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…
After my second week of taking Pilates classes, I’ve started to notice that my arms feel stronger. I’ve always had weak arms, and thankfully, Pilates has offered me a full body workout. Working with the arm springs on the tower has proved to be a major challenge. I watch the springs wobble rapidly as my weak arms struggle to do chest expansions and arm circles. Luckily, the benefits of taking Pilates on a regular basis is that I can start to see gradual improvements.
Additionally, my prom was this week, and just like every other high school girl, I wanted to be in my best shape. However, unlike every other girl (or so it seems), I knew that I was not going to be able to magically drop a few waist sizes over the course of a few days. I chose to focus on my posture instead.
Posture is an important aspect of Pilates because the maintenance of proper alignment is an essential tenet of all exercises. It’s easy to have good posture and alignment in Pilates class because the instructors are constantly reminding you and correcting your body placement (or at least that’s what good teachers do). The challenge is to bring the proper alignment outside of the class and into the rest of the day. I often find myself hunching over my desk or slouching while standing in lines. Therefore, I made it a goal to take my proper alignment into the rest of the world, and I really found that it made a difference on the day of my prom.
It’s interesting to notice how Pilates translates to everyday life. Maybe one day you notice that you’re standing up straighter or you find it easier to carry the load of groceries. Pilates may not be as vigorous as running a marathon or as high-risk as playing a contact sport, but it is easy to notice a difference that it makes on your everyday life and well-being.
Let’s quit the “quick fix” and the “bounce back” talk. Having a baby is not quick, or bouncy, or easy. Your body undergoes the impossible. It grows, stretches, rearranges organs, generates new muscles, and stores fat – all to protect and nurture your baby. It takes a full 9 months to get there. Why should it take only a few months to get back? There’s a ton of pressure on new moms to return to their pre-pregnancy bodies. The truth is it takes time to recover and doing too much too fast can end up causing more harm than good. Here are a few ways safe Pilates can help aide in your recovery.
- Pilates let’s you ease back in. Pilates is the foundation for fitness. At the bare minimum, you will have taken a 6 week break from working out to recover. For those who have had multiples or high risk pregnancies, you may have had to abstain from your regular workouts for the full length of your pregnancy. Pilates will reacquaint you with your long lost abdominal muscles and how they work. Safety is always first. The relaxin your body has been producing to relax your ligaments and pelvis is still present in your system. Easing in with Pilates instead of a high impact workout will prevent injuries and will not fatigue your muscles, leaving you the energy needed to take care of your baby.
- Pilates can help you discover & deal with diastatis recti. During pregnancy the muscles surrounding your uterus stretch sometimes causing a separation in the middle, called diastatis. If you’re not sure whether or not you have diastatis, you can have your Pilates instructor check during your first session. Pilates will teach you how to work your abs safely without putting unnecessary pressure on your inner abdominal muscles and underlying organs. Movements like crunches and standard sit-ups can actually make things worse instead of better. Most cases of diastatis correct themselves naturally and all can be improved with proper care.
- Pilates will strengthen your pelvic floor. Pilates will connect you to your deepest ab muscles. These muscles work to support our lower organs, including the bladder. After pregnancy the pelvic floor muscles weaken sometimes causing annoying incontinence after a sneeze or a good laugh. Strengthening and lifting the pelvic floor muscles can help to gain control over the bladder.
- Pilates will bring your back to balance. Babies reek havoc on alignment causing all sorts of pain. Whether or not you are breast or bottle feeding, your posture is sure to shift. You may also notice that one of your hips is resting higher than the other from carrying your baby. Pilates helps bring everything back into balance and realignment.
- Pilates will reconnect you to your body. You’ve surrendered your body to your little one, for good reason. Still, we can all use a little time to reconnect ourselves with our bodies. Pilates will give you that mindbody connection you may have been craving. It can help to reduce the stress of new mommy hood and help you gain the strength to move well throughout the day.
The Pilates Project is offering a 20% discount on all Introductory Packages for new moms for the entire month of May! Use code NEWMOM at checkout.
You love your Pilates mat class and you want to strengthen your abs, but halfway through the stomach series your head starts to feel more like you’re lifting a bowling ball. It feels so heavy and uncomfortable you can’t even feel your abs working anymore. Sound familiar? You are not alone. Many people who take Pilates might have felt this annoying discomfort at the beginning of their practice. Here’s 4 ways to nix it.
Quit overusing your neck. Seems obvious but when working the abs, you must lift the weight of your head with your upper ab muscles, not your neck. Try it! Lie on your back with your hands placed behind your head (one on top of the other with your elbows out) and let the hands hold the weight of the head. Use your upper abdominal muscles to lift so you don’t put any pressure on your neck.
Learn to relax your shoulders. Tight trapezius muscles can cause your neck to feel uncomfortable. If your shoulders are tense while working your abs, this can lead to a vicious cycle.To lose the tension, connect your shoulders to your back. Try it! Lengthen your neck, relax your shoulders, then roll the shoulders back so that the back muscles engage.
Evenly distribute your weight. Pilates is meant to correct the postural balance of the body. To achieve this, it’s important that your weight is evenly distributed throughout your body during many exercises. Try it! While in your upper ab curl position, make sure the bottom of your shoulder blades stay down on the mat as well as your sacrum. The more the hips and sacrum drop the more you will be able to lift the weight of your head.
Less is more. Quality beats quantity in this case. Do only as many reps you can control. Once you start to lose your form you should stop. It’s possible that doing too many repetitions of exercises can put unnecessary pressure on the neck. In Pilates, we don’t work to fatigue our muscles. We work efficiently, so that when we finish our workout we’re ready to move throughout the rest of the day.