Joseph Pilates Quote of the Week:

Joseph Pilates Quote of the Week:

"The art of contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life." ~Return to Life Through Contrology

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ten-Minute (Plus) Workout

I know I've been MIA, and I apologize for that!  Life has gotten away from me, but hopefully this super-extensive blog post will make up for lost time.  If you have been following any Pilates news whatsoever, and feel as I do that Pilates news has been taken over by the state of Pippa Middleton's backside, then read on for something a bit more newsworthy!  Here are the real exercises that will help get you feeling great mentally and physically, and you don't even have to be related to a royal to get the benefits! 

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:
1. Hundred
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
13. Corkscrew
14. Dart

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! 


Monday, June 13, 2011

We Make Great Lemonade

I went to teach at the Magee Center in Bloomsburg tonight, and the whole building was locked up tight.  Thankfully, it was a beautiful day, and we made the best of what could have been a frustrating situation.  We had class on the lovely lawn under the grand old trees!  We had a first-time experience of creating a makeshift dressing room out of Pilates mats for one devoted student coming fresh from work, and had a blast working-out in the fresh air.  I think a few ants relocated from Bloom to Lewisburg on my person, but other than that, it was an unforgettable class which included a few giggles at the fact that we were in some interesting Pilates poses not far from the highway!   

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Get up and go... Just do it."

Have you ever been concerned that you are too old to try a new form of exercise?  I'm often so proud of the people that come in to my class as they are no longer, well, teenagers. Most teenagers, unless they are dancers, probably don't see the need for Pilates just yet.  They often have naturally firm and strong cores, not having yet had metabolism changes, pregnancies, injuries, or just plain gravity fighting against them.  So, in walks a "middle aged" man or woman, having never taken a Pilates class, let alone knowing what one entails, to experience his or her first Hundred or Saw.  To have that kind of courage inspires me. 

If you have two minutes, watch this short video by Ari Cohen of a 99-year-old woman, Ruth Kobin, who is studying Pilates.  She started practicing it at age 91, so if you feel you're too old to start something new, ditch that thought!  Ruth has a lot of great advice in this short interview such as "I use what's good for me [regarding exercise].  In fact I've learned what's good for my body.  If you listen to your body, it'll tell you."  "...and if I stretch and exercise, I feel a lot better.  So it boils down to keeping active."  "So often I have to push myself.  Just say 'Ruth, get up and go... Just do it.'"

Ari has more of Ruth's life and style advice written out at  Besides nixing the blue jeans, I think these are some quality points to ponder! Try something new soon (like Pilates *wink*wink*) and don't waste your energy feeling self-conscious because everyone's focusing too much on themselves to care what you're doing.  Hey, ballet-girl here got herself into a Zumba class and had a great time.  

I hope you've found this extraordinary woman as encouraging as I have regarding her views on exercise!  I haven't yet had someone her age take one of my classes, but to see people walk in to class in January and plug through class, maybe with a bit of frustration, and finish up the session in June feeling like a pro, is truly a thrill.  You can do it, too!  Get up and go... Just do it!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Your Daily Vitamin: The Hundred

This may be a tough pill to swallow for some, but The Hundred is an excellent exercise to get the circulation revved up, fire up the abs, and get you ready for what's to come in the rest of your workout.  I personally like to do it to warm up the finger tips and toes in the dead of winter.  It really works!  On top of it all, it really gets some fresh oxygen into the lungs.  I'm including a video clip of myself doing two sets of the ten you want to work up to. 

1. Start by lying on your back with your toes pointed up to the ceiling.  You can always bend the legs for a modification.  Remember to imprint the lower back into the mat, which means you have to fully engage the lower abs.  I also like to rotate the legs slightly from the hip joint and squeeze through the inner thighs throughout this exercise, just to add a little somethin' somethin'.  Reach the fingertips long along side your body, reaching past your hips.  Think of the shoulder blades sliding down the spine and creating the greatest distance you can between earlobes and shoulders.  This will aid in the next step of bringing your chin toward your chest, like you're cradling an egg between neck and chin, which is where your head will stay for the entire exercise.  This will also help you to have a great view of the lower abs, making sure they scoop! 

