Almost Returned to Life: Control Balance

Control Balance

Today is perhaps my most favorite March MATness day.

Control Balance is the exercise that started it ALL!

Let me explain.

Way back in the aughts I took my first Pilates Mat classes. Thanks, Excel Pilates DC.

My first Mat classes were the perfect introduction to the Pilates Method. I learned so much.

You probably know that one thing I learned was I could not do the Roll Up.

It seemed so simple.

Just. Roll. Up.

Right?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the studio, I saw an instructor doing an amazing somersault on and off the Reformer.

So cool!

It looked way more exciting than my Roll Up.

That day the Pilates Method and I struck a bargain: I agreed to work on my Roll Up and progress my proficiency until I was ready to learn this fantastic new mystery exercise: the Control Balance.

And yes, it took a while.

But I do love that thing.

It's Ripe for a Pilates Project, this one…

Control Balance on the Reformer

Looking at the Control Balance you can already see so many exercises within it.

Here's a small sample:

  • Roll like a Ball
  • Jackknife
  • Tree on the Short Box
  • Tendon Stretch One Leg
  • The Hundred
  • Monkey

You get the idea.

There's a lot of the Pilates method packed into this cumulative exercise.

Then you've got to manage the somersault part with control using your stomach.

Control Balance on the Reformer

(Funny how your stomach likes to leave you the moment you step onto the floor and off the Reformer)

You've got a whole method to help out any weak links in your Control Balance.

This brings me back to Roll Like a Ball

Where is my point of balance and how do I control it?

Roll Like a Ball

Roll Like a Ball is one of the very first exercises you learn.

Think of it as a speedy overhead exercise: here you'll spend a moment in the spot where later, in Control Balance, you'll spend an eternity. And the JackKnife and the Overhead.

What makes the ball roll smoothly?

A loaded question.

One answer is that your oppositional forces are in balance with each other: too much lift and you'll never rollover. Too much lower body going overhead and you'll land on your neck.

No bueno.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 9

In the above photo, if I got more lift out the top of my head.

Lift? But I am upside down…

Just like sitting on top of the Short Box: the lift of my entire trunk would lower my point of balance away from my neck and onto the spot in the middle back that doesn't like to bend.

Just like a very sloooooooooow Roll Like a Ball. If I lift too much I'll end up on my back doing the Scissors.

There's another one in there. Scissors. Single Straight Leg Stretch, if you will.

In this way, over time, the control and point of balance can be sorted out.

More Control Balance 

Celebrate today with a smile on your face.

Further reading:

Why can’t I do overhead exercises? How can I work on this?

On my YouTube channel:

The Struggle is REAL: Control Balance on the Mat

Pilatesology:

5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance

Not on Pilatesology? Use my code Andrea30 and extend your free trial for 30 days. Woo hoo!

What did you learn today this month?

Romana Kryzanowska would tell us:

If you learn one new thing every day

you will be a genius.

March MATness brilliantly encourages you to celebrate your Pilates Mat exercises as a celebration of yourself.

What did you notice as you visited your exercises this month? I'd love to know.

What's one thing you learned from March MATness 2021?

Tell me all about it in a comment below.

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?

Revisiting the Basics: Frog

Frog on the Reformer

Hi there!

I have great affection for all things Frog. I just love it. I talk about it all the time.

It's SO damn useful.

And prolific.

You can't take 2 steps away from the Reformer without tripping over 500+ versions of the Frog all around the Pilates studio.

Am I right?

Take a look at more Frogs here and here.

Frog on the Reformer

I'll bet you first visited the Frog on the Reformer when you were a very new student.

Maybe even in your first lesson.

Wambly wambly Frog with those long-ass straps can be quite the shocker. Later with your strong center you'll whip through your Frog and Circles without thinking about it.

Footwork 2.0

Frog on the Reformer echoes the Footwork series which precedes it.

It's the less-supported sibling of our trusty first Footwork exercise.

Footwork on the Reformer (Divana)

It's taken me years to warm up to Footwork, but I've always loved Frog.

It feels like a plan.

A plan to reach and support the lower body as it travels far away from the center of your body.

It's such a good plan it shows up in many other complex exercises like Teaser on the Cadillac:

Teaser on the Cadillac

Frog presents a challenge in the midst of your favorite upside-down piece of workout candy, Short Spine Massage.

High Frog anyone?

High Frog on the Reformer

Frog's got some love for everyone.

Disappearing Act

If you've completed a classical Pilates training program maybe you've moved from “Intermediate” into the “Advanced” work on the Reformer and your Frog disappeared when you added in the Long Spine Massage.

