For my last blog post, I wanted to talk a little bit about intention. Intention is an important part of Pilates. There are six principles of Pilates – centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and fluidity. None of these principles can be applied to exercises without intention. Many exercises have very simple movements that initially look simple, but simple and easy are two very different things. When combined with proper alignment and the use of the right muscles, every exercise can become extremely difficult. Since a lot of the same exercises are repeated in every Pilates class, it seems like it can get boring after a while. In my first few days, I would watch the instructors and think, “wow, it must get terribly boring to guide clients through the same exercises all the time.” I’ve come to learn that a) there are so many exercises and variations of exercises that no two classes ever have to be the same b) Pilates has no end goal. There is no nirvana or absolute perfection that can be reached in the Classical Method. You can always reach more, execute more control, move with more fluidity. This is what makes Pilates constantly exciting. Musicians and dancers devote their lives to practicing their crafts and improving, knowing that even if they are the best in the world, they can still get better. The same concept applies to Pilates. There is always more.
As for myself, I know that there is a lot more work for me to do. Nevertheless, I have improved immensely over the past few weeks. I feel much stronger, especially in my noodle arms. Of course, I feel much more connected to my core. At dance, I can do the warm-up core exercises with ease and control. I find it easier to stand with better posture, and I find myself thinking about my “neutral spine.” However, I know that my journey with Pilates has only begun. I hope to continue Pilates throughout this summer and into college. Maybe one day, I’ll even become a certified Pilates instructor…
My name is Patricia Magistrado, and I am the intern at The Pilates Project for the next month. As a graduating senior at Biotechnology High School, I get to spend the last month of the school year at an internship of my choice. My interest in Pilates and my background in ballet ultimately led to my decision to work here.
I have been dancing ballet for almost fifteen years now. It’s a form of art that requires a tremendous amount of flexibility and strength. Ever since Joseph Pilates began teaching in the United States, ballet dancers have been studying his technique as a way of cross-training and gaining additional strength and body awareness. Today, Pilates has become the most popular method of supplemental exercise for dancers of all disciplines.
While working here as an intern, I’ll have the opportunity to take class on a regular basis. Over the next few weeks, I will have the opportunity to observe the effects of Pilates. Expect some weekly blog posts about my experience.
I’ve never taken daily Pilates classes before, but I start to notice a difference almost immediately. I have struggled with experiencing soreness in my hips after a long day. When I am dancing, I often feel that I am “gripping” the muscles in my hips, which causes them to feel sore. This week, I have experienced almost no such discomfort. In my Pilates classes, I am often reminded to “relax” my pelvis and focus more on my core muscles.
I find that certain exercises are very challenging for me, while others feel much easier. As a dancer, I’m always using the same muscles while consistently neglecting others. I notice that many movements in Pilates can be translated into steps that are common in ballet. For example, in the Swan, my back reaches a position that is similar to an arabesque. The single leg pull with straight legs is very similar to a grande battement. However, while I may be doing similar movements, I am learning to approach them with a different attitude. All movements, even a simple leg lift can be initiated from the core. I am using different muscles to execute the same movements that I do in ballet. I’ve also started learning about the importance of breath. In ballet, I often find myself holding my breath as I’m dancing. In Pilates, I am instructed to coordinate my breath with my movements.
Frankly, I am quite surprised with the difference I can already feel with myself. I feel more coordinated and much more aware of my muscles when I’m exercising. I’m excited to see what happens within the next few weeks.
“You cannot drink from an empty cup.” This bit of wisdom is ancient and ubiquitous, and we all know the modern-day analogy of putting the oxygen mask on our own face, first, so we’re able to assist others. Still, we are imperfect beings and perhaps no group of people practice this principle less perfectly than new mothers.
The Pilates Project is working to help mothers change that.
“The body changes that allow you to grow and birth that baby are miraculous and necessary…until you actually give birth. Post-birth, you need your pre-pregnancy fitness and strength back to be the healthiest, happiest mom you can be…and you and your baby deserve that.” Annie Caruso, Red Bank, NJ.
Annie Caruso danced ballet for twenty years. She, like her 11-month old son, is an active person who loves to move, “I was always very physical. Besides ballet, when I lived in Brooklyn I attended a studio where I did a high intensity, interval training boot camp five times a week.” The new mother laughs. “Back then, I always had 6-pack abs.”
