If you are familiar with my teaching you may have heard me voice one if not all of the following…
Root to rise.
Ground to grow.
Connect within to expand out.
Dig deep to shine bright.
I love it how these complementary phrases can remind us of seeing another perspective. I do believe that there is always a flip side to everything.
I find these contradicting sayings very valuable as I work in my Pilates practice where much of what I am concentrated on is strengthening my center. If I just focus on rooting, grounding, connecting (strengthening actions), etc…and do not give equal attention to the rise, growth, expansion, and overall reach out, I could create more stress and congestion in my pelvic center instead of what I want which is a strong, yet spacious connection.
As I am sure most of us can agree, it is natural to sometimes resist a difficult situation/hardship, or feel sad, upset, angry, and possibly even out of breath. Remembering that this is only one side to our experience or our ‘play’ (and the play will go on if we allow it) brings me peace and hope. It helps to be aware of the flip side of all situations when I am struggling the most.
I find Backbends to be a perfect remedy to help me when I am feeling sad and resisting the present moment. Experiencing the pure physicality of a backbend of being flipped open helps me breathe deeper and encourages me to let go, be courageous, playful, and trust in myself. As you can imagine, the nature of a backbend exposes the front body which we generally are very protective of. As a result of “exposing ourselves,” I truly believe we can release held tensions and emotions that we sometimes can’t let go. It the best kind of posture to practice to lift us up, “unstick” ourselves, and release tension within. It can also enhance our flexibility and overall elasticity, giving us a feeling of youthful lightness and the ability to take a fuller, deeper, breath.
Another great benefit to practicing backbends is that they can give you tremendous strength in your back body. The muscles of the back, legs, buttocks, and shoulders are generously strengthened. Backbends may seem scary at first, but they are not that complicated when broken down and truly worth the effort. Backbends are definitely a challenge for most people as it is not a posture we practice on a day to day basis. Most of us spend the most of our day sitting, possibly looking at screens for too long which encourages opposite actions of a backbend; such as flexion in the hips, short front bodies, round upper backs and tight shoulders. I hope writing this will encourage you to all get up off your chair and do a backbend or at least give your self a moment to extend and lengthen the front of your spine and open your collar bones wide!! Take a few breaths and feel more spacious and alive!
If you are curious about backbends and want more insight on how you can enhance yours, I would be happy to help you at my next social hour, scheduled for March 6 2020. My 41st birthday is just a few days later, March 10th, and it is my wish and my hope to have a backbend party! I hope you can come and help me celebrate. I also hope we all can remember that sunshine and brighter days can be a beautiful result of dark gloomy storms, in our life and also in our practices.
REMINDERS FOR PRACTICING BACKBENDS!
-Heart leads the way.
-Back body is active and front body lengthens/drapes over the back.
-Use your legs and ground consciously through your feet!!
-Observe your behind…it should be a spacious container where your abdomen can connect down through your feet. If you tighten, clench, squeeze your seat too much you will not only compress your low back, there will also be no connection:(. It helps to inner rotate upper thighs when lifting sit bones and extending through hips to keep the pelvis in a neutral state.
-Work from your ‘inside out’ to transform yourself breath by breath into a deeper more fuller expression of your backbend.
Here’s to bending over backwards,
When I am unsure of where I should be or where I belong whether that be in life or on my Pilates mat, I find either 1 of 3 things can happen.
- I put forth too many boundaries and too much effort, making me rigid in my body and impatient in my actions. As a consequence, I leave the situation or my mat either frustrated and/or unsatisfied with my performance.
- I chose to ignore and neglect the situation at hand and do not pay attention to what I am doing in life nor on my mat. I am careless and sometimes can hurt myself and others around me simply from not being attentive.
- I choose to make a plan! I focus on the things I know and what I can do. I use this to give me leverage to face the challenge(s) at hand. If I continue to focus on the things I can do, I find, that I can more easily soften my efforts that ultimately help me navigate not only in life but also in my Pilates practice.
