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.
I've been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time- years, even. It's about an issue that comes up for me fairly frequently, and it's not external- it's coming from the deepest, darkest part of my soul. It's the feeling that I don't fit the mold. That I don't look how a Pilates teacher is supposed to look. And the nagging, incessant worry that it will affect my business. I rationally understand that this isn't the case at all- the evidence is before my very eyes when I go teach a class, every day. People aren't looking and judging me all the time, they are attending my classes and enjoying them. But emotionally, I hold on to fear and worry about it, far more than I care to admit. But I am beginning to realize that it's time to come out of the closet about my fear and share it with you all.
I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a former client of mine last week at a networking lunch. She has decided to make a life change and become a yoga teacher. I'm really pleased for her and think she's going to be a fantastic teacher, and I want to help her in any way I can. So we chatted about life as an entrepreneur and about our shared connections in Niagara. And then she told me a story that made me shudder inside. A story about how someone reacted when my friend announced her change of career. This person was rude and dismissive about how she didn't look like a yoga teacher. Now, I'm fortunate because I've mostly been having this conversation in my own head and not had anyone say anything about it to my face. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to face this from someone else, and publicly too.
To be completely open here, the reason I don't think I look the part is because I am carrying some extra weight around. I'm not going to make excuses here or rationalize why that's the case. The fact is, the choices I have made in my life have led me to this place in time, and, honestly, most of the time I am pretty happy in my own skin. I have made exercising a regular part of my life and I love how it makes me feel. I feel strong. I feel like I can do so many things with my body, and that's awesome. I have a lot going on in my life and yet I've made exercise a priority. That's something to be proud of. Managing my diet too seems a step too far for me, at least in the present. I am not ruling out a change there at some point, just that I only have so much energy and time to commit, and I'm at my limit now.
But all that aside, I can't help but wonder why I can't get past this idea of "looking the part." Is it simply conditioning by the media? Is it the scared little girl inside that remembers being teased for being chubby? Is it just a general fear that I will be the one responsible for my own perceived failure? Whatever the reason is, I hope by writing this blog I can begin the process of setting it aside and moving on. Life is too short to hold on to fear, especially when that fear is entirely unfounded.
I am a Pilates Teacher.
I am overweight.
I am a good teacher.
I love helping people get stronger.
I can do amazing things with my body.
All of these things are true. That's me, out there for all to see.
Do you ever feel like you don't "fit the mold"? Please feel free to share in the comments or shoot me an email with your story. Let's not let fear hold us back from being our best selves.
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 8
If you have been following this blog then you know a few things about me. I started an exercise program after having a “come to god” moment while hiking in the mountains Mexico with my life-partner. If I were to participate in meaningful ways with her I would have to take better care of myself. I would have to participate in physical activities that, at my age and fitness level would require ongoing care and some lifestyle changes that were hither-to inconceivable.
Life has a way of sneaking up on you and in our daily habits where work and life takes up so much time we can forget to, or miss opportunities to take care of ourselves. Such was the case when, on Friday I lost complete track of time in the afternoon and missed my personal session (one-on-one) with Diane Archer of Compassionate Body Pilates.
Regular readers will also note that I have been less than punctual in practising my at-home, by-myself workout sessions. So it was an extra big bummer when I missed my Friday Session (Sorry, Diane!) Well the weekend was not a complete write-off where my fitness was concerned as my beautiful and uber-fit partner provided a chance for me to partake in “Sky-Fit” at the newly opened Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park on Ontario Street in St. Catharines.
Six months ago this would have been out of the question. I know because when the kids were growing up they played on trampolines. At the time with the kids the aerobic efforts to sustain any bounce on the mats was beyond me. I was a smoker and I was inactive and overweight. While bouncing with the kids would have been a joy, my joints, my belly and my lungs would not have permitted it.
If you are reading for a heart-warming story of redemption and glory, you may be disappointed. Given the fitness of the other participants and my partner I figure I was about 45% effective in my participation during the exercises and routines. After all it had been about 40 years since I was last on a Trampoline for any length of time and 9 weeks of Pilates training, no matter how skilled a teacher Diane is, is no miracle cure.
However, what 9 weeks of Pilates training and 4 months of non-smoking has done for me is to give me back a relationship with my body that I thought was lost to the depths of time. So feeling confident (and wanting to participate with my Partner, who was going to go with or without me) I put my hand up and joined her for a Sky-Fit Session early on Sunday morning.
Our instructor Laurie welcomed us to the session personally warning us not to push too hard, to have fun and to simply pass on exercises that were beyond our skill level.
If you have not been to Sky-Zone you do not know that it has become a favourite with the Birthday crowd and every Saturday Afternoon there is a cacophony of children squealing, music playing and general joyousness. Sunday in the AM was thankfully more subdued, so I was able to focus better on keeping my feet under me.
