Tag Archives: movement

Pilates Principle: Concentration

At our studio we apply the principle of concentration as an awareness around what is, what can be and how you plan to move towards it. We do our best when teaching movement through Pilates to speak to what you are doing well, when you’re doing something well and how to do more of that instead of drawing your attention on what NOT to do.

This allows the principle of concentration to orchestrate beautiful strong movement patterns in many planes of space, creating a natural ability to access these patterns in real life.

The full article the next portion of this blog quotes is found at www.selfgrowth.com written by M. Tamsin Thoren.

“Rael Isacowitz, founder of Body Arts and Sciences International (BASI) divides this principle into two parts, awareness and concentration. He regards “awareness as a state of mind — of being mindful and feeling the movement” and concentration as “a more cognitive process of understanding the movement.” (Isacowitz, 9)

Awareness is the initial realization of the body, where it lies in space, how it moves, and any tightness, misalignment, weakness, habitual movement patterns or other imbalances that we may have developed throughout our lives. That initial awareness is critical to achieve a baseline from which to progress. Our muscles and joints contain proprioceptors that tell our brain where we are in space and how far a joint can move before injury. Over time, we train our proprioceptors to feel that misalignments and limited range of motion are correct and representative of our body’s full potential. In order to change those patterns, we must first become aware.

Concentration is viewed as the “bridge between awareness and movement” (Isacowitz, 9) Once you have established your baseline, it is essential to bring that same awareness into every movement. Checking in with your body periodically can help to develop your concentration. If you find yourself thinking about something other than your workout, scan your body, especially those places you are working to retrain, and notice if they are engaged, relaxed, stabilized, or moving as they should be in the exercise. By bringing your awareness and concentration to a particular muscle you facilitate the firing of that muscle. Where patterns exist, it can be difficult to work the correct muscle(s) even with intense concentration, but nearly impossible without that attention. If you don’t know what you should be focusing on in a particular exercise, ask your instructor.

Remember to keep it light, you can over-think things. If you become tense or frustrated, let it go.”

Pilates Principle: Control

As instructors, we guide you through movements, we are doing more then simply counting, some may even suggest we cannot count …

Here’s what we do instead: we are always observing what your body needs. 

We use other movements and equipment to introduce, correct, challenge or reinforce the specific movement patterns your body needs to create balance of strength, stretch and control.

Pilates Principle: Control

Every Pilates exercise is done with complete muscular control. No body part is left to its own devices. It is all a conscious, deliberate movement that the mind is controlling. Control is performing a movement with fluidity, which can teach you how to move more gracefully and efficiently.

Here are a few ways for you to utilize this principle in your Pilates Practice:

  1. Determine the objective of the exercise
    • practicing on your own? decide on what your intention is for moving through the exercise BEFORE you start, stay with that idea for the duration of the movement
    • practicing in a class? if it’s not been made clear, always feel welcome to clarify with your instructor where your mind is best served to attain control within the movement
    • practicing in a private or semi-private?  like in class if unsure ask ~ OR ~ if you have a specific focus or item of control let your instructor know, together amazing movements will take on new shape and purpose
  2. Quality not quantity
    • the concept of quality not quantity within the Pilates Principle of Control is that you need to wrap up the movement BEFORE your mind wanders. If you are going through the motions to check the movement off a list ~ OR ~ if  you become aware of your mind wandering simply bring it back to your original objective
  3. Focus on what you DO want
    • attempting to use the Principle of Control around what you do NOT want creates tension, restriction and movement that is a little staccato 
    • determine what you DO want use this positive mind centered action as your control

In summary, the Pilates Principle of Control is a conscious choice to practice, steady and hold the mind around a positive objective. Motion Meditation.

Pilates Principle: Centering

There are a few layers within this concept.

Traditionally, this concept of centering relates to the core and the muscles of the core, in Pilates this is referred to as the powerhouse, physically bringing the exercise focus to the center of the body. Centering can also refer  a feeling of balance within or the eternal spring of energy from which all movement emanates.

Energetically, Pilates exercises are sourced from the center.

Centering as a kinesthetic concept takes into consideration the fact that each person is built differently and has an individual center of gravity.

