Whether you’re new to Pilates or a seasoned pro, there are some mistakes that even the instructors are making - Lynne Robinson of Body Control Pilates talked us through the key errors to avoid.
Consult this list before your next class and you’ll doubtless get more out of your workout than ever before.
Pilates centres around alignment - that means controlling every single part of your body. The position of your feet, your hands; everything is important. In particular it’s about controlling your head, your rib cage, and your pelvis because they’re your three main body weights.
If you control those you are using your centre well.
You need to check your alignment before each move, as you go through the move and then - people forget this - as you come out of the move. You should always come back to the same position.
Pilates use different styles of breathing, the main one is called lateral thoracic which involves breathing into your ribs and into your side, this is quite important as it helps prevent you from 'bracing’.
You mustn’t hold your breath - the breathing helps you to use your core correctly.
So many people over do it on their core, they brace and use too much – less is more. You only use [your muscles] as, when and if you need them to control your movement and alignment.
They shouldn’t be engaged the whole time and this is the mistake people often make which causes lots and lots of problems in the long term.
It’s a specific skill, it should always be reactive to what load you’re putting onto a particular part of your body, rather than 'I’m setting my abdominals and here I go’.
It’s very difficult to identify if you are working your pelvic floor correctly - 'zipping’ up the muscles from back to front.
The first thing you need to check for is that you haven’t tipped your pelvis – that you haven’t moved, because that’s a common cheat.
Next thing is that you’re not squeezing anything else instead; your bum, your calves or gritting your teeth.
You can actually feel it, if you put your fingers on your hip and the top part of your pelvic bone and go inside the bone and down a bit, feel everything relaxed then engage your core. You will feel it.
It should feel like when you put your seat belt on, on a plane, it should be coming across, it shouldn’t bulge up - if there’s any bulging you’ve over done it and you’ve got the wrong muscles.
It should stay a tiny bit squidgey and definitely more of a hollow then a bulge.
We tend to do the exercises that we like doing and they’re often the ones we shouldn’t do - we actually need to do the ones we don’t like.
For example if you’re on the computer a lot, you’ll naturally become quite round shouldered, so curl ups are really no good.
You have to do your darts, your back extensions to reverse it.
If you know you’re in front of the desk all day, do arm openings, do rotations - don’t do more stomach crunches that bring you back to where you started!
No abdominal exercises will ever strengthen your pelvic floor, pelvic floor exercises strengthen the pelvic floor.
For years they wouldn’t let you put your hands behind your head during any sort of crunches, because you’ll pull on your neck but no, when you put your hands behind your head to do a simple curl up, let your head be heavier than your hands, feel the weight of your head and let your hands take the weight of your head then nod your head forward.
Then with the weight still heavy in your hands, make sure it’s your stomach that brings you up and then don’t fling back down again. A lot of problems come from on the way back down so really go back down slowly with control.
You can build up to hands-free as your stomach muscles get stronger.
Trying to keep up with other people is something I see a lot - it’s not a competition.
I have to laugh about all these planks that are appearing in the press, there is no Pilates exercise called the plank.
No position in Pilates is ever held, we’re about movement.
Don’t rush it, it’s actually harder to do something slower than it is quick.
If you’re doing a hip roll and you’re doing it very slowly, you’re going to have to really control it over a period of time. If you do it quickly then it’s just your legs doing the work.
You should try to focus and work slowly and precisely.
If you are anything like me, you may have noticed that winter is taking it’s toll.
I’ve become seriously aware of how dry my hair and skin can be in this harsh weather. I’ve also noticed that with the temperature drop, maintaining my posture has become quite the challenge, cold weather instinctively makes me want to slouch and round my back as if I am trying to keep all of my warmth inside. With temps dropping and snow falling from the sky, staying inside curled up under blankets or near the fire is too good to pass up. To be honest, sometimes it’s just too cold to step out into the freezing streets to walk to yoga class. The motivation to move and stretch my body after a day of sitting at the computer is, dare I say, sometimes lacking. So I enlisted Ali, a friend, passionate yogi, and Store Manager of the Free People Rockefeller Center store, to share with me her five favorite poses to improve posture and strengthen back muscles during these winter months. I love referring to these moves if I have free moments throughout the day or if I notice that my posture is losing the fight against gravity. Being aware of your body, whether waiting for the subway, sitting in class, or shopping at the farmers market, is half the battle. If we remain aware and notice our posture, we have an opportunity to correct it.
