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

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