I’m featured on Disney’s Babble.
I cannot tell you how often I hear prospective clients, and people on the street, express a certain amount of fear of Pilates. Not that I approach random people on the street, trying to get them on the Reformer.
However, if accosting strangers on the street meant that I could dispel this pervasive fear, which as we all know is just false evidence appearing real, then gosh darnit, I would. Maybe. I don’t know. I mean, don’t hold me to it. Where was I?
Oh, yeah, fearing Pilates.
Did you know that Mr. Pilates called his method Contrology? Is that scary? Maybe you have control issues? Let go. Give it up. There’s so little that any of us have control over. The good news is that, through Pilates, we can learn how to control our bodies and how we move, so that we keep moving up until our very last breath.
Moving on. Moving. You see, it’s all about Pilates.
Return To Life Through Contrology was written by Mr. Pilates. In it he discusses basic principles, and concepts. If you’re afraid of righting your slumped shoulders and bad posture (put that friggin cell phone down already) or balancing your body so that it works efficiently when you’re working or playing, then stop reading and go lay down and turn off the lights.
However, if you’d like to face your fear head on, then read on.
Breath was Mr. Pilates’ A-number-one must have. Think about what would happen if we didn’t breath. Exactly.
He believed that the more one could pump air in and out of the body, the healthier that person would be. One of the many benefits of Pilates is developing greater lung capacity.
Who among us wants to suck wind walking from our car to Target, or from the subway to Subway, or carrying your 16-year old daughter up the stairs to bed. P.S. If you’re carrying your 16-year daughter (or son for that matter) to their bedroom, may I suggest you read another kind article.
I touched upon this earlier. When performing any and all of Pilates exercises, every muscle is being controlled, even if a muscle is not visibly working. You, the muscle’s owner, is still controlling it. This is a powerful concept, and even more powerful when put into action.
Pilates exercises are generally initiated from the center of the body, utilizing laser focus and energy. The center of the body considered to be the square (or rectangle) from one armpit, down the side body, across the low belly, and up the other side to the other armpit and across to armpit number one.
Pilates is a mind-body system that requires the practitioner’s full and undivided attention. Concentration ensures that each exercise is performed with integrity.
To perform the exercises correctly, and efficiently, concentration is paramount. The machines have a lot of moving parts, as do the exercises. I’d hate to see someone get whacked in the head because they were thinking about Chris Hemsworth, instead of where their head was in relation to the push thru bar on the Cadillac.
Each Pilates exercise requires specific placement of the body, and if you’re using Pilates equipment, there is specific placement of said body in relation to the equipment. Just for the record, rounded shoulders, neck jutting out past those shoulders, with your belly extended over the waist and hanging out on your thighs, is not proper body alignment. For the record.
Ideally, a constant flow is applied to the exercises, moving gracefully, and easily, from one exercise to the next, like a giselle or like Gisele the model.
If one is on the Reformer, for instance, and not flowing with concentration and control, the Reformer will make noises, such as banging springs. Some instructors, like yours truly, call this ‘crashing’.
I have been known to shame and humiliate a client that crashes the Reformer, because it may be an indication that they’re thinking about Chris Hemsworth. Sometimes tough love is the only kind of love.
When these principles are integrated and practiced as a whole, the results are kick-ass. A tight kick-ass. A lifted kick ass. Are you scared of that?!
Other principles include: Stabilization, Flexibility, Mobilization, Opposition, Range of Motion, and Body Awareness.
It is all valuable, and anyone who dares practice this scary thing called Pilates, will see and feel a slew of benefits in no time at all. Now that’s something to be afraid of.
I went to see The Elephant Man the other night with the Girlfriend Mom daughter, to celebrate her 21st birthday. What? Where did that adorable, yet slightly intimidating, thirteen year old girl go? The girl who casually asked me for a tampon the first time we met.
A theater is a theater is a theater. Whether you’re watching a live performance, a movie, ballet, opera, chamber music (ew), there is audience etiquette.
And when we adhere to these easy do’s and don’ts, it separates us from the animals; who can’t speak to their friends in loud whispers or tear open boxes of Raisinetes.
Yes, Mr. Bradley Cooper is an attractive man. However, the character that he plays in The Elephant Man, John Merrick, is not. And yet, two women sitting behind me practically gave him a cat call when he walked onstage, as if they were at a Chippendales performance. Yes, he was bare chested but he was in shorts from the 1800’s, not exactly sexiest man alive material.
That’s not the point. The point is, this wasn’t a rock concert nor were we watching him being interviewed on Jimmy Fallon. We were in the theater. He was acting. And they needed to keep their holes shut.
There are a few scenes in the play, when John Merrick (whose real name was Joseph) is beaten, and generally mistreated. The same women gasped, out loud, as if Mr. Bradley Cooper, the movie star, was being beaten right in front of their eyes. He was acting, you dumb broads. And it’s not interactive theater either.
It took everything I had not to turn around and beat them like the Elephant Man. I don’t understand the gross ignorance of how to behave in the theater.
