We've now gone over the first five exercises in Joseph Pilates' system as well as the Ab Series of Five. Let's do a quick recap and add on from here so you can more easily practice these with flow. (Remember, flow is one of the foundation principles of Pilates.)
The sequence is as follows:
2. Roll Up
3. Roll Over
4. Single Leg Circles
5. Rolling Like a Ball
6. Single Leg Stretch
7. Double Leg Stretch
8. Single Straight Leg Stretch
9. Double Straight Leg Stretch
10. Criss Cross
11. Spine Stretch Forward
12. Open Leg Rocker
I will explain in further detail the exercises which I have not gone over yet. (The others are explained in a previous post labeled Your Daily Five from April 22, 2011 and in Your Daily Vitamin: The Hundred from May 17, 2011.):
Roll Up: Lie on your back with legs straight and "glued" together. (The traditional exercise calls for gently pointed feet, but if this gives you cramps, start with flexed feet.) Arms are overhead with ribs knit together in the front. On an inhale, bring arms above shoulders, then exhale to drop chin toward the chest and peel your spine off the mat as your feet flex. The fingertips reach above the feet as the waistline pulls back. Do what I like to call a "tug of war" with your fingertips and your back beltloop, so you can feel the oppositional stretch through your back as your abs pull into your spine. The ears are in line with your biceps. Start the rolldown by inhaling the abs further into your spine and squeezing the legs and glutes together. When the lower back reaches the mat, exhale as you articulate through to the top of the spine and bring the arms back to the starting position. Modification: Bend your knees to start, with the feet on the ground, and use your hands to walk yourself up, at which point you can stretch through the legs and do as described above. Reverse this motion, walking your hands on the backs of the legs to work your way down to the mat. Advanced: Follow lovely ballet dancer Allison in the following video. Note how she doesn't raise the arms above the shoulders to begin, but starts by keeping the arms by the ears as she peels her spine off the mat. That really adds a good deal more work to the already challenging exercise, so only do this once you have perfected the Roll Up!
Roll Over: Start by lying supine on the mat (facing up) and legs slightly below 90 degrees to the mat and arms imprinted down by your sides. If you need to bend the knees a bit due to hamstring tightness, you may do so to complete the exercise. Otherwise, keep the legs straight and inhale to lift the legs to 90 degrees and imagine you are lifting the hips up and over a barrel, reaching the toes towards the back of the room, legs parallel to the floor, or if you are particularly flexible, toes to the floor. At this point, make sure you are only rolling onto the shoulder blades, not the neck. Open the legs hip-width apart, flex the feet, and on the exhale, begin to roll down, articulating through the spine while pressing through the heels. Once you have come down to the hips, lower the legs to the starting angle and bring the legs together. Now you are in position to repeat the exercise two more times. After the third rep, the exercise is reversed, meaning you begin with the roll over with the legs separated, connecting them for the roll down section of the exercise.
Single Leg Circles: Lie with your back on the mat, legs stretched on the mat, and arms along your sides, palms down and fingers reaching down towards the feet. Bring the right knee toward the chest, and extend the toes up toward the ceiling, straightening the leg as much as you are able. Firmly plant both hips into the mat throughout the exercise. Inhale the right leg left across the body while pressing the arms into the mat. Exhale, while bringing the leg down to about 45 degrees and around, back to the starting position with the right foot pointed up to the ceiling. Really let the exhale help you return the leg by contracting the lower abs fully into the spine. Repeat four more times in this direction. Then do five reps in the reverse direction, inhaling the leg straight down about 45 degrees, and exhaling it across the body and back up to the top. Be careful not to let the hips rock during the exercise. This is accomplished by solidifying the transversus abdominis, otherwise known as the deepest lower abs, into the lower back. Repeat with other leg in both directions. Modification: Keep the bottom leg bent and the foot on the floor during the entire exercise and keep the upper leg bent throughout. Advanced: Elevate the bottom leg off the floor a couple inches, raise the chin to the chest, and either put the hands behind the head supporting the head with interlaced fingers, or reach the arms straight overhead.