Read on to learn how to do the five poses that will help combat bad pasture:
The Standing Crescent Pose: This pose is great to start and/or end your practice with. It opens the chest and rib cage so the breath can deepen. Be sure to stretch your shoulders away from your ears as you reach up. Keep feet grounded, abs strong with your belly button pulling back to your spine. Reach to the right, center, left, center, and then reach back, keeping abs tight. Return to the center.
Triangle Pose: This pose improves posture by helping with lower back pain and inflammation of the lower spine. Triangle pose strengthens and improves flexibility in the last five vertebrae. The three different poses below open the chest, allowing a deeper breath. Again, remember to keep your shoulders relaxed away from your ears.
Tree Pose: This pose is one of my favorites. Not only does it improve posture, it improves patience and balance. It strengthens the internal oblique muscles (which helps keep the back strong) and also improves thigh, calf, and ankle strength. Tip: push your palms together to find a balanced center. Open hips and pull your belly button to your spine.
Chair Pose: The benefits of chair pose are many if done correctly. It strengthens the core, thighs, calves and ankles, and stretches the shoulders and chest. In addition to improving posture, it helps protect the knee joint by building stability.
Camel Pose: Now, this is more of a challenging pose so you may have to work to get to it. But that’s ok! The camel pose produces maximum compression of the spine — it improves the flexibility of the spine and neck. This pose is also known for relieving back pain and firms the abdomen and slims the waistline. It stretches the neck, chest, and hip flexors.
There are many practices, poses, and stretches that you can do to improve posture. This list just barely scratches the surface
Detoxing happens when the amount of inflammatory foods and drinks put into our mouth reduces, and the liver has an opportunity to work through built-up toxins. As Dr. Mark Hyman states, “Detox is necessary when the metabolic waste from normal human metabolism, environmental pollution, and what has become known as the Standard American Diet (or SAD) has exceeded the threshold for what the body’s innate detoxification system can tolerate.”
While this may sound like a simple physiological process, detoxing affects both the body and mind.
Psychologically speaking, it takes the average person, one to two weeks to process alcohol, sugar and wheat, and have them completely removed from your system. (That is, of course, if you are not adding additional sugar, wheat and alcohol to the body during the detox process.)
Removing these foods and beverages from your diet for two weeks is a great way to cleanse your system. In addition, here are eight other things you can do to turn your food cleanse into a full body detox.
1. Drink water.
LOTS and LOTS of H2O! Water for the liver is like gas for your car. With small amounts of gas, your car can only run efficiently for a short period of time. Likewise, if you want your liver to perform at its highest potential in processing toxins, water is essential. For the average adult, 1 gallon of water (preferably filtered, if possible) will be most beneficial.
Tip: One glass of warm water with fresh lemon squeezed in it, is a sure fire way to jumpstart your morning into the detox process.
This will come automatically by adopting the 1 gallon of water per day challenge. Why peeing? Sweating and peeing are the only two methods a person physically removes fat from the body, and fat is where most of our toxins are stored. The more you pee, the more fat and toxins you eliminate from the body.
As mentioned above, sweating and peeing are powerful methods to remove fat, and therefore stored toxins from the body. Two of the most beneficial methods of sweating, through the detox process, are through Bikram yoga (a form of hot yoga) as well as through partaking in infrared saunas. Both methods allow a person to relax while sweating, maintaining a healing environment in the body, unlike intense exercise which may allow you to sweat, but can actually create acute inflammation.
4. Move your body.
Think restorative movement and exercise such as yoga, Pilates, walking, or MELT. The goal here is to simply get the blood flowing, which helps to transport toxins out of the body. Often the thought post New Years is to exercise long and hard. However if a person is detoxing, intensive exercise is counter-productive as it actually inflames the body reducing the amount of inflammation from food and drink that the body can process during the detox period.
5. Eat clean, whole foods.
Ideally, you are removing sugar, wheat and alcohol from your diet. This will stop the majority of inflammation going into the body so that the liver can focus on processing the inflammatory foods from the holidays. The most simple and effective foods to eat are those that do not come in a box, bag, can or jar. Essentially, whole foods plucked right from our earth.