There is a quiet moment in the play when the doctor, Sir Frederick Treves, played by Alessandro Nivola, gives a lengthy monologue. Thirty seconds in, some douche a couple of rows in front of me, thought that then would be the perfect time to open their box of raisinetes. So perfect.
No awareness, no concept of quiet. I was dumbfounded. How could they not hear the noise they were creating? Did they think that they were watching Silver Linings Playbook?
Making noise during a movie is also unacceptable but eating is tolerated while watching a film, as long as you don’t comment to your neighbor about how putting Goobers in the popcorn makes for a nice savory sweet snack, at the top of your lungs.
In spite of the Neanderthals in the audience, I enjoyed but maybe I should stick to watching television.
Today we’re talking about the core, at least I am.
A tight sexy core, that part of the body most people would kill their own grandmothers for, actually consists of, the Transverse Abdominis, Multifidi, Pelvic Floor and Diaphragm. The fab four work together to create a well balanced and aesthetically pleasing midsection.
The four systems stabilize the pelvis and lower back when stress is placed on them, as when you’re lifting your adorably plump two year old out of the sandbox, because he, or she, is not sharing.
Stabilization surrounding the spine is also very important. The spine is mobile (or rather it should be, if it’s not please do Pilates already) and delicate and would otherwise be vulnerable to injury and pain.
The Four Parts of The Abdominals
The deepest of the four abdominal muscles is the transverse abdominis, which is considered one of the four parts of the core.
I could get deeper here but I don’t want you to fall asleep, so let me just say that you can’t touch this muscle from the outside. It wraps around the torso, acting like a corset, drawing in the abdominals and decreases the diameter of the waist.
Identify the TA
Come onto all fours (hands and knees) and put your spine in neutral. Inhale and drop your abdominals down without moving your spine. On the exhale, pull the abdominals up towards your spine without changing the shape of your back. That’s the work of the TA.
Since the TA connects to the back, along the bottom of the ribcage, it has a great effect on posture. Strengthening the core can often assist with lower back pain.
Activate the transverse abdominis
Lay on your back and put a ball between your knees. Hold the ball by gently squeezing it while someone tries to pry it away from you. I highly recommend doing this with a significant other. It’s Pilates foreplay.
The next layers of abdominal muscles are the Internal and external Obliques, which lay on either side of the torso. These also affect body posture and assist in rotation and lateral flexion of the spine (side bending).
The most superficial of the four is the Rectus Abdominis, or six pack. I find it amusing that what everyone wants are well defined superficial muscles. Does that make the person wanting them also superficial?
These muscles flex the spine, and have the least affect on posture.
The Second Element of The Core: The Multifidi
These are deep postural muscles of the spine that you can feel as a thin and taut band on either side of the midline of the spine.
When the transverse abdominis contracts, it creates tension in the covering that surrounds the multifidi (back muscles). This covering acts like a sausage casing, with the multifidi being the filling- yum.
When the multifidi contracts against the tension of the casing, they gently hug the spine, stabilizing the joints between the vertebrae. A good thing.
Activate the Multifidi
Stand up tall and gently place your four fingers on either side of your spine, with your thumb underneath your bottom rib. Shift your weight from one foot to the other and see if you can feel the muscles plump up into your fingers. Neat.
The Third Element of The Core:
It’s the primary muscle of respiration, and forms a dome, attaching to the ribcage and spine. On the inhale, the diaphragm contracts and draws the top of the dome downward, toward the ribcage. On the exhale, or when it relaxes, the dome rises back up, pushing air out of the lungs.
Activate the Diaphragm
Curl your fingers under your low ribs. You can feel the diaphragm as it pushes into your fingers, as you inhale and exhale. Try to breathe into your ribs, laterally, instead of into your stomach. There’s no pooching in Pilates.
The Fourth Element of The Core: The Pelvic floor
The pelvic floor holds in the contents of the abdomen up against gravity. Boy, that gravity test the pelvic floor. The muscles of the pelvic floor control what comes out and when; i.e. urine, and poop. A weak pelvic floor may result in peeing your pants. So I’ve heard.
Activate the Pelvic Floor
Pretend you have to urinate and then stop the flow. That’s your pelvic floor at work. I think this works best when you actually have to go to the bathroom.
Now you know. The next time someone talks about the core as abs only, you can show them how wicked smart you are.
When is procrastinating a good thing? I’ll tell you when procrastinating is a good thing. When his name is Mr. Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Procrastinating happens. It happens but it never feels good and it never gets any easier.
I was in motion; working, biking, conversing, but what I had to get done, truly done, was not getting done.
I had sent files to an embroidery and printing store Tuesday morning, only to be told that they weren’t the correct resolution. I spent the next three days, talking to friends, emailing Photoshop, and watching CNN, but nothing transferred those files to a higher resolution.
The printer was only ten blocks from my apartment. It would’ve made sense to walk over on Wednesday, and deal with it in person. In all fairness, though, six of those blocks were of the long variety, and super ass annoying. Can blocks be annoying?