Below I share an example of this idea from my own life, and I also share some Pilates tips that have helped me be more aware of my boundaries when I practice to enhance my workout to the fullest and at the same time soften within.
I hope you enjoy my reflection and Pilates tips below…
My personal example I will share with you is a reflection on my own experience from moving communities/states 7 times (5 different states; WA, IA, OH, CA, UT) within 10 years (2003-2012). Through this amazing opportunity I was challenged to integrate myself into a new community knowing that my stay wouldn’t be that long. I married my husband Pontus the week before he started medical School, at Des Moines University, in Des Monies, Iowa. As a newly wed and fresh out of my masters in Teaching program at Seattle University, it was tempting not to involve myself that whole heartedly in a new community, and instead stay more to myself. I learned pretty fast that not participating in my surroundings and just doing the “status quo” was no way to live. My attitude shifted quite swiftly, and it wasn’t long, until I chose to dive right in and try my best at what I was doing. In the beginning, I taught HS french, tutored french, worked at a restaurant, worked in several boutique studios/gyms, and then eventually followed my own hearts passion to learn about the body taking classes to become a personal trainer and fitness instructor. Committing myself to teach Pilates and Yoga did not take long, as I recognized that this was someplace I belonged. Each time we moved, it definitely took a lot of courage to step out in a new environment and re-root myself in that new community, but I knew my efforts paid off, when I was accepted and felt joy within with what I was doing. As I contemplate back on that particular journey I see a reciprocal relationship between the effort I put out to the joy I got back. I also see a relationship between the energy behind my efforts to what I felt in return. Each time I moved to a new community/State my efforts to involve myself in the community were much clearer. I did not only have a better idea of who I was, but what I could offer. I was expanding in my understanding of myself and in my abilities as a teacher. Furthermore, every time we moved I had more insight in to what worked, what didn’t work, what I liked, what I did not want to do again, and how I wanted to live/be. I believe, for me, having the opportunities I did to start a new so many times, helped me clarify my boundaries and routines. This knowledge and awareness contributed to making my efforts less exhausting and more joyful. Now being in Seattle since 2012, although we do not plan to move states/jobs any time soon, I do try to make a conscious effort every year to be clearer with my own boundaries, so I can enjoy and soften into the opportunities that present themselves.
In the practice of Pilates, I find that when I practice with clear boundaries, I am more able to soften and expand my efforts within those boundaries. Overall, I have a much better outcome and I experience feeling of spaciousness and lightness within.
You may ask, “what are boundaries in my body exactly?” Simply put, your structure or your bones! They are the frame within which you have to work.
With the practice of Pilates, I encourage you to really pay attention to your structure. There are several boney landmarks as I am sure you know:).
Within the method, the following are the most useful to pay attention to when you are practicing:
1 – sacrum, lateral base of your pelvis.
2 – ridge of your scapula
3 – middle base of your skull
4 – “sits” bones
5 – heel bones
6 – lower tips of shoulder blades
7 – collar bone
8 – frontal hip points – ASIS and pubic bone
As you practice Pilates, consider asking yourself what boney landmarks you are experiencing as you transition in and out of your exercises. The more you practice with this awareness you can use these boundaries as leverage to help you become clearer and clearer with where you should be and what you should feel!
Focusing on your own unique structure, will provide you with information and feedback when you integrate them with full awareness in your actions. You will learn quickly what step to take next. Instead of being unsure if you are in the right position, you will know your framework and be able to fully expand greater into yourself by using your muscles to support your structure as you move without tensing.
I hope this season inspires you look inside, and see what matters to you! Having your own truth as your platform, I hope, will encourage you to deepen and expand not only your perspective, but your understanding of yourself and the others around you as well. Always come back to your own truth and let that knowledge present you with beautiful new opportunities for growth and self discovery in 2020.
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…
Roll like a ball
Series of 5
Spine stretch forward
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I have a new mat workout video to share with you!
“DIVING DEEPER PILATES MAT”
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.