Pilates = Big bottoms + Spacious shoulders… such BS or is it?

My most “popular” frequently visited post on this site by a long shot is “blossom or squeeze”  If you are unfamiliar with this post or would like to revisit please check it out.

If you read it, you may recall it was a reflection on my own experience in learning how to balance these two opposing actions (blossom and squeeze) to find ultimate connection through my pelvic center.  I shared my experience around the action of “squeezing.”  Overdoing this action prevented me from connecting and strengthening the parts of my pelvic center that needed work and attention. 

Well, today I am going to share some insight with this same line of thought to describe the importance of blossoming your upper back/chest to create strength and connection between your arms and low back.  Prioritizing the action of creating more inner space will help you find more clarity in what parts of your body need to be strengthened.

I hope this  following post will encourage all of you to be your own best cheerleader and ask yourself questions if things are not working out.  If something does not feel right, and the cues you are given do not help you to better connect, please remember, words are just words.  It’s how you interpret the cues and then apply those words that matter…I believe  the body does not lie and  when something does not feel right it’s probably because there’s more work to do!

Time to step into Le Bureau:)!

Pilates exercises encourages one to work from ones center.  Therefore, in a Pilates class, to encourage this effort in the upper body, you may hear the instructor say, “connect your arms out of your low back,” “put your shoulders down your back,” “get out of your shoulders,”  or my personal favorite…”don’t use your shoulders use your stomach!”  UGH..so frustrating right?  I don’t know about you, but from my own experience, I understood what the teacher was telling me but the cues were not helping me connect my hands to my low back.  WHY?

I have, by nature, strong shoulders.  My shoulders definitely take the spotlight.  That said, my broad shoulders coupled with my long limbs and hyper-mobility in my joints makes the action of connecting my hands all the way into my stomach/low back a challenge.  You see, it’s easy for me to get the “job done” using mainly my shoulders!  However, getting the job done doesn’t always mean it was executed well in a sustainable healthy way.  Furthermore, is the job ever done?  What do you think?  

As a student and a teacher I know how difficult finding more space in the shoulders can be.  Luckily we have Pilates to help encourage  this practice of learning how to round our backs as we strengthen our bodies.  To be clear, a collapsed, slumped weak back is not a round, spacious, strong back.  

*remember, round back exercises are the majority in your beginner system…

Hundred
Roll up
Roll like a ball
Series of 5
Spine stretch forward 
Saw 

I know some of you will argue that you first want to strengthen your low belly before you focus on your shoulders.  I hear you!   However, please do not forget that your pelvis is not a separate entity from your shoulders and Interestingly, the action of rounding and creating width and space in your upper back you will indirectly create more opportunity for your low back to create more width and space.  It seems counter intuitive to tell someone to focus on rounding their upper back to help them round their lower back, but trust me, it works.  It’s just a different way to see the situation at hand.  Sometimes focusing too much on one thing will close off possibilities to see different solutions to help.  You have to deepen your perspective and look at your body as a whole as opposed to singular separate pieces.

Below are some ideas that have helped me in my efforts in connecting my hands to my low back/stomach center!  Before you do so, pease consider visualization.  I have discovered that visualizing my upper body as a round cylinder container of energy can really help!  This simple and effective visualization gives me dimension and boundaries to work with(front body, back body, left side body and right side body) in my efforts to make a deeper connection from my hands to my low back.  Using the visual of my trunk as a round cylinder I have found that there is space for me to soften and deepen my front body (sternum, ribs, stomach) into my back body and this action has helped in my efforts to better connect my mid back muscles as i make my way to my lower back!    This may not be your issue but I do find it is a common one. 

IDEAS:

1.  Space precedes strength.

Having a strong background in YOGA, I know how important it is to lengthen and lift your side body/side ribs  FIRST!    If you jump right into strengthening without taking a moment to lift and lengthen yourself you are missing the point.  The action of shrugging your shoulders is an excellent way to create more length and space and essentially unstick yourself!  

