Pilates Breathing

Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner,
Eating a Christmas pie:
   He put in his thumb
   And pulled out a plum
And said, “What a good boy am I!”

 

Ah, if we were all only as proud as Little Jack Horner was when he pulled that plum out! It is often said that COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY. Of course, some comparison is healthy and important. You should take a look at what your peers and competition are doing to stay current. However, don’t let it eat away at you and give you feelings of doubt or negativity. We should be happy for others successes. If we are doing things right, we will have our OWN successes and at our OWN pace. Let others successes be the driving motivation to keep you working hard to compete. The minute you let it get you down, it will only distract you from your goals and what you have accomplished so far. So it’s like I commonly say to my clients during Pilates class “Keep your eyes on your own Reformer”. Never compare yourself to others…their path is different than yours. 

Exercise is usually thought of as a physical activity, but it can be just as much an emotional and mental journey -- one that should positive nurture and support your overall well-being. While society often portrays fitness as a means to change the way you look by reducing your size or actually changing the shape of your body, for me, those ideas aren't fuel for self-acceptance and positive self-image. This is why, in your journey to better both your physical and mental well-being, it's so important to learn how to stop comparing yourself to those around you.

Because, in the end, comparing your fitness journey to another person's doesn't accomplish anything for yourself, for the other person, or for anyone, really. And, personally, the more I work toward practicing positive thinking and self-acceptance in my own exercise practice, the more fun, free, and balanced the experience feels overall. Besides isn't that the point of doing Pilates anyway, to feel good about the whole thing?

We should redefine what exercise and movement mean to us.  Consider your own body, your own abilities, and your own speed when you think about how to guide your movement. 

Then use encouraging words that speak uniquely to you. And that applies not just to your body, but your whole self. You're doing this to support your well-being so you can be the best version of yourself and live your absolute best life. That's real strength. You go dig out your own plum and hold it up proundly!

 

THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN

THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN….

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.

He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.

He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

 

WHILE IT SEEMS THAT WOMEN dominate in Pilates classes, reformer workouts hold plenty of benefits for men who rise to the challenge. So, let me reach out to you men out there.

Whether you're a powerlifter or prepping for your first marathon, a Pilates class can help fine-tune your performance. The truth is Pilates was created by a man, Joseph Pilates, -- for men! Pilates offers a great workout, regardless of your gender. Plenty of pro athletes, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods, incorporate Pilates into their fitness regimen.

Why? Exercises are made up of subtle, concentrated movements that can help you do the following:

1. Develop often neglected muscle groups. Some of your muscles, like those that dominate your daily movements, are stronger than others, and a big part of Pilates is focusing on those muscles that don't typically get a lot of attention. In Pilates, you consciously move in certain ways to build muscles that you don't hit while lifting.

2. Improve flexibility. In general, the more muscle mass you have, the less flexible you are. But Pilates' focus on stretching helps prevent injuries and muscle strains, and increases range of motion.

3. Build core strength. Every Pilates exercise focuses on using your core to power movement in your limbs. Pilates also hits your transverse abdominals, the base ab muscle under your six-pack.

4. Live with more awareness. Pilates forces you to pay attention—you've got to focus on your breath while working through each movement and concentrating on proper form. After a Pilates session, you'll feel refreshed and relaxed, which can even carry over into the next day if you're lucky.

The first couple of times you try Pilates, you might feel stiff and a little out of place, but don’t give up!  Flexibility and coordination will improve with practice. And you will be focused so much on controlling your breathing, keeping your balance, and maintaining a straight spine, you won’t have time to worry about anything else. 

Pilates is multi-layered, which is what keeps it interesting for people, even after years of practice. You’ll learn the basics of each movement first, breaking them down as much as needed, then adding things in to deepen the experience or simply add more challenge.

So, don’t think of Pilates as “FOR GIRLS ONLY.” We would love to see you there!

ABCD's

A, B, C, D, E, F, G....

....Next time won't you sing with me?!

