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!
Filed under: Business Matters,Lifestyle Matters,Movement Matters
February 9, 2015
It doesn't surprise me, but somehow it still takes me by surprise, how much there is to learn about the work of Pilates.
Romana frequently told us to "learn something new each day" and "if you stay true to the method it will reveal itself to you", and it certainly has.
But there's nothing like a good old fashioned chat with a colleague, sharing experiences and perspectives, solutions and strategies, to bring me back to who I am as a teacher and practitioner.
Kathy Ross-Nash and I had a great chat a couple nights ago and our conversation led us to how we foster independence in our students. We've heard the many stories of how Joe ran his studio, requiring students to learn how to work the system for their bodies. Romana carried that idea asking the student "what's next" instead of spoon feeding information so we could develop our mind as well as our body.
We were expected to know our exercises and orders. And that was that.
In the spirit of sharing with our community, take a quick listen to Kathy Ross-Nash saying what she does in her studio to challenge the minds of her students and then giving a final reward to sweeten it up. Thank-you Kathy!
I hope you enjoy it and share it! I look forward to having more chats with friends and sharing the collective wisdom.
Filed under: Business Matters,Movement Matters
March 10, 2014
How do you get into the zone during your workouts? How do keep yourself true to the discipline of clean transitions, advancing your own practice and challenging your own personal ideal? Where do you give yourself slack? One of the things I have learned over and over again in the years of my teaching is that the commitment to my own practice is directly related to the quality of my teaching. When I keep my practice strong I find myself so much more engaged, focused, excited and energized not only in my teaching, but also in my daily life. I realized early on the more I personally do Pilates, the more I have to share about it. Romana once told me that if I stay true to the method, the method would reveal itself and stay true to me. What did she mean by that?
For me, it is simply a matter of working with three important factors. First, I intentionally work full out every time I practice. This means to go for quality and not to skimp when I don’t feel like it. I challenge my personal best by maintaining awareness of extraneous movements and by focusing on precision and movement quality, reaching for the goal of the exercise. By working with a balance of tempo and control with squeaky-clean transitions, a new world of discovery opens up for the one-hour I give myself. I know the places in the workout where I have choices to include a variation or perhaps omit something, making instantaneous decisions about how and why to do so; always mindful of where I am going next. I notice the nuances occurring in the moment and work get the feeling or purpose of the exercise starting with the first repetition and then carry it through to resolution in as few repetitions as possible. Sounds like a tall order, but that is what goes on in my head. Experience has taught me that by going deeper in my personal practice, gems of insight are a joyful reward.
The second factor, which reliably draws me into the zone, is to breathe as full and deep as I can right from the first exercise, whether it is on the mat or reformer. This works like a charm to clear my mind and begin the flow of the session. I get in tune with the reformer springs and listen to my breath in time with the sound of the springs working with the movement. I can hear the quality of movement by the sounds I hear. Immediately aware of tension or sluggishness in my body through the breath, I can control the way I feel. Bad mood, good mood it doesn’t matter; after a few good oxygenated breaths in timing with the movement I am on my way to the zone. Early connection with full breathing also creates a deeper powerhouse connection and helps set the rhythm for the entire session.
The third factor that keeps me on point is to keep the workout fresh, fun and varied. Some of this is a matter of session design. Will today’s workout be on the reformer, reformer mat, reformer on the cadillac, or will it be on the chair and barrels? What kind of fun can I create for myself in this one hour of playtime? What discoveries can I make? How can I make this hour really matter to add value to my day? What can I do in this workout to make it feel worthwhile? So a combination of what I bring to the experience is as important as it is deciding what workout design I choose.
Challenging my ideal for that particular day continues to mean honoring my body and at the same time reaching for my edge. When I expect the best from myself, I feel confident asking the same from my clients. We are role models for our clients and when our energy is bright and clear, our clients pick up on that and are uplifted as a result. Energy begets energy. Pilates is a practice, not a performance and there are always places I can improve. That for me is part of the ongoing discovery into self-mastery that captured my imagination when I first began Pilates and what keeps me coming back for more.
Filed under: Movement Matters