Pi is on your side

pi is on your side imageAs the owner of a business and teacher of Pilates I have many hats.

I have a deep affection for all that come through the door at Pi.  They come to learn Pilates and for some that is in itself a brave act.  Taking responsibility for your body is a major challenge for most.  Realising there is no short-term fix for what ails.  Be it a painful lower back, a sore neck or an annoyance with oneself when you look in the mirror.  As a teacher of Pilates, we are moving bodies always to a back-drop of a persons character.  We have to adapt to respond whilst we teach so each client gets what they need.

As a business owner too I have a deep affection and respect for my fellow teaches.  Hand on heart I love each one and their differences.  They drive me nuts and they make me laugh.  I love the differences, the highs and lows, when one is shaky the other is steady, it is never the same, there can be still points and fireworks all in a day.

Pi is a melting pot of characters of ups and downs all with the will to learn a discipline that will carry us through our lives. 

Pi is always on your side…

Pilates saved me!

image2[16]image1[14]For those that have been in the studio may have seen me a little more bug eyed than usual. Stress. It has occurred many times in my life. This time around it is totally acceptable stress – I have to relocate my beloved Pi.

I was chatting to a friend over lunch and we spoke about the different ways we have managed our stress in our lives. I have worked with several. Therapy, meditation, TV and the sofa. I ended up by saying that Meditation after rounds of therapy seriously helped. Later on it occurred to me that the above was not quite true that I was missing the elephant in the room that it has been my full immersion into Pilates that has saved me.

It has kept my mind and body focused. The further I travel with ‘it’ the more powerful ‘it’ becomes. It is now a part of my DNA, and so part of me that I missed it in my chat. As stress approaches I recognise that I need to be stronger, so I turn to my workout. Not in a hard punishing kind of way. I check that my shoulders are not collapsing forward to protect my anxious heart. That my neck is not tensing forward in fright, that my feet are strong and connected to the floor. In other words I train my body to face my fear. I am able to stand up tall and approach life with a clear focus. It does not eliminate the fears, but it allows me to be with them. The Baby Chair is a great place to work my shoulders, sit tall and fix my neck. It gives the support I need with just enough resistance to keep me in check. Interestingly too I rediscovered the Toe Corrector. Training the whole connection of my foot all the way into my spine.

These two simple pieces of apparatus especially designed by Joseph Pilates have allowed me simply and with support to remind my mind and body where they need to be in order to stay grounded and stand tall in the face of difficulty.

Breath or Cue?

breathman3muscular pic blog

Breath or Cue? Which is really more important in Pilates practice?

Why even ask this question? It’s so obvious. It’s breath of course. But which to teach/practice first? That is the real question and it deserves a much more complex answer.

First let’s be clear what we mean by ‘Cue’ and ‘Breath’.

A Cue ‘something said or done to excite an action’. In Pilates a cue is a signal given by a teacher or from within our own selves which motivates a correct muscular action. Abs, glutes, inner thighs. Romana Kyrzanowska referred to these actions as Power House Actions.

Breath is the air that is taken in and expelled during breathing. To breathe is the action of drawing in and expelling air out of the lungs. The breath or the action of breathing is the life force, the vital animation. That answers our question for sure. Without the life force there is nothing.

My personal experience.

In my twenties and even my thirties I am not sure I even understood what someone meant by ‘the importance of breath’. I thought that all the answers would come my way if I worked hard and practised. A lot. For a long time I pulled my abs in, worked my glutes and fought with my eternally tight upper back and chin poke. In other words I worked the ‘Cues’ to death. I got really strong for sure, and for the most part I inhaled and exhaled in the right places as I was taught, using my breath to motivate a deeper action.

However this new strength did not eliminate the mysterious creep of my Levator Scapulae (an easily aggravated muscle involved in shoulder girdle placement/stability) which I finally recognised was directly related to the weight of responsibility I felt towards students, clients, the studio and my peers – ahhhh was I good enough? – in other words stress! It seems that no matter how much I worked the cues and gained strength it did not affect my muscular reaction to stress. Often I had a headache or my jaw clenched. I had pain in my neck and shoulders.

At some point I must have given in and decided to forget the ‘big’ work-out and instead just lie on my sitting room floor and breathe. I began to investigate the one piece of the Pilates jigsaw I had ignored. Here, finally, my mind quietly moved around my body, gently getting in touch with what actually needed to be addressed. I breathed through my body as a whole. I was no longer slipping in the odd appropriate inhale and exhale. I was letting my whole body breathe.

