Mindfulness

Pilates Potatoes


One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes - four 
Five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes - more 
Eight potatoes, nine potatoes, ten potatoes - all

Sometimes we can get a little discouraged with the parts of our body that do not seem to improve in Pilates as fast as we would like. For me, it is my lower back.  It's difficult, but crucial, to constantly pull your belly button to your spine to activate your deep abdominal muscles throughout the exercise. Sometimes I forget to concentrate on this which causes some soreness after a class. 

The strain in my lumbar spine, or small of my back, could possibly be caused by tight hamstrings or I could be overextending my lower back by forcing my legs to straighten. Weak ab muscles and tight hip flexors could also be the culprit.  If I stay consistent in modifying the exercises below, my lower back actually feels strengthen and unstrained after a Pilates workout.  

1.      Keep the spine neutral- (using the natural curvature of the spine) is the only place where the muscles can work safely and effectively to support the spine in all movements.

In neutral spine, we work the transverse abdominis, this muscle spans from the front of your belly to the connective tissue on each side of your spine. This is quite often an overlooked muscle, and it’s generally weak. It’s also difficult to access properly unless you are working with an experienced instructor who will know how to cue for proper muscle activation. You can continually connect with those muscles as you focus on the exhale of breath through each movement.

 

2.      Be careful with Roll-up movements- motion that moves from laying flat to sitting up.

This Pilates motion can cause lower back pains and injuries when done repetitively and with tight hip flexors and weak core muscles.  By jerking yourself up repetitively to try to accomplish this exercise, you can really damage your back over time.

 

Use a mini ball at your lower back to help support the spine as you roll into it only half way down, or, use a stretch band looped around the feet to give yourself a little bit of tension to go up and down easily.  Make sure to keep your arms long and not pull yourself up with your arms, but use the rolling action of the spine and deep abdominals.

3.      Laying on Stomach movements- like swimmers, “Superman” pose, laying on long box on stomach

While doing these exercises, only lift gently and maybe even just one leg and arm at a time, making sure to draw the abdominals up off the mat.  These movements, lifting the arms and legs too high, can cause the back to hyperextend and cause excessive disc compression.  Also, keeping the neck alignment in neutral will keep strain off the lumbar spine.

 

4.      Teaser movements- advanced movement requiring you to come up into a V - sit movement.  

If you don't have strong and developed transverse abdominal muscles then you will not be able to properly execute this advanced movement. You will strain the lower back when rising up into the V-sit with your legs straight.

 

When the class does this move, instead, bend your legs grabbing under your thighs as you gently rock yourself forward and then up into a balanced position.

As your hamstrings and hips loosen up and your abs become stronger all these Pilates moves above will start to feel easier. Easier on your back that is; Pilates is always going to be a killer on your abs, which is why we love it so. Also be careful to work within your range of motion when doing the exercises and only straighten and/or lower the legs if the low back can remain glued to the mat or carriage.  

Don’t be discouraged if you have lower back pain or strain, but DO let your Pilates instructor be aware so they can help make adjustments and cue moves to help strengthen your core and loosen your hamstrings. 

Five Potato, Six Potato, Seven Potato More Pilates

Leads to

Eight Potato, Nine Potato, Ten Potato ALL Pilates moves!

A Wise Old Owl

A Wise Old Owl

A wise old owl lived in an oak

The more he saw the less he spoke

The less he spoke the more he heard.

Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?

 

If you think of Pilates as exercise for your physical core, you are correct, but there are reasons to think these popular workouts might do some good for your mental core, as well.

For those who are new, Pilates is a fitness program intended to build strength and flexibility, using carefully controlled, precise movements first developed by Joseph Pilates nearly a century ago. The exercises can be performed on mats or specialized equipment, including the Reformer, a contraption that looks like a narrow bed equipped with springs, pulleys and a sliding base. Pilates first caught on with professional dancers but now is taught in gyms and studios for the masses.

 

Joseph Pilates aspired to the idea of attaining complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.  While just a few studies have looked at the mental benefits of Pilates, researchers say there are several ways it might be good for your brain and your state of mind.

1. It promotes focus and mindfulness-

It is difficult to practice Pilates with a wandering mind. In Pilates, your instructor will ask you to move one vertebra at a time, for example, and that requires attention and focus. Students are taught to notice sensations produced by each movement and to coordinate their movements and breathing. When movement, breath and attention all are in sync, that can create a meditative state

2. Pilates could strengthen your brain-

Pilates is a form of strength training, and that kind of exercise, though less studied than aerobic exercise, has been associated with positive brain changes in some research.

For example, a study of 155 women, published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, found that those who engaged in strength training twice a week for a year saw improvements in executive functioning and memory that lasted for at least one additional year. They also saw less brain atrophy, as measured on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, than women who engaged in balance and toning exercises. Brain shrinkage has been linked to problems with memory and thinking skills.
 

3. It could improve your posture, but also your attitude.

One goal of Pilates is to improve posture by strengthening core muscles, including those in the abdomen and back, and by making students more aware of body alignment as they move through their exercises and their daily routines.

Better posture can produce physical benefits, such as less back and shoulder pain, but it also can provide a powerful mental boost, some studies suggest. 

4. It is a chance to learn new things-

If you are new to Pilates, your brain will reap the benefits of learning new patterns of movement.  Any time you are learning something new that requires sustained effort, you are changing your brain.  

With the help of a good instructor, you should be able to keep building and modifying and changing your routine over time, benefiting body and brain. You may think you’ve mastered a move, and then your instructor will say, ‘Now let’s do it upside down and backward.’ ”
 

5. You may find you sleep better-

It has generally been proven that any kind of physical activity helps with regular sleep, but Pilates may be especially good for slumber. Those who practice Pilates report better sleep than those who do not.  Pilates may engage the body and brain in ways that help clear our head noise to let us lie down and sleep.

The modern world is full of distractions, stresses and chaos. Each one of us is looking for a personal state of peace and tranquility that would help us make sense of everything that is going on in our lives. When searching for that inner balance we usually consider popular self-improvement techniques like meditation, simplifying, affirmations etc. but we rarely consider any form of exercise as a viable tool to help us balance our lives.  

Joseph Pilates was one Wise Old Owl when he said

“A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.”