After the warm ups, we went from one grid of tramps to another where we worked alone and with partners springing and springing for the hour-long class.
Thanks to my Pilates training I felt strong enough to take up the challenge of the aerobic exercises and confident enough that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself. Given the two extra bowling balls I carry around my mid section the “L-Sits” did hurt my back a bit but otherwise I am not stiff or sore at all.
It will take a long time before I become passable on the trampoline for fitness or whatever, but I figure mixing it up a little with the Pilates and Aqua-fit, continuing as a non-smoker and hiking regularly with the girl, I will come to enjoy the free-flying feeling of the jumps and twists at Sky-Zone.
By Dan Willis
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog: Part 7
Getting into Pilates with Compassionate Body Pilates and Diane Archer was a roll of the dice. Without any notion of what was involved or why it was appropriate, I jumped in with both feet.
It was proved pretty early on that I didn’t have to know anything; that Diane was the expert I needed.
To outline, in no uncertain terms, why you should be doing Pilates with Compassionate Body Pilates and Diane Archer:
You will live better, longer.
I know that is a pretty big claim to make, but I have learned that flexibility, balance and muscle strength are key indicators of longevity.
You can read more about a simple test here.
Sometimes simple answers can tell us a lot about complex problems and it makes sense to me that working my body for these three indicators of well-being is a good thing.
The word “morbidity” describes the opposite of flexibility, balance and muscle strength. It describes the production of disease. The more morbid you are in your elder years the crappier your life will be.
“But, Dan”, I hear you say, “Smoking may take 10 years off my life…but it’s the LAST 10 years.”
And of course, if that is actually your attitude, “God Speed to you my friend, God Speed”.
But if that kind of thinking is wrong to you, like it was to me, and you are thinking about flexibility, balance and muscle strength, Compassionate Body Pilates by Diane Archer is a great place to go.
Here I am at Week 7 and am already feeling the benefits.
A peaceful feeling begins to wave over me even before I take my first warm-up breaths. With Diane’s easygoing attitude and constant encouragement present at every session, it is enough to say “Hello” and already I start to stand a little taller.
After all, my Coach is in the room.
I am really starting to relax after the set of roll downs we do, dropping the chin to the chest and leaning forward as we try and feel each vertebrae, reaching for the ground.
Moving on to some balance moves, I am surprised at how I am able to do multiple rotations on one side without falling over and how the other side is not as good. Room for improvement on both sides for sure, but I never new that my balance was different on each side until today.
Then we are going to stretch out some of our bits.
Here the “Rolling Ocean-wave” breaths turn to harder and more forceful inhalations, and, harder and deeper exhalations because with every breath I take, I am compressing part of my core as well as moving into the stretch, compressing it more.
I picture myself as being in a dangerous accident, pinned in a crevasse at the Glen. With no room to spare I am yet able to draw breath, affirming that bar other, life-threatening injuries, I am not giving up the ghost today.
Gently prodded back to reality, I find myself doing some simple squats. I inhale to bend knees and raise arms to shoulder height, and then exhale to rise up to the start position. Bum out, knees behind feet.
This time I am not rolling up a wall, leaning into a ball as I squat. I am progressing in strength and as I do Diane makes my tasks a little harder. Each time I return to an exercise I can mark my progress now by how much harder Diane makes it. This time I am squatting in the middle of the room.
I make it harder for myself sometimes too. When I am balancing my pelvis over the little roly-poly pilates ball (not the actual name), rolled back in a shoulder arch, I lift my hands to make it harder. The arms come up almost by themselves. Diane noticed, and then made me do that on the next three exercises. Breathe.
As I experience progress with my balance, muscle strength and flexibility I notice something else. There is a shrinking possibility of morbidity as I breathe through the class.
I get stronger, my production of disease gets weaker.
By Dan Willis
Director Media and Sales Publicita Online Marketing
Old Man Starts Exercising, Writes Blog, Part 6:
If these are Happy (if not actual) Coincidences can I have More Please?
As a highly-developed, thoroughly-evolved, pattern recognizing organism I often need to remind myself that coincidences are a fabrication of my mind and my perceived notions of the odds by which a coincidence may or may not happen often relates to the significance I apply to said coincidence.
Yet here I am, on a low–impact journey of physical fitness and opportunities for self-improvement are leaping out of the ethers toward me at an alarming rate. Of course, I am taking advantage of them and I hope that by sharing them I will enjoy more opportunities like them.
This blog, which I am writing as a sort of payment for my beginner’s Pilates Program from Compassionate Body and Diane Archer, is a lot of fun to write. Normally in the course of my business as a digital marketing professional, I write blogs over the signature of my clients. That is to say that I write blog for companies from the legal profession to the landscaping trade. All the while speaking with their voice on topics that interest their readers.
