Pilates’ Favorite Muscles: Psoas + Serratus

Psoas + Pilates + Back Pain:

Pso-what? The core Psoas (pronounced so-as) plays an instrumental role in alleviating back pain through correct alignment in Pilates exercises. Continue reading


Combat Crohn’s Disease by Toning Your Inner Core

A regular Pilates practice can alleviate inflammatory bowel disease through muscle control.

We mistakenly believe that our emotions and feelings are harbored deep within our hearts, when actually, its our gut within our core, or stomach, that alerts us whenever we feel queasy, sad, nervous, confident or scared. Our intuition is pocketed between our stomach, intestines, transverse colon, and so on. We overlook how interconnected our mind and soul is to the stomach and the guts. Continue reading

Power Plate: Proven Pilates Potential?

power-plate“It’s a power plate,” the instructor informed us. A round, mid-sized machine that eerily resembled a large hot plate. I was not convinced that this thing was a massaging apparatus.

“Ok everyone, flip the switch on in the back. Now pick up your remote control and select the play button.” The black oval began to vibrate. “Now select the timer button. Switch it to 60 seconds and then back to 30 seconds.” Great, I’m thinking. Am I going to hold a side plank as this thing reverberates for 60 seconds? Well, sort of…

The first exercise consisted of side lunges, where we strategically placed our left shin parallel to the edge of the round machine. An earthquake was erupting within. My head and lips were pulsating. Wendy’s voice was barely audible. “Are you OK, Megan?” She bellowed in broken syntax. “Oh, yes,” I lied. (My entire brain is pulsating while balancing in a lunge position. What do you think?)

legs-bosuWendy transitioned us through a series of awkward trembling sequences. My favorite exercise was holding plank in a push up, similar to being in chaturanga yoga pose. My triceps and skin were quivering and the ripple effect traveled down to my pulsating calves. The challenge? Maintaining proper form as vibrations transmitted tiny waves of energy  throughout my body, activating muscle contractions. It was also a balancing and juggling feat. Ever do squats on a BOSU ball? It’s like that.

As we transitioned into triceps dips, panic erupted. “Am I moving or is the plate moving away from me? It feels like it’s moving!” Gripping onto the edge for dear life, triceps-dipsmy sweaty palms were failing me, except I wasn’t moving. My inner ears were tricking my brain into thinking my body was shifting in motion. Ever run like hell on a treadmill and jump off too quickly and still feel like you’re in floating motion? It’s like that.

The aftermath? I was sorely disappointed that evening. And not in a muscle aching oh that actually feels good way. Was my chair on wheels during class that evening, or was my head just spinning out of control? Would I collapse into the lap of the girl next me? My spatial awareness had abandoned me. Ever go to the county fair and ride a rollercoaster that goes around and around and around  and experience the after effect of vertigo and motion sickness? It’s like that.

What the heck is the purpose of a power plate?

It’s based on technology developed for the Russian space program. Really. It’s used all over the world within the medical, rehabilitation, and health and fitness industries. From osteoporosis and hormone imbalance to accelerated fat loss and increased metabolism, the power plate can benefit people suffering from a spectrum of health concerns.

Do I think it belongs in an authentic Pilates studio? Absolutely not. When I cough up serious dough for a reformer class, I want to engage the mind-body connection while increasing my strength and flexibility, of course. This concept is completely lost in the power plate.

Let’s get one thing straight. I am no astronaut or fool to marketing gimmicks. Respect Pilates. Period.

Isn’t Pilates just for hot women?

man-doing-pilatesMen I work with, men I date, and men I chitchat with in the Starbucks line are always intrigued with the concept of doing Pilates. Pilates is as mysterious to them as say, the way women think. It’s also as impressive to them as say, being a contortionist. With eyes alit, they enthusiastically inquire, “So you can put your legs behind your head?” Well, not exactly. But we women know what men are actually thinking behind that kind of question, and it’s got nothing to do with manipulating our limbs into a pretzel.

As I dig into the topic of Pilates and help men reach an understanding of the overall health benefits of Pilates practice and deciphering between Pilates and yoga, the practice seems more attainable and alluring to them. “Wow! Pilates can improve my golf swing?” I’m in. “Pilates can strengthen my core?” Where do I sign up? “Pilates can alleviate my back pain from weight lifting and lengthen my inflexible muscles?” Win-win.

Now if you are the Tin Man and can barely touch your knees, have no fear. Pilates will serve as the catalyst in producing synovial fluid to your joints so you too can achieve a comfortable roll down.