When I was in training to become a Stott Pilates instructor, I made friends with an amazing girl named Tina.  She had been taking Pilates on the Reformer for a few years as a client 

and had decided to take the instructor training, so that she could exercise more efficiently and with more understanding.  I was so suprised! She wasn't spending all this time and money so that she could teach....she just wanted to be able to understand what it was that she was actually doing in her Pilates class. She wanted to know WHY we focus on breathing and WHY we stabilize the spine, and she even wanted to know all the names of all the muscles we were contracting and enlongating.  So, we quickly became study buddies and learned the ABC's of Pilates together.  I found it very inspirational to study with her. I developed a love for knowledge with her. It WAS fascinating to learn how to engage certain muscles, how to create a class that balanced out the body, and especially, how to work with those that had injuries or concerns with their health.  

Knowing the theory of Pilates helped me to recognize details and patterns for my own workout, in my own body.  I approached the classes I took from other instructors with so much more

appreciation for the control and the challenge that Pilates brings.  Even in a non-Pilates workout, I found myself applying the knowledge of core strength, breathing, stability in the joints, etc. In Pilates, your muscles are working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs or bands, with the ultimate goal of strengthening and isolating the right muscles. Our goal should be to take our time with the exercises, focus on the task at hand, and connect to our breath. We don't want to speed past the details and try to execute the maneuvers too quickly. 

I knew what I was learning as an instructor was valuable. I know how special it is to me, and I simply want everyone else to learn it and see the value in it too. Growing from client to student to teacher, I realize, of course, that not everyone picks up on the same aspects of anything, but I try as an instructor now to pass this information on to my clients.  I hope they retain the connection they learn in Pilates and apply it to their non-Pilates activities. I am forever grateful to all the instructors I have had the opportunity to learn from. They are my inspiration for continual learning and singing the praises of Pilates!

2abcd.png

Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick, Jack  jumped over the Candlestick.

Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick

Jack  jumped over the Candlestick

 

Well, maybe in Pilates we don’t have to worry about being as quick as Captain Jack escaping authorities or about jumping over a fire, but we DO think a lot about how nimble we are.  When we are nimble, we are quick and light in action; we are quick-witted and alert. Pilates brings a mind/body connection that puts us in that frame of mind.

Joseph Pilates said “Concentrate on the correct movement each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value.”

Pilates is where we learn to control each movement of our bodies. When we practice a short spine move on the reformer, we don’t let the tension of the springs fling us onto our shoulders. We focus on our exhale as we lengthen our imprint, squeeze our gluts, and inch our vertebrae open to lift up onto our scapula where we use our core to balance and lengthen down our spine. 

When I first came into Pilates, I was disappointed that I wasn’t sweating, that I wasn’t winded, and that possibly, I wasn’t even “really exercising”, but within the first few weeks, I began to understand the Pilates terminology, the idea of working from your center. I became more powerful and flexible than ever before.

The next time you are in a Pilates class follow the advice of Joseph Pilates. ConcentrateConcentrate on the breathing, concentrate on the contraction, concentrate on lengthening each muscle, concentrate on holding the joints in place, concentrate on each muscle individually. The more we are able to connect the mind to the body and do the exercise correctly, the less likely you are to feel as if you aren’t “exercising” like I did in the beginning. It is now impossible for me to make it through a Pilates class without sweating, without becoming winded, and, I definitely cannot say I didn’t “exercise”!

 

 

 

A Mermaid fair, Singing alone, Combing her hair…

 

 

A mermaid fair, 

Singing alone, 

Combing her hair,

Under the sea,

In a golden curl

With a comb of pearl,

On a throne?

  • Tennyson

 

The other day my nine-year old daughter challenged me to do a cartwheel in the backyard.  No problem, I thought. I’d done plenty of cartwheels in my life, maybe not in the last 15 years, but it’s like riding a bike, right? I could whip one off and show my daughter that I was a cool mom.  It seemed like, in my mind, I could visualize myself doing a cartwheel with ease; my muscles that I would be using seemed to contract in preparation for this feat.  Well, let’s just say that the cartwheel was performed, but thankfully, not filmed.  I quickly learned that there are a lot of muscles used for cartwheels that I hadn’t tapped into for far too long!