I hate when that happens.

You owe it to yourself and your commitment to your Pilates Path to visit your Frog(s) regularly even as an “advanced practitioner.”

You can achieve the Frog without being proficient – but I urge you to apply your proficiency to all of your fundamental exercises, including your Frog friend.

So after your Long Spine Massage, visit your Frog and Circles as a ‘be nice to your back' moment before you lose those long straps.

Double Leg Stretch

Meanwhile on the Mat, the Frog is the best part of the Double Leg Pull – aka Double Leg Stretch.

Double Leg Pull on the Mat

In the past I've described Double Leg Pull as ‘wind-relieving.'

Which is true.

But that's not why I'm smiling…

Joe Pilates wasn't concerned with giving you abs of steel; he created a total health system for your body.

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

The strength and suppleness of your back are all over Joe's manifesto, Return to Life through Contrology.

And they're all over his method.

I consider the Double Leg Pull, my favorite example of the 2-way stretch, to be the best back stretch ever created.

A Squat Lying on its Side

As a human, you're always conscious of what happens in the front of the body. You can see it.

Your legs, shoulders, arms, and stomach are in your field of vision and like to run the show.

I often find it helpful to imagine the exercise happening on the back of me. I work to create an opening and elongation of the back instead of the distracting folding-up Frog in front of me.

If you can find an opening in the back and preserve the openness of the hips despite the folded-up-frog choreography there's cause for celebration.

It sounds crazy, doesn't it?

It's the best Frog plan of all!

It feels amazing, although I also find it to be super hard to do.

On the Mat.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pilates studio, you've been doing it all along:

Leg Springs on the Cadillac

Springs+Repetition+Memory

I love Romana Kyzanowska's definition of how you use your mind in your Pilates workout:

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

Memory makes you remember choreography and where your arms and legs go, right?

Yes.

But using springs creates a memory in our muscles as well.

Also damn useful.

Think about the first moments of your Reformer order:

  • FootworkFrog is inherent
  • Hundred – You can use your Frog to reach into the position. No springs here, just a memory of them.
  • Frog + Circles – The springs must be resisted so your legs don't flop back into your chest.
  • Coordination – same Frog action, plus a little extra, and now the memory of the springs will keep the back of the body enlivened without the springs' help. They are good teachers.

Coordination and Double Leg Pull share the same spring memory which liberates your Frog skill and takes it all over the studio and into life.

Yup. It's AH-maze-ing.

Frog goes Vertical

Pumping on the High Chair

But maybe that lying down Frog is not sending you the message…

I find taking the Frog vertical can make a huge difference.

As luck would have it, you've got many options for exploring your Frog straight up.

I love what the Pumping on the High Chair (above) can teach you about your bottom and your back.

Other places you'll experience vertical Frog are in the Stomach Massage Series – the recap of your Footwork exercises in the middle of your Reformer workout.

Stomach Massage Reach on the Reformer

Need a solid Frog ending?

Check out the Skiing exercise on the Wall:

Skiing on the Wall

Crazy Like a Frog

See how many Frogs you can find in your next workout.

Think about it all happening on the back of you and see what you think.

Lemme know how you do in a comment below 🙂

Enjoy this small Frog gift from my YouTube channel

Back to the Basics: Everything Old is New Again

Back to Basics: Everything Old is New Again

Hi there!

I recently wrote a post on the importance of revisiting our basic exercises.

As an advanced Pilates practitioner, skills earned over time shine brightly in our most fundamental and straightforward exercises. Any difficulty with our beginning exercises will show up later in our favorite Pilates circus tricks.

Am I right?

Elephant, anyone?

The body – it is a-changin'

We are currently in the midst of a Pilates renaissance.

Curiosity abounds as the traditional exercises we get from Joe Pilates beckon to countless instructors of varied training backgrounds. Apparatus designed to support the original system gains new fans every day.

In the past I would hear questions like:

  • “Don't you get tired teaching the same exercises all day long?”
  • “Having an order you use for everyone sounds like lazy teaching.”

Or something to this effect…

My understanding of the system at the time was that fundamental exercises, once mastered, would open up more exercises and variations for the devoted client.

Also each day our bodies are different – how will we do today? Our group of exercises will tell us the story: where we excel and where we fall short.

But wait – there's MORE

I'm sure you are familiar with one of Joe Pilates most famous marketing slogans:

In 10 sessions you'll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you'll see the difference, and in 30 sessions you'll have a whole new body…

What about that ellipses?

Less familiar is the end of this sentence: or your money back.

