To be honest sitting here trying to piece together a blog post about Pilates seems a bit mundane in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA, which is really just an acknowledgement of how backwards our society is moving. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and grief. I often wonder how much impact I can have when I am not one of the brave representing my country or on the front lines of daily protests. My trauma research has taught me that it is the inability to act that contributes to the residual effects on the body. As soon as action is put into motion healing can begin. This idea can be helpful in these circumstances as well, when we feel like we are on the sidelines feeling helpless.
When life becomes overwhelming and we feel as if we are being sucked into the whirlpool there are small things we can do to live and make a difference. As we have learned (hopefully) by now, change does not happen with one big event it happens with several people doing small things. Teaching our children to be nice to others and putting these lessons into practice. Educate our children and ourselves. Accept that we all have lessons we can learn and we all need to begin listening to our neighbor’s stories. Doing what we can to follow our passions and paths because when we shine others have permission to shine as well. Putting our anger, helplessness and frustration into movement can allow us to grow and change and in turn can begin to change our environment and world.
And, “yes” Pilates seems to be a frivolous practice but it is also a practical guide to keeping sane in our insane times. Physical movement can help us release the energy we would otherwise store in our bodies that would possibly become anxiety and stress in later days. Taking action can be simply putting our body in motion. Take a Pilates or Yoga class and actually speak to your neighbor on the mat nearest you. Action begins with small steps and opening the door to communication seems to me the easiest way to begin.
PRECISION every movement has a purpose
- Body: Precision is a Pilates Principle. Each movement is done with awareness of each part of the body, alignment and body placement.
- Mind: Awareness a.k.a. Mindfulness, is simply bringing mental awareness to our daily body patterns including breathing, muscle tension and posture thus re-training the body. Awareness can also bring us to a new level of understanding and appreciation in our life and world. Becoming aware of our misaligned patterns in our body can allow us to heal our body but the same can be said for those misaligned patterns in life. Awareness is not acceptance it is acknowledging that we have places in us that need growth and change.
- Spirit:Bringing awareness and precision into our movements makes us accountable to being present. When we are truly present it is difficult to hide behind a mask or excuse away actions. We become more authentic which shows up in both our bodies, our diets and our interactions with others.
A year or so ago I signed up for a mindful painting class. I made it to only a handful of classes but I took away with me some great techniques.
It took me several attempts to appreciate sitting meditation, but walking meditation always made sense. It is also a great way to practice proper gait alignment and work the feet.
- This is practice silently, eyes open but passive and no music
- Bring your attention first to your feet. Feel both feet solid on the floor or ground. I practice this both barefoot and with shoes.
- Continue to bring awareness to your feet and begin to slowly walk moving through each foot fully before going on to the next foot. Feel the heel, arch, ball of the foot and toes.
- Keep your mind present on your walking. It may help to count to repeat a mantra or to visualize your feet moving. Bring the awareness completely to your feet and moving fully through each foot. If you feel pain, stiffness simply acknowledge it but try not to fix or analyze.
- Continue this exercise 15-30 minutes
Every movement and exercise routine we participate can be done with intention and mindfulness. When we begin to practice awareness it is difficult to ignore that other people exist, that we are not the only being on the planet and our actions (no matter how small) do impact the world one ripple at a time.
“Every moment of our lives can be the beginning of great things.” Joseph Pilates
If you notice above the date is not a Monday. I had high hopes that these blogs would be posted every Monday, but ahhh life. Transition and change seem to be all around me. This time the news is good but the anxiety is still high. Several months back I applied for affordable housing, Tuesday I was approved, Wednesday I signed my lease and Monday I will move. I have lived at my current apartment on and off for 21 years. My daughter, now 10, has only known this apartment. I have so much to sort and pack and yet I can not seem to motivate. And so I breathe deep.
I know I am not alone in this. Sometimes amazing opportunities, especially when we have dreamed about them for so long, can effect us the same as daunting and unwanted opportunities. The body does not always discern the difference. What I have found (as hard as it is to master) is that our approach to extreme change in our life needs to be conscious action. I will force myself to move, to meditate and to write. I find I repeat throughout the day “breathe” and “get grounded” because when I am faced with fear my mind races, my heart pounds and I tend to drink too much caffeine which makes it all worse. In these moments I am not in my body (or my right mind) and as soon as I can get grounded I can also get focused and deal with life.
And so whether you choose to face your big life transitions head on, close your eyes and duck or allow it to hit you in the head life happens and the best defense is to get grounded.
