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Posted by on Jul 11, 2013 in Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

The Pilates Roll Down

The Pilates Roll Down

Although not one of the original Pilates exercises, the Roll Down is one of the most basic exercises and can highlight many weakness or imbalances within the body.  I will very often use the Pilates Roll Down (as opposed to a yoga roll down) as a warm up exercise in my classes and is a super exercise for improving spine and back mobility.

Caution: The Roll Down is not suitable for everyone, particularly where there is osteopeonia or osteoporosis of the spine.  Not suitable for advanced stages of pregnancy.  If you are unsure if a roll down is a suitable exercise for you then do not do it.

How to do a Pilates Roll Down

Everyone has their own version of a Pilates roll down and this is mine.

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart.  The knees should be soft and not ‘locked’.  The natural curves of the spine should be present, with your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles stacked on top of one another.  There should be a lengthened feeling to the back of the neck and the eyes looking straight ahead, arms should be relaxed by your side. Breathe laterally thinking about expanding the ribs to the side and back.
  • As you exhale, engage the lower abdominal muscles and lower the chin to the chest.  Make sure there is a gap between the chin and the chest, be careful not to jam the chin down.  Continue to roll down one vertebra at a timestarting from the neck down to the lower back.  Try to feel each vertebra moving as you roll through the spine.
  • As you roll down, be careful not to collapse through the waist, imagine you are rolling up and over a large ball.  Keep the hips over the ankle bones as you roll down.  Your arms and shoulders stay relaxed.
  • Roll through the spine until the back is making a nice long C-curve shape.  You will feel a stretch through the lower back.  In this position, focus on your breathing again and imagine you are puffing up the lower back muscles with your breath.  Hold the stretch there for three deep breaths.
  • Exhale and engage your abdominal muscles and start to stack the vertebra, slowly coming up to standing.  As you roll up, remember to keep the hips over the ankle joints and be careful not to take all the weight into your heels.  Gradually return to your start position imagining you have created space in between each vertebra.

During your roll down, take care to notice what is happening in your body.  Do you start to stand more on one foot than the other?  Do your feet roll in or out?  Do you feel big chunks of the spine roll down or up at once?  Does a particular part of your back feel more of a stretch?  By noticing these things you become mindful of your body and can start to make the changes needed to create a better posture.

As you do this exercise it may help to imagine you are pressing your back into a wall (but keep the natural curves of the spine).  The head rolls forward and pulls the body away from the wall, little by little.

Please note that if you have very tight hamstrings then you may want to bend the knees a little more to make it more comfortable.

After completing four or five of these roll downs, you should start to feel looser through your spine.  These are a great way to start or end a day!

(Archival image of J Pilates)

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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Featured, Health, Pilates | 0 comments

7 Minute Workout v Pilates

7 Minute Workout v Pilates

With everyone being so short on time these days, a seven minute work out to get you fit is surely a good thing.  Right?  Well, it’s not quite so simple but it isn’t a bad place to start.

What is the 7 Minute Workout?

The 7 minute workout was devised by the Human Performance Institute in Orlando.  It follows the principles of ‘interval training’ where you do a period of high intensity exercise followed by a period of rest.  The 7 minute workout is a series of 12 exercises.  You do each exercise for 30 seconds and have 10 seconds rest after each one.

Will I really get fit in 7 Minutes?

For most of us we will need to repeat the workout two or three times to get maximum results.  This is because we can’t usually perform the exercises at a high enough intensity to produce the benefits according to an article in American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.

The Exercises

The exercises in the 7 minute workout are:

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. Wall Sit
  3. Push Ups
  4. Abdominal Crunches
  5. Step Ups
  6. Squats
  7. Triceps Dips
  8. The Plank
  9. High Knees
  10. Lunges
  11. Push Ups & Rotations
  12. Side Plank

Some of the exercises are cardiovascular to keep the heart pumping whilst some of the other exercises are static exercises.  It is important to do the exercises in the given order because the exercises focus on different muscle groups and each muscle group will have a chance to ‘rest’.

Pilates

If you already practise Pilates or Yoga then several of the exercises will already be familiar to you.   For example:

  • The abdominal crunches would be the Pilates Ab Prep;
  • Push Ups are one of the original classical exercises;
  • Triceps dips are often performed on the Wundachair;
  • Leg Pull Front involves the Plank;
  • The Twist is similar to the Push Ups and Rotations;
  • Side bend is similar to the Side Plank

Joseph Pilates created his classical mat work repertoire of 34 exercises and they are designed to follow a set order too.  This is because the order he developed warms up the body (the first exercise is the hundreds), challenges the body and then cools it down.  His exercises are a workout for the body and mind and an average person will find that going through the full repertoire – or even just half – can be tough if they give it 100%.

In the Pilates repertoire there are not any cardiovascular exercises as such.  The Pilates method of breathing combined with his exercises are enough to get the blood pumping through the system.

The Verdict

There are pros and cons for both forms of exercise but it isn’t a case of only being allowed to do one.  There is no reason why you couldn’t do both Pilates and the 7 minute workout.