The results mentioned in this quote are predicated on Pilates done 3 times a week with Joe Pilates – a man we all understand to be sufficiently confident (and then some!) in his life's work to make such a claim.

A whole new body might take a bit more time if you're attending 1 weekly Mat class.

Or in my case, the new body showed up 5 years post The Work – just as Jay Grimes predicted…

That guy is always right.

New Skills, New Body, Same Old Exercises

Last week I spoke about ‘meat and potatoes' exercises done on the Reformer and Mat.

I was also thrilled to discover a post from Brooke Siler which included a shot of my Reformer Poster. Brooke is a celebrated Pilates teacher/practitioner and the author of the very first Pilates book I owned, The Pilates Body: The Ultimate At-Home Guide to Strengthening, Lengthening and Toning Your Body- Without Machines.

Oh it's a goody.

I saw this post immediately following my lesson with the lovely Karen Frischmann.

Having scaled my own workout back for the moment I looked at “the big picture” on my Reformer poster with new eyes.

I got excited to return to the more complex exercises – Headstands, Backbend, High Frog, Star – with my new skills – with my new body!

My thoughts on doing the same exercises over and over instantly had a new clarity of purpose:

  • The exercises don't change.
  • Over time the body changes…
  • The exercises become at once familiar, new, exciting and challenging.

Those same old exercises are going to be such a new experience – some will be even more awesome and others will be a wild ride.

YouTube Collaboration with Lesley Logan

Back to the Basics: Everything Old is New Again

Join me this week for my 2nd YouTube collaboration with my Los Angeles colleague Lesley Logan. Lesley is the owner of Profitable Pilates and she's a gem.

This week we will begin at the beginning with an exercise tutorial on the Hundred.

Back to the Basics: Everything Old is New Again

Check out my video. If you'd like to see us collaborate on other exercises, leave a comment below and we will add it to the list!

Check out Lesley's video on the Hundred here.

If you're a YouTuber with a Pilates channel and want to join our collaboration please email me at andrea@pilatesandrea.com and I will give you all the deets.

And here's where you can find me in 2018.

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

You know me – I am a big fan of my Pilates workout. I never want to skip any of my exercises – if you skip them they don't get better right?

I love all the fun advanced tricky moves – they jazz me up!

However, my understanding and my Pilates practice have matured.

So let's take a little Pilates Field Trip back to where it all began.

The Basic System!

Great power resides in the fundamental exercises you've been doing for years decades. 

I've documented my progress in my Another One Bites the Dust series here and here.

The Another One Bites the Dust series takes a look at a few exercises I hated at first and I now adore. It includes some basics and a couple doozies. Despite our newfound love affair, Snake/Twist and the BreastStroke are NOT basic exercises.

Why bother with the Basics?

A client/colleague of mine suggests the basic exercises are actually the hardest to do well and that's why we learn them first. These things take time…

Kinda true.

Who really feels they excel at the Hundred?

Does anyone have a perfect Elephant?

The Pilates method is skill-based. Like any sport or movement discipline we learn fundamental skills to serve us throughout our Pilates career. Akin to a martial art, Pilates sets us on a path to mastery.

Oh and CONTROL (that old thing?).

Complete control of our body and mind.

Our modus operandi in all things Pilates. Who's in charge here anyway? You or the exercise?

Here's a little test: examine the exercises you find to be extremely difficult.

What fundamental exercises lie within? And how good are you at them? 

More questions to ask yourself:

In Snake/Twist on the Reformer, do you struggle to return the carriage with control?

More. Elephant.

Are you unable to lift your hips off the mat for Corkscrew, JackKnife and Overhead?

More. Roll Like a Ball.

Are you wobbly when you do the Mountain Climb on the Wunda Chair?

More. Kneeling Knee Stretches. More. 2×4 exercises.

Get Cozy with 3 Basics

In today's post we'll revisit 3 basic exercises on 3 different apparatus.

As we explore each of these basics keep in mind a few questions:

  • How does this exercise serve the body I am now?
  • What have I figured out? What is still a mystery?
  • How does perfecting one basic skill translate across the greater Pilates System?

If you enjoy this post and would like to see other basics featured in future posts, just leave me a comment below. I thank you already…

1. Pelvic Lift on the Reformer

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

We learn Pelvic Lift on the Reformer in our very first lesson.

But what's really going on here?

Pelvic Lift brings our workout full circle. It echoes our Footwork series at the top of our Reformer workout with the added element of holding your hips up off the mat. At a certain point I learned (and perhaps you did too) to place my hands underneath my tailbone as a guide to keep the pelvis level.

