Last night in my advanced class I found myself searching for the words to explain something pretty important while leading an exercise- in this case, the Roll-Up (see video above). I realized after I got home that I was actually going into detail about one of the Six Pilates Principles: Flow. Flow can be defined as: moving smoothly, without tension, stiffness or jerking. When you move with flow it is a GREAT feeling- as though your body is both under your control and also doing it's own thing, strong and supple. It's something dancers seem to do without effort.
So how can YOU learn to move with flow?
If you are injured, in pain, or feeling stiff this may seem virtually impossible. I want to tell you that it is available to everyone with a little practice. The lady in the video above is named Clare- I worked with her when I lived in England and she had a frozen shoulder for over a year while I was teaching her. She was frequently in pain. Does she look like she's in pain in the video? Is she stiff, tense or jerky in her movements? Definitely not! She is moving through the movement with flow. Believe it or not, this is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
Here's my go-to guide for learning to move with flow:
Trust your body, and truly believe that your muscles can do what you are asking them to do.
Relax and let the movement happen.
Repeat: You don't have to force it.
In the modern world, we often treat our bodies as vehicles that need to be forced from one position to another. We push and pull, with extra stiffness and tension developing in unrelated areas as a result. When I used to run (before I did Pilates) I always felt like I was simply dragging my body around. This heavy, uncooperative beast was forced along with me, but there was no joy in it. It felt like punishment. "Come on, stupid body, keep going, let's keep running and burn those calories" would go through my head at regular intervals. My breath was short and choppy, my shoulders hurt, and it was most definitely not a flowing movement. Now when I run, my shoulders are relaxed and my body remains in place over my legs, strong and upright. My breath is deep and smooth. I swing my arms with ease. Learning to move with flow is not only better for your body, it also makes moving more enjoyable. Watch any child run and you can see this physical joy in movement. They don't have to force it. You don't either!
Do you feel like you are dragging your body around with you? Let me help by teaching you to move with flow.
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email.
Happy New Year to you! I wish you and your family a SPECTACULAR 2017!
With the start of a new year there is traditionally a time of reflection, and goal setting. This year I have a lot to be thankful for; I live in a new, beautiful house (that's all my own- wow!), my son is getting older, and my husband has a new job that he loves. My business is taking off and I am meeting and working with such lovely people. It's easy for me to write my goals this year, because life has been good to me, and I'm grateful. If you are writing goals of your own, there's something I want you to consider first and I feel it is very important. It's the kind of language that you use to write them. Let me explain.
I can see it everywhere now. Posts on Facebook, blogs, emails, ads. The fitness industry is leveraging the "New Years Resolution" craze to whip up more customers. The language of the fitness industry is often the language of shaming. Cajoling. Assumptions. Mostly shaming though. Things like "Finally do something this year about that spare tire" or "Get beach body ready!" or other similar sentiments. These kinds of phrases assume that you already don't like yourself, that you are powerless to change on your own, and that you subscribe to socially accepted ideas of beauty and fitness. In my experience, shame is a terrible motivator. It simply doesn't work long term and you are miserable when you fail.
We tend to absorb what we read everyday. That means when people write their resolutions, they often echo these ideas. Here's an example:
So I am proposing a new language of goal setting this year. No shaming language allowed! Instead use the positive language of compassion, of understanding. How about, instead of the above, we have ones like this:
Those ones don't involve shame as a motivator. And I truly believe that you will achieve a healthier, longer term result with this kind of mindset. This is my greatest wish for you in 2017, to ditch the shaming language and learn to use positive language for your resolutions.
If you are looking to try a fitness class this January, I would love to meet you and teach you all about Pilates. I hope you will discover that Pilates is the exercise system for you and that you want to keep practicing. But if it isn't, then fair enough! At least you came out and gave it a shot.
Classes start January 9th and run for 6 weeks. I hope to be meeting you then!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please feel free to reply with any comments. I'd also love to hear your positive goals for 2017! I'll be sharing this idea on fb today so you can also pop on there to join in the conversation.
p.s. My resolutions are below... did I mention cookies before? LOL
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog: Part 10
It's Just Gravity and Me
In my youth (not the misspent one, the other, more youthful youth) I anticipated the start of soccer season year after year.
The getting fit first, then testing oneself against another. Then performing as a team. By the time we were in week seven I had kicked enough grass around, I was ready for the season.
I didn’t like the first 5 or 6 weeks out on the pitch, but once I got good, I played with enthusiasm and never made any excuse for loving the taste of victory.
Likewise, the theatre is a place where one gets fit for a role, practice with others and when one gets good, they slay the audience.
