Awareness | Principles of Pilates

Awareness is important in all aspects of our life. When I’m out at night by myself, you are certain I’m aware of my every surrounding and know just in my purse where my taser is. Awareness is very important–from keeping yourself safe, to reading social situations, to how you operate your body.

Before you walked into a Pilates studio, had anyone ever asked you to find a neutral pelvis? You have probably never considered how the position of your pelvis relates to the position of your spine, or how it might affect the way you walk, or if you could properly engage your back or abdominal muscles by its position. This has everything to do with body awareness.

Take a moment to sit down on a chair. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Now contemplate your posture. Uncross your legs and sit up straight on your sit bones. Connect all ten toes to the floor and think about distributing the weight evenly on your feet. Are your knees in line with your hips and ankles? Are your abdominals engaged and ribs actively drawn in? Is your spine extended tall, and are your shoulders slid down your back for proper placement? Is your head sitting in the proper place atop your spine (not forward or tilted)?

Who knew so much work could go into simply sitting properly with good alignment?! If you practice Pilates consistently (and preferably frequently), these things will become second nature by way of working your body with intention. These principles will sink into your very cells and you will begin to improve from the inside out.

Would you like a private session and an analysis of your posture? Contact me to set up a session and begin the good work of Pilates!

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Ten Principles of Pilates

This list is what makes Pilates so different from many other types of fitness, as we are not only addressing the body, but the mind in connection with the body, which leads to an overall sense of wellbeing. If you leave your mind out of the equation while conditioning, you are missing the potential for greater growth and achievement.

  1. Awareness
  2. Balance
  3. Breath
  4. Concentration
  5. Center
  6. Control
  7. Efficiency
  8. Flow
  9. Precision
  10. Harmony

Join me in future posts to learn more about each principle and how it relates to your classes and your daily life.

Meal Plan Foundation

I said in an earlier post that I would share a little bit about how I plan nutritious meals with a simple foundation. And my weeks can be are crazy. We have five kids, life moves very fast around here.

mealplan

Here’s a weekly plan–notice the base. I rotate through almost the exact same breakfasts and lunches every week, and I have one master list of dinners that frankly, I don’t stray from often. Sound boring? Nah. Refer to the chicken soup post; many meals I make have a counterpart with different flavors or ingredients. This means I can keep my grocery lists each week more or less the same. It’s all about continuity and keeping a base of items in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I do change up meats/cheeses/vegetables, or swap a breakfast for another day’s plan to suit our tastes.

Sunday:
Fruit (frozen peaches and blueberries) and yogurt
Tuna salad on whole grain crackers with veggie sticks (carrots/celery/peppers)
Grilled chicken with red potatoes and salad (romaine, corn, bell pepper, cucumber, shredded carrots, grape tomatoes)

Monday:
Fried egg on whole grain English muffin with smashed avocado
Grilled chicken and salad (leftovers!)
Beef stew (carrots, celery, onion, turnips, beef broth, beef, rosemary, thyme, pepper, salt) and salad (more leftover salad)

Tuesday:
Oatmeal with raw flax seeds, raisins, unsweetened shredded coconut, cinnamon, pecans, drizzle of maple syrup, splash of almond milk
Leftovers with fresh veggies
Bean and rice bowls with avo, fresh salsa, monterey jack

Wednesday:
Blueberry scones (or muffins, homemade) + milk + fried egg
PBJ + Veggies (I will eat a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, PBJ is for the littles)
Teriyaki Chicken Bowls over rice with roasted broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper, red onion (sauce: 1c light sodium soy sauce, 1 c chicken broth, generous squeeze of honey, ginger, garlic, chicken in crock pot)

Thursday:
Scrambled eggs with cheese and a green veggie, whole grain toast
Tuna sandwich with an apple and fresh veggies
Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese with shredded chicken, roasted broccoli

Friday:
Yogurt, fruit, granola
Leftovers or Turkey sandwiches
Salsa verde enchiladas with shredded chicken, corn tortillas, light cheese, avocado, salsa, beans and rice

Saturday:
Waffles and Fried Eggs
Leftovers
Chicken Soup of some kind with homemade bread

Snacks:
Hummus with veggies (carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, celery)
Whole grain crackers with goat cheese and a piece of fruit
Handful of pecans (or other nuts) and fruit
Smoothie: One overripe banana (I keep them in the freezer), 1 C unsweetened almond milk, 2TBSP nut butter, dash of cinnamon, small splash vanilla, a scoop of oat flour (BEST. Tastes like dessert!)

And secret? We eat some things that are not entirely healthy, but it’s food that makes my family so very happy. You’ll probably be able to figure those pretty quick. I often skip them (like waffles or french toast) in lieu of the healthier items from other days. And when I do indulge in that mac and cheese, I eat a bowl full of roasted broccoli first to take up some space in my belly.

