply from your diaphragm calms the nervous system and nourishes the muscles.

Visualize a balloon in your body and when you inhale, try to fill the balloon from top to bottom, side to side and across your body.

When you exhale, picture the balloon shrinking from all sides and deflating into the center of your body.

Core control – A strong core is the basis for all biomechanically sound movements, said Barnett.

Contract your abdominal muscles like a jaw clamping shut within your trunk. Then contract your abdominals like a corset, cinching your rib cage together and downward.

Next, contract your abdominal muscles like a girdle, tightening inward, backward and upward. Then contract your abdominals like an “internal hug” wrapping around your torso. Then pull your navel in toward your spine.

Combine A, B, and C and you have the core, if you’ll pardon the expression, of Barnett’s technique.

None of these is exactly revolutionary. Athletes (not to mention chiropractors) have long been conscious of alignment. Singers and actors have done deep-breathing exercises for centuries.

Core strength and control is important in many martial arts, in yoga and in Pilates, a discipline which Barnett teaches.

However, Barnett said she came upon the idea long before “core strength” became a fitness byword. She stumbled upon it because of her background in modern dance, not long after she graduated from Sweet Briar College in Virginia with a degree in dance and drama (she later got a master’s degree in dance from Mills College in Oakland, Calif.).

She went to work in Massachusetts as a fitness instructor and found that her students were busy, stressed and, well, not exactly loaded with strength in the abdominal area.

“So I created this exercise which I called a ‘foundation exercise,’ ” she said

This was in the 1980s and Barnett didn’t know much, if anything, about Pilates or martial arts. But she knew what highly committed modern dancers had to do if they wanted to use their bodies with maximum strength and control.

So she taught her students to take core stability to its full potential and make it a basis for all of their other exercises.

“My boss said, ‘Something different is going on in your class,’ ” Barnett recalled. “She said, ‘People are moving with power, speed and efficiency of motion.’ ”

Barnett has been teaching this way ever since. She went on to become a movement therapist at the well-known Canyon Ranch Spa in Massachusetts. She later taught in the exercise science and health program at Florida Atlantic University.

She has taught athletes, actors (including Joanne Woodward), nurses and rehabilitation patients. Mostly, she has taught people who want to get the most out of their exercise routines.

Barnett sounds like an evangelist when touting the benefits of this technique. She claims that it will result in “better complexion, posture, coordination, balance, agility” and “improved health of the organs, spine and lower back.”

“Concentration on the core protects the joints – it takes the weight of the body up and out of your legs,” she said. “You don’t need to let gravity get you down anymore.”

Barnett doesn’t stop there. She says it will even improve your “concentration, confidence, energy, relaxation, sleep patterns, optimism and emotional equilibrium,” because of the key connections between mind and body.

Deep breathing, for instance, trains the body to return the nervous system to a calmer state.

And here’s a claim that will appeal to one ever-hopeful group of people: It will even improve your golf game.

Barnett said she can teach the basics in one session – like the free one at Auntie’s – and then people can practice them as part of their daily routine. They can do it while standing in line at the bank, sitting at a desk, climbing stairs or taking a walk.

For those who want more intensive training, Barnett is affiliated with the Grassroots Wellness Spa, 1303 S. Grand Blvd., available by phone at (509) 474-0213.

She recently moved back to Spokane – after being gone since age 14 – to be closer to her brothers and her cousins.

With her family’s local health care roots, Barnett said she feels she has “come full circle.”

Or, should we say, danced full circle.