- Body: Centering is a Pilates Principle. It refers to our “powerhouse” center which incorporates the abdomen, low back, hips and glutes and is the core of where energy for each exercise originates. Having a strong center will support and release tension in your spine. When this happens we can also find calm.
- Mind: Grounding brings our attention into our body. When we do this we immediate feel connected to our earth and our self. In times of stress I often feel disconnect and light headed. It is in these times I know I need to ground myself or fly away.
- Spirit: Grounding into our body connects our conscious and unconscious. When this happens we can feel more energized but also we can see clearly and achieve perspective on life. When we feel this connection it is easier to Be in life and to make a difference in the life we have chosen. Today I have chosen to include a meditation and talk with Tara Brach. It is long but even if you simply follow the opening meditation I believe it will help you find a deeper presence in your body. Tara Brach “Presence”
Today I have several grounding tips. The main point is to take a moment to connect to your body.
Pilates grounding and centering before beginning a workout:
- Lie on you back with knees bent, eyes closed
- Bring your attention to your spine, visualize each vertebrae beginning at the skull and working downward to the tailbone. As you breathe visualize each vertebrae releasing into the mat.
- Feel the mat, feel the spine and continue to concentrate on your breath as you visualize each vertebrae dropping down
- Once you reach your tailbone, allow your attention to move to your skull, feel the back of your head on the mat. Begin to bring your attention down each part of your body following the line of the spine and allow your mind to also follow each limb as you move your attention downward.
Daily Actions: these can help you ground during the day when you feel yourself floating away (sometimes this will arise as frustration, tension or flightiness)
- Drink water
- get outside on the grass without shoes
- hug a tree (for real)
- press your feet into the floor
- lightly tap your legs and arms while bringing your attention to these areas
Well, here I am AGAIN! I use to have a blog. It was read by many people years ago and I gathered a good following … until I freaked out. The reality that real people were actually reading about my life scared me and I shut the whole thing down. I began again a few years ago but never posted, and then again I started and again never posted. It was a little merry-go-round for a bit. But then I woke up and decided what the F?$! and here I am. This year is all about trust and facing fear and BREATHE every moment of every day mainly because some days it is about all I can manage. Life can be hard. It can mess you up and throw you around but in that mess we can learn some pretty great things if we are open to it. Of course those beautiful miracle moments of growth only happen if we can be aware and if we are closing our eyes and holding our breath we will easily miss them. I am not perfect (I mean REALLY NOT perfect) and I often forget to breathe and often close my eyes waiting for the scary part to end but sometimes I remember to breathe and let BE and it really is not so bad. I mean I’m still here.
- Body: “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it”-Joseph Pilates. A Pilates Principle: Joseph Pilates emphasized full breath in his exercises called three dimensional breathing. On the inhale the lungs expand front, back and laterally, on the exhale the abdominals aid in emptying the lungs. He taught that the lungs should be activated strongly to pump the air fully in and out of the body. Using the breath properly is an integral part of a Pilates workout.
- Mind: When you feel overwhelmed or blocked deep controlled breathing can help move the energy, releasing blocks and welcoming in flow. It can help us in those moments in a workout that we need to “dig deep” and also in those moments in life when we feel like closing our eyes and waiting for the good part.
- Spirit: This is a 7 minute meditation with Baron Baptiste. It took me years to begin meditating and I still struggle (you will hear more about that in another Blog entry). I found a Baptiste DVD during a bad moment (bad months really) and there was something about his voice that helped ground me and hold me in the moment. It may or may not feel the same to you but it’s only 7 minutes. And really we can do anything for 7 minutes. So here is a meditation by Baron Baptiste on presence and breath.
Pilates Breathing Exercise
I do not have access to a full Trapeze Cadillac but I love using the Balance Ball and it adds an extra bit of effort for my Glutes and Hamstrings. I am showing here both the roll down bar and an option with a Theraband.
- Alignment is key here. Do a quick body scan and feel your spine grounded to the mat or floor. Push into the bar or outward with the Theraband to feel the Serratus connection (those armpit muscles)
- I have my feet in an external rotation (slightly turned out with heels together). I find this helps turn off the hips and quads so my focus can be my Glutes and Hamstrings, however if you feel you need more inner thigh and Quad work see how working parallel feels for you.
3. Inhale. Press into feet and arms to lift the body upward. Hold your inhale for 3 counts and then lower back to start.
There are so many great ways to train our breathing.
Have fun. Experiment. Find the right way for you.