2. Now, pump the arms up and down like you're slapping water.  Inhale for five pumps of the arms and exhale for five.  That's one set.  Gradually work your way up to ten sets, continuing the breath, equaling one hundred pumps of the arms.  (This is a good place to work on lateral thoracic breathing a.k.a. sideways ribcage breathing.  Don't let the front of the ribs splay open; keep the ribs knit together.)  If you're feeling really strong in the lower back, lower the legs to a point that you can maintain your lower back imprinting into the mat.  You can work your way down to about a 45-degree angle with the legs.  If you do feel your lower back peeling off the mat, raise your legs a bit or bend them into a tabletop position with the knees bent at a 90-degree angle and shins parallel to the floor.

3. Finish up by relaxing your head and shoulders onto the mat and hugging your knees into your chest, giving yourself a nice little back stretch.  If the front of your neck is feeling a bit tense, just drop your nose from side to side, which will release the tension in the neck flexor muscles. 

I hope this explanation and mini-demo help with your execution of The Hundred!  Try to do The Hundred daily before you go on to the other Pilates exercises.  Please feel free to ask any questions that you have regarding the exercise if you need further help.

This post is dedicated to Stephanie.  I kow The Hundred is your fave!!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Your Daily Five

No, I'm not referring to five daily servings of fruits and veggies!  Whether it's called the Ab Series of Five, the Fabulous Five, or some other name, this is a great set to commit to memory.  Brooke Siler encourages in her book Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge to "commit these to memory and perform them every day without fail.  You will increase your abdominal strength tenfold!"  And I completely concur!!! 
Once you get these down, the whole set will take you between 5 and 10 minutes, a time commitment that is easily achievable.  With all of these exercises, focus on keeping the abs drawn in to the spine and the spine (focusing on the lower back) imprinted into the mat.  You will want to check either visually or with a hand pressing down between the hip bones that the lower abs are fully engaged and drawn in, not pooching up.  Always think of scooping the lower abs.  The other thing to remember as you raise your chin toward your chest is to always imagine holding an egg at the front of your neck underneath the chin so that the egg would neither be crushed nor roll off.

First up, you'll see a video clip of myself doing the five exercises all in a row, and as you can see, it does not take long when you do them back to back.  After that, I will explain each one individually with a picture for a visual cue. 

Single Leg Stretch: Lying supine (on your back), draw your right knee into your chest as your head and shoulder blades are lifted off the mat.  Grab the knee with your left hand, and put your right hand on your right ankle.  The left leg is extended straight but off the mat at a height at which you can keep the lower back imprinted on the mat.  Softly point the feet.  Exhale as you complete this stretch.  Inhale to switch sides, bringing the left knee into the chest with right hand (left hand on left ankle) and lengthening out the right leg off the mat.  Complete the stretch with an exhale.  (5x each leg)

Double Leg Stretch: Lying on your back (supine), bring head and shoulder blades off the mat and both knees into the chest, holding onto shins with your hands.  Inhale to reach arms by your ears at the same time as you extend connected legs off the mat at a height at which you can keep the lower back imprinted on the mat.  Exhale to bring arms and legs into beginning position.  Do not let your upper body move throughout this exercise.  (Work up to 10x)

Single Straight Leg Stretch: Lying on your back (supine), bring head and shoulder blades off the mat.  Keeping both legs as straight as you are able, bring your right leg towards chest, grabbing it with both hands behind the calf or ankle as left leg extends, hovering off the mat at a height at which you can keep the lower back imprinted on the mat.  Fully exhale to draw it a bit closer to your chest.  Inhale to switch legs, and exhale to stretch the left leg up.  (5x each leg)

