pain management

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.”

 

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!

 

One, Two, Buckle My shoe

One, Two, Buckle My shoe

Three, Four, Shut the door

Five, Six, Pick up sticks

Seven, Eight, Don’t be late

Nine, Ten, Do it over again!

There are two questions I tend to get asked by new Pilates clients…

1)  How many classes a week do I need to take to FEEL a difference?

2)  How long until I SEE a difference?

If you have looked up some basic information about Pilates you might have seen a quote by Joseph Pilates himself….

“In 10 sessions, you’ll feel the difference. In 20 sessions, you’ll see the difference. In 30 sessions, others will see the difference.”  

Joseph was emphatic about being consistent. Regular practice can do more than just tone and lean out one’s body. It begins in those initial Pilates workouts. 

First 10 sessions:You will develop a greater awareness of your body. Your posture begins to improve, which elongates your silhouette, your breath will become more focused and you might start to alleviate muscle soreness and back pain.  With continued practice, you will see increased muscle tone and definition, and will feel different in the way you move in everyday activities. 

Second 10 sessions:  You will definitely feel stronger and maybe even see some physical differences in your shape. However, if your goal is to lose weight, you need to take into consideration that diet is about 70-80% responsible for weight loss and physical physique. Meaning, no matter how much Pilates you do, if you aren’t mindful of your diet, weight loss might elude you.  That being said, if your diet is well-balanced, I would expect 3–4 sessions of dedicated practice weekly to follow Pilates’ rule of thumb about when you’ll see results. Give it a couple of weeks, and you’ll really start to feel consistently better (usually that “feel better” feeling occurs immediately after a session…after a few sessions, you’ll see those feel good moments will start to stick). If you do other activities, you might even start to see the effects of Pilates seep through there (better golf score, hitting the volleyball harder, running faster, deeper Yoga practice). And if you have special conditions or chronic aches and pains, you might reap the benefits of Pilates there first.

Third 10 sessions:How often you practice Pilates also contributes to how fast you see and feel a change in your body, as well as the intensity of your workouts. When you focus on form and breath, challenge yourself with each session, and integrate the six principles of Pilates each time you exercise, you’ll see changes faster than if you approach it with less intensity and take lots of breaks. What I hear most from Pilates clients is that if they take a break from Pilates classes, THAT is when they feel how much Pilates had been doing for them. The old pre-Pilates complaints of back pain, loss of balance, weakness all come back.  Whether or not someone sees physical differences in you, they will most certainly see a difference in your attitude and confidence in your body and the way it moves. 

Therefore, there is no need to “count” how many sessions you have done. The results are conclusive that no matter how many or how often, YOU will feel better, move better, and look better when you practice Pilates!

 

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!

Shoulders

 

Shoulders

You shoulder the burden
And shoulder the storm
Provide me your shoulder to
Protect me from harm

 

My life has been in overdrive lately and all that tension and stress has ended up in my shoulders.  I try to think about it and relax my shoulders, but I still find them creeping up to my ears and causing a pinching between my shoulder blades. 

 

  • Have you ever injured your arms and shoulders?
  • Do you carry stress and tension in your neck, upper back?
  • Do you ever notice your shoulders hiked up around your ears?

     

    It’s not surprising that so many people, including myself, experience one, or all of these shoulder issues.  To maintain our erect human posture we have two options – good core support, or overuse of our arms and shoulders to try and hold us up.  You might experience more headaches, or be prone to shoulder injuries and rotator cuff problems.  The good news, things can change quickly with the right body awareness, exercises, and improving our posture.

    First of all, we need to strengthen our core and back. It seems a little odd to focus on our muscles SOUTH of our shoulders, but the stronger our abs and back are, the more our shoulders can relax. It’s like the abs and back are a tent pole holding the shoulders up.

    We can also do some active work to pull the shoulders away from the ears. While standing with your spine in neutral, let your arms hang down by your sides. Inhale into the back ribcage and lengthen your spine. Then exhale and draw the shoulder blades gently downward towards the back of your waist. Repeat that 3-5 times.

    Good Pilates exercise techniques makes a healthy body.  If you have a weak core, chances are your shoulders like to be hiked up around your ears.  With a strong center it’s much easier to improve shoulder mechanics, reduce joint pain, and maximize your Pilates workouts.  Doing the right exercises to strengthen your abdominals and back, along with practicing your active relaxing of the shoulder blades, and you’ll be off to a great start for developing strong and healthy arms and shoulders with any and all of the exercises you do. Then we can keep that tension out of our shoulders and put them to better use for those we care about.

Hickory, dickory, dock!

Hickory, dickory, dock

The mouse ran up the clock

The clock struck one;  the mouse ran down,

Hickory, dickory, dock!