Most of us have been working on overdrive between traveling to, or hosting Thanksgiving, holiday shopping, cooking, attending festive parties, and playing Santa. There has been little time for rest and relaxation the past 6 weeks, so seize the opportunity to throw your feet up, go to bed a couple hours early each night, or carve out time for a nap during day. The liver processes the most amount of inflammation when the it is in sleep mode, so allow yourself a few extra hours each day while you move through the detox process.
7. Dry brush.
Dry brushing increases the circulation in your body, encourages new cell renewal by helping to shed dead skin cells, improves vascular blood circulation, encourages lymphatic drainage and more. That’s a lot of good stuff for something as easy and simple as this self-care act. Check out a step-by-step guide on how to dry brush here.
8. Think elegantly.
Detoxing is not just about the physiological process. The Shady Bitch, aka – ego or mind, shows herself in full force, creating thoughts based of fear, disappointment and doubt. She will lie, cheat and steal in order to convince you of these negative thoughts, and she is in full force while detoxing. How do we defend ourselves from her?
Be mindful of your thoughts. Know the negative thoughts will appear, and recognize that they are not your thoughts, but rather the Shady Bitch’s thoughts. Remind yourself of this constantly. Use the two weeks to create a habit of journaling gratitude in your life, for all things no matter how small and minute they may seem. When we are thinking positively, there is less space for negative thoughts. Carve out 5 minutes a day to meditate simply by putting attention on your breath. This calms the mind and gives you a break from the spinning detox mind.
Whichever elegant thinking method your choose, use it with vengeance throughout these two weeks and you will find that not only are your surviving the detox process, but you are thriving!
Breathing – most of us do it everyday without much thought. But breathing is essential obviously and in my opinion the second most important element of Pilates. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute - here’s what happens when you inhale and why a full inhale during Pilates is so important:
“When you breathe in, or inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand. The intercostal muscles between your ribs also help enlarge the chest cavity. They contract to pull your rib cage both upward and outward when you inhale.
As your lungs expand, air is sucked in through your nose or mouth. The air travels down your windpipe and into your lungs. After passing through your bronchial tubes, the air finally reaches and enters the alveoli (air sacs).
Through the very thin walls of the alveoli, oxygen from the air passes to the surrounding capillaries (blood vessels). A red blood cell protein called hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin) helps move oxygen from the air sacs to the blood.
At the same time, carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the air sacs. The gas has traveled in the bloodstream from the right side of the heart through the pulmonary artery.
Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs is carried through a network of capillaries to the pulmonary vein. This vein delivers the oxygen-rich blood to the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart pumps the blood to the rest of the body. There, the oxygen in the blood moves from blood vessels into surrounding tissues.”
So you can see inhaling is an important thing especially when you are asking your body to do more like in a Pilates class! I teach my reformer students the “shh” breath made popular by Ron Fletcher, one of Joseph Pilates apprentices and a man who made Pilates more accessible for the masses with Joseph Pilates’ blessing. To properly perform the shh breath one takes a full inhale filling the lungs and ribcage and then exhales with a shh sound pulling the air from all four quadrants (from the pelvis up to the lungs) and inturn pulling the navel upward and inward.
This breath serves three main purposes!
1. It’s a guarantee that you do not hold your breath will working out. You’d be surprised how many folks tend to hold their breath! The inhale is used to prepare the body and the exhale is used to power through the difficult part of the movement. Using the shh breathe lets me, as an instructor, know you are breathing properly.
2. The Shh breath serves as a reminder to you, the student, to contract your core and never lose focus. It is impossible to puff out your belly while doing a proper shh breath. Each breath becomes a core contraction! Just by breathing, you are building a strong core.
3. Each breath provides your body what you need to be physically active and able to perform at your best. Each breath provides cells what they need.
I often find new students are self-conscious about doing the shh breath. I, too, as a new student was reluctant and made shallow, quiet breaths – until I got it. Once you have given the shh breath a chance, I guarantee you’ll miss it when you walk into another studio that does not practice breath principles. The shh breath can make the difference between a so-so workout and a great core workout.
When I first moved to Nashville and tried Pilates classes at various places – I missed the breathe and missed the intensity of the workout I got with the breath. The breath is essential to the mind body connection. You can not shut down your mind and go through the motions when you need to focus on each breath and how your body is feeling and reacting. And that’s a good thing. Mindless workouts produce uncertain results. If you are going to spend the time – get the results!
So next time you come to one of my reformer classes – breath loud and proud and reap the rewards!