Okay my pelvis is level but what am I doing?

First let's examine the order of the universe.

Pelvic Lift is our last exercise done lying down before our Control Push Up series and our Splits. Here we strive to have one more moment of length in the low back and low body before getting up onto the Reformer never to lie down again until we finish.

More complex versions of the Pelvic Lift – and where we'll need this skill – include Short Spine Massage, Long Spine Massage and Shoulder Bridge on the Mat. I could name a few more, but you see how this goes, we only have one exercise…blah-ty-blah-ty-blah-ty…

#lengthintheback

Think about the length we cultivate in the Short Spine Massage:

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

The tailbone reaches long and away from our ribs as we make our way slowly – deliciously – to the carriage.

The Pelvic Lift is a tiny version of this same stretch.

Pelvic Lift has our rib cage/middle back anchored to the carriage as our belly scoops in and our tailbone reaches long and away toward the footbar.

Finding my Pelvic Lift skill was so satisfying. It's one I'd been doing for years of course, but yet it remained shrouded in mystery for a while.

2. Pull Up on the Wunda Chair

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

The Pull Up is one of our basic exercises on the Wunda Chair. Every exercise on the Wunda is a challenge even the first ones we learn.

The Pull Up is pure powerhouse.

Find your lift deep in your center or the pedal is reluctant to move. Sure you can cheat and shift your weight off the pedal and onto your arms, but you'll only regret it later.

Where might your Pull Up skills come in handy?

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Yes the Kneeling Knee Stretch series is a basic exercise but perhaps the most complex and formidable of our fundamentals.

The Pull Up skill will help to address the shape of the back in the Knees Off which often suffers.

How about more advanced exercises served by the Pull Up?

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Tendon Stretch anyone?

Although a strong Elephant is also essential for success in the Tendon Stretch, your Pull Up skill will create the lift and rhythm for this exercise. Oh and that gorgeous back shape!

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

When you first learn Snake/Twist on the Reformer, you may only learn the very first bit:

Getting up into the starting position with control and the carriage in.

Not easy.

This is a pure Pull Up/Powerhouse move. With a bit of Elephant thrown in for style!

And now our Pull Up is not straightforward – arms on different levels, one one leg, etc…

Oh dear…

3. One Leg Circle on the Mat

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Oh gosh, I've hated the One Leg Circle on the Mat for years…

In my first ever beginning mat class years ago I was just so thankful to have survived the Roll Up. The One Leg Circle was my exercise to rest up before Roll Like a Ball.

I've noticed a common theme with me and the Mat exercises. Ones in which my first thought was “What's so hard about this exercise?” have become my MOST challenging exercises to do properly. One Leg Circle, Single Leg Kick, Leg Pull – ooh I see a little theme here – I must beware the one-sided exercises!

If only I'd known…

One Leg Circle is the first exercise we learn that is one side at a time. And it's a nice one. We get to lie down. In the studio you may get a strap on your foot and some handles.

But what's really going on here?

The One Leg Circle is a shining example of choreographic distraction. Our circling leg is so flashy and right in front of us it's hard to focus on anything else right?

But you must focus on EVERYTHING else.

Pilates Mantra: The part of your body that is just lying/sitting there doing nothing should actually be doing all the work.

The One Leg Circle is about stability. One leg is “resting” on the mat? Imagine you are standing on that leg.

Yes. treat the One Leg Circle like you are standing on one leg with the other one reaching out in front of you. Wowza – how hard would that be? Stay tuned, if you're disciplined and consistent, it's bound to happen and soon.

Let's see where else we'll find our One Leg Circle skill:

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Not too long after learning your One Leg Circle you'll be introduced to its unstable cousin, the Side Kick Series. Another exercise I loathed for years…which I dearly love now. Unbelievable.

Now lying on your side, your support is minimal but your body must be controlled and strong as you move your leg not only in front of you but eventually LOTS of places.

In our Reformer workout, our beloved Tree will turn into not only the One Leg Circle (with a box underneath) but also our first taste of the High Bridge.

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Now you'll need your stomach and your stability of that standing leg!

Later in our Pilates career we'll confront our One Leg Circle in the Star with minimal support and a reaching leg that also eventually behaves very fancily…

A Pilates Field Trip: Revisiting the Basics

Note my “deer in the headlights” expression no less. Clearly I'm surprised to find myself in this position…

Thanks Joe Pilates! You never leave us unprepared.

Want to see your favorite Basic featured in this series? 

Let's have a look! Leave me a comment below.

 

 And here's where to find me in 2017.

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