Happy Birthday Joe Pilates! (Bonus VIDEO BLOG)

Happy Birthday Joe Pilates! (Bonus VIDEO BLOG)

Born on December 9, 1883, Hubertus Joseph Pilates would celebrate his 130th birthday today. I bet he'd still be in his signature tiny shorts doing his Contrology exercises out in the fresh air if he were alive today.

Why not celebrate Joe Pilates' birthday with an homage to the Matwork?

And some Schnapps.

Or a cigar?

Okay, Matwork first.

If you've got 15 minutes, then you've got plenty of time to do a satisfying and celebratory Pilates Mat Workout.

This workout is really our ‘go to' group of exercises unless (a) we're super pressed for time, or (b) it's 5 am.

Of course if you're like me – often up and awake for solidarity and with no particular place to be until later – why not bust out 5 or 10 more minutes?

So take care of yourselves – leave out any exercises you don't know – and join us for 15 minutes.

Get ready to feel Awesome…

I think you've earned your Schnapps.

Leave a comment below and share your progress. What did you learn today?

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

Literal. Clear. To the Point. I love it when a Pilates teacher does not mince words.

I thought I'd share a few of my faves.

1. My personal favorite and a Sandy Shimoda special.

7 Spot- On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

I have heard this one many many times. Weekly actually. Making the exercises as painstakingly perfect as you possibly can makes for a tense, slow turn of events. Oops, almost forgot Sandy has another fine quote for that too.

The suspense is killing me.

This one popped out due to the glacial pace of my Thigh Stretch on the Reformer. Her comment was memorable. And my Thigh Stretch is the better for it.

2. My own commitment to connection.

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

It's easy to poop-out in the middle of the exercise.

To anticipate the lying down in the Roll Up. Oh, mat so comfy

To rest when you roll up to sit in Spine Stretch. Cause sitting up tall is soooo easy…

To lie down for a little too long between reps of the Teaser.


Oh you know you've done it. We've all been there. I'm aghast when my teacher points up a little secret rest that's crept in unbeknownst to me. Gah!

My quote takes inspiration from Kerry DeVivo who was the first teacher to explain an ultimate goal of the Pilates workout. Use the exercises to find connection when you begin your workout and never let it go until the workout is finished.


3. Karen Frischmann of Vintage Pilates fame in top form.

Lessons with Karen are jam-packed with revelation. This one pertains specifically to the action of the upper back in the 2nd of the Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer. Mostly we (I) want to squeeze the shoulders together and back, essentially squishing the upper back.

Squishing is not really engagement.

It's just squishing.

7 Spot- On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

Long the Back! Yes!

Squish the Shoulders!

I don't think so.

In the 2nd of the Stomach Massage series as well as its other exercise friends (Reverse Push Thru and Long Back Arms on the Cadillac, Backward Arms on the Wunda Chair) there is more to be had in the broadening of the upper back effectively relaxing the shoulders (in lieu of the squish) which will result in greater more yummy stretch across the chest.

And don't forget to Long the Back!

4. Kathi Ross-Nash gets extra points for gravitas.

I just think this one is hilarious.

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

I've tried to steal it, but I don't quite own it and it falls flat… But when it comes from Kathi I have to giggle. She says it in a sweet and gentle (mocking?) voice of false comfort while you wrestle with an exercise of outrageous proportion.

Reformer on the Mat anyone?

5. Cynthia Lochard gets right to the point.

7 Spot-On Quotes to Keep you Honest

I am guilty of this myself (of course) and it's a wonderful mantra for clients. It may seem like you need to take a moment to rest.

But maybe you don't.

What would happen if you willed yourself to continuously move for the entire hour?

Endurance. Stamina. Perseverance.

Tenacity. Grit.

Not too shabby.

 6. Jay Grimes always has a gem at the ready.

7 Spot- On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

It's one of my favorites, really and it's always delivered in a silky-soft soothing voice while you sweat it out doing no less than the Twist with One Arm on the Reformer – ALL of it mind you.

 7. Romana quoting Joe Pilates. This one's a keeper.

Pilates is hard, yo. And full of tough love.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger…yes?

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

Heard any Spot-On Quotes that really upped your game?

Leave a comment below and keep us in the loop. Then go workout. You know you want to.