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, (yes, a man), also a former gymnast, bodybuilder, and professional boxer in 1926. The exercise emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness of your body to support graceful, fluid movements that will engage your mind and body in the most efficient way. You will become stronger, longer, and leaner and basically a well-oiled machine.

Core Strength & Transverse Abdominis – the Spanx of abdominal muscles!

At the foundation of the Pilates Method is core strength. Pilates will engage your pilates-mentransverse abdominis, the deepest, innermost layer of all your muscles located underneath your rectus abdominis, also known as your six-pack abs. The TVA acts as a muscular girdle and stabilizes your pelvis, and keeping your cervical spine in a neutral position during core training. A strong TVA will transfer force from the muscles, engaging your core, instead of relying on back and joints, which reduces injury and inflammation.

Here’s the bad news. You can do as many sit-ups as your heart desires and develop a noticeable six-pack, assuming you have a low body fat index, but being a superficial muscle, it will expand outwards, creating a belly pooch or bloated look. Think the beer belly. (Yikes.) However, the transverse develops inward, hence acting as a tightening belt or girdle. As you develop your core strength, you’ll develop a strong back and alleviated lower back pain.

At its Core, Pilates is an Integrative Approach (Really!)

The six Pilates principles:

  • Centering – Bringing the focus to your powerhouse, or center of your body, between the lower ribs and pubic bone, aka pubic symphysis
  • Concentration – Focus + full commitment to each exercise and you’ll reap the full value of the movement
  • Control – Conscious + deliberate movements, engaging your mind with the physical motion
  • Flow – Fluidity + grace + ease acquired through practice and keeping it in your body
  • Breath – Exhale during spinal flexion (when you round forward), inhale during spinal extension. In general, you shouldn’t become obsessed with the breath pattern as that will distract you from the exercise
  • Precision – Being aware of placement and alignment, which comes with practice

pilates-effective-good-for-back-painCore strength and the six principles above sets the exercises apart from majority of all other types of fitness. Not only is it rehabilitative and strength building, but its also holistic in nature, meaning it engages every body part whether on the mat or the reformer machines, and develops a mind-body connection to achieve maximum value from each movement.

Fundamental Pilates moves on the mat at Pilates Anytime






Bikram Yoga: Lock your Knees

As a Pilates teacher in training, I’m always finding exercises to complement my practice. After attempting yoga two years ago, I thought I’d give it a second chance since, after practicing Pilates for several years now, my flexibility and balance had improved immensely. I first noticed a cute hot yoga studio on the corner of Henry street in Alexandria, called Zweet, and on a whim, decided to sign up. I fell in love with the hot yoga practice, following the traditional bikram 26 series as well as offering the traditional power yoga. bikram, a more intense static yoga style, where students hold the postures in 105-110 degrees has elements of balance similar  to Pilates. There have been some elements of bikram teachings that raise concern for me, contradictive of my Pilates training. The first being the Pranayama, or standing deep breathing pose. During this pose, you breath in and exhale very slowly, tilting your head back, way back. Ouch! Is this tilting of the cervical spinal cord rehabilitative in nature or a few practices away from booking an appointment with the Chiropractor?

This past week, I’ve begun practice at a traditional bikram studio, which I’m discovering is more classical and less contemporary than Zweet fitness. I hear a lot of the same cueing and verbiage repeated among different instructors but what I’ve found most disturbing is a particular instructor’s continual praise for knee popping during Utkatasana, when students stand on the balls of their feet and sit back into a chair pose. Ironically called “awkward” pose, this move certainly becomes awkward to hear when adults across the room, ranging from 30-65 years of age, crouch down tiger style in determination, “oh knees, you won’t blow out on me,” as the harmonious clicking sound fills the void of silence in the hot, stinky dungeon. “I like that beautiful sound,” the lithe instructor chirps like one of Michelangelo’s angels.

What is the deal with “lock the knees?” What your instructor wants you to do is lock the knees straight to avoid hyperextension. Again, as a Pilates practicioner, I’ve been instructed time over time again to keep a slight bend in your standing knee, to avoid locking out your joints. Not in bikram. In standing head to knee (see image above), you are instructed to keep your standing knee locked solid, like a lamppost, and if it’s not kept locked you have to start the posture again. Yes, all over again. While I haven’t experienced any pain yet, actually only increased flexibility, I will continue to practice hot yoga as a supplement to my Pilates practice. To all those who practice bikram daily, you too may want to consider incorporating other types of exercise into your regime. Relying solely on a specific type of exercise, whether running, barre, weightlifting, or yoga, you’ll likely break down your body by overusing the same muscles over time. The key to balance and well-roundedness to fitness and anything in life is variety,  variety, variety! Namaste.