Tania Cotton is an expert in
- Posture, Movement and Human Performance
- Physical Literacy
- Return to Play
In 1995 Tania qualified as a Chartered Physiotherapist at Kings College, University of London. She went on to gain diverse clinical experience working with people of all ages and backgrounds in Africa, Australia and in Europe. After 4 years practicing within Oxford NHS Trust hospitals, she studied for her ‘Masters in Movement’ at Keele University; and has taught postgraduate ‘Movement Analyis’ courses in Europe . She went on to work at the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, with a broad range of patients and elite athletes including skiers on the FIS Ski World Cup circuit. Her interest in how people learn to move has led her to follow Gyrotonic and Feldenkrais teacher training courses and she is a BASI qualified ski instructor.
Tania is interested in how our thoughts and beliefs affect not only our posture and movement habits but also our biochemistry. She believes that the growing science of ‘epigenetics’ has the potential to empower people to become more proactive in shaping their own health and performance behaviours, enabling them to live life, love life and perform at their best.
Tania is the founder of MovementWise.org that:
- Make films on health and Human performance that reveal how individuals, including elite athletes, have overcome health and performance challenges, to live more fulfilling lives than they previously believed possible.
- Harness ‘The Power of Storytelling’ to share experience and expertise and raise awareness of how mastering meaningful movement tasks enables us to feel and perform better and enjoy living life.
- Bring together leading experts in the science and art behind Health and Human Performance. These experts share how they teach ‘life skills’ to individuals participating in both grass roots and elite level sport, and how these skills can help individuals remain physically and mentally adaptable through different phases of their lives.
- Support ‘The Inside Game’ annual coaching conference that attracts the most inspirational experts in Health, Human Performance, Coaching and Communication.
- Create collaborative relationships between health and performance professionals; international organisations and federations that support health sport and active occupations and lifestyles; educational institutions and coaching networks.
Tania wants to show people how they can develop the physical competencies, mental confidence and emotional resilience not only to excel within sport but also in life.
The first 10 MovementWise films tell the true stories of patients, including elite athletes, that Tania mentored (Testimonials). Tania personally interviews all of the experts that appear within MovementWise films. Tania loves to bring the best out of experts and enable them to share their knowledge and expertise with broad range of audiences. She appears in the following films:
‘We are what we repeatedly do – excellence is therefore not an act but a habit’ Aristotle
‘Play is the highest form of research.’ Albert Einstein
‘The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination’ Albert Einstein
Close up and Personal
Tania Cotton was interviewed by Wimbledon Clinics, London, who were keen to learn more about her professional journey as both a clinician and a film producer: Off Piste and Personal…
An interview with Tania Cotton, Founder of MovementWise.org
By Wimbledon Clinics
Question 1: How did you get into what you’re doing?
I was very fortunate to be asked to speak at the Swiss Annual Sports Medicine Conference – specifically about my work looking at movement and function. One case that I presented was a sprinter, who had suffered from the same injury three years running. It was the start of a journey for me – helping people understand that ‘if we do the same thing, we get the same result’. So if we want to improve our health and performance outcomes we often need to have the courage to do things differently. This sprinter had been looked at, in the past, as ‘an injury’, but not as a whole person in the context of a real life. The body is connected, and assessing the whole movement system is crucial. My approach is centred on looking at an athlete’s movement ‘software’ in the brain, their movement patterns. Our software is affected by our thoughts and beliefs, how we sleep, what medication or drugs we take, what we eat…. all of these things have an effect on how we perform activities in our every day life, and in sport, and this influences our health and performance outcomes. For the sprinter, I presented my assessment findings and ‘whole body’ management approach one year later, at the next Sports Medicine Conference. After this event I was asked to see more clients and, basically, I never went home! I’ve been living in Saint Gervais, near Chamonix ever since and work as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Sports Medicine Centre in Geneva.
Question 2: Why the mountains?
I always dreamt of living in the Alps. Environment affects us a lot and as a therapist, the mountains bring out the best in me. This is why I try to see people outside of the hospital environment. Visiting people at their homes, at work or in their ‘natural habitat’ (for example, seeing a runner at the track). It allows you pick up on issues immediately that you may miss in the clinic. With the sprinter, I was able to gain critical information into what was driving his injury from watching him simply go through his warm up drills on the track.
Question 3: What’s your background?