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

Click here if you missed Part 1.

Pilates is unique. Unlike traditional fitness regimens, the Pilates Method includes rolling exercises.

Rolling exercises make me smile. Playful and idiosyncratic, rolling on the mat makes it hard to take yourself too seriously.

I like to call it the “Whee factor”.


The sheer perfection of the rolling exercises is utterly captivating: a consummate example of our journey towards ultimate control.

Part 2: Let's Roll!

The Roll(ing) Exercises of the Pilates Method include Rolling like a BallOpen Leg Rocker, the Boomerang, the Seal and the Crab. Here you must maintain the integrity of your shape.

Joe Pilates also gives us exercises that roll and unroll the spine: the Roll Up, the Roll Over, the Spine Stretch, the CorkscrewNeck Pull, Jackknife and bien sȗr, the Teaser.

All the above mentioned exercises have their respective challenges and intricacies and totally deserve posts of their own, promise!


Let's examine the Pilates rolling exercises through the lens of one of my very favorites. Can you guess?

You won't be surprised…

The ROCKER with Open Legs.


The Open Leg Rocker is an elegant exercise and a paragon of the 2-way stretch. The long reach of the lower body propels you backward, and the lift from the pit of the stomach all the way up to the top of your head returns you to balance.

Mmmm, Contrology is delicious!

Can you resist the invitation to flail about and use momentum?

The Rocker has become…an obsession…and the Handstands on the Barrel as well…

…oh but I digress…

Quick & Dirty Trick #1: WWJPD?

Pass the manifesto, please…

Take a look at the 4 figures of Joe's Rocker with Open Legs and consider his instructions:

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.Fig. 1:

  • Take position illustrated

I have emboldened the directions that were news to me. I found these to be particularly insightful.

Interesting…I follow this first direction without the the next part (Fig. 2) where the knees bend in. Hmmm…what might I be missing I wonder…

Fig. 2:

  • Bend knees

Oooh, the combination of the inhale plus essentially pulling the legs in to bend the knees instantly deepened the scoop of my stomach. Niiiiiiiiice move Mr. JoJo…mind if I call you JoJo?

Oh. You do mind. Pressing on.

Fig. 3:

  • Grasp ankles firmly
  • Toes (pointed) forward and downward (knees locked)
  • Spread legs upward and outward as far as possible
  • Keep abdomen “drawn” in as far as possible with
  • Chin touching chest

Nerd alert! Joe wants us to “grasp ankles” not the calf or thigh. More on this later…

Okay I really like the direction to “spread legs upward and outward as far as possible.” You can feel the clear engagement of the entire lower body. And just when you need it.

And “chin touching chest” is great to counteract any head flinging that might want to go on…

Not by moi, of course.

Fig. 4

  • “Roll” over backward trying to touch mat or floor with toes

This direction may sound a little scary as this is not the way I was taught to do the exercise…so again…

…I had to try it.

Control is imperative here if you don't want to bonk your head on the mat, yes.

Following Joe's direction makes this exercise feel just as yummy along the entire back of the body as the Roll Over, another of my favorites. It is a wonderful stretch as you use control (your stomach!) to stay lifted and not land on your head.

Bonus info from JP

Joe also includes the following:

NOTE: Repeat the foregoing “rocking” exercise backward and forward six (6) times.

Got it. Do 6.

CAUTIONS: Fig. 3 – Arms and legs rigid (elbows and knees locked). “Pivot” on base of spine, “rocking” backward to Fig. 4 position, then “rock” forward, pressing head firmly against chest, at the same time pressing arms firmly forward against legs until you reach Fig. 3 and try to balance yourself in that position.

Which brings me to…

Quick & Dirty Trick #2: No Bent Legs!

The Rocker with Open Legs is a wonderful long stretch of the entire back of the body. It requires lift in the back and length in the hamstrings. It is therefore of vital importance to have “arms and legs rigid (elbows and knees locked).”

Waaaaah…the language, it's killing me!

In Return to Life, Joe is a man of imperatives and superlatives. Straight the arms! Long the back!

Wait, there's also “pressing arms firmly forward against legs.” Hmmm…I must try…

It's easy to “pump” yourself up by bending the elbows when rolling back, and often there is tightness in the back and/or legs that makes it hard to straighten the legs. Pressing forward into the legs with the arms is actually quite helpful in this regard. Especially for the folks that like to hang onto their legs for dear life.