My workouts became less about gymnastics, more about massage. How relevant now the Stomach Massage. I had found the ‘internal shower’ that Joe described his workout to be. It was the breath that allowed me to access the finer more satisfying points of The Method. It only took twelve years of daily practice to figure it out!

Am I slow? Maybe. Did I need to do all the other stuff first? Maybe. I was not strong mentally or physically when I started Pilates (I thought I was). So what needed to come first for me in my Pilates practice were muscular actions – the cues – without which I lacked the internal strength to hold myself up. Without which I couldn’t soften enough to allow breath to fully come to the surface. Now breath is my true guide and my body and mind are the strongest they have ever been. With that comes a way to manage stress.

I recognise now my younger self was not ready to work with the breath in the way I can today. So to my younger self I say ‘thank you’ for the resolute practice needed to make me strong. To my stronger more mature self, I say ‘thank you’ for finally having the wisdom to listen. Looking back I see my breath was always there like my shadow, just below my radar, out of sight but not unknown. It took time to really surface. It’s hard not to sound clichéd around the Breath. To finally ride the wave and all that!

So, in conclusion, I can tell you that no matter how strong you become muscularly, that alone will not take you to the Mastery of the Art of Contrology. To get there you need to know how to BREATHE.

Future-proof your body: choose a discipline over a workout

           JP2

Though it is almost impossible to eradicate stress from our lives, the right type of exercise and nutrition go a long way to calming its effects and “future-proofing” your body.

There’s no doubt that chronic stress is a disease that wrecks both health and looks. Yes, your looks too! A constant raised level of ‘get up and go’ hormones such as cortisol corrode health and systematically damage the body’s interior and the skin.

In this day and age it is even more important we pick the right workout for our body and our mind. If you feel punished in a workout, moving your limbs mindlessly through space, I am boldly going to suggest you rethink your approach.

Why is Pilates so successful as a catalyst for change? Simply because it is not a ‘workout’ but a ‘discipline’.

But a discipline takes years to master while a workout is done and dusted in one hit, you say. Sure you may feel great for ten or twenty minutes after a workout, but the truth is you are soon back to square one again. Next day you jump into another class and repeat the process, never attending to the deeper needs that must be addressed to implement real change

Pilates, the discipline, trains the mind and the body to reconnect. It works from the inside out. This can be a hard sell as we are up against a world which says ‘we want change and now!’

At Pi we use mirrors to watch the exterior body and see how it reacts to internal work. We teach clients to first recognise the connections that prompt positive change, then how to maintain them for themselves.

It is this connection of mind and body that generates the long-term change. Workouts (and Pilates when taught poorly) become a mindless series of exercises to be raced through. This will work up to a point, but eventually these cortisone-driven workouts start failing to deliver. The body needs the mind and the mind the body for continued, profound and long-term change

When clients arrive at this understanding then they have matured. They finally realise change comes from their own concentration and that the exercises and the springs are there to give them time to connect, to find the missing links and to put them back together. It is an awesome place to be: to be able to manage your own body and the way you want it to work.

When the mind and body talk to each other all possibilities are open. You can truly begin to eliminate chronic pain. You can address long term postural issues By finally settling into a Pilates habit, you can now really feel a sense of self as a moving capable happy human.

Wow! Even I am now excited to get to my Pilates workout!

 

NOT MY WORDS!

I MUST write my blog, usually easy, stimulated by some fun, silly, interesting going on in the Studio. This month no profound little Pilates snip jumps to mind…at all. Blog juices stifled by the slog of Christmas, a hacking January cough and mostly the world tipping events endured by all of France.

My mind today is that of a dullard, numb, I can find no words to write with so instead I rely on words from another. In a few lines of his stanza he outweighs any piffling words I might ever have to express my experience and thoughts around today and the future.

 

……..that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennyson.

 

You might like to know these lines were reproduced on the walls of the Olympic Village in the London Games 2012. They are from the conclusion of Tennyson’s Ulysses and speak of the nobility of striving, to do ones best, even in the shadow of death.   Taking these words they unify us all to rise above our fears. On the grand scale over 3 million French walked together, on the small to do ones best as we try a Single Leg Squat for the first time….there Pilates found its way in via Tennyson via Paris and via the will to overcome and strive to do our best. Thank you Sheri for the push to write today.