Revisiting the Basics: Elephant

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Hey there!

Today’s post is on my favorite Pilates exercise animal, the Elephant.

It's everything, this one.

It's useful.

It's challenging.

It's versatile: do it on 1 leg or morph it into an Arabesque, the Elephant‘s got something special for you.

Elephant 101

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

In your very first lesson, the Elephant delivers a valuable skill you’ll need to execute complex Pilates exercises.

Exciting, right?

Think about your Reformer workout: your Tendon Stretch, Snake/Twist, Up Stretch, Headstand 1.

Have you ever struggled to close the carriage in these exercises?

I know I have.

An excellent Elephant will save the day!

The Elephant in the Room

There’re many Elephants out there and sometimes it’s hard to know which one will serve you best.

Did you know that a few tiny (and magical) details can transform your Elephant experience?

In the Elephant you don’t get the best view of the exercise. Really all you can do is stare at the carriage underneath you or your stomach or your thighs… what’s going on up there on your back tho?

Never you mind about that for the moment.

All Roads Lead Back to Romana…

In my recent visit to another helpful basic, the Frog, I shared one of my my favorite quotes from Romana Kryzanowska:

Pilates is INTELLIGENCE guided by the WILL using MEMORY and IMAGINATION assisted by INTUITION.

Pro Tip: Use your Imagination to better your Elephant.

Imagination Tip #1:

Feel your heels press deeply into the carriage in front of the shoulder blocks. What if they could venture below the level of the upholstered bed of the Reformer?

Where do those heels originate in your body?

Imagine the long line of the back of you that starts at the shoulder seams of your shirt.

If you love to use your arms and shoulders once you grab that Footbar it can be liberating to invite those shoulders and your upper back down toward your heels.

It might even open your chest.

In might help your elbow joints relax and unlock.

It might make you use your center a bit more.

Bottoms up!

Imagination Tip #2:

Remember later in your Reformer order you’ll be working on the Short Box.

When you sit on the Short Box with the pole overhead, imagine you could lift everything that's on top of that box: your bottom, your low back, your waistline, your arms.

Imagine you are pushing that pole upward by lifting your bottom. You know, that underneath part you sit on…

I know, crazy, right?

Now turn yourself into an Elephant.

Poof!

What if your bottom pushed that Footbar away? What would that feel like?

Give it a try.

It may make you use your stomach better without even trying.

Show me your hands!

I’m always amazed by minor tweaks you can make to a wrist, a little finger, a big toe, the ball of your foot, that radically change an exercise sending more awareness and engagement to your center.

Tiny tensions that steal your powerhouse include:

A locked elbow.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Your apparatus (the Footbar) assists you to connect your hands, arms, and shoulders into the larger muscles of the back. Locking the elbow joint can break this connection to the back muscles and put a strain on the joint(s).

A broken wrist.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Similar to a locked elbow, a broken, leaned-upon wrist breaks your connection to the back and literally weighs heavily on the wrist joint.

A lifted pinky who’s off to have tea or a manicure.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Without the grip of your fingers, a valuable connection is missed and your poor pinky is unable to lead you into your beautiful back muscles.

#therespowerinthatpinky

“Bulldog” wrists.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

Similar to your #pinkyprobs above, the inward turning of the hands creates an imbalance front-to-back in the body. The leaning-in thumbs and forefingers allow the shoulders and chest to overwork and compromise the connection of the outer hand (the pinky again!) into the back muscles.

If this is you, see what happens if you try to straighten our your “bulldog” hands to get more work in the grip of the smallest fingers. It might be very exciting. If it is, give it a try when you do the Rowing exercises.

Cool calm, connection…

Grip strength even, and alignment!

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

#alignmenttrumpsall

My footbar is naked which I prefer to allow for better wrist alignment and work in my stomach, which keeps me “light” on my hands. Thick padding on a footbar and small hands can make this connection difficult to achieve. If your hands sweat a thin sticky pad can help you feel secure with just your stomach and your grip strength.

“Stand back,” said the Elephant, “I'm going to sneeze!”

In your training program maybe you learned a bunch of “rules” about how to do the Elephant.

Rules you heard may have included:

  • Stand on your feet.
  • Lift up your toes.
  • Press your feet into the mat.
  • Your shoulders should be over the footbar.
  • Your back is round.
  • Your back is flat.
  • The Elephant is like Downward Dog.
  • This is Pilates, the Elephant is NOT Downward Dog.

The good news is that at some point in your long and celebrated Pilates career they will all be true.

They’ll all speak to someone’s body (maybe to your own) to better their Elephant.

For example, look at the 2 that are the most troubling:

  • Your back is round.
  • Your back is flat.

The Elephant shape must fit into the greater Pilates system: let this be your test.

Now's when to use your ‘we only have one exercise’ mantra.

The Elephant is your Roll Up stood up on its feet.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant EditionRevisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

It's also your horseback.

Revisiting the Basics: Elephant Edition

This is the shape you are after.

Now look at your (imaginary) student:

Are they too flat to be a Roll Up? Then they need to be round(er).

Are they too round somewhere in their back to be a Roll up?
Then they need to flatten somewhere (and probably round somewhere else).

What about your feet – should you lift your toes up off the carriage?

Maybe.

What would happen if you pressed all of your foot into the carriage? What happens in your center then?

Give it a try. These are all noble experiments!

Like this series? Which basic should I revisit next?

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Comments

  1. Hi Andrea! As always, I love your posts! The “rules” that you mention! That whole section goes straight to my own heart…

    But what I most loved was how you used the word “experiment”. When teaching, I often refer to exercises as “experiments” and a particular way of doing them as “little experiments”: “try this… how does it feel?” to elicit the idea of experimenting with the work rather than slavishly following rules and cues… – this leads to greater awareness and ess dogmatism IMHO

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