So Joe essentially gives us a CAUTION about cheating. He knows we'll want to, but he strongly suggests we don't.

“Straight the legs?!” What's to be done? 

Tight backs/legs can get some help from the leg straps from the Cadillac, thusly:

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

For a bit. In conjunction with lots of stuff all around the studio that's gonna stretch that stuff out. After a while they will “Long the Back!” and “Straight the Legs!” all on their own. Hellooooo, ankles…

Quick & Dirty Trick #3: The Order of the Universe

Another way to follow Joe's guidelines to the letter is to look at what he has given us up until this point in the Mat. What are you doing in the eleven exercises that precede the Rocker with Open Legs to ready yourself?

The Hundred, Roll Up, Roll Over, One Leg Circle, Roll Like a Ball, Single Leg Pull, Double Leg Pull, Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch, Criss Cross, Spine Stretch…

Joe has prepared you well. By this point you have encountered every skill you will need for the Rocker with Open Legs. Of particular import is the Spine Stretch which immediately precedes it. The same stuff without all the fancy balancing and rocking back and forth.

So seize the moment. Long the Back! Straight the Legs!

The Rocker is coming.

I know rolling is good for me, but what's it done for me lately?

It is this very action of “rolling” and “unrolling” that cleanses your lungs so effectively by driving out the impure air and forcing in the pure air as you “roll” and “unroll.”

Indefatigably and conscientiously practice breathing until the art of correct breathing becomes habitual, automatic and subconscious, which accomplishment will result in the bloodstream receiving its full quota of oxygen and thus ward off undue fatigue.

It is far better to be tired from physical exertion than to be fatigued by the “poisons” generated by nervousness while lying awake. Particularly beneficial in this regard are the spinal “rolling” and “unrolling” massage exercises which relax the nerves and induce sound, restful sleep.

[And with regard to the Corkscrew:]

This exercise strengthens neck and shoulders and is an internal and spinal massage.

Got it:

  • Clears Toxins
  • Rejuvenates the blood
  • Energizes the body
  • Calms nerves
  • Induces sound sleep
  • Massages internal organs
  • Massages the spine/back

That sounds pretty darn good for me. 

It's invigorating, jostling, expiratory, gut-wrenching. It gives a nice massage. Soothing, warming, niceness for our body.

Plus… if you act now, I'll even throw in 2 extra sets of Rockers with Legs Together and Feet Flexed.


Serendipitous Bonus from Rock Star Clare Dunphy.  Enjoy!

Thanks so much for reading 🙂

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks that ROCK! So you will too.

3 MORE Quick & Dirty Tricks That ROCK! So you will too.

Share your favorite Pilates rolling exercise in a comment below.

Pilates Projects: 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake

Welcome to the first post of my new blog series: Pilates Projects.

In the Pilates method, the mastery of a complex exercise can require strategy. What luck!

We've got a whole system of perfect tools for the job.

February 10, 2013 began the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake. Yes, I am late, but I've still got half of 2013 left to strengthen my Snake. I had best get busy.

Holy frijoles if we ever have a Year of the Twist. Yeesh.

Build your Snake well and the fireworks will come.

The Snake (also referred to as Snake/Twist to include the next exercise in the series) is a complex exercise originally done on the Reformer. It requires skill, great control and coordination of the body and mind. And by mind I mean the desire and will to do this exercise. One must want to do the Snake, it's not really gonna show up on its own…

10 exercises + 5 apparatus = 1 Awesome Snake on Reformer.

Often one or more components of an intricate exercise may create a roadblock to the exercise. For this reason I have chosen 10 exercises with which to closely examine, refine and breakdown this exercise into more manageable parts. The better you become at these 10 exercises the better and stronger your Snake will be. When one exercise gets better, everything gets better.