2.   Shoulders back precedes shoulders down.

Take your arm bones back!  Sustain wide collar bones even when you are rounding your back.
Find the shoulders first up, then back, and then let them relax down(never need to pull anything down including your smile:))

3.  Midline, midline, midline!

The more you pull to your midline the more lateral space you will create!  For example, place your hands your shoulder width apart  when overhead, on the foot-bar/floor etc. and energetically gently squeeze your hands forearms to your center line.  keeping this effort, you should right away be able to feel more lateral space between your shoulders.  

4. Breathe, keep it flowing.

Don’t shy away from using your breath to  of create some lateral width in your upper chest/back area; especially before you attempt to “crack a walnut”(common Pilates cue to help one draw their shoulders on their back).  The breath will help everything sync up in creating more space to better facilitate your arm bones drawing back in the shoulder socket without creating any tension.

5.  Reach!

In Pilates, although you will be initiating the movements and the exercises from pulling into your powerhouse aka, stomach, pelvic/hip, buttocks, inner/outer-thighs; you still need to create and sustain good posture practices so the energy flows back out through your body.  Therefore, practice long wrists(or minimize wrist flexion when possible), and also long fingers, and keep the exercise growing through your peripheral parts.

6.  The exercise never stops…

Even when your upper-body is stable.  There needs to be persistent and infinite pulse of pulling energy in and reaching energy back out.

It has been essential for me to pay attention and listen to my body in my efforts to connect and integrate my hands better to my low back/stomach.   Working on rounding while at the same time lifting my upper back with strength has really helped me in my efforts while being mindful of all my other above tips. 🙂

Remembering, that Pilates is therapeutic exercise and not PT,  I hope you strive to continue to work in the movement as effectively as you can.   I hope you have fun as you work to create and sustain deeper connections in all of your relationships.

Ciao,

Brooke

Le Mat Avance

Good evening beautiful friends,
 
I have an advanced mat workout to share with you that will be sure to make you smile if not feel amazing! 
 
 
The workout is almost identical to “le mat” workout I have on my vimeo account except that it is presented in actual time:).  I do not give a ton of technical cues as it is advanced and at this level most of you know the general principles to at least set you up and keep you safe, but that said, I do talk you through the workout.
 
I hope you practice, you are worth the work:).
“Vaut le travail
 
Some tips before you start your workout…

-lift and lengthen yourself in your movements and in your transitions from exercise to exercise.
-look slightly forward rather than down or up
-Observe yourself in your practice to help you recognize how you could enhance your own inner connections
-Allow your internal experience to guide you into your external frame.
 
 

Ciao!

Brooke

 

PROVE or IMPROVE

Most of you are aware that I just returned from a yoga intensive in Encinitas, CA with Desiree Rumbaugh and Andrew Rivin.  This year there were 66 participants from all over the country ranging in age 30-mid 80’s.  Despite the diversity of our age and our experiences, the group was united in how we all came to learn from each other in an effort to grow in ourselves.  The focus on the intensive is to “raise our vibration”  and throughout the week we discussed and reflected on how we showed up in the world and also how we would like to start showing up in the world to promote a higher vibration:).   We discussed  the idea that we are ‘experience’ beings and we agreed that we suffer more and therefore have a lower vibration, when we do not take ownership of our experience….  

Personally, I could think of several times when I do not take ownership and I allow “my buttons to get pushed.” 

Just the other day, I asked a question to Pontus and instead of acknowledging what I said, or asking me to clarify, and answering my question, he skipped ahead and started to ramble out some unsolicited ideas (this by the way is a normal occurrence and is also the reason why I love him so much).  Anyhow, I got really upset because he did not recognize the simplicity of what I was asking and skipped ahead to what he was assuming the bigger issue was.  In my frustration of the situation I lost my filter and said things I shouldn’t, thus bringing nothing positive or uplifting to our current state.  BIG SIGH…  Things eventually calmed down and I recalibrated my state once I chose to soften and tenderize my own idea of what’s right and wrong, and instead chose to listen and see the bigger picture of US.  I know that Pontus was only trying to help me in his own way.  I should be more grateful for his suggestions and get less upset on the outcome and instead focus more on what I can control, which is how I handle my response.

Being the creator of our experience requires us not only to “show up” physically but also “show up” with a bigger awareness that encourages us to be curious, ask questions, and ultimately improve our situation.  Do you have someone in your life that pushes your buttons?  Such good teachers!:)

Connecting in our Pilates practice requires the same amount of awareness and willingness to show up! 