Taking away all other variables (lifestyle, injuries, goals, etc.) your build alone will distinctly affect how the exercise feels and how difficult or easy it is to execute. Sometimes receiving the label ‘lacking strength’ when unable to execute a movement is incorrect. The lack of success may have more to do with your distribution of body weight and build not so much your ability.

So, when unable to execute a movement right away, hold your judgements off.

Instead, stay curious and source which part of and how you could apply the principle of centering it a progress or helpful way. And as always ask for guidance from your instructor, remember Pilates is a practice.

A Note from Deanna

Dear Steph and the KW Art of Fitness family,

Today, I press stop on the playlist, hang up my spin shoes, and walk away from a rewarding ten years of teaching spin at KW Art of Fitness. While my certification tells me that I can teach until 2112(!) , my 6 am Tuesday mornings at this amazing studio will no longer be part of the weekly routine.

Deanna

Thanks for the decade of laughter, storytelling, and great cardio. I am grateful that I will continue to be in this space as a participant in Pilates and be able to interact with all of the amazing people that call KW Art of Fitness their fitness home.

Thanks to Steph, who welcomed me as a part-time instructor, and to my partner Tim, who created over 120 themed spin playlists that kept us all moving on the bikes. 

So, as I always say, “Turn it down, sit down, and grab some water.”

Understanding Spring Tension

The type of spring that is used on Pilates equipment is called a “tension/extension spring”. When this type of spring is stretched from its resting position, it exerts an opposing force proportional to its change in length. In other words, the more you stretch a spring, the more opposing force it provides.

Pilates Style Article by Rael Isacowitz

www.pilatesstyle.com

“In Pilates, sometimes less springs will translate to more load on the muscles and vice versa. For example, when doing the Side Split on the Reformer, one light spring means to a lot of load on the hip adductors (assuming the exercise is executed with the utmost precision and quality). If extra load is added, not only will the load on the hip adductors decrease, at some point, more work will transfer to the hip abductors.” Rael Isacowitz

Click the photo to read the full article by Rael Isacowitz, MA.

Rael has been practicing Pilates for more than 30 years and is recognized internationally as an expert in the field. In 1989, Rael founded BASI Pilates®, a comprehensive Pilates education organization represented throughout the world.

Merrithew Article by Sarah Baker

www.merrithew.com

“Spring tension will also allow for there to be tension through the full joint range, and on both the concentric and eccentric phases of the movement. In addition, unlike traditional weight training, some exercises can actually be made more challenging by decreasing the spring tension on the Reformer, rather than continually increasing it.” Sarah Baker

Click the photo to read the full article by Sara Baker, PT, MS, OCS

Sarah is president of Inspire Health, Atlanta, Ga, an organization providing physical therapy, Pilates, and wellness services with two locations in the Atlanta area. Baker received a bachelor of science in cellular biology from the University of Georgia, and a master of science in physical therapy from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She specializes in spinal conditions and neuromuscular re-education. Inspire Health is a Merrithew Licensed Training Center and Baker is a STOTT PILATES Rehab Instructor Trainer.

Food for Thought

Tom Myers on exercise & Movement:

“If you can do it slowly, you can do it quickly; but just because you can do it quickly doesn’t mean you can do it slowly.”

Stay Curious. 

Slow

Client Spotlight: Gloria Eby

Gloria comes into the Studio three times a week for reformer classes and a private session. We love her contagious spirit and curiosity of movement (and breathing!). She always puts her best foot forward, and inspires us to find ways to challenge her in movement. 

Gloria

Though I grew up very active (farm girl) I was never involved in sports (farm girl) and as an adult always felt too busy to exercise (full time work, children, volunteer work). And then in the last decade, there were four seniors who required untold hours of support. All I wanted to do when I had a moment was sit on the couch and watch TV or read.  In my early 40’s I joined a woman’s gym.   Who was I kidding.  I rarely got there and when I did I felt completely discouraged.   My peers there were 20 somethings and I had no idea what to do.   In my late 40s I took up Kung Fu.   I loved the fierceness and the discipline and I learned a lot but it was too much too late and unsustainable. I tried hiring a personal trainer to come to my home and design a weight training program for me to do myself.   You know how that went.