It has taken me many years to have  a happy, healthy relationship with food. I think it will be a lifelong journey. I’m coming to appreciate it; I know each bite gives me valuable fuel and nutrition for my body. Again, I do not count calories or whatever fancy food/diet trend happens to be about at the moment. That has always harmed my idea of food, and so I stopped. I eat in moderation, I eat as many vegetables and fruits as I can (and only the ones that I like!), I try not to eat too much at once, and I allow myself to eat whatever the heck I want one day a week and enjoy it. These things take time to develop to match your lifestyle and to meet you where you’re at. Don’t overhaul everything at once. But perhaps that’s a post for another day. 🙂

The Beauty of Private Sessions

Private sessions will give you the most effective start to Pilates workouts. When you walk into the studio for the first time, you’re seeing new equipment and people moving their bodies in ways you won’t see at the weight room in a gym. It might actually be a little frightening. 😉 “You want me to put my feet where and move my legs how??” I sure do!

And all the while I lead you through a workout on the reformer (we’ll start there, or on the Cadillac), I’m going to be watching your body move. I’ll note your levels of flexibility, your range of motion for each exercise, I’ll take careful note of your posture and alignment, and along the way I’ll give you a good workout. Coming to a private session is nice for you to enjoy personal attention of course, but it’s a world of help to me for your future workouts.

When you come in for a private session, I’m reading you and learning about you. From that point I can begin to create sessions with specific things in mind that will benefit your body–to help you grow in strength, balance, flexibility, body awareness, and confidence. Did you even know your body needed all of these things? Come in for a private session. Start to wire a new and wonderful connection between your mind and your body. You’ll learn to move with grace and purpose in all areas of your life, and not just in the studio.

Your Posture and Pilates

Our bodies are so fascinating; they are designed specifically for proper movement and posture, but we often neglect to give back to our bodies the strength and movement they need to serve us well. Particularly in this age with many of us working at a desk or sitting so much in our free time (hello, I binge-watched The Crown recently, too). Our bodies were made to move from a place of proper alignment.

ideal-posture-116x300We all have likely had or struggle with some posture issues in our lives. The problem with incorrect posture is that it removes efficiency and creates muscular imbalances. Think for a moment, if your head isn’t properly aligned on your spine and it sits forward, there will be more weight (approximately ten pounds of additional pressure per inch forward) and pressure on the spine, allowing for muscular imbalances and even the risk of nerve damage or arthritis if it goes on for too long. Think if you slouch forward with your ribs closing in on your hip bones, how much space your vital organs are losing in order to function efficiently. So, when your spine and pelvis are not in a neutral state, it can lead to a plethora of issues.

What I love so much about Pilates is that it strengthens the body while correcting posture and muscle imbalances. If you suffer from forward head syndrome, we will work to stretch your chest muscles and strengthen your upper back muscles, as well as gain proper shoulder placement. If you slouch over your computer at work or sit a lot, we will work to give you length in your spine, as well as the strength in your core and your spinal extensors required to hold yourself up. So much of why I wanted to become a Pilates instructor is because of how much it helped me change my body for the better. There came a point after practicing for a number of months that I realized it was no longer difficult to have good posture, and it was almost painful to sit or stand out of alignment–it was a wonderful revelation.

Come to class. Do it regularly. Twice a week, three times a week, whatever it takes. You will begin to feel better. Your health is not necessarily just your shape, but how healthy, strong, flexible and energetic you feel.

My Top 5 Benefits

Any Pilates instructor or addict will tell you at least a few reasons why they love it. I think an act of God brought me to the path of being an instructor, because I feel so…normal. But you know what? I really fell in love with giving my body strength, endurance, and flexibility (among other things), and I knew I wanted to pass that along just as that gift was given to me by my instructor.

Your list will look different from my list. You’ll come to class for ten different reasons than I do. And that’s fabulous. Here’s a little teaser of why I love this so much:

  1. I felt strong. After about 15 sessions I knew my strength had greatly improved. I could haul huge loads of laundry upstairs without a struggle (I had a one year old and a two year old, my body was so tired back then).
  2. My diastisis recti had gone from a 4 finger width down to about 2 in that same amount of time. What black magic was this? Honestly.
  3. My flexibility improved. The first time you do leg circles, and then the 30th time you do them, will show you just what I mean. Plus, I could put my palms on the floor when I bent over. That had never ever happened before.
  4. My posture improved. I sat so poorly, likely because my abdominals and my back extensors weren’t very strong. Plus I carried (yes, used to! Past tense!) stress in my neck and shoulders, so everything was just yikes. One day not too long ago I was sitting at Verizon being helped by one of their customer service reps and he paused right in the middle of what he was doing to say, “Wow. You have really nice posture.” It is actually painful for me to slump or to let my shoulders fall forward now.
  5. This is my favorite, I must say: I can properly recruit muscles to do work for me. Any physical task has gotten noticeably easier. Yes it’s because I’m stronger, but it’s also because through constant practice and the intentional connection of the mind to the body, I can now use my abs to shovel the ridiculous amount of snow from my driveway. My back and shoulders weren’t sore after shoveling, my abs were. Of course all of my muscles worked in tandem to get the job done, but I could use my abs to do much of the grunt work needed to lift and throw that heavy mess. I can properly engage my back muscles or my lats or whatever in order to more efficiently move my body. And that’s kinda nerdy neat.

