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

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