The Warmup

I suggest doing at least a 30 minute warm up if you plan to work just these exercises before applying them to the Snake. Another plan would be to complete a Reformer workout of a similar duration which may or may not include the Snake, then work the 10 exercises, perhaps comparing your first Snake to the one afterward. See how you do.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer1. Reformer: Up Stretch

Up Stretch is an exercise you most likely have been working for some time. It is straightforward in its symmetry and provides the same lower body action as the Snake. The stomach must reach all the way to the feet on the initiation of the Up Stretch and the lift at the end is exactly what you need to bring the in the carriage at the end of the Snake. The legs are on the moving part of the apparatus which feels more helpful to push into than the position of the feet on the stationary footbar in the Snake. This is a lower body exercise – and it can help you to find the lower body initiation in the Snake as well.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer2. Reformer: Up Stretch Combo

This challenging variation is exactly what you will be doing in your Snake with the exception of the one-sided-ness. You are getting the lift of the Arched Back shape in this combo and the scoop of the return. You also get some “help” here as you push into the moving part of the carriage to train the lower body for the Snake. In the Snake you must push into the stationary footbar and not be seduced into using your arms to push out the carriage. Best to work this one well first before even attempting the Snake.


10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer3. Reformer: Elephant

Oh Elephant, is there anything you can’t do? One of the first Reformer exercises you learn, the Elephant never ceases to be at once helpful and challenging. The Round shape of the Elephant is essential to perfect your control and return the carriage all the way home in the Snake.


10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer4. Cadillac: Arm Springs

The Snake requires back strength to control the upper body on a moving carriage. The shoulders can otherwise be in a precarious position as the body opens up in space above the carriage. Both Arm Springs (lying down on the Cadillac) and the next exercise can help to connect the arms and shoulders into the back.


10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer5. Cadillac: Back Connection with the Roll Back Bar

This exercise is essentially the first part of the Chest Expansion exercise. The roll back bar is attached to the standing arm spring hooks at the end of the Cadillac. With straight arms press the bar down and toward you. HOLD. Using just this first maneuver you have a terrific vantage point of the fingers, hands, wrists and elbows as you work the bar to connect the arms into the back. Place your hands just as you would place them on the footbar on the reformer: long wrists, all the fingers squeezing the bar evenly and thumbs on the same side as the fingers. Make sure the heels of the hands have contact with the bar. Let the squeezing of the fingers help you anchor your shoulders into the sides of your back. Reach the bar down toward the floor as much as you can – and remember it’s not how far you stand away from the bar that matters. Stand as close as you need to get the connection. As you push down on the bar use the feeling of the extended spring and your force pushing down to lift your stomach in and up in opposition. Take that help from the spring while you can get it.

Now for the part that’s like the Snake: as you return the bar stay connected to your back – the arms reach out to return the bar just as they reach when you start to move the carriage in the Snake. Here you can practice keeping the shoulders less active and get the reach and lift from your back. True this is not in extension like the snake, but well, enjoy it while you can.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer6. Spine Corrector: Swimming

Now you’re going to take the connection you found in the previous exercise and add the element of back extension. Use your oppositional reach of arm and leg to create a strong diagonal of strength through the front of the body. Reach your right arm away from your reaching left leg and vice versa. Lengthen your whole body along the back and stomach.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer7. Wunda Chair: Pull Up

Similar to the Elephant on the Reformer, the Pull Up will give you the necessary lift to return the carriage when performing the Snake. You can even use your bottom to push into the pedal as it comes up. In fact I highly recommend it.



10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer8. Wunda Chair: Pull Up with 1 Leg

Here you can make your Pull Up skills more closely resemble those you’ll need for the one-sided Snake. Even with one foot hugging close behind the other one and off the pedal, squeeze the legs together and again find the bottom.


 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer9. Wunda Chair: Side Pull Up

Building on the previous 2 Pull Up exercises you can now get more of the feeling of the Snake with your whole foot (Yay, the heel!) now able to push into the pedal. Try not to let the pedal push you up, control the pedal by pushing into it with the stomach, the bottom, the heel. Keep the free leg in the crossed-in-front-of-the-ankle position, again to approximate the position of the legs in the Snake. Each of these 3 Pull Up exercises illuminates the Snake in a slightly different way, so I like to use them all.

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer10. Mat: Double Leg Pull

What more can I say? We only have one exercise. Can’t be Snake-worthy without a strong center, the two-way stretch out of it and the breath. Arm yourself with the Double Leg Pull as your mantra and move, move, move!

And now…To the Snake I Say!