With this blog I am able to write in my own voice about things of interest to me and to others also interested in fitness and self-improvement. It is nice to be recognized as the writer and there are other benefits that are coming my way that I never anticipated.
When I wrote a couple weeks back about missing the opportunity to do the at-home session of pilates because I was to tired or too busy or too lazy to do so, that blog was read by a certain Brain Freel, who is a Life Coach, Personal Potential Consultant, Executive & Performance Coach, Conflict Management and Marriage Coach, Philosopher and founder of the Balance for Life program.
Brian saw in my musings that I might be primed for a little encouragement, seeing as I had written about a desire to improve on the one hand and a set-back of non-compliance in practicing my home pilates.
Brian and I set up an appointment and had a great discussion about rehabilitation and becoming unstuck. Just like I was starting to stretch out my core muscles in my pilates program, Brain was encouraging me to continue on the path that always begins with the next step.
A big goal like becoming fit is daunting for certain, but a little goal of taking the next step is not. You may want to eat the whole elephant, but Brian advised me to do so one bite at a time.
Not only that, but Reiki Teacher Roxsane Rysdae also offered, following a consolation I performed for her a complimentary Reiki session this week.
Now Reiki is deep and lifelong path to enlightenment that I was definitely interested in. I must admit, my interest is borne from a cynical position based on nothing more than eschewing things I do not understand and from that position, how could I not tale her up on her kind offer to fluff my aura and play with my charkas?
After the session, Shihan Roxsane told me a few things that were interesting and I must admit, a little mystical.
Spending 45 minutes at my head, Roxsane declared when all was said and done that my head is where I live. Even when asked what I do to ground myself, my answer came from my head and had little to do with the literal sense of grounding, which I now understand is to be present in the physical world.
Roxsane told me of the trickster that I have inside me, one that she was trying to draw out and for anyone who knows me, it must come as no surprise that the trickster figures large in my essence.
Coincidentally (or not), the Sunday Morning CBC Radio Program, Fresh Air was featuring a talk on using the principles of design to help get unstuck from a particular place in your life that is not as exciting as it may have once been.
From that I am drawing inspiration for my next presentation at the BEE network in November and look forward to using examples from my own journey to punctuate it.
And finally, at last months Niagara BEE Business Network meeting I won a fabulous door prize consisting of a month of free, unlimited Yoga at Moksha Hot Yoga on Glendale Ave.
My experience with yoga is about as wide and deep as my experience with pilates was before I stared with Diane, which is to say little to none.
So I have the perfect combination of coincidences to carry me through my next cycle of learning and blogging. I have complimentary session in a healthy pursuit, of which I know nothing about. I have a healthy curiosity of what the future may bring and I have a healthy command of the written word to share my experiences with you as I develop.
Today I hope for two things. I hope you find some inspiration in my journey to embark on your own journey and I hope that more opportunities to grow and to blog about growing come my way.
By Dan Willis
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!
With my son about to turn 2, I've been thinking a lot about the incredible journey my body has been on these last 3 years. I've also been thinking about how absolutely thankful I am that Pilates has been a part of my life through it all.
I got pregnant about 2 months after I started teaching Pilates. I recall a lot of sweaty, green classes where I was afraid to open my mouth :-( And then I was moving studios- ripping up old carpet, putting down laminate flooring on my hands and knees. A few months later I developed knee problems because of the extra weight, and then pelvic pain near the end (pretty normal when a head is jammed in your pelvis!). Even still, I was able to teach classes up until a week before my son was born. Then, I began practicing Pilates again in my hospital bed about 10 days later.*
Pregnancy is hard work in so many ways. Giving birth is like running a marathon. Breastfeeding is killer for the shoulders. Now, carting my toddler around is pretty tough. Isn't it amazing how we can adapt to new situations? I remember how heavy he felt when I had to hold him in my arms and walk around the living room to get him to sleep at 3 months. Now he's over 30 lbs! I can carry him for ages now- and I still don't know how. Mothers are some of the strongest people in the world.
It's incredible how much you can modify Pilates for every situation. Joseph himself taught people who were bedridden- that's how the Cadillac Reformer machine was born. The most basic of all exercises is simply to engage your core muscles. If you can do that, then you can do it for the rest of your life in almost every situation. That's what I did in that hospital bed- squeeze my core. And it felt great to connect to those muscles again.
People see me walking with my son on my back in his carrier and they ask me "Doesn't that hurt your back?" I simply smile a little to myself and say "Nope, not at all!" And then I squeeze my core, make sure my shoulders are back and down, and keep on walking.
*Please make sure you get the assistance of a qualified instructor if you are pregnant and practicing Pilates.
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.