Double Straight Leg Stretch: Lying supine (on your back) with hands behind your head (more advanced) or placed under your seat (modified), raise head and shoulder blades off the mat.  Both legs are extended as straight as you are able up to the ceiling and slightly turned out from the hip joint.  Squeeze your seat and your inner thighs together.  On the inhale, lower your legs down toward the mat, keeping them straight, only lowering to a height at which you can keep the lower back imprinted on the mat.  Exhale to use your lower abs to draw the legs back up to your starting position.  Be aware that when you begin working on this exercise, you may only lower your legs a couple inches before you feel your lower back begin to pop off the mat.  This is normal and acceptable.  Your movement range will increase over time.  (Start at 5x, working up to 10x)

Crisscross: Lying on your back, lift head and shoulder blades off the mat with both knees bent in toward the chest.  Hands are behind the head and elbows are wide.  Think of creating a flat plane from elbow to elbow throughout this exercise.  On the exhale, straighten the left leg (hovering off the mat at a height at which you can keep the lower back imprinted on the mat) while you twist the upper body to reach the left elbow toward the right bent knee, keeping the flat plane between elbows.  Do not let the elbow cross in towards your face!  This may mean the elbow does not touch the knee.  Inhale to come back to the center with the upper body while the legs are switching places.  Now exhale to bring the left knee into the chest while the right leg extends, bringing the right elbow toward the bent left knee.  The rotation should come from the upper body so that the hips are not lifting off the mat and try not to lower the upper body as you transition from side to side.  (5x each leg)

This series is challenging, I'm not going to lie, but very doable, especially with modifications.  Begin slowly, with purpose, and you will feel the difference almost immediately.  

You can find Brooke Siler's book Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge at .

Have a great day, and don't forget your daily five!


Friday, April 15, 2011

Fun Friday -- Pilates Fails (Do NOT try these for yourself! Learn from others' mistakes!)

These are two exercises we are NOT going to perform in class!  Do NOT attempt these at home, because then you'll really be needing some serious Pilates work, if not something more drastic. 

This first one starts out impressively (though Joseph Pilates certainly never had this in his exercise regimen), but then he seems to crave a very aggressive form of spinal realignment.

OK, so this may not be truly funny, but I'm sorry, I just can't stop laughing every time I watch it.  Talk about increasing flexibility!

Have a fabulous Friday!  Well, at least better than these two people...


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ten-Minute Workout, Continued...

As I was finishing painting a room last night, I was thinking of painting relative to Pilates.  It's a stretch, I know, but here were my thoughts: Painting a wall is pretty much immediately rewarding.  You can see a huge patch of color going onto the wall.  Like when you go to the hair salon and get a great new color and cut, there's lots of change with not much effort or time put into it.  Painting trim is like Pilates.  It takes a long time to get it just how you want it (with a bit of frustration along the way), so the rewards aren't as apparent initially.  But when it's completed, it's what really gives the room the shining touch.  Pilates may take a while to apply the principles correctly, but each class brings you one step closer to your goal.  In fact, Joseph Pilates was quoted as saying, "After ten sessions you'll feel the difference.  After twenty sessions you'll see the difference.  After thirty sessions you'll have a whole new body."  Even if you don't have a whole new body, you're certainly on your way, and much healthier for it! 

One point that my students often get stuck on is the breathing.  They may say to me, "What?!  I've been breathing my whole life, and now I have to relearn how to do it???"  Well...  yes.  Lateral thoracic (sideways ribcage) breathing is so important to executing the Pilates movements correctly, as well as to holding your body correctly out in the "real world" to prevent injury.  So here again, we're taking one step at a time towards our goal.  It may not happen today, or tomorrow even, but one day, it will happen.  That moment of realization will be so rewarding because it wasn't immediate.  After that, it's like riding a bike; you won't forget how to do it. 

I got some good feedback for the first Ten-Minute Workout post, so I'm going to go with that flow.  Following is a list of the first five exercises from Joseph Pilates' book Return to Life Through Contrology (
so that you can start your first ten minutes today!  Also, if you need a little help with exercise execution, follow twins Kimberly and Katherine from Pilates on Fifth (find them on for great explanations and demonstrations.  And if you prefer reading explanations, my all-time favorite Pilates book for simple yet thorough descriptions is Brooke Siler's The Pilates Body (
1. The Hundred: Work up to 100 movements.

