Another One Bites the Dust #2

Another One Bites the Dust #2

Welcome to the unanticipated 2nd installment of Another One Bites the Dust. This series is my homage to the ‘if-you-hate-em-you'll-someday-love-em' exercises of the Pilates Method.

Exercises in the dust so far

On the Mat:

  • The Roll Up
  • The Neck Pull

On the Reformer:

  • Short Box Series
  • Breaststroke

On the Cadillac:

  • The Leg Springs

When we last left our heroine she was predicting that the Snake/Twist exercise on the Reformer would indeed reveal more yumminess than could be believed. Check her out in the above photo: a hazy Snake/Twist from days of old.

And oh yeah, it's been so good to me lately.

For us crooked folk, there's nothing quite like a twist to shake it all down and make us more balanced. Yes, you've got to work for it, but the wringing out of the Snake/Twist is quite effective. Dare I say it's delicious?

Deeeeeeeelicious it is and I've already upped it to 3 Snake, 2 Twist and sometimes the 1 arm Twist as well.

Workin' on my stamina, folks!

But yes, no one was more surprised than I at the staggering number of these puppies I now like to do.

“What you don't like you do twice!”

I love love LOVE being reminded of this quote, reportedly from Romana quoting Joe Pilates.

It's fun to imagine Joe saying it.

So let's all suck it up and dig into those exercises that we just don't like at all. Treasures abound as we increase our proficiency in these challenging-for-us exercises.

Another One Bites the Dust #2

It's helpful to have a sense of humor about how difficult we find them to be.

L.O. Frickin' L.

And the secret is…?

I'm sure it will not come as a surprise that consistent practice is the way to better our most hated exercises. But even more valuable to me are the weekly private lessons that I've been doing for nearly 5 years now. Sure I'd love to have a lesson 2 or 3 times a week – that would be amazing.

For now, 1 lesson per week is what I can do financially and proximity-wise as I am traveling for my lesson.

But what is invaluable to me is the inspiration and the jump start to my week that my Monday lessons provide. I also find that the same consistent instructor really keeps me on task. My focus and progress are consistent.

And I'm addicted to feeling good.

Very motivating.

Physically, of course, untwisted and more balanced.

And mentally hey that was hard and I DID it! – it's a high as well.

I am a huge fan of taking lessons with many teachers. I also enjoy taking workshops. But currently, my private lessons with one teacher are revealing such amazing aspects of this work. The body is learning first and informing the mind in a different way than even workshops can do.

That being said, I also enjoy taking Mat classes with Jennifer Kries. She's local to me and makes me do the Swimming exercise for way longer than I ever do it on my own. I mean, what are friends for?

We've all got “friends in the biz,” right?

Your mission:

  1. Find a fellow teacher you love to hang around.
  2. Schedule a lesson.
  3. Check Workout! off your to-do list.

Hey that's 1 Hot Tip

I find the elusive moments in the Snake/Twist to be in the moments of the initial set up and return – essentially the same Elephant-ish/Up Stretch-ish position.

Strengthen the first part of the exercise and it makes the whole thing better.

To enliven your connection to the apparatus let's put all those springs on for a bit. No, you won't be going anywhere, but you'll be a sweaty little mess regardless.

With all the springs on the carriage remains stationary. You are now free to push the lower body into the footbar firmly. You can play around and discover how your back will control the arms on the carriage.

You can visit with it. Spend a little time. You can Elephant (sort of) to your heart's content.

What does it feel like to REALLY push into the footbar? Use the lower body to feel how powerfully it will initiate the movement of the carriage (in a bit, after you go back to 1 spring).

Use your scoop to lift and hold that carriage in. ALL THE WAY IN. Close the last inch of the carriage.


Now you've got your scoop on!

Got a favorite exercise you love to hate?

Let it all out – #Pilatesventing – in a comment below

Rock on, Pilates peeps!

Pilates Mat Exercise #19: The Neck Pull

Pilates Mat Exercise #19: The Neck Pull

The Neck Pull belongs to a group of Pilates exercises we all love to hate.

Perhaps it's even top of the list.

If you're not a fan of the Roll Up, you'll have nary a kind thought for the Neck Pull.

Promoted as the ‘Move of the Month' at Real Pilates NYC, you've still got the rest of your lives to perfect your Neck Pull. Your stomach and your back will love you for it.

Your ego may hate us…but please, persevere.

The Battle of the Body Parts

My personal journey through the Neck Pull remains vivid in my mind to this day. I first learned this abominable exercise in a Mat class at Excel Pilates in Washington, DC.

