July 1, 2015
Misty Copeland's promotion to Principle Dancer for the ABT - against all odds, starting late in the game, and with a fierce determination that all athletes have tasted - has inspired me today to hit my Pilates workout with a deeper sense of purpose. I think of all her plies, passe's, and turns, practiced over and over again. I think we Pilates lovers can relate. I think of all the times we practice the Hundred, Teaser and the rest of the Pilates repertoire. All that practice so almost like magic, without thinking about it, we move with economy, grace, and balance. We start to hold ourselves noticably more regally. We use our body to the greatest advantage, making the most of our strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. This is Pilates: Fusion of mind and body. The paradox is that in order to produce an attention-free union of mind and body, we must constantly pay attention to our body while we are doing the movement. And then we practice, practice, practice. The magic doesn't just happen though, it's our "attention-paying" which is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of a movement. Enter our Guiding Principles:
Concentrate on what you are doing with the entire body
Control every aspect of every movement – large motions & joint positions
Centering is the starting place and focal point
Flowing Movement outward from a strong center (Romana) not too fast or slow, not stiff or jerky
Precision of movement and precision of placement creates bodily fine tuning that carries over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement
Breathing full and deep in every exercise, properly coordinated with movement. Breathe in on the point of effort, and out on return or relaxation. Squeeze the breath out of your lungs during motions that squeeze everything tight, and inhale when you straighten up (ie. Spine Stretch)
BUT it doesn't stop there! The key is how we work inside the movement that matters. It's like learning a new language of movement. Enter the Game-Changers:
We find our center and our powerhouse in motion by drawing the abdominals in and up to make the distance between the lower abs and spine as small as possible. No problem when we are lying down, but add it into each movement and it's a brand new world.
We find the posture of our head and neck in multiple postions without tensing our chest and shoulders. Lying down the point of contact to the mat should be somewhere near the base of the skull, producing length in the back of the neck (and strength in the front of the neck). Now take it upright to sitting, standing and moving!
We strengthen our necks by properly lifting our head off the mat in a way that stretches the back of the neck which helps anchor the spine into the mat (think Hundred and Ab Series) which translates into being able to hold out head higher all day long.
We distinguish the difference between relaxing and collapsing; the difference between relaxing and over-controlling or over tensing. This stress-free movement is found by relaxing the muscles while maintaining enough tone to hold the position we want. Think quads overtaking the job of other muscles.
We stretch our arms and legs without locking the elbows and knees. We figure out how to reach the arms long from our shoulders and to stretch the feet long from the hips.
We learn to sit up out of our hips. Our chest is pulled up and our head is sliding up an imaginary pole so that our back is not arched, we can find an extra bit of straightness and uprightness that comes from lifting the lowest part of your abdomen, as if we are stretching our naval away from our hips.
We discover the cure for flaccid gluteal muscles, a chief culprit for poor posture and an ungraceful stride. It is as simple as pressing the buttocks together as if squeezing a dime between them. When standing up our thighs should turn slightly outward and the front of the pelvis is flat and open. It works like a charm and beats incessant reps of large strenuous leg exercises which miss point.
We find a two-way stretch in all movements, reaching the arms from the lower back in one direction while reaching the legs from the lower back in the opposite direction.
We roll and unroll the spine without jerking the body, one vertebrae at a time. And if we are stiff, instead of cheating, we use our arms to help.
A famous composer once wrote: Repetition is a form of change. So we practice the same exercises day after day and discover that we are always finding our body - on new levels, with new depth and insight.
If you are looking for a way to supplement your lessons, try my new program Pilates Avatar . If you are a studio owner or manager, learn how you can bring this program to your studio!