I thrill to taking a curtain call.
It has been 20 years since I hung up my cleats, six years since I played my last game and four years since my last curtain call.
After my seventh class with Diane (Compassionate Body Pilates) I felt I was starting to strengthen and balance, then I went and injured myself.
Now its week nine and I am on the upswing. I got my posture back; and I got my gait back; and I got my height back too.
Knowing the body’s position in space is an important skill for the theatre actor and since it is a non-contact sport, the soccer player as well. The Pilates sessions I am getting are fantastic in helping me control my movements. I am not surprised how much I am improving (I am), I am surprised about HOW MUCH I MISSED MOVING PROPERLY.
I missed my posture, I missed having a gait, I missed standing tall.
What I don’t miss now is my body slipping into a slippery slope of decay. I don’t miss the defeatist attitude I was carrying around and I don’t miss fearing the stairs.
Now it’s just gravity and me. It’s a solo performance not a ensemble piece. There is no opponent but the craftiest one of them all, me.
I have to remember that: “How much I missed having a gait.”
By Dan Willis
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog, Part 4:
The most important fitness class to go to is the one you don’t want to go to.
Looking at my reflection in the working mirrors during the Compassionate Body’s Pilates Class is not such a great idea. There I am reminded of my faded youth and vigor. The unblinking view of my middle-aged form is mildly depressing.
Stepping out of the house on Tuesday, I quipped that I really didn’t feel like going to this week’s Pilates class and my partner, ever the cheerleader for health and fitness returned with, “the most important fitness class to go to is the one you don’t want to go to.”
I lugged myself from the house to the car to the class with a fresher outlook than I had been feeling. By the time I got to the studio for my weekly in-class session, I was ready to participate.
Though the first chin-drop, roll down exercise is a simple one I notice that the simple act of regulating my breathing and being aware of my body puts me in a contemplative head-space. It is going to get tougher during the class but right now I feel relaxed. I am sure my blood pressure, which is high normally, is getting lower.
I can tell that I am improving as I work with Diane and the others in the class. Balance and strength, range of movement and outlook all improve with each session I undertake.
In the everyday, I sense more flexibility. Bending to work on my partner’s bicycle wasn’t such a chore and this morning I noticed in the middle of putting my socks on that I wasn’t using the dresser for balance.
The thrice-weekly regimen that includes a class, a one-on-one session and a solitary session seems about right. It doesn’t take up too much time and I don’t feel like I am always in the gym.
This week, I made time for the at home, solitary session. My partner, whom I affectionately call “She-Ra” , asked to join in and I was happy to oblige.
Something happens when one turns from a student to a teacher. Explaining, as I did, the positions, the breathing, the movements and objectives focused me on what I was doing. It was definitely more enjoyable with her there.
Thankfully, I won’t have any difficulty getting her to work with me in future and the solitary session will no longer be the session I don’t want to do.
By Dan Willis
I've been doing some promotion at the Markham Farmers Market over the last 6 weeks and I have started to notice a worrying trend. There are different reasons why people might not want to come out for a free class, but one I have heard a number of times is:
"I can't exercise anymore because I hurt myself at bootcamp."
Now before everyone gets up in arms I want to be clear: I'm sure there are lots of great bootcamps and bootcamp instructors. And bootcamps can be great for lots of relatively healthy and injury-free people. What I want to talk about here is the fact that exercise should not cripple you. Period.
In each instance of hearing this, I was so desperate to say "Pilates can help you recover!" that I was in some cases chasing people around the market like a crazy person. It is so disturbing to me that a poor experience with another VERY different exercise regime has made someone believe that they can no longer exercise. How horrible is that?!?
There is something wrong with the way a lot of people view exercise, and it is made worse by bootcamp-style classes. It's the belief that you should be forcing your body to keep going through horrible pain in order to get results. That is total bullshit. THAT IS HOW YOU END UP CRIPPLED AND UNABLE TO EXERCISE! It is not how you learn to use your body effectively, or how you develop a long-term healthy exercise habit that will be with you for the rest of your life.
Now I also want to be clear about what I mean by pain. In my classes I use a scale of 1-10 to help people assess what they are feeling. If 1 is at rest and 10 is pain, there is a large range of discomfort and borderline pain in there. In order to strengthen and stretch your body progressively you need to feel that it is working- I usually suggest that a 7 or 8 is good- mild discomfort means you are working hard but not injuring yourself. Please think about this when you exercise- it can help you know when it's a good idea to stop. Or simply try a new position. Or adjust your alignment. It's the basis of developing good body awareness which can help you all the time- not just at exercise classes.