2. The Roll Up: 3 repetitions.

3. The Roll Over: 5 imes with legs close together, 5 times with legs apart.

4. The One Leg Circle: 5 times with each leg.

5. Rolling Back (aka Rolling Like a Ball): 6 times.

So the moral of this story is, start with ten minutes, don't give up, and you will see the rewards.  Find a Pilates instructor that you gel with, and stick with the program.  You won't be sorry.  At this time next year, you could be feeling a year older, or you could feel five years younger.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Fun Friday -- Pilates in Stilettos

I've never been able to withstand wearing high heels for long periods of time.  In fact, I would rather wear pointe shoes, the torture chambers that they are, for an evening out instead of most heels.  Despite the fact that their form leaves much to be desired, these women took Pilates to a new level... literally about 4 inches higher.  Maybe we can add this to our Tuesday evening repertoire?!?  This is quite amusing, so if you have a couple minutes to kill, check it out:

Have a great weekend!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Original Ten-Minute Workout! Who Knew? Joseph Did...

I've begun to read Joseph Pilates' book Return to Life Through Contrology and as I excitedly first opened the front cover, the thought crossed my mind that maybe this book was going to be archaic and just not applicable to our times.  Maybe his writing would be in terms that just wouldn't make sense to me and that I would have to spend hours deciphering.  But I have been quickly proven wrong. 

Wow.  Despite the fact that it was published first in 1945, its relevance to today's problems and issues are probably even more applicable than they were in the middle of last century!  He writes of "this Modern Age" and how hectic and crazy it is with such things as "telephones, automobiles, and economic pressure" as well as dealing with crowds, rushing, pushing, scrambling, etc. that is "so characteristic of our day."  If only he could see us now!  With our ever-connectedness to our computers, phones, ipods and the like, there is no downtime for us to relax our minds.  Joseph knew that this was depriving people of rest, energy for recreation, and much needed sleep. 

He offers a wealth of wisdom and science toward helping a person become an entirely physically fit being.  His key points include exercise, obviously, namely his own method of Contrology (what we today simply call "Pilates"), but also proper diet, good sleep, enough relaxation during the day, and even his own way of cleaning oneself!  If you're dying to know what that last particular method includes, it involves a scrub brush sans handle so that one is forced to twist and turn to reach all areas of the body, and also thoroughly scrubbing to stimulate circulation and clear out the pores so that they can "breathe", which I somehow see as similar to reteaching our lungs to breathe properly, not with what he labels "lazy breathing." 

What caught my eye most in the first section of the book is the wonderful encouragement he constantly doles out, reminding his readers that "PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor."  Joseph's first challenge is to perform the exercises starting simply with ten minutes, four times a week, and gradually working up from there.  How easy is that!  Ten minutes at a time!  Even the busiest of people can probably find ten minutes, four times a week.  As he states, "Make up your mind that you will perform your [Pilates] exercise ten minutes without fail."  He created the first ten-minute workout.  So easy!  So let's do this thing!


Want your own copy of Return to Life Through Contrology?  Find it at these sites:'-return-to-life-through-contrology-id-0961493798.aspx

Sunday, March 27, 2011

But Seriously, For Sunday: The Six Key Principles of Pilates

My latest book acquisition is one that I'm really excited about, and I won't judge you if you're not equally bursting.  It's called Pilates Anatomy by Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger.  I've not only been very anxious to study more anatomy to aid my sharing of Pilates, but I was also thrilled to see Karen Clippinger's name as co-author.  When I was a student at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, she worked closely with the dancers in the company, and I had the privilege of having a private kinesiology session with her.  She is now a sought-after presenter in the areas of Pilates, dance, anatomy, and biomechanics while also being an anatomy professor and a teacher of Pilates certification programs. 