Now you have practiced your scales and you are prepared and nimble for the Beethoven Sonata that is the Snake on the Reformer. The skills have been built into your body to be at the ready for this tricky maneuver. Now I have to quote Jay Grimes: “Take your time. Enjoy it up there!”

10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake on the Reformer

Stay tuned!

Upcoming Pilates Projects include: Control Push Up Reverse, the Star and the Elephant. Plus accompanying videos via Pilatesology.

Leave a comment below to suggest your favorite fancy exercise to be featured in this series. 

Isn't every day a Pilates day?

5 Transformative Power Poses in your Pilates Workout

It's no secret that Pilates makes us feel good. But it might be doing more than you think. Amy Cuddy offers us “A free no-tech life hack: change your posture for 2 minutes.”

Yes, our mothers were correct.

Standing up straight is good for you. Cuddy proposes that your posture, indeed great for your body, “could significantly change the way your life unfolds.”

The Pilates Workout: your very own ‘no-tech life hack'

By all reports Joe Pilates was an arrogant man. Consequently, the 2-minute power poses advocated by Cuddy proliferate in your Pilates workout. In each and every workout we have a chance to embrace our inner arrogance and strike a pose, a POWER pose that is. And our power poses MOVE! Change your posture, your mind, your LIFE in 1 hour 3x/week.

Back in the day I was a client of Excel Pilates in Washington, DC. They have a fabulous, powerful tagline:

Empower Your Body. Empower Your Mind.

1. The Teaser

Don't act like you're surprised by this one. Why does it feel so great to do the Teaser? Such a mixture of accomplishment and nausea? It's an infusion of power built right into your workout. Exhilarating and little scary all at the same time. SHOW OFF a little as you circle your arms when you do the Teaser on the Long Box.

Look what I can do!

It's even helpful. And it is certainly okay to have a good time while you workout…:)

2. Stomach Massage with Hands Back

How about the lift of the Stomach Massage Series with the hands back? Those hands back there are what Jay Grimes calls ‘attitude' and it's just the sheer will and lift of your chest and your back that holds you up. And your arrogance…don't forget that.

5 Transformative Power Poses in your Pilates Workout3. Swan on the Barrel

Sail right up into

the universal posture of victory

a lifted chest and both arms thrust triumphantly upward.

4. The Side Bend

In the animal kingdom, Cuddy explains, body language is all about power and dominance: “about expanding, stretching out, taking up space, opening up…humans do the same thing.” Joe watched the animals as well and saw the powerful, expanding, take-up-space positions. Just doing the work becomes an exercise in empowerment if you let it.

Kara Wily (of 5 Top Blogs Answer 1 Burning Question fame) always has top-notch material at the ready. I remember a cue in one of her online classes that kept resonating in my mind, my body and my teaching days later.

“Be GREEDY with space.”

5 Transformative Power Poses in your Pilates Workout

When I was training in dance, I loved to travel.  If I could take off in grande jete in the middle of the floor and land in the corner of the room, that was a good jump.  When dancing in a group piece, however, you also have to be aware and sensitive to the other dancers to keep the group in a bird-formation traveling together.  So I developed the idea that I could be greedy with my space as long as I kept it in my space. I think it has everything to do with what we teach in Pilates.  

Most people do not know the extent to which their bodies can fill in the space around them until they are encouraged to go further.

I like to build stability to build more potential for movement. The more aware I am of my center, the more willing I am to reach out from that center and ‘be greedy with space'.”  -Kara Wily

With this one you can almost see the cats stretching while Joe watched. It helps to feel like you are just waking up from your nap as you stretch your side all the way up to the sky. Take up some space and give yourself a nice treat. Much thanks to Robert Wernick for inspiring all of us to embrace our inner-animal.

5. The Star

Need I say more?

Perhaps we've all seen this footage (0:42 seconds in) of Romana Kryzanowska performing the Star. I love to channel my inner-Romana when working on the Star in my own workout. Her virtuosity is at once effortless and delicious. Will we see a better Star?

I don't think so.

“On my first lesson he gave me the exercise called the Star….and you know, many people never learn the Star at all. So I guess I was pretty much a star then! (laughs)

What Pilates exercise makes you feel powerful? Invigorated? Alive! Leave a comment below so we can all try it 🙂

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