You may notice in the photo above I am on a proper studio Mat with a strap and handles.

‘Twas not always so…

Learning the Neck Pull in a Mat class – sans strap – with a tight back and a less-than-stellar Roll Up, this exercise soon became my nemesis. As I began the exercise I watched my lower body in horror. I quickly got stuck and flailed about, my legs lifting into the air.


I was terrified to receive my first Pilates diploma due to my inability to do the Neck Pull on the Mat at all, really. I assumed if I were ever to run into criminals in a dark alley they would demand the Neck Pull in exchange for my life, and my odds of surviving said encounter were slim.

And I'm really out of luck if they also demand I twist.

Worst-case Scenario

For many Pilates practitioners and teachers, there's no torture quite like the Teaser. For me, well, I guess I was much better at cheating on that one.

The Neck Pull didn't offer as many options.

After completing my initial teacher training I was assigned to teach an Intermediate level Mat class at the studio. Gulp. This class of course included the dreaded Neck Pull.

What if I should have to demonstrate the Neck Pull?

I knew this situation was unavoidable.

OMG someone may have a question.

Would I have an answer?

At the time I also had a client, perhaps 20 years my senior, who did the Neck Pull very well. She had issues with other exercises, of course, as we all do. But I would watch her do her 5-6 Neck Pulls and think “I got nothin'…look at her, DOING the exercise.”

As it turned out, an actual friend of mine was in my Mat class and struggling with the Neck Pull.

“I'm not getting it. Can I see you do it?”

Thanks, friend…

…and the sweating begins before the exercise.

That day I learned the degree to which the mind can impose its will upon the body. Who's in control here, anyway?

It was the first successful Neck Pull I had ever done.


I know how to suck it up and get the job done.

No way was I going to choke while my class of 15 people all watched me.


Here's a similar story of Pilates willpower: same exercise, a decade later, Jennifer Kries style.

In recent years I have added the Neck Pull to another group of exercises that, once odious to me, I now love love love with all my heart.

I hope you'll enjoy these 2 short tutorials on the Neck Pull.

What Luck! Even more great info on the Neck Pull from Alisa Wyatt here.

Thank you for watching!

Pilates Mat Exercise #19: The Neck Pull

Save the Date! Saturday February 7, 2015.

I'll be teaching at the California Pilates Center in Oceanside, CA. 

Sign up for my awesome Mat class here!

Let's workout. You know you want to.

Take a Pilates Class: You just might surprise yourself!

Take a Pilates Class: You just might surprise yourself!

Sure, I can workout by myself.

I'm quite good at kicking my own ass.


But it's still just me.

I am beholden to myself only.

Oh yeah, Mat classes and private lessons…

Private lessons and Pilates classes taught by OTHER TEACHERS are fantastic in so many ways:

  1. Focus and planning are required: you have to make an appointment or consult a schedule.
  2. You are held accountable: there are consequences ($$$) if you bail at the last minute.
  3. You will get what you need: your teacher will include exercises you'd avoid if you were alone.
  4. You'll be more on display: Keep it together. Suck it up. Just do it. Never let 'em see you sweat.
  5. You'll surprise yourself and do something you thought you couldn't do.

Take it from me, it's a great lesson to learn (again)

Wait, I could do MORE?!

What a positive boost of energy. Not to mention, the heady afterglow of “Hey, I did that!”

And even better if it's some dreaded, necessary exercise. Speaking of…

Hello, Neck Pull

Perhaps I've mentioned it before (like 1000 times)

I was terrified to receive my first Pilates diploma due to my inability to do the Neck Pull on the mat at all, really.

I assumed if I were ever to run into criminals in a dark alley they would demand the Neck Pull in exchange for my life, and my odds of surviving said encounter were slim.

I really used to dislike the Neck Pull on the Mat. Oh, I'm being kind…

I f**king hated it.

I was like an insect that had gotten stuck upside down and couldn't roll itself over again.

The good news is that now I kind of like it.

Thanks, Joe Pilates!

Moreover, I like the Neck Pull even when I take a Mat class and must be parted from my best friend the strap at the end of the studio mat. I take it as a challenge and tackle the Neck Pull with pride as I am much better at it now.

Evidently even more so than I realize.

The weight of your teacher's gaze

Jennifer Kries is just about the loveliest Pilates teacher you'll find. She has a wonderful warm and encouraging demeanor as she leads the class. Somehow she becomes more cheerful and uplifting as the exercises get harder. Just when you need it.