After a slight pause, she continues, “When I got pregnant, I assumed I would continue my physical activity with an appropriate pre-natal exercise routine— it was a no brainer with my background of dance and working out. But that’s not what happened. I had horrible morning sickness and lethargy that constantly interrupted any regular exercise routine. All my plans for a ‘fit pregnancy’ went to hell.”
We all know a woman’s body changes during pregnancy — the most obvious evidence being the celebrated ‘baby bump’. Once hidden beneath billowy drapes of soft fabric, this obvious sign of motherhood is now commonly accentuated and even nakedly revealed in pregnancy fashion.
However, once the little miracle moves from residence in utero to taking up space in our arms, the same changes that enable a woman to grow and carry another human for (typically) 36 weeks become a physical liability for new mothers. More than just a mother’s physical appearance can remain changed, post-pregnancy.
Pregnancy hormones signal muscles and ligaments to stretch more than 50% their normal length. The physical stress of carrying a growing child for 36-40 weeks literally separates abdominal muscles beyond their ability to simply ‘bounce back’ post delivery. During pregnancy, the ribcage flares to accommodate the new life growing and competing with mom’s organs for room, and posture is most certainly altered as spinal alignment re-calibrates, compensating for the change in the center of gravity.
A woman’s overall physical wellness and stamina are dependent on her core strength, strength that is challenged as a result of pregnancy. The very same strength, flexibility and resiliency that are at the heart of Pilates is an essential requisite to a person’s ability to be physical with a sense of comfort and ease. Compromised core strength almost always results in a state of managing chronic soreness, pain and tension.
New Mom. New Body. New Normal? No Way.
And we know that new mothers are almost always demanding more from their bodies. In addition to all the ordinary physical stresses of managing a household and other activities that were important before baby, add to that all the repetitive, exhausting bending, reaching and lifting necessary to care for an infant.
The Pilates Project recognizes these particular challenges and has added special classes for mothers that incorporate modified Pilates exercises that support a new mother’s full recovery from pregnancy and childbirth.
Caruso, who first started her Pilates practice as a way to recover from dance injury while in high school, says she renewed her practice with The Pilates Project to regain her physical and mental resilience and connectedness — key components in any successful Pilates practice: “I was used to having a certain level of strength before I got pregnant. For me, choosing to restart my Pilates practice wasn’t about losing the baby weight. It was about getting back my pre-baby energy level, losing the aches and pains that developed during pregnancy, re-asserting my best posture and reminding my body of its best form and functioning.”
It was also her choice to resume her practice with a studio that is grounded in what Caruso terms a ‘pure practice’: “I see value in different styles of Pilates practice, but I’m a bit of a purist at heart,” she confesses. “I like Sandi Vilacoba (owner and founder of The Pilates Project) so much as a teacher because she teaches Pilates in its purest form. She’s always instructing you, never simply demanding that you bang out as many reps as you can until you’re fatigued. Her focus is on alignment and technique and as a professional athlete for many years, I value how she honors the process of building towards your strength, not simply muscling your way through.”
Her son is nearly a year old, and Caruso still combines private instruction with group sessions in her weekly Pilates practice. “I started out again with one private session once a week and, over time, worked up to where I am now. I highly recommend taking an introductory session whether you are a new mom or not. It gives you a chance to really focus on your particular, personal goals and to set you own pace. The focus on our unique, individual aspects is, I think, the key to a successful, rewarding practice.”
Sandi Vilacoba is proud that her studio is able to respond to the needs of pregnant women and new mothers in a practice that offers all the benefits of classic Pilates training in the supportive, encouraging environment women deserve, “Both before and after their babies are born, mothers have special exercise needs and deserve options that respect and answer those needs.”
Classes Are Open. Register Now.
The Pilates Project is pleased to introduce two, new classes designed especially for mothers. Pre & Postnatal Thursdays offer Mommies to Be 11:30 a.m. and Mommy and Me 12:30 p.m. weekly classes in their Fair Haven studio. Instructor, Alissa, leads each class in the classical Pilates method with pre/postnatal modifications to aid in healing and strengthening the body during pregnancy and after delivery.
Register online, here: http://bit.ly/1AhTh4d.