As a Pilates teacher I believe there is much more to gain for both mind and body by practising Pilates.  If however you just want to get a bit fitter then the 7 minute workout could be suitable.  Pilates can be adapted in numerous ways so it is a form of exercise suitable for everyone.  The 7 minute workout is not so easy to modify and if you have never exercised or not done so in a while then it is a tough workout, possibly too tough for a complete beginner.

Additionally, some of the exercises in the 7 minute workout have the potential to cause back problems if they are not carried out correctly.  The plank is a good example of this as if the abdominal muscles are not engaged then the lower back will take the strain of the exercise.  In a good Pilates class you will be taught the right technique and given modifications if your body is not quite up to the full exercise.

My verdict?  I personally think Pilates overall provides a superior body and mind workout.  As well as a fit and toned body, I believe there is much more to be gained from practising Pilates.  That said, if the exercises in the 7 minute workout are followed safely and correctly it should improve your fitness levels.

Have you tried Pilates or the 7 minute workout?  Let me know what you think!

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Beginners, Body & Mind, Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates – Mindfulness in Movement?

Pilates – Mindfulness in Movement?

“The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is complete co-ordination of body, mind and spirit”. Joseph Pilates

 

What is Mindfulness?

Have you ever turned on the television to watch a program and then become distracted by thoughts about your day, problems, life, etc and realised you haven’t seen or heard anything of the program you sat down to watch?

Or had a conversation with a friend but halfway through realise that you haven’t been listening and can’t remember what they said?

Or driven somewhere on ‘autopilot’?

Or ‘switching-off’ to a person, noise, etc?

Most of us have done this at one time or another and they are great examples of being ‘mindless’.  When we are mindless, we are not concentrating on the task in hand, our mind is elsewhere.

So what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness can be described as being in the present, being in the moment or just ‘being’.  It is focusing your mind on the here and now, not thinking about what to have for dinner later, or that piece of work you need to get finished.

Being mindful allows us to tune in to what it is we are doing.  It allows us to experience every moment fully.  It allows us to experience every moment using all of our senses; seeing, hearing and feeling every moment.

Pilates and Mindfulness

Pilates is a series of slow, defined exercises carried out on both the mat and resistance equipment.  The exercises should be performed correctly, taking the time to establish the technique rather than rushing through them.

Everyone who participates in a Pilates class knows just how much there is to think about; breathing, alignment, using the right muscles and relaxing the others, listening to the instructor and so on.  This can feel a little overwhelming at first but it is normal and will get easier as the body learns the new ways of doing things.  When you are thinking of all those things, you are in the moment, living it and doing it – there is no time to think of anything else!  However, by the end of your class, you will feel energised and calm.

The breathing method used in Pilates exercise encourages relaxation and has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety.  Using the breath will activate and energise the muscles and as you bring your attention to your body, you will be able to execute the movements precisely, with control and mindfulness.

A Mindful Pilates Exercise

  1. Sit tall, lengthening the spine.  Have the feeling of your weight dropping down your seat bones and the crown of your head lengthening upward.  Place your hands around the lower part of your ribcage towards the back.
  2. Inhale through your nose, focusing your breath to your back and the sides of your ribcage.  You will feel your hands being gently pushed out as the sides and back of your ribs expand.
  3. Exhale through your mouth ensuring there is no tightness through the jaw.  As you exhale, you will feel your back retreat away from your hands as the ribs compress.  When you exhale, ensure that you expel every drop of air from the lungs and try to keep the abdominal muscles contracted.
  4. This time, as you inhale imagine that you are taking the breath to the left side of your lower back and ribcage.  What did you feel?  You will find that the left side expands more as your focus and awareness has been taken to that area.  Repeat this on your right side.

This simple exercise shows just how much control we have over our body when we are mindful.  What else can we achieve by incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives?

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Posted by on Apr 25, 2013 in Beginners, Featured, Pilates | 0 comments

The Benefits of Pilates

The Benefits of Pilates

The Benefits of Pilates.   If you haven’t heard of Pilates, where have you been?!  Pilates is having its moment in the spotlight right now, with celebrities such as Madonna and Lady Gaga extolling its virtues and who can forget Pippa Middleton’s Pilates bottom?

So what makes Pilates so great and why should you do it?  

The thing that makes Pilates different from most other forms of exercise is that it is suitable for everyone.  Because all Pilates exercises can be modified, everyone is able to do them.  It is ideally suited to those who are recovering from injury or have specific health issues as it is a low impact form of exercise.  Pilates exercise will strengthen and tone the muscles, help develop core strength and improve posture.

Ten of the many benefits of Pilates include:

1.  Strengthens and tones muscles, helping to develop a strong core

Pilates uses your own body weight as resistance when working on the mat and the Pilates equipment adds resistance using springs.  The core muscles are the ones which keep us in good posture and support the back and the spine.  By developing strong core muscles, the muscles in the shoulders, neck and legs can relax more and all the muscles share the workload allowing for freer movement.