The first chapter, before delving into the land of anatomy, is focused on the six foundational Pilates principles: breath, concentration, center, control, precision, and flow.  I'm going to summarize each briefly and how each contributes to the mind/body connection, according to Isacowitz and Clippinger.  (You may have heard that Joseph Pilates did not call his method "The Pilates Method", but actually named it Contrology.)

Breath is the "fuel of the powerhouse", and integrates all parts of the system: the body, mind, and spirit.  "In this view breath can serve as a common thread that runs through all the foundation principles, in a sense sewing them together," the authors state.

Concentration is the focus directed to perfecting a Pilates exercise.  It should include a focus on the alignment of the body as well as the stabilization of the muscles that one plans to use for that exercise.

Center relates to a person's center of gravity, "the point at which the body... would be totally balanced in all directions."  Since every body is unique, each one will have its own center.  Center also has to do with the core, or powerhouse, as Joseph Pilates named it: the muscles that provide greatest support for the lower back such as the lower abs, glutes, inner thighs, and the back muscles themselves.  A third reference for center is a general feeling of balance from within one's self. 

Control is based on the refinement needed to master an exercise.  So as one progresses and skills improve, greater control can be seen through "fewer and smaller errors, exact alignment, greater coordination, greater balance, and greater ability to reproduce the exercise successfully over multiple attempts, using less effort and avoiding excessive muscle tension," Isacowitz and Clippinger explain.

Precision is the exact way an exercise is performed.  The authors explain that the movement may not be so unlike other forms of exercise practices, but the execution of the exercise is different.  I myself can think of several yoga and Pilates exercises that may appear alike at first glance by someone who is not aware of the intricacies of each, but as one explores them further, the differences become apparent, such as the yoga Plow vs. Pilates Roll-Over, or the yoga Candle vs. Pilates Jackknife.  "Precision can be associated with the activation of isolated muscles and at the same time with the integration of the required muscles to create movement," they continue.  Isacowitz and Clippinger state that precision is a primary key to achieving one's goals in a particular exercise. 

Lastly, flow is something to aim for, and may only come after extensive practice and understanding of a movement.  Not only should the individual exercises flow, but the entire session should do so as well.  The authors quote Pilates protege Romana Kryzanowska as describing this method as "flowing motion outward from a strong center."  I love that statement, and feel that I can almost visualize flow as something emanating from my core as I perform an exercise. 

So there you have them, the six elements that work together to hone your Pilates technique as well as help you live a healthier life through their use in regular daily activities.  Whether you use Pilates as a method to create the physique that you desire, or you use it as a de-stressor mentally, or a combination of both, these fundamental principles are the stepping stones to help you achieve your goals.  After all, Joseph Pilates himself stated in his book, Return to Life Through Contrology:

"The acquirement and enjoyment of physical well-being, mental calm, and spiritual peace are priceless to their possessors... [and] it is only through Contrology (a.k.a. Pilates) that this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained."

What a great quote to focus on as we enter into a new week of Pilates classes and a new week of life, with refreshed bodies, minds, and spirits.  And a special thanks to Pilates experts Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger for their literary collaboration that, I'm sure, will have a positve impact on many.

I hope to see you all in class soon!

Find Pilates Anatomy at these websites:


Friday, March 25, 2011

Fun Friday -- Cookie Monster Does Monster Pilates

So I was looking for celebrities who proclaim Pilates has changed their lives, or maybe at least their physiques.  I found the usual: Jennifer Aniston, Michelle Obama, Madonna, Sharon Stone, Uma Thurman.  And I found some that might surprise you: Danny Glover, Hugh Grant, the Cleveland Indians.  But then I came across the most unusual, which proves Pilates knows no bounds, whether it be gender, age, body type, race, species... 