How nice.

Except when viewed through the lens of the Neck Pull.

True, she was very warm and encouraging. Yet firm. Relentless, even. Unwavering in her directive:

Keep your heels on the Mat.

Neck Pull #1 goes by. Legs are basically still on the mat, but the heels do lift a bit. But it seems fine, not a disaster.

Your heels. Don't let them leave the Mat.

Neck Pull #2: pretty similar to the previous one. She's right, the heels are definitely lifting.

Is she standing closer now?

I begin Neck Pull #3. Our eyes meet, she is now right in front of me. Clearly, this is not her first rodeo.

Keep. The heels. Down.

Is it hot in here?

The room fades away and my focus hones into a singular beam of willpower and righteous indignation. Surely I have power over my heels, yes? Keeping them on the Mat is my only concern now.

That and proving to Jennifer that I do indeed speak English.

Concentration pops out more sweat all over me.

When did it get so hot in here?

But guess what. My heels stayed on the Mat.

It was actually possible, look at that! It took way more focus than I thought I could muster to accomplish it, but it HAPPENED.

I can do more!

Ladies and Gentlemen, yet another gem of the Pilates Method:

Wait, there's MORE.

Have you surprised yourself in a class or lesson recently? I hope it made you feel like a Pilates Rock Star!

Share your success in a comment below.


Inside the Pilates Studio: Mariska Breland

Inside the Pilates Studio: Mariska BrelandThe creator of Pilates for MS, and a respected name in the industry, Mariska Breland has been on my Pilates radar for a few years. She hails from my previous Pilates home, Washington, DC, and I owe a huge thanks to serendipity for bringing us together.

A favorite new friend

Swirling friendships brought us together, colleagues and mutual friends, and I could not be more thrilled. Mariska has been studying with my first ever Pilates teacher, Lesa McLaughlin of Excel Pilates in DC.


Wait, there's more.

My San Diego Pilates pal, Jennifer Kries has been singing Mariska's praises as well. So on her recent visit to San Diego – Del Mar to be more exact and literally minutes from my home – Mariska and I met up ostensibly for coffee or drinks.

Me: Hi! When I suggested coffee or drinks a few weeks ago I was partaking in both – but now I've been eliminating caffeine, sugar and alcohol for nearly a month – could we get a snack instead?

Mariska: I don't really do caffeine or alcohol either, a snack is perfect. What do you suggest?

Me: Well we're really close to one of my favorite sushi restaurants…(crosses fingers)

Mariska: Perfect. I love sushi.

Okay she gets like a million points for being a fellow sushi-lover. Now we'll talk about Pilates, awesome! There's nothing like some girl-bonding over sushi, books and Pilates. Wait, what book are you reading???

Our heroines discover they are both reading the same book.


(The Secret History by Donna Tartt – all the cool Pilates gals are reading it.)

OMG we talked forever and in just 2 weeks I hope to do it all over again.

1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

Mariska Breland: Short Spine Massage. If an exercise can be called ‘delicious' this one is a culinary masterpiece, especially if you get a great hands-on assist during it.

Since this question doesn’t say that I need to limit my response to one exercise, I also have to throw in that I love Reformer Leg Circles. It’s become a saying at my studio “Leg circles save lives.” First, because they are instant bliss, but second, because weak and tight hips can lead to falls, hip fractures, disability, nursing homes, and yes, early death. Leg circles save lives.

2. What exercise is your least favorite. Pick just one.

MB: Easy – kneeling side kicks. I have a lot of neurological-based weakness on my left side, and this exercise goes right to those weak areas and points them out. I should probably do it every day. I don’t (Next time I do a private with you, you can make me do it if you like).

(Mmm…duly noted.)

3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?

MB: There are so many things to love about Pilates. I love that I am never finished learning. I love that I can always get better at something. I love that on days where I feel weak or tired or beat down, there’s something I can still do that makes me feel strong and empowered. I am an eternal student, always curious, always asking questions. I love that there are amazing teachers (classical and non-traditional) who can answer those questions or explore them with me.

4. What is your idea of earthly happiness?

MB: Floating in the ocean. Even better – snorkeling in a very crowded (with sea life) coral reef. Follow that up with some time to read an amazing book on the beach and dinner (that I didn't have to cook) with good friends.

5. What in your mind would be the greatest misfortune?

MB: The greatest misfortune would be to be too scared to go after your dreams, followed closely by failing to make the time to enjoy the pleasures of life. My mother died young and I was diagnosed with MS in my 20s, so I think I’ve had a fire lit under me that says I have to do things and I have to do them now. It’s always been hard for me to take time to just enjoy because I have always so goal-focused, but as I am writing this on vacation, the importance of fun is fresh on my mind.