 

Every day the clock controls my life. I wake up to the sound of the alarm, and then for the rest of the day, I am constantly checking the time to make sure I’m getting all my “stuff” done.  There are many days I struggle to get a workout in. That means I have to workout as efficiently as possible. If I have only a limited amount of time, I always choose moving through a Pilates routine. And I will tell you why…

At about the age of thirty, man and women begin to lose muscle tissue all over the body.  We need that muscle for balance and strength as it is the best way to prevent injury.  Aerobic exercise generally does not build muscle tissue.  To build it, we need to fatigue our muscles using weight and resistance. THAT is the goal in every Pilates class.  Because your Pilates instructor knows the "good news" – we can counteract the natural decline of muscle tissue with strength training, especially around the joints.

Here is a list of other benefits of strength training:

  • Provides relief from joint pain as effective as medication
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases energy and elevates our mood
  • Increases bone density
  • Improves how we look with lean and taut muscles

So, I will battle that daily clock, and the clock that is ticking since I passed 30 years old a long time ago!  It doesn’t take too much time for me to move through a complete Pilates routine.  I’m confident in the promise of Joseph Pilates who said, “When all your muscles are properly developed you will, as a matter of course, perform your work with minimum effort and maximum pleasure.” 

TW.png

Jack fell down and broke his crown

…Jack fell down and broke his crown….

 

So what about our “crown”? Do we actually work it out? Well, no, but in Pilates, we are very concerned with the placement of our head and the strength of the vertebrae that lead up to it. How many hours a day do YOU spend hunched over reading texts and emails? I know I can spend several hours some days.

 

We joke about having texting thumb problems or trigger finger issues from using a mouse, but an actual serious condition these days is text neck syndrome which is caused by looking down at a screen.  When the head is brought forward and the neck bends, the weight on the cervical spine increases. Just a 15 degree forward angle adds 27 pounds to the spine!  Over time, adopting this posture, we places stress on the back of the neck leading to premature wear and tear.  We can joke about how “text neck” sounds like a silly ailment, but the effects of having it are not silly. It causes headaches, spasms down the arms and back, and even spinal disc compression. Not to mention that it isn’t attractive!  In this society, we are going to use our phones, tablets, and computers, so we can’t eliminate the problem completely, but we CAN do all we can to keep our cervical spine healthy. 

 

It reminds me a little of being frozen in a “walk like an Egyptian” move. When we look at ourselves head-on, we might not notice how far forward our head sticks out in front of our shoulders.  Ask your Pilates instructor to look at your posture the next time you go in and come up with a plan to correct damage that is done by screen use. 

 

In the meantime, try holding a neutral spine by keeping your shoulders relaxed and your ears in line with your shoulders. I do this while I’m driving. It’s a great time to stay alert and hold my head in proper alignment.  Also, remember to take breaks when you participate in screen time. Slowly rotate your head back and forth, and up and down; Drop tension from your shoulders.  When you get to the Pilates studio, all the exercises that work your scapula, especially the long box arm series will help pull those shoulders back along with your cervical spine and your “crown” will be right where it belongs!

POP Goes the Weasel

POP Goes the Weasel 

Or as we say in Pilates class, POP goes the imprinted spine… 

Okay, maybe we don’t say that, but we DO talk about keeping the natural space under our back in place or lengthening our lower back into an imprinted position. 

What IS IT with the neutral and imprint focus in Pilates? 

Why does your Pilates instructor keep talking about that? 

Here’s the deal: 

The optimal and most efficient way to work your body is with spine and pelvis in neutral. If your pelvis is neutral, it allows your spine to be neutral, therefore, it is holding the posture firmly in place. 

So, then, why aren’t we all working from a neutral spine? 

1) The challenge is that there are different positions that our pelvis “lives in” based on our life’s experience. For example, most women who have given birth to a child will have a tucked pelvis which can cause weaknesses and deny the spine the support of its natural curve. Or, the opposite; I did gymnastics when I was younger, so my lower lumbar spine is extremely curved; holding imprint is very difficult for this reason. 

2) Additionally 75% - 85% Americans have or will experience back pain and/or injury, which may alter the pelvic position as the body compensates for the weaknesses. 

3) And, lastly, many of us lack the abdominal strength to work our bodies in a neutral position. 

If you would like to develop that healthy spine and correct imbalances in your posture, start all Pilates moves with an imprinted spine. Gradually test your abdominal strength by holding neutral for a few reps. Be knowledgeable of your own body. Watch for a straining feeling in your lower back. Talk to your Pilates instructor about modifications to challenge as well as keep your spine safe. You can also ask him or her to give you an analysis on your posture. 

***If you've been instructed by a Doctor or Health Professional to maintain an imprinted spine, follow that direction always. 

· Neutral Pelvis is the alignment of the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – aka Hip Points) and the Pubic Bone in line with each other in the Coronal Plane, which allows for a neutral spine, a spine that honors the natural curvature of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.

· Imprinted Pelvis allows the ASIS (aka hip points) to be lower that your pelvic bone; it is the act of using the muscles to draw the lower spine down towards the floor, therefore imprinting the spine. So why is this question so important? The optimal and most efficient way to work your body – spine and pelvis is in neutral. If your pelvis is neutral it allows your spine to be neutral, in it’s natural form.

Neutral
Imprint

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!