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 aid in your recovery.
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.
Sound intriguing? It’s more than intriguing — MELTing will help you relax, repair and rejuvenate the connective tissue in your body. In many cases, this simple exercise rou-tine can restore mobility and reduce pain in just one session. Over time, adding even just ten minutes of MELT three times a week to your usual physical wellness routine can dramatically improve the results from other diet and exercise choices you’re making to live healthier, longer, and live free from chronic fatigue and pain.
Bigos has been teaching the MELT method for four years — won over to the practice thanks to experiencing almost immediate relief from knee pain after one session. Physical therapy had helped, but her days still revolved around ‘managing’ the pain and stiffness in her knee, until one day a friend recommended she MELT.
“I felt relief, real relief from pain — that very first session. I was hooked and I knew I had to become a MELT instructor and share this (MELT) with others. Physical injury and simple wear and tear is a fact of life for most of us, and when I found something that is this simple, intuitive and accessible —that actually works — I started my training right away.”
The MELT Method was created by Sue Hitzmann, a nationally recognized manual therapist, exercise physiologist, and founding member of the Fascia Research Society. Like Joseph Hubertus Pilates, the creator of Pilates, Hitzmann developed MELT to address the need for a program that develops physical resilience and encourages the body’s natural ability to heal from injury and stress. Pilates focuses on developing the body’s core strength. Hitzmann’s focus is on the connective tissues and the impact that damaged or ‘dehydrated’ connective tissue has on the rest of the body’s function. This is how Hitzmann explains MELT:
“Daily repetitive movements and postures cause connective tissue dehydration, and over time, “stuck stress” and inflammation. What starts out as a small ache can escalate into sleeplessness, digestive issues, anxiety or depression, and ultimately a chronic state of disarray. It’s a complex molecular and cellular issue that diet and exer-cise don’t address and medication can actually make worse. I believe that when you address the dehydration, your body stops sending cries for help to your brain in the form of pain.”
When practiced in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle choices such as a healthy diet, good sleep habits, exercise and the incorporation of a mindful practice such as yoga or Pilates, the MELT Method can help heighten the body’s ability to repair and heal itself.
Introduced in 2001, to the program’s success isn’t only supported by the anecdotal stories of practitioners. There is also growing body of scientific evidence to back up Hitzmann’s claims that connective tissue issues are the culprit in much of our chronic pain and fatigue issues:
“This is a relatively new area of research… not that many people are looking at the fascia and that needs to be looked at more.” said Dr. Helene Langevin, the director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “[Fascia] literally forms a network in the body and connects everything with everything else. I think that is might play a role in the interface between body systems. We can have a better understanding of the body if we understand connective tissue better.”
What scientists do know is that people feel more pain in their fascia than they do in their muscles.
“Fascia has a lot of nerve endings in it,” Langevin said. “When it is inflamed, it can feel painful. It’s a part of the body you don’t think about very much. The nerve endings in the fascia are more sensitive than the nerve endings in the muscle.” ABC News site, Article By Juju Chang, Claire Pedersen, Lauren Effron, March 7, 2015
One of the biggest advantages to “MELTing” is that its a simple, self-directed practice. Once a person learns the MELT Method, they can practice it anytime in their home or office — making it a perfect fit for nearly anyone no matter what their lifestyle or demands on time.
“When I began MELTing, I found a lot of value working with an instructor,” Bigos says. “It’s a discipline that emphasizes small, focused movements that exert ‘pressure’ on our ‘stuck stress’ points. But we’re not supposed to be in pain,” she says emphatically. “That’s the whole point of MELT…to relieve pain! An instructor with experience can help new practitioners learn the right positions and movements and tailor their practice based on their unique goals. Instructors also help experienced MELTers to update their practice based on their current physical state and goals. But yes, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to MELT in your own home whenever it’s most convenient for you.”
Bigos tells a story of a 70 year old woman who had given up taking her trash to the end of her driveway because of pain and dysfunction in her legs. After practicing MELT for a few months, she experienced relief so profound that now, she is not only taking out her own trash again, she’s also adding back many of her favorite physical activities. Thanks to a growing confidence in her physical health, she also has a renewed sense of optimism about her overall health.
And it’s not only the 40 plus crowd that can benefit from MELT. Bigos asserts, “I teach at several local high schools — the football team, basketball team, men’s and women’s sports. It’s a great regimen for young people and athletes who want to experience their best performance and protect their physical health while they demand more from their bodies than the non-athlete.”
If you’d like to see these results for yourself, join Janine Bigos and Sandi Villacoba, owner of the Pilates Project in Fair Haven, for the next session in The Body Care Project Workshop Series, RELEASE YOUR NECK AND SHOULDERS.
The workshop is being offered in The Pilates Project studio at 560 River Road, 11/20/2016 at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call: 732.530.5050. REGISTER HERE. >