Here are two links showing that Cookie Monster, yes the blue furry monster that eats cookies all day long, is a true devotee of the Pilates method!  Who knew he was concerned about his core?!?!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Favorite Pilates Mat

A lot of people ask about my mat, which isn't your typical thin mat from Walmart, though I did use one of those for years.  When my tailbone just couldn't stand the hard surfaces that I taught on anymore, I investigated into finding a cushy mat that wouldn't grind my tailbone into the floor doing Teaser or my backbone while Rolling Like a Ball.  I purchased the thickest one (3/4-inch), which only goes to 56 inches long.  I'm pretty tall at over 5' 7", and it works for almost all the Pilates exercises.  I usually put another thin mat under it just in case I need to have a slightly longer surface.  I have also considered buying two longer, but thinner Aeromat Elite mats and just doubling up.  This website,, is great, and at the time of this writing, does not charge shipping!  Granted, it's not the cheapest mat around, so you may want to see it as a long-term investment and a special treat to yourself.  But trust me, your bones will thank you for getting one of these!

How To Roll Your Mat To Keep It Clean

Ever thought about what's on your mat that ends up on your body?  Ew.  I have, and so has this blogger, Marguerite Ogle from  I tried Marguerite's technique with my awesomest of awesome mats, the Aeromat Elite, which is not your average thin mat, but instead a 3/4-inch thick mat from heaven.  The rolling technique doesn't work as easily, but it does work well enough.  Give it a try yourself!
Tips to Keep Your Mat Clean

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Twinkie Diet -- Heads Up On Your Body | Elaine's Pilates Blog: Guest Blogger Post

The title of this article intrigued me, and I thought it had some really valid and valuable points. I like the 90/10 idea, and feel it is a realistic way of living a healthy yet satisfying life. Have a great day! ~Jess

Heads Up On Your Body | Elaine's Pilates Blog: Guest Blogger Post: The Twinkie Diet: "The following post was guest-written by my pilates student- and my friend- Heather Buehl. I am delighted to write for Heads Up On Your Body..."

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Think Spring" Incentive Promotion

Are you as tired as I am of being stuck indoors? I am offering this promotion to inspire you to start thinking of wearing something other than winter coats and bulky sweaters, and to get ready to be moving your bodies, whether it's walking, running, gardening or cartwheeling in the beautiful, warm spring air. If you are a current student of mine and refer another student to me, you will each get 50% off your next private or semi-private class. If you are a new student to me, you will also get 50% off your first private or semi-private class as well as have the opportunity to get another class at 50% off if you refer another student to me. Contact me at to schedule your class now! All promotional classes must be completed by June 10th. See you soon!

The Art of Pilates

Friday, March 11, 2011

Joseph Pilates Teaches Romana

Real Men Take Pilates Classes

Real Men Take Pilates Classes
A Weekly Look at How People Keep Fit
By Janice Turner as published in THE TORONTO STAR, 1998

Tony Armstrong knows guys who are into heavy-duty weight training and who think that anything less simple isn't worthy.

He's not convinced.

Plagued by persistent back, neck and shoulder pain, he decided to follow the lead of his girlfriend (now wife) and take a Pilates class, a stretch and strengthen workout that targets the abdominals as well as the muscles that surround the spine.

IT WORKS: Tony Armstrong says Pilates has helped ease his back, leg and knee pain.

Two years have passed and Armstrong, 38, producer of and cameraman for Cottage Life Television, is a devotee. He takes and hour-long session two mornings a week.

"I feel a lot better," he says. "I have less pain, better posture and, over all, more energy."

He seriously injured his knee last summer and had to have surgery. And yet he is still able to do his workout, with some minor changes.

Armstrong is no couch potato. He's an avid water and snow skier. He's also into snowboarding and loves to play tennis. He doesn't consider Pilates an exercise for wimps.

Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-tees) is a no-impact stretch and strength workout that requires significant concentration. Some of the exercise, particularly the gentle, stretch and curl movements, can look almost cat-like.

Many of the exercises are based on familiar (though modified) movements such as leg lifts, sit-ups and push-ups. Repetitions are limited to no more than 10 so participants can focus on the quality of each movement.

Done regularly, it can result in well-toned muscles without the bulk, including a firm stomach — a goal of both men and women. It is not a cardiovascular workout, but will nicely complement that type of activity.