Pilates can be adjusted for every injury and every condition out there. If you are recovering from an injury please consider coming along to a class or a 1:1 with me. Pilates can help you get back into exercising safely. It can also protect you from re-injuring yourself in the future.
Have you ever been to a bootcamp? What was your experience there? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Using a stability ball every day can offer great postural and stabilizing benefits. It's also brilliant if you have back problems, or if you are pregnant.
If you have one gathering dust at home why not dig it out and try the following exercises in front of the TV every night:
1. Sit and bounce.
First, get in a good position on the ball. Sit about 1/3 from the front of the ball, with your feet in front of your knees. If your ball isn’t quite the right size adjust yourself forwards or back on the ball, making sure your knees are slightly lower or in line with your hips. Place your feet hips width apart. Squeeze your core muscles and bounce away gently for as long as you like.
2. Balance challenge.
This is good fun- try to lift one foot off the floor without losing your balance! Then squeeze your core and use your breath to help you stabilize. If it’s too much just lift your heel off and keep your toes on the ground. Switch sides to see which one is stronger!
3. Back stretch.
Carefully walk your feet forwards until your back, neck and shoulders rest on the ball. Reach your arms towards to floor over your head. Bend your knees gently to roll around. This should feel good- if it doesn’t stop right away.
If you try this at home please let me know how you like it in the comments!
There's a lot of assumptions out there about the kind of people who do Pilates. People assume that I only teach women... It's strange, as the creator of Pilates was a man himself. Professional male sports teams often have Pilates as part of their training regimen, as it complements any athletic pursuit. Being strong in your core muscles means you are less likely to get injured- a definite win for any professional team.
People are generally surprised when I say that I had about 30% male clients in the UK. I even taught men only classes. Some of my most loyal and dedicated clients were men. There was a simple reason for this: if they didn't come to class every week, their back pain returned. By far the majority of the men I saw had led incredibly active lives. They were strong everywhere except their core. Usually, they were lacking in flexibility. These characteristics can often be a result of too much time working out without stretching. We worked a lot on flexibility and core strength- and they were always telling me they couldn't believe how hard these small movements were!
I really enjoyed teaching men only classes- It was always a fun and engaged group. I also enjoyed the challenge of modifying exercises for tight hamstrings or coming up with creative imagery tailored to men. I particularly recall one exercise I was teaching for the first time, and one of the men cheerily decided to call it the "Nut Crusher!" I've never laughed so much while teaching a class... good fun.
Any men out there reading this who want to sign up for a class? I'd love to start one up again! If you are really lucky, I'll teach you the "Nut Crusher" ;-)
I just bought myself a new foam roller last week as I had to leave my old one behind in the UK. It’s so exciting to get back on it! I just wanted to share some of my favourite tips for doing supine work (lying on your back, as above) on a foam roller. You can do loads of exercises in this position- curling, lifting one leg at a time, lifting your arms off the floor while one leg is in the air, the sky is the limit! But before you jump in there check out these tips first:
1. Alignment, alignment, alignment!
Before attempting to do any supine stability work on the roller check to make sure you are properly aligned. This can be hard without a teacher but the roller actually makes it a lot easier- if you feel really off balance you are probably misaligned. Check your feet are lined up against the end of your mat, and shift around until your spine is completely straight on the roller.
Visualize your core muscles squeezing you down onto the roller. This includes the front and sides of your torso. Make sure you keep shoulders and neck relaxed, don’t tense everything when you squeeze, just your core muscles.
When moving your legs, make sure you stay long and lengthened. It’s tempting to try to curl into your centre when doing crazy unstable things, but practice holding your body long and confidently. You will actually have more success with stabilizing if the muscles can contract properly out there!
Have you used a foam roller for stability work? Let me know what you like about it!
It’s probably obvious but I love Pilates as an exercise system for everybody- whatever their current fitness level, age or experience (See Joseph above at different ages!). However, I have noticed since arriving in the GTA that most people I speak to are under the impression that Pilates is only for fitness gurus... you know, those who go to the gym all the time, run marathons, or want to add an extra bit of core strength to their existing fitness regime. Obviously Pilates can offer great benefits to those people. However, I have seen first hand how much Pilates can benefit those other regular types who may be recovering from back injuries, or who have chronic conditions such as arthritis (see my testimonials for some of these stories). It was pretty commonly accepted that Pilates could help people with these issues when I taught in the UK- even GP’s were recommending my classes.
Is Pilates as rehabilitation something you have heard of? If so, please let me know how you heard of it and if you have felt the effects firsthand!
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.