 

Here is my unsolicited advice to maximize more connection in your Pilates practice 

 

Stay curious and ask yourself questions!

 – Are you allowing yourself to take full breaths?

– What position are you in?   Is the exercise/posture a tall back or round back position?  Once you are aware of that knowledge, then be sure you are integrating your feet/knees/legs into hips and beyond appropriately.

 – Do you feel your body balanced in your work effort? Or are some parts giving too little/too much effort?  

– Are you using the exercises and especially the apparatus whether that be the handles or leg spring to grow  your body? 

 

Some actions we can take if an effort to “raise our vibration”:

Stack/connect your structure in the position you are in whether that be your tall or round back.

 Pull into yourself in all you do.  HUG your midline from your front, back, left, and right side bodies!  

-There is always potential for more SIDE BODY LONG (the length between your hips and armpits).  Forget about putting the shoulders down your back, at least until you can lift your torso and draw your shoulders up on your back.:)

– when hands or feet are connected on the apparatus its always a good practice to…squeeze forearms energetically towards one another to create more space in shoulder girdle and squeeze shin bones energetically toward one another to create more space in hips/pelvic center!  Be sure to keep your elbows and knees stay a little bent.  Connection is easily lost  if you  lock elbows and knees.

Soften, soften soften!  Keep softening your front body into your back body; including your thigh bones, abdomen, front ribs, sternum, throat, head!

REACH, SHINE, EXPAND YOU!  Remember that our limbs are extensions of our center, so fully reach, don’t hold back!

 

What do you need to raise your vibration?  For me, I am trying to let go of the need to prove myself and instead allow myself to improve!  Opening up to a bigger picture and getting curious is helping me ‘raise my vibration’ and I hope it will help you too.

Ciao,

Brooke

Twisting practice

Here is a fantastic workout to complement your Pilates practice…
Twisting Practice, to “complete” your Pilates.  Although Pilates is a fantastic method to practice it can also be linear as it does not incorporate much twisting.  Done correctly, twisting (not turning), is a powerful action you can do to transform and tone your entire “center!”   You will also benefit from breathing better as twists bring better circulation, create mobility, and detoxify your inner organs providing you with an internal boost.
Check it out!

BREATHE BIG to GROW BIG

 

Breathe and allow yourself to take “one step back to two steps forward.”

Slowing down for me is hard to do as it requires patience and discipline.  However, I know deep down it is what I need most in order for me to progress in what I am doing.  Although what works for me may not be right for you, I do believe we can all benefit from taking a step back to appreciate and observe ourselves  in what we are doing to enable us to make deeper connections within and also around us.   

For me, taking deeper and fuller breaths allows me to take a step back.  When I allow myself to tap into deeper, longer, and rhythmic breaths I am able to explore different ideas, deepen my postures, and feel which in turn allows me to relax.   What a process!  I find it comical that what I need most to advance in my practice and keep me balanced inside and out is simply to relax more!  

I find when I am rushed, stressed, or in the middle of a challenging situation whether that be in my pilates practice or in a relationship, I have a difficult time breathing.  As I become more aware of this inner sensation I am able to catch myself quicker and pause before unneeded tension and frustration ever sinks in.  I am not saying that this is always the case, but I have made decent improvement that I am proud of and I credit my success to taking a step back and simply breathing a bigger awareness within myself and also the situation at hand.  

Practicing mindful breathing is something I try to do daily to help me in my efforts to be present, slow down, and relax!  I hope you consider your breath also as a tool to help you stay present and connected in your life and Pilates practice.

One idea that has helped me breathe fuller and deeper is connecting to the qualities of the inhale and the exhale.  For instance, when I inhale I connect to the expansion and the fullness I receive.  I visualize the inhale nourishing every cell and organ in my body; my heart beating bigger, my diaphragm falling,  and my pelvic floor relaxing as my lungs expand.   I feel an inner wave taking place within as everything broadens wider from the center line of my spine.  On my exhales, I connect to the opposite feeling such as an “inner squeeze.”  As my lungs empty, I feel my pelvic floor and diaphragm rising.  I feel more integrated as my belly retracts and I pull to my midline.  Once I have connected to the qualities of the inhale and the exhale I try to ride the wave of my breath and follow my breath as it rises up and fills me and also ride it down as it empties me.    