6. What is your favorite Pilates word?

MB: Lengthen. 

7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?

MB: “Pelvic floor” or pretty much any cue or phrase that is telling me to engage my “bladder control muscles.” Sure, these are useful in certain circumstances (I teach an entire section on exercises for neurological bladder issues in my Pilates for MS course, for instance), but when I’m just going through a session, I don’t need to be cued about that. I find most great teachers don’t. The worst variation of this term I ever heard was “imagine you are a pregnant cat, and you’re trying to hold in your kittens.” Seriously, yuck.

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

MB: Tough one – is there a job that combines restaurant critic, fiction writer, philanthropist, healer, and animal trainer? ‘Cause that’s perfect for me!

9. If Heaven exists and by some chance, you arrive that pearly gates and Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like him to say to you?

MB: “We have a full Pilates studio right over here. Let’s go play.”

10. What did you learn today?

MB: So much! I’m in Nevis (West Indies), and I learned that free divers can hold their breath for 3 minutes on average, but some push it to 4 minutes and up. The Dive Master told me that divers always work in pairs, and one stays up while the other dives. If the diver blacks out, the other is there to rescue them. Apparently, when this happens, the diver's lungs often don’t fill with water due to a protective reflexive spasm of the larynx. Often, the diver regains consciousness when they are brought back to the surface – several seconds to sometimes minutes after they are pulled out of the water, when the spasm relaxes. I don’t want to try it, of course, but it reminds me of how fascinating and powerful the human machine really is. 

I also learned that “goat water” is a very hearty Caribbean soup made with goat meat and a kind of pepper Nevisians call a burnt pepper. It tastes like habanero to me. I should look that up to see if it’s the same thing.

I could keep going. I think you should learn a lot of new things every day.

Visit Mariska at Fuse Pilates, her Washington, DC studio.

More on the fantastic Pilates available in DC in a future post!

Pilates Mat Exercise #2: The Roll Up

Pilates Mat Exercise #2: The Roll Up

The Roll Up

The Roll Up deserves full credit for my immersion in/obsession with the Pilates Method.

In my very first Mat class, it was the Roll Up – the second exercise, mind you – that absorbed my attention in an instant.

OMG, disaster. What is. Happening??!

How could I fail so miserably, so early in the hour? Am I not flexible and strong?

The Pilates Method reveals valuable information about our body. We learn volumes about our strengths and weaknesses. A stunning attribute, really.

However, at first we may not appreciate our new intel.

We're gonna Roll Up like it's 1999

Back in the day, I could only complete the exercise when I wore my heavy Dr. Martens boots. Sadly, I could not wear them to class, but I would sometimes put them on when I would practice at home. Then I could roll up and down no problem and my legs would stay on the mat. I think I found it soothing…

But I agree, not ideal.

Jennifer Kries' The Method Pilates Precision Toning series assured me that someday I would be able to complete the Roll Up, so I kept at it, the Roll Up, and my Pilates classes.

Fast (Up and) Forward

Today, of course in true Pilates fashion, the Roll Up is one of my very favorite exercises. Using the strap on my proper Pilates Mat has really opened up the tight spot in my back, allowing me to find success in the exercise even on a hotel room floor.

Up against the wall

So if you are working at home to perfect your Roll Up, bereft of a Pilates studio mat with strap and handles, what's to be done? Use a wall to get more out of this vital exercise than mere frustration.

  1. Lie down on your mat so that you can place your feet on a wall. Heels on the floor, feet and legs together.
  2. I like to keep my knees just a little bent. If your Roll Up is not perfect (and whose is) sometimes you may find yourself sliding away from the wall as you roll back down. The knees bent helps in this regard. It will help you to open the low back, potentially the culprit in this whole Roll Up debacle.
  3. Push your feet into the wall as you begin your Roll Up. If your back is tight, you may not get all the way up with your feet still pressing on the wall. This is okay. You will probably get a good stretch in your back and over time you'll roll up a little more.
  4. Continue to reach your feet, heels especially, pressing into the wall as you roll all the way down onto the mat. The reach through your heels will help you to find the seat and lengthen the lower back.

The wall is approximating the assist you get from the strap on the Mat, and as such is a bit unforgiving.

But I bet you're up to the challenge. Give it a go.

Pilates: what kills our ego, does indeed make us stronger.

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