Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What to do when you can’t do a Pilates Roll Up

Imagine this scenario.  A person starts taking a Pilates Mat Class.  She might be an active person who wants to see what this “core strength” thing is all about.  She goes to her very first class, and it is hard.  She feels work in her belly muscles, and quite frankly, this first class is just a little confusing.  What is this move vertebra by vertebra business?  When was she supposed to exhale again?  She might have even found herself holding her breath completely.  Maybe some exercises seemed absolutely impossible.  She may have learned that there is a completely different way of thinking about the body.  The movement might seem foreign.  The necessary awareness may feel very different than other fitness classes. But at the end of the day she decides a Pilates Mat Class is worth a second try.

Fast-forward two years…She has been going to Pilates Mat Classes twice a week.  She has made friends with her classmates, and it has become a way of life for her.  She loves the way she feels after a Pilates Class.  She feels longer and stronger. Her Forward Leg pull rocks. Her balance is improved, and she is more flexible.  Everything seems better, except for one pesky exercise…The Pilates Roll up still feels elusive…She has practiced and tried and practice and tried some more, but she simply just can’t get past the ribcage when doing the Pilates Roll up…She finally goes to her teacher after class and says, “What can I do? I’ve practiced and practiced, and no matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to do the roll up.” 

This did happen, and when my client came to me, we talked about her posture and about the fact that The Pilates Roll up isn’t about abdominal strength.  Her abdominals were strong.  The Pilates Roll up was about finding segmental spine movement.  The Pilates Roll up was about finding ease in the back so that the spine can bend.  We talked about the fact that simply “practicing” the roll up might be reinforcing the movement patterns that are impeding her progress.  Then we set up an appointment so that we could design a workout that would help her body prepare for the roll up.  Will it work?  I hope so, and I think so. 

Try the following video.  Let me know what you think.  Might this work?  Would you be willing to try this for two weeks?

Like so many workouts, this series has basis in many different movement theories.  I think of it as collecting the tidbits of information and then connecting the dots.

Tidbit #1 I have learned this tidbit many times in many different ways.  And simply stated, it doesn’t matter how strong your abdominals are if your back doesn’t move.  So in my opinion the first steps in training to do the roll up is to loosen the back of the body.  In the video I do this with The Hamstring Release Series and several Spine Stretches that move the spine in several planes of motion.

Tidbit #2 Shortness in the Hip Flexors can impede movement in the Lumbar Spine.  The Hip Flexor Stretches with the Magic Circle on the Foam Roller can open the front of the hip, which will then allow the tailbone to drop and the spine to lengthen. These are dynamic stretches that allow the bones of the legs to move in the hip socket so that any fascial “stuckness” can be released.

Tidbit #3 Using the diaphragm efficiently helps lengthen the spine, and can connect the upper body to the lower body.  When designing this workout I coupled this idea with the fact that throughout my practice most of the people who have trouble with the roll up get stuck at the ribcage.  I also thought about how thanks to Tom Myers I know that the diaphragm and the psoas are fascially connected, and I connected this to the idea that we often forget to get all of the air out of our lungs…(This might need to be Tidbit #3a-3d)  It’s important in all of the exercises to understand that the breath can move the body.  It can open the ribs.  It is the Olive Oil of any Pilates Recipe! 

Tidbit #4 The Roll up is about segmental spinal movement…What’s another exercise that increases segmental movement yet uses gravity to help?  That’s right the bridge…There is a reason that I teach the bridge in almost every single pilates class…It is safe, effective, and uses the breath to find segments of movement that might be stuck.

Try the workout and see what you think?  Let us know if you think it might just work for you!   

Katrina Hawley PMA-CPT, C.M.A
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to Sit Balanced from Side to Side.

You’re sitting at the computer surfing the net, and for some reason you have come across this blog post.  And you may be wondering, “Balanced side to side really…What does that mean?”  And to your question (if indeed you are asking it) I would ask you, “Are your legs crossed?  Are you leaning on one elbow or the other?  Where is your mouse? What is your computer screen’s relationship to the keyboard? When you are thinking do you tilt your head?  Do you rotate the spine towards your office mate when she is speaking?”  The answers to these many questions, might let you know just how dominant one side of your body is, and they might bring certain imbalances and asymmetries to your conscious awareness.

But wait is symmetry what we are looking for? I have been teaching pilates and movement for so many years, and I have yet to see the perfectly balanced, symmetrical body that I spent so much time learning about…I also find it interesting that we ask our body to be symmetrical, yet our viscera (organs/guts) are not symmetrical at all.  So again what do I mean when I say, “How to sit balanced from side to side.”

Imagine this:  A person is at the computer for hours at a time.  As the body gets tired he starts to lean his left elbow on his armrest, which allows his ribcage to shift to the left.  This also means that there might be more weight in the left side of the pelvis.  Now what does his body do to counteract this shift of the ribcage?  He might tilt his head to the right, and he might also rotate his ribcage to the right just slightly (mostly to see the computer screen) and there might even be a little extra weight in the right foot.  Now imagine being in this position for a long time…What might happen? 

What can we do to prevent this kind of melting?  How can we find a balanced posture without stiffening?

First, when sitting, think about posture and weight distribution through out the entire body.  Distribute the weight evenly through the floor, and lengthen the head to the ceiling….and then every time you notice what might seem to be the inevitable melting (however it may manifest), redistribute the weight and reach your head to the ceiling again, and again, and yet again.

Secondly, add movement to your life at the desk.  Set a timer and every 45 minutes in your chair at your desk do the following workout.  Egg timers that are really loud work the best!  And every time your egg timer rings find this video, and move in your chair.

What do you notice?  Does the melting happen less?  Does your spine feel better?  We want to know…How do you feel?

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, PMA-CPT
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

4 ways to use Pilates to Learn How to Sit

As we continue our “Learning to Sit” series, let’s first look back to where we’ve been.  We’ve talked about how to sit with a readiness for movement, and we’ve talked about how to sit to avoid pain.  This week, I want to outline a workout series that will open up fascial tight spots that might make it impossible to find the longest axis of the spine.  This workout uses segmental spinal movement to find length in the front of the body, so that in sitting the body isn’t pulled forward away from the longest center. 

My suggestion is to take the foam roller to work, and if you happen to be at a desk for any length of time, do this workout.  It’s a great way to avoid the shoulder and neck tension that often comes with computer work, and it is also a great way to keep your body moving for many years to come. 

Watch the video, and then let me know how this workout might make it into your busy life.

1.     Flexion and extension over the foam roller – This exercise lengthens the spine and stretches the front of the body.  The foam roller helps open the breastbone, which will allow the ribcage to support the spine a little bit better.
2.     Psoas Stretch with foam roller under pelvis – Now that you have opened the fascia that runs along the front of the breastbone and thoracic spine.  Try opening the fascia that runs along the front of the Lumbar spine with a Psoas stretch
3.     Bridge with feet on the foam roller – With the front of the spine open, we want to continue by opening the back of the spine.  To do this use the segmental movement of the spine to lengthen the tissue that runs up and down the back.  With the foam roller under the feet, not only are you strengthening your hamstrings, but you are also giving your spine more room for movement
4.     Bridge with Rotation – Maybe as you were doing the bridge your found some chunks in the spine.  You know those moments when the entire concept “vertebra by vertebra” is lost on your spine and basically seven vertebrae hit the ground all at once.  Sometimes adding rotation to the spine allows the vertebrae that feel stuck to loosen and separate from each other.

Have fun, and let me know how it goes
Katrina Hawley C.M.A., PMA_CPT
Director of Instruction at The Pilates Studio