Once you are riding the wave of your breath, you begin to feel the places inside that are not as lively or awake.  For me that place is generally my right lower/middle back.  However, this will change from time to time depending where the “kinks” are.  When I am able to locate places that are generally “sleeping,” stiff, and tight, I try to consciously focus my breath in that area as a means to wake it back up and soften and loosen all the inner tissue and locked muscles.  Furthermore, I remember to think about the “whole” body and how it is connected.  One part will affect another part.  It’s helpful to consider the relationship between your pelvic bowl and the lungs.  I say this because there is a direct correlation between the two and when you are not allowing for width and space in your pelvic bowl you will not be able to breathe to your fullest capacity, and vice versa.  Once you understand how to integrate your center in a balanced way you will also benefit from breathing fuller deeper breaths.   

Below are some breathing practices you can integrate to stay spacious and connected in your Pilates practice.

-Breathe fully, allow deep inhales and complete exhales.

-Visualize lateral breathing your back lungs and for that matter the back pelvis more open to wake up your back body.

-Inhale to create muscle awareness and inner spaciousness

-Exhale to create structural awareness and to streamline your body taller and longer.

-Inhale into an extension

-Inhale into a side stretch

-Exhale into a flexion

-Exhale into rotations

If you are interested in a free app for your phone, I use the breathing app

Bisoux,

Brooke

 

Diving Deeper Pilates Mat

 

I have a new mat workout video to share with you!

“DIVING DEEPER PILATES MAT”

https://vimeo.com/lebureau

The workout is challenging and more intermediate, than my last video I shared, “A Little Aloha.”  Some of the more intermediate exercises include; roll-over, open leg rocker, swan, single and double leg kick, neck pull, shoulder bridge, side leg series, teaser, and seal.  It’s 30 minutes long.

 

 

ARE you a Pusher or a Puller?

 

“The only actions that do not have an opposing reaction are those that are aimed at the good of all….Consider the totality of the whole” – Eckhart Tolle

 

Hola friends,

I have noticed, that we have a tendency to either ‘push’ or ‘pull’ ourselves in and out of postures, movements, and in general terms, life itself.  This either ‘push’ or ‘pull’ action and mentality can not only be tiresome it also separates us from experiencing a balanced and more wholistic posture/movement where the whole body connects and the two actions of ‘pulling’ and ‘pushing’ instead become one that encourages more harmony, acceptance, and overall enjoyment.  I have found that I have no need to ‘push’ or ‘pull’ when I am truly present and allow myself to feel what I am doing, it is MAGIC!   That said, I have definitely had many experiences when I have either chosen to ignore the moment and my feelings and even have resisted my feelings for the sake of my ego and what others might think of me.

In this reflection, I would like to highlight the ideas behind ‘pushing’ and ‘pulling.’  Even though, both actions are needed and necessary, finding the right balance between the two is where the magic is!  It takes some awareness, perseverance, the right attitude, and most important, the ability to accept the present moment even though you may not like what you see or feel!

Personally I have struggled with this balance and still do time to time when I do not accept where I am at.  Accepting and honoring the reality of my own experience in my body must come before any pushing or pulling for the right balance to take place.  Even if I have the awareness, and right attitude, it won’t be enough!  That said, if you honor and accept where you are at, you can really begin to unite and feel your body as one integrated piece which is my hope for all of us as we continue to strengthen and lift ourselves up:).

Finding the right balance between ‘push’ and ‘pull’  is quite simple once you allow yourself to accept.    I have lacked this acceptance at different occasions in my Pilates practice and in my life; have you?  When I lacked the action of ‘pull’ I experienced muscle strain and disconnection in both my pelvis and shoulder centers.   On the flip side, I have also experienced overdoing the ‘pull’ action;  if you tend to hold your breath, this may be your tendency too?  Hopefully you will not follow me and swing from one extreme to the next, but instead continue to accept and find balance between the two.  Simply put, keep in mind that every movement you make should be performed in a balanced way.  For every action in one direction, there must be a balancing action in an opposite direction.