2.  Improves posture and corrects imbalances

Good posture is the result of a strong core and having good posture puts less strain on the body, joints and muscles.  Correcting any crookedness or imbalances by working the body evenly, Pilates exercise will straighten and strengthen the whole body.

3.  Often relieves or improves back pain and other aches and pains

By engaging the core muscles and teaching you breathing techniques, Pilates often relieves many aches and pains.

4.  Stabilises shoulders 

In today’s world many of us are sat for several hours at a desk.  This can lead to rounded shoulders and forward head position.  This will be addressed in Pilates and exercises will improve the position and mobility of the shoulders.

5.  Improves joint mobility

The range of joint motion will increase as the supporting muscles are gradually lengthened and strengthened.

6.  Improves balance and co-ordination

Balance and co-ordination will improve as the body gets stronger and any unevenness within the body is slowly corrected.

7.  Increases flexibility

By stretching the muscles in a controlled way, they will be strengthened and lengthened enabling you to increase the range of motion for each joint.

8.  Promotes mindfulness

Joseph Pilates said his unique exercise method is “the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.” In Pilates each and every movement is carried out with full focus on the movement.  Exercising in this way means you get the maximum benefit from each exercise and the Pilates principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow are the key concepts used to integrate body and mind.

9.  Increases energy levels

Using the breath and exercises together, Pilates stimulates the muscles and releases endorphins, making you feel great and energised.

10.  Improves circulation 

Joseph Pilates believed that “every last atom of old air should be squeezed from the lungs” so that fresh, invigorating oxygen could flood the body by way of the circulatory system.  The breathing and exercises combine to help pump the oxygenated blood through the body and expelling the toxins.

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Posted by on Apr 13, 2013 in Pilates | 0 comments

Pilates for Horse Riders – Part 1: The Importance of Breath

Pilates for Horse Riders – Part 1: The Importance of Breath

Numerous horse riders are beginning to use Pilates as part of their goal to improve their horse riding.   Pilates and horse riding have many similar aspects and compliment each other very well.  Horse riding, and particularly the ‘classical seat’, promotes good posture, a strong core andflexibility of the spine as well as balance and mindfulness.  All of these are improved with the Pilates method.  Horse riders have the added complication of working with a living, breathing, moving animal and therefore have to ensure that they can stay in balance at all times regardless of what is going on beneath them.

Our horses feel and react to every movement we make in the saddle.  Often they will seemingly react to just our thoughts too.  Pilates trains us to recognise what our body is doing and allows us to correct any imbalances or crookedness.  It encourages us to be more mindful – concentrating on the ‘now’.  This is so important for horse riders as our horses instinctively sense when our mind has wandered!

Breathing is a fundamental part of the Pilates method.  It teaches us how to inhale fully and then rid ourselves of the stale air; using each breath cycle to fully oxygenate our blood and get our circulation moving.  In Pilates, we synchronise the breath with the exercise, inhaling as we lengthen the body – which is often the effort of the exercise – and exhaling on the release.  This matches what we do with our horses.  For example, horse riders are often taught to say ‘whoa’ to slow a horse.  Whoa is a very difficult word to say whilst inhaling, it is far more natural to say the word on an out breath.  And how many of us will make a short, sharp, ‘hup-hup’ noise to encourage a horse forward?  It is said in a more upbeat, urgent manner, one which would be difficult to say whilst exhaling.

Pilates teaches us how to make each breath more effective by breathing laterally.  In lateral breathing we breathe deeply, with the emphasis on expanding the breath into the lower back and sides of the ribcage without allowing the shoulders to lift.  This allows us to keep our abdominal muscles engaged which in turn, protects our spine and organs; acting like a corset to support our whole trunk.  This strengthens our core

When we concentrate on something, we can often be found holding our breath.  Usually this isn’t a problem in itself as our reflexes take over and we inhale.  However as horse riders we need to become more aware of our breathing as our body becomes tense and rigid when we are holding our breath.  The horse will feel this immediately and will mirror us by also tensing.  It must be very disconcerting for a horse when his rider stops breathing, as a flight animal they will instinctively prepare to flee from danger.  Little does the horse realise we are simply concentrating on that elusive perfect half pass!

“Above all, learn how to breathe correctly.” Joseph Pilates

How to Breathe Laterally

If you have a sensible horse or someone to hold your horse, you can do this exercise in the saddle:

  1. Sit tall, lengthening the spine.  Have the feeling of your weight dropping down your seat bones and the crown of your head lengthening upward.  Let your weight sink down your heels but do not force them down.  Place your hands around the lower part of your ribcage towards the back.
  2. Inhale through your nose, focusing your breath to your back and the sides of your ribcage.  You will feel your hands being gently pushed out as the sides and back of your ribs expand.
  3. Exhale through your mouth ensuring there is no tightness through the jaw.  As you exhale, you will feel your back retreat away from your hands as the ribs compress.  When you exhale, ensure that you expel every drop of air from the lungs and try to keep the abdominal muscles contracted.
  4. Continue to breathe laterally.  Think about taking your breath toward the lower back and sides of the ribs.  Your breath will move to wherever you focus it. 
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