Why do you practice?

What to expect.

Any time I went into the gym or to work out with a trainer, I never knew what to expect. What muscles would I work? If I went alone, would I give up on the weight room and simply resign myself to enough time on the treadmill to assuage my conscience? No, no. No more of that (if I don’t want to). If you decide to do Pilates, here’s what to expect.

Mat Class:

You’re gonna work your core, and hard. But your whole body will work with it, so you’ll feel good all over the next day. The  majority of this workout is on a cushioned mat (much thicker than a yoga mat), and most of it laying down and sitting. Sometimes we’ll have props like resistance bands, the ultra-fit circle, ankle weights, or the Pilates Arc. It depends on the day and the class. It’ll never be too terribly predictable, and we’ll always build on your strength and abilities so you do not get bored.

Reformer Class:

No, the Reformer is not some kind of torture device (well…). It is lovely. It is a cushioned carriage on a frame with a foot bar and straps for your hands or feet, and the resistance comes from a combination of springs. There are so many exercises to be done on it, and you truly will not get bored here. Again, much of your workout will be laying down or sitting until you reach more advanced levels. You’ll begin with a warm up and foot work each time. The footwork is foundational to helping you achieve strength, balance, and alignment in your lower limbs, and stability and proper alignment in your spine. It feels wonderful on your legs and feet, which take the brunt of our daily lives. We must give them love and attention, too!

Private Session:

In a private session we will work on varied equipment, and you will tell me what you want to work on (if you are that advanced), or how you’re feeling for the day will dictate your session. You’ll get one-on-one help building strength and flexibility, and addressing physical issues or injuries (though I am not a physical therapist, I’m more of a movement practitioner–I can move you safely). You can choose to work on the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel, or the Mat, or a combination of these. It’s a real hoot!

Breathing:

Yes, breathing. I will quite literally be helping you learn how to breathe during each exercise. I’ll give you a basic guideline of how to breathe during exercises, but do not be put off if it’s messing you up, just breathe! Proper breathing during Pilates does come with practice, and a pretty intense amount of focus. You’ll learn that in Pilates you will breathe into your rib cage and back while maintaining core engagement (think pulling your belly button into your spine). Try it now, sit up straight in that chair you’re in (don’t lie to me, you’re totally sitting). Relax your shoulders, keep them down and back; pull your belly button in toward your spine to turn on your abs; now inhale deeply. See where it went? Straight to your ribs, didn’t it? The pattern of breath will help fuel energy into the proper part of the exercise and help you to complete it.

Alignment:

I will always be keeping an eye on your alignment and posture. I often cue with words first, but will probably offer you tactile guidance if you don’t respond to verbal cues. (But do tell me if it makes you feel uncomfortable, we’ll never accomplish anything if tactile cueing is so not your thing, we’ll work it out together). If you’re one of those people who carries stress in their necks, I’ll spend a lot of time in the first 10-20 sessions helping you learn to relax your jaw and your shoulders, and sending the energy into your core. If your ribs pop or you stand with a sway back, we’ll work on building strength in the proper muscles to help realign you into a neutral spine position, whether sitting or standing or laying down.

So there you have it! That’s a basic idea of what to expect all around, and some links to photos of the equipment we have at the studio.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a fitness regime created by Joseph Pilates that he called Contrology. He based it off of ancient Grecian and Roman styles of fitness. He truly believed the health of the spine determined the age of a person. Pilates focuses very much on the proper alignment of the whole body, beginning with the spine and its natural state (and yes, it is curved, not straight! If your spine is straight, come find me, or a physical therapist, and soon).

Everything we do as instructors is to help keep your spine in a safe state, to strengthen the muscular system of the body to hold you up properly, and so follows that your whole life of daily tasks and challenges will be done safely and effectively with strength and grace.

Wouldn’t it be nice to carry that basket of laundry upstairs without being out of breath or your back hurting, but instead have a little extra spring in your step? Or to load the baby and toddler into the back of the car without wrenching your back out? Or to lift weights and find better form and strength? Enter Pilates.

Something that is so lovely about Pilates is it builds upon the foundational work. You’ll start somewhere (there it is again) that teaches you proper movement, alignment, and recruitment of your muscles: Level 1. And when you’ve mastered the foundational work (chest lift, pelvic culrl, hundred prep), you’ll move onto exercises that build strength and coordination on top of those (criss cross, shoulder bridge, hundred): Level 2 and beyond. There’s never a dull moment in the Pilates studio. One day you’ll rock certain exercies, and others not so much, you may need on those days to focus on flexibility and gentle movement. Our bodies are different every day, let us give them the courtesy of not doing leg day if we do not need leg day, and let us give our whole body movement each time.