The timing never seemed right; I was either teaching, or Pole-ing. I had lunch dates, dinner dates, and The Voice. Or just maybe I was making excuses, or er, procrastinating. By Friday, I was beyond fed up with myself and CNN, so I took the walk.
I had been in the store not three minutes, when he walked in; wearing a long black distressed leather coat, a black Fedora, and that infamous boyish grin. Mr. ‘White Nights’ himself, Mikhail Baryshnikov.
There are celebrities and then there are, well, others. These others have impacted our lives in ways that is almost indescribable. Indelible. Misha is one of those others.
Watching Baryshnikov on stage, (Baryshnikov on Broadway thank you) equally at ease pirouetting, step ball changing or pop and locking, made me want to dance. His strength, grace, and sheer powerful was a sight to behold.
I saw him dance in a stage production while no longer in his prime, and he still took my breath away.
I was interning at Columbia Pictures when the movie, White Nights came out, and I remember going back to my dorm room with several posters in hand, ready to wallpaper my room with them.
Around this time, my father was dabbling in the restaurant business and was a partner in a place called, Columbus. It was an immediate hit and a popular celeb hangout. It didn’t hurt that De Niro and Baryshnikov were also partners. Oh, sorry, let me pick up those names that I inadvertently dropped.
Mr. Baryshnikov, now 66, walked in, all 5’6 (more like 5’4 now) of him and I became a giddy school girl. I looked down to see if he was wearing his leg warmers. He wasn’t. I held my breath, hoping that he would ask the salesperson a question, so I could hear his sexy Russian voice.
Misha knew exactly what he needed and made a beeline for the boxes of buttons, stacked on shelves against a wall. This shelf happened to be directly behind where I was standing. I am not exaggerating when I say that our tight Pilates (I’m guessing that he practices Pilates) asses were practically touching.
I remained calm, and went about my business, but I did not lose sight of Misha and his frantic search for a button. Was it for a costume for a new show perhaps? Had he found the meditative benefits of arts and crafts?
I finished my business, which took all of five minutes. For a moment, I chastised myself for wasting three days and not coming to the store sooner, but then I looked at Misha and knew that if I hadn’t procrastinated, then we wouldn’t be sharing this moment.
Of course I lingered, I’m a warm blooded woman.
I texted the Girlfriend Mom daughter (because I’m a giddy schoolgirl) to tell her whose ass was next to mine because she and I were recently talking about Misha’s guest starring role as Aleksandr Petrovsky, on Sex And The City. I did have to school her when she innocently admitted that she didn’t know who Baryshnikov was.
She immediately texted back that I should say, “Hi Aleksandr.” I declined. I told her that I wished that he’d mistake me for SJP. It sometimes happens and my hair was looking especially curly with very low frizz. She fired back, “Oh, now you’re going to play the SJP card?!” She was right but it was Misha for crying out loud.
Lingering turned into loitering. I was pretending to sift through a bin of random patches. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Baryshnikov take off his Soviet spy leather coat, and say something to a seamstress (lucky bitch), at the back of the store. I was out of earshot.
He handed her his KGB overcoat and one lonely button. Baryshnikov had lost a button. Mystery solved. I screamed from the front of the store, “No! I know how to sew! I know how to sew! I took sewing in 8th grade in Bell School. Let me sew it for you. Please. It’s no trouble.”
I walked back to where he and that bitch were standing, grabbed his USSR coat, the single button and smiled. “Hey, how about those burgers at Columbus? Weren’t they juicy?”
It’s almost 2015. Why are people still asking me what Pilates is, and if it’s Yoga? Why isn’t everyone practicing Pilates? All the cool kids are doing it; Gwyneth, Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, Beckam, Tiger, Kobe, Ugo, Oprah. And remember Pippa’s derriere? Nuff said.
I’ve been a Pilates Instructor, and practitioner, for several years and I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t know a lot, but what I do know for certain is that every person, no matter their level of fitness, will benefit from Pilates.
A Brief History
Pilates founder and inventor, Joseph Pilates, was born in Germany, and moved to England where he was interned in a concentration camp. During this time, he began to develop an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he called “Contrology.” He trained his fellow inmates and it’s told that these inmates survived the great pandemic of 1918 due to their good physical shape.
In 1925, Pilates migrated to the United States, and met his future wife, Clara, on the ship. The couple founded a studio in New York City, where they taught their students, including injured dancers, and athletes until 1967.
Did you read that? Athletes. Please stop saying that Pilates is for girls. Mr. Pilates was a man. He was also a boxer and a gymnast and I believe he smoked the occasional cigar. What’s more manly that that?
His method, which pays close attention to the core and postural muscles, helps to keep the body balanced and provides support for the spine. It requires patience and persistence. Mr. Pilates said, “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
Can you sit in a chair, bend over and tie your shoes? Go ahead, try it.
Practicing Pilates is a way of life. It doesn’t stop when you leave the studio or your class ends. This is the beauty. I can preach its benefits all day long but I’d rather you experience it firsthand.
Now go give it a try and lift your thut!