What exactly should the action of ‘pulling’ and ‘pushing’ feel like? 

The action of ‘pulling’ is an effort for us to stabilize, connect, and integrate our bodies primarily at our pelvic center and shoulder girdle.    ‘Pulling’  our muscles to our bony structures is a very active conscious firming of your muscles to your bones as well as a dynamic drawing of energy from your periphery into your center.  This action is essential to the practice of Pilates!   Many of you know that some parts of us are stronger than other parts so when we try to pull muscle energy to the core or our pelvis to stabilize it can be tricky, as we need to sync and pull from several muscles groups at the same time.  For instance, in order for us to stabilize our pelvis there needs to be a balanced participation of all the surrounding muscle groups pulling and syncing together (abdomen, upper inner thighs, upper inner hamstrings, upper outer thighs, buttocks,  etc…).  Simply put, the action of ‘pulling’ to our center gives us not only stability in our body but also provides us with boundaries and a framework to work with as you progress in your workout.

The action of ‘pushing’ is much more subtle.  Instead of using our muscles to embrace our bones as we do in ‘pulling’ to stabilize our center, we powerfully expand  and extend outward from our “center(s)” in our bones, in an effort to create more space and more freedom in our joints and whole body.  I am sure many of you have heard me say “radiate your limbs like rays of bright sunshine out in all directions from your center, just how a star and sun radiates from its center”.  

I use the breath as a tool, to teach these 2 actions.  

Inhale  HUG (another way to say ‘pull’) your muscles to your bones and stabilize at your center  

Exhale – keeping your stability and muscle energy supporting your center, expand (nice way to say ‘push’) from that center in all directions through the bones of your body to feel more extension and space within. 

The action of ‘pulling’ to create our own firm boundaries in our body is essential; without it, the expansion of ‘pushing’ will not have anything to push out against, which will limit any possible growth and progress.  The goal is to find balanced action between ‘pulling’ in and ‘pushing’ out in an effort to create both optimal stability and freedom of movement in the body so energy can flow freely without getting stuck in any particular place; you are constantly working at it.   Finding this balance is worth the challenge!  

What are your tendencies?  Do you pull in more than you push out?  Or push out too much?  I hope you can work on the balance you deserve in and out of your workouts and most importantly accept and honor where you are at to feel the magic that embraces and surrounds you always.

Adios,

Brooke

SOME OF MY FAVORITE THINGS…

-all ingredients are ORGANIC-

Brooke’s Spirulina guacamole:

*inspired from eating at Don Taco Tequila in San Miguel De Allende.

6 avocados

4 tsp spirulina

1/2 -1 tsp salt 

juice of 4 limes

pinch or 2 of cayenne pepper

lots of cilantro:)

1/2  sweet onion chopped

*Mix the 4 avocados and spirulina first before adding the last 2 avocados & the remaining ingredients.

 

Brooke’s ‘Honey Mama’ chocolate bars:

*inspired from my favorite after lunch/dinner treat.  Found at PCC, whole foods, central market in the refrigerated vegan dessert section.

1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate (I used Theo 85% chocolate)

1/4 cup raw cacao powder

4 tbsp roasted unsalted almonds (any nut would be delicious)

1 Tbsp instant espresso powder

1/4 cup honey (any sweetener would work, I personally like these without the sweetener)

1/3 cup coconut oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

generous maldon salt flakes

Process – 

1 – Line ‘banana loaf’ pan with parchment paper and cover bottom of pan with the 1/3 cup dark chocolate

2 – In a food processor blend almonds & cacao powder until a nice combined consistent texture

3 – On stove stop melt coconut oil, honey  until a candy thermometer reads 120 degrees Celsius.  Remove from heat and add in vanilla, espresso powder and cacao/almond mixture. 

4 – Pour warm mixture over the chopped chocolate as evenly as possible.  Top mixture with salt flakes (be generous, in my opinion!)

5 – Freeze for 30 minutes.

6 – Take out of loaf pan and slice into desired pieces.

7 – Store in fridge.

Voila!