 

I think we can agree that we spend a lot of time flexing our spine forward, like when we reach over to put on our shoes or pick something off the floor.  We tend to spend a lot of time sitting down, so we become tight in those supporting muscles around our spine.  But, we don’t lean side to side very often throughout the day. How much does that even matter?

 

The Mermaid side stretch is a Pilates move that opens the side of the body and lengthens the obliques, QL, iliacus, and pelvic floor muscles. There is a dynamic connection between when you breath and stretch at the same time.  Pay close attention to your instructor and use that breathing pattern to open up your rib cage and get a more intense stretch.  Remember when you extend your arm overhead, do not lean forward or backwards. Imagine you are between two planes of glass. It is not about how far over you lean, but about how open you can get the opposite side of your body. Think about reaching up at an angle more than coming closer to your knee.  This will help open up your waist and hip on the opposite side. You could also keep your gaze towards your outreached hand to open the hip even more.

 

Maybe you aren’t tempted to do a cartwheel like I was, BUT, you may find yourself wanting to play tennis or golf or swing a bat.  This motion around your spine and hips needs to be stretched and fluid to keep you safe from injury.  We want lots of strength and lift in both sides of our waist.  The Mermaid exercise builds a balanced range of motion in the hip joints, resulting in less strain on the spine and more fluid cuts and turns.  So lean side-to-side and embrace your inner Ariel!

 

We Huff and Puff and Blow the House Down

Don’t be afraid to PUFF it out and make noise in a Pilates class

It all starts with Pilates breathing...

I used to take breathing for granted.  I mean, breathe in, and then let the air out. It’s not a big deal. I’ve been doing it since birth. I like to think I had it mastered.  Then I took a Pilates class where my instructor kept telling me, not only WHEN to breathe, but HOW to breathe. 

There are two main ways in which people breathe….into the top of the chest, which signifies being tense and prone to anxiety.  When one breathes into the intercostal muscles rather than through the rib cage, not enough oxygen is getting pulled throughout the body. 

The opposite is deep belly breathing which has been proven to cause relaxing of the body.  The only problem with that is that it isn’t super helpful when you are exercising and NOT trying to relax.  Also, some people find themselves getting light-headed if they belly breathe for too long.

When you take a Pilates class, breathing is the first concept that is taught. Breathe in through the nose and feel your lungs expand up and out to the sides of your ribcage.  Fill up your lungs so much that you even feel pressure in the upper back.  Then press your air out through pursed lips like you are blowing out a candle.  I bet you are doing that right now. Did you feel your abs contract as you pressed the air out? If you didn’t, push more air out this time. Like you are getting to the very last candle on a cake, but you can’t take another breath in or everyone will say you cheated. Here is a way to test your breathing.  Put your thumbs on the bottom of ribs and your pointer finger on the top of your hip bone.  When you are blowing all the air out, the space between your rib and hip bone should get about an inch or so smaller. You can also think about also sinking your belly button inward while doing a small Kegel squeeze.   

If you do this breathing long enough, you will actually get an ab workout.  I find myself practicing my Pilates breathing when I’m running.  I practice when I’m driving.  Then I find myself doing it when I revert back to my shallow breathing and need some help relaxing some of the tension out of my shoulders. 

This form of Pilates breathing is making you aware of your core, and that’s what we all want to work on, right?  We have a goal to plank for hours!  What I have found is that when I exhale at the right time during a Pilates move, my muscles work together in the right way.  Contracting my muscles while I execute a strong exhale through the abs helps me to control the movement. It keeps my form, my posture, and my spine in perfect alignment. I feel stronger when I use my breath to help my movement. It is a feeling of being complete within yourself.  

So, don’t discount that breathing in your next Pilates class. Think of forcing that air out and make some noise. I will be huffing and puffing alongside you.