Moira Merrithew, 38, an ex-ballet dancer who opened Stott Pilates Studio in Toronto in 1987, has developed a contemporary approach to the conditioning regimen pioneered by Joseph Pilates more than seven decades ago.

At an hour a session, participants definitely break a sweat

Because the concept is often described as having elements of yoga, it can be a tough sell for some, particularly men who associate a "real" workout with high-impact pursuits.

Terming it kinder and gentler can be misleading, she says. At an hour a session, participants definitely break a sweat.

Pilates is based on the premise that building strong core muscles can bring the spine and the rest of the body into balance. It is a concept that has been popular among dancers for nearly 80 years.

A routine can be done on the floor with just a comfortable mat, or done with a variety of equipment.

Pat Saunderson, 67, has been doing Pilates off and on for the last nine years.

"I find the stretching useful in keeping the body limber," says Saunderson, who took up golf last year, four years after having hip replacement surgery.

"I'm generally healthy, from a heart point of view, but I am not very flexible. I find I stretch better, and I basically feel better."

"I feel looser and I can do things a lot more easily, even just bending down to pick up a golf ball. I find you tend to slowly stiffen up as you age and this sort of offsets the process."

People who walk, bicycle and are generally active often overlook the importance of maintaining flexibility.

Saunderson suspects Pilates is more popular among women because "women exchange information about their bodies a lot more freely than men do."

If men want to remain vital as they age that's going to have to change, he says.

Participating in an activity still dominated by females doesn't faze Armstrong.
"I certainly have no hang-ups about it," he says.

Rather than treating his ailments with a once-a-week massage as he used to, Armstrong aims to prevent problems through regular conditioning.

"All I know is that I am less prone to wear and tear on my body because of this, he says.

Don Starr had what he considers a rather common "male problem." He did a lot of heart-pounding exercise, but didn't pay nearly enough attention to limbering and stretching.

The film financier who mountain bikes, skis, snowshoes and swims took up Pilates six years ago after his wife introduced him to the method.

Today, he does some type of Pilates workout five days a week — twice a week with an instructor. Starr, 49 recently opened an office in England and is so smitten with the method he has found an instructor there.

"I do it to stay in condition and to relieve stress." he says. While in Toronto,l he find it more convenient to do his regimen at his home gym than in a studio. He uses machines for added resistance.

"I was skeptical initially," he concedes. "There is a common misconception that it's a woman's exercise and it's just not true. But it can take some time to get enough of the moments to keep the pace up. If you spend a lot of time waiting in between movements then an hour can go by pretty quickly.

"The theory behind this is that you're only as young as your spine. It's made a huge difference to me. It's really made me strong and allowed me to use different muscles in my cardio pursuits and to experience less muscle fatigue."

Starr says he doesn't see it a s time-consuming.

"I get up in the morning and do it and start my day an hour later. I find that later in the day you leave things, the more excuses you can build up."

Merrithew says about 20 percent of her studio's clients are male.

"How quite a few of them have started, their wives have started and they've gotten hooked,' she says. "The common thread is that these men are mostly between 35 and 55, and they really want to improve their flexibility, balance and coordination."


The method appeals to men who want to build strong, flexible muscles without the bulk. It helps them in other pursuits, such as skiing, skating and golf.

"Injuries do come with age," Merrithew notes. "There are a lot of ex-athletes out there who really want to work out and want to get strong again, but don't know how. If you are really strong through the center of your body, almost immediately the rest of the body becomes stronger because you're not compensating."

Pilates is an exercise discipline that works specific muscles by contracting, holding and then releasing them.

Each move starts at the abdomen, with a focus on controlling stomach muscles. Routines carefully alternate stretching and strengthening.

The method was developed in the 1920s by the German gymnast turned nurse, Joseph Pilates. He used it to help rehabilitate hospital patients.

Pilates can be done with or without equipment. It is touted as a way to tone and develop muscles; improve poster; strengthen the back; flatten the stomach; improve flexibility and stamina; reduce stress and bring the mind in tune with the body.

No Pain, All Gain - Ten Good Reasons To Get Started With Pilates