Rolling Like a Ball: This is one of the more fun exercises, once you get the hang of it, as well as one of the most "feel-good", massaging exercises. I'm going to recommend a softer surface for this exercise, either with your mat on a carpeted surface, or using my favorite mat of all time, the Aeromat Elite. Sitting on the mat, pull your abs back into the spine until your spine is in a C-curve, with chin lowered toward the chest. Bend the knees in, keeping them either together or slightly open, and hold onto either the ankles or the shins. Lift the toes off the mat to start by balancing on the sit bones. Pull the abs so deeply back into the spine on the inhale that you begin to roll back, allowing yourself to go only as far as the shoulder blades. At this point, make sure you do not flatten out the back, or else your hope of rolling back up will dwindle quicly. Keep the C-curve by continuing to pull the abs into the spine with the shoulders rounded, pulling the knees towards them. Exhale as you rock back up to the sit bones, ideally balancing there without touching the toes to the mat. Modification: Instead of holding onto the shins, hold behind the hamstrings so the lower legs can be used as leverage to return to the top.
Spine Stretch Forward: Sit on the mat wit legs stretched forward and as straight as you are able. Flex the feet and sit high up on the sit bones. If you need to sit on a cushion to make this possible, do so, by all means. Reach the hands forward, arms parallel to the floor, and imagining you are growing up from the top of your head by an inch or so. Shoulders are stabilized by drawing the shoulder blades together and down the spine, without letting the rib cage splay open. Inhale at the top, then exhale into a deep C-curve, with the abs drawing into the spine, fingertips and waistline playing "tug of war" with the ears almost level with the biceps. Inhale as you articulate through the spine, stacking the vertebra, one on top of the next, until you are in your tallest position at the top. Modification: Hands start on the mat and walk forward and back keeping contact with it at all times for support.
Open Leg Rocker: Now we're getting into some real fun! Sit on the mat, rolling so you're balancing on the sit bones as in Rolling Like a Ball with hands holding the ankles or shins. From here, extend the legs as straight as possible and open about mat-width apart. As you inhale, pull the abs back into the spine to keep the C-curve as you roll back onto your shoulder blades. Exhale to roll back up to balance on the sit bones. Here you have the option to keep the C-curve as you balance at the top, or to come up to a flat-back position. The second option is more advanced as it is easy to snap the lower back forward to balance, and letting the pelvis push forward.
Corkscrew: Lie with your back on the mat and heels connected in a Pilates-V position with legs pointing up to the ceiling at 90 degrees. Arms are reaching down by your sides, imprinting your shoulders into the mat. Head stays down on the mat and abs drawn down into the spine. Circle the legs to the right on the inhale, keeping the left hip imprinted into the mat. Exhale to complete the circle going down and around to the left, returning up to the starting position. Repeat with the circle starting to the left. Work up to 5 sets of this. Modification: I am demonstrating the modification for Corkscrew in the following video. Instead of reaching the arms down by your sides, slide your hands under your hips. This will help protect your lower back by making it easier to imprint that region of the spine. Always imprint your lower back into the mat when you have two legs elevated.
Dart: Lie on your front with abs pulled up into the spine and legs "glued" together. The arms are on the mat with palms down and the forehead resting on the mat. Inhale to lengthen through the top of the head, causing your spine to go into a slight extension as the forehead floats off the mat and the fingers walk down towards the feet. Exhale to return back to your starting position. Work up to 8 repetitions.
Add them all together, and this is what you get:
So there you have it, and if you go from one exercise to the next while following me in the video, it's just about 9 minutes long. Feel free to skip an exercise if it feels too advanced right now, perform it at a slower speed, or do the modification. (Joseph Pilates states in Return to Life Through Contrology that one should "not sacrifice knowledge to speed in building your solid exercise regime on the foundation of Contrology", otherwise known as Pilates.) Stop immediately if you are feeling pain beyond sweet discomfort! Please make sure you have your doctor's permission before starting this program. If all your ducks are in a row, try to get through this short workout at least three times a week. It will get easier as you become more familiar with the exercises. And most importantly, have fun, laugh, whatever your heart desires! I know we've had a lot of laughs doing the Open Leg Rocker for the first time in classes, and it really helps to get people to go for it and not be shy. Good times!