I trained as a British Chartered Physiotherapist at King’s College London as a mature student. I had previously looked after a freestyle skier who suffered a spinal cord injury, and from being a healthy, active athlete he had to cope with being ‘a quadriplegic’. I went on to do a Master’s module in movement analysis, realising more and more that ‘how’ people move and ‘why’ can have a big impact on their health and performance outcomes. I wanted to be able to identify and understand the cause of an individual’s pain, pathology and performance failure. I studied movement impairment syndromes thanks to the work of Professor Shirley Sahrmann who identified three main causes of pain and disability: ‘congenital pathologies’: things you’re born with (like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis or skeletal abnormalities); ‘accidental injuries’ (such as tearing your anterior cruciate knee ligament skiing); but the most common cause for our bodies to ‘breaking down ‘ is the result of ‘poor, habitual movement patterns’ in our every day lives. I believe we need not only to identify the ‘physical’ drivers but also the ‘emotional drivers’ and limiting beliefs that can have a big influence on the way we move and our ability to recover.
Queston 4: Tell me about MovementWise?
I set up MovementWise.org to make people more aware of just what is possible and to help them embrace the expertise that is out there. ‘There are many people who don’t know that they have a problem that has a solution and that this solution can have a significantly positive effect not only on their own lives but on the lives of those around them’. We have been filming true stories on Health and Human Performance, that show how individuals, including elite athletes, have overcome health and performance challenges to do things in their lives they previously believed impossible.
Our first film ‘Kate’s Story – Turning a Threat into an Opportunity’ reveals how Kate, having overcome her breast cancer, decided to embark upon a 160km road bike ride from Olympic Park to Buckingham Palace. She had never ridden a road bike before. She is about to do it again the following year. She needed help at every step, from deciding which bike to buy, to learning to clip in and out of the pedals, to learning how she would ride efficiently, and in a way that was good for her body and her self-belief. She learned everything in seven weeks!
Question 5: What else is in the pipeline?
We’ve also produced a film about Kate’s husband, Dave, entitled ‘Downward Spiral’. He went through a critically difficult time in his career, as CEO of a company, at the same time as Kate was diagnosed with cancer. Their daughter, Sam, was the impetus for a film called ‘Health is a Journey not a Destination’. Presenting these individual’s as a ‘family’ with different health needs shows how inexplicably linked physical performance and human emotion are. We’ve made 15 films so far that are all available on the MovementWise.org website. The idea is to allow individuals and athletes to tell their stories, to show how you can overcome health challenges and to give people the courage to come forward and inspire others with their own journeys. It’s empowering for everyone involved.
Question 6: Have you had any injuries yourself?
A few years back, I had a very serious bike accident and damaged my knee, fractured my spine and broke my jaw. I couldn’t cycle for two years. The first time back skiing, I damaged my knee again. Then 3 months later, walking up a mountain path, a huge Chocolate Labrador ran down a steep slope ‘through’ my knee, tearing ligaments and the meniscus again. So, I know what it’s like to be knocked down repeatedly. What it shows, however, is just how adaptable the body really is – if you feed the correct movement into it and stress it in the right way.
Question 7: Safety tip on the mountains?
The most important thing is to be prepared. People don’t always realise the amount of preparation that high-level athletes go through to get ready to ski or perform at other sports. It’s about creating a lifestyle that exposes you to a broad range of movement experiences and teaches you postures and movement skills that don’t just prepare you for sport but also for life. We need to train to be adaptable and not become adapted. There are lots of reasons that your body can get ‘set in its ways’, and when we put on skis and are faced with unexpected challenges, it’s important that our bodies can adapt to the unpredictable. If you don’t have a foundation of ‘movement literacy’ with or neuromuscular fitness, your body will struggle and you will put yourself at risk. Plus, you’re taking away the enjoyment that you could and should be having!
Question 8: Do you ski?
Yes, I’m a passionate off-piste skier and I love ski touring. The attraction is the freedom, being out there in nature and being able to ski the whole mountain. Getting from one place to another is a real adventure, not just skiing downhill then getting on a lift at the bottom! And the animal spotting is unsurpassed: the marmots, the chamois, the bouquetins the buzzards….
Question 9: Do you spend time in the mountains in the summer?
Yes, and it’s even more beautiful – from spring into summer there are different flowers every week. You can enjoy mountain biking, walking, climbing… and the road biking here is fantastic. You can enjoy a really active lifestyle, and that’s something that I believe is good for me and for other people. It ‘adds life to your years’ – I love that expression. I often see people in Geneva getting ‘old before their time’ – so I want to work with them and show them that they are capable of so much more than they ever thought possible.
Question 10: Who are your clients?
It runs the gamut from white-collar workers (for example, Proctor and Gamble professionals, people at the UN (United Nations), the WHO (World Health organisation) and the WTO (World Trade Organisation) – most of them are based in Geneva); to track and field athletes, martial artists, ice skaters and mountain sports enthusiasts. A multi-disciplinary partnership is key, it’s rewarding working with other good professionals and bringing the right expertise together for each patient. To me, the definition of a good therapist is someone who knows their limitations, as well as their strengths. We all need to learn from each other and it is our patients and our athletes who are our greatest teachers. They challenge our beliefs and stretch our minds as we work together to find sustainable solutions to their health and performance challenges.