But in January 2017 I sent a letter to my family anticipating the year and in that moment I decided I needed to do something.   Spending so much time with seniors struggling with Parkinsons, Alzheimers and bad falls made me think hard about what I was doing to prepare myself for the years ahead.   And I wanted to be able to get off the floor fast enough to keep a lively granddaughter safe!

My husband discovered Art of Fitness three years earlier when he needed help to prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro.   He loved it.   But I don’t’ respond well to people telling me what to do. By the end of 2016 he had finally stopped telling me to try classes.   I decided to interview them.   If they were pushy, or intimidating … if I did not feel comfortable … I would move on. My first encounter went very well.  

I attend two classes and a private session every week.   I find it interesting, challenging, and surprising. I know a lot about a lot of things but I did not realize how important the brain is when exercising.   I did not know that I carried as much tension in my body as I do. (PJ asked me to take my tongue out of the roof of my mouth in my first session with her. I had no idea.) I did not know it was possible to breathe into my back. I am still learning how to breathe while holding an ab curl.

I love that my only goal is going to class and improving.   (Well privately I do hope that the saggy underarm skin improves but I don’t focus on that.)   I love that I just need to get to class and that if I do I will get stronger, my balance will improve and I will learn how to do things I could not do a year ago.    Somehow these very capable, congenial instructors know exactly how to push me just hard enough to keep me getting stronger AND more confident.   I continue to be amused by what I am doing and how enthused I am about it.   Amazing.

Mind Your Words: Body Mapping

Professionals who play the role of being your Guide Through Movement (Pilates, Yoga, Functional Fitness, etc …) use a third person perspective of observing your body from the outside WHILE using our words to construct a narrative that gives you the opportunity to perceive yourself from the inside.

In doing this, we focus your awareness, we create an opportunity for you to practice the skill of conscious attention.

Body Mapping

BODY MAPPING IS INTENTIONAL RELEASE WORK

Conscious Attention: what’s in it for you?

Improvement of your overall body function. Avoid the stress your day to day activities (which include working out) creates in your body resulting in habitual movement patterns that do not serve you. Once a movement crosses into the habitual realm you are giving up voluntary control. Involuntary conditioning decreases your body function or potential function, it lays the ground work for chronic ailments, dysfunctions and leaves you with a rigid body.

Body mapping, intentional release work, creates a space for learning. This learning expands your range of action and your perception of available action, resulting in a greater range of movement, strength and ability. If the skill of conscious attention during movement (sensory-motor system) is practiced through out your life time you have opportunity to avoid the habituating effects of stress.

Two of the ‘guru’s’ of these methods are:

Thomas Hannah: Clinical Somatic Education

Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais: Feldenkrais Method

At KW Art of Fitness our base of this concept is drawn from Integrated Movement Therapies (IMT)®, from the Pilates educator Second Wind Pilates Plus, Danielle LeBlanc.

But I just want to feel my “core work”?

Oh you will.

BUT

You must also be willing to first address the practice of perceiving minimal sensation, minimal movement – thus creating new sensory feedback, new clarity of movement. The unknown becomes the known. Undiscovered opportunity of functional strength becomes discovered and you will have access to voluntarily eliciting effortless effort.

So, how do I do this thing called body mapping?

It all starts with breath, YUP … breathing again ….

and IMAGINATION ….

Cortical Activity During Learning

Movement, Imagery, Active Increase …

Our thinking directs our movements. Your imagination (mental pictures) will cause the deep muscles to come into action.  This conscious access to your body is underneath the superficial layers of muscle. Therefore, you will not feel them work in the traditional sense. If, in fact, you get a work sensation then you are doing, not thinking (imagination), thus defeating the purpose.

At our studio we intentionally drop in moments during your time with us to search out these body mapping opportunities. Sometimes we make it obvious, while other times we sneak it in ….

Learn more about how we specifically create these opportunities for you to explore this world of voluntary consciousness through body mapping.

Join us for the workshop: Stretch for Strength, Release for Range.

Thursday, November 29 from 5:15 – 7 p.m.

We are also running the same workshop for movement professionals, which will dive into cuing (using your words) to help elicit this idea in people whom you are guiding others.

Saturday, November 24 from 10 – 11:45 a.m.

Pilates, Yoga, Cross Fit, Strength Conditioning …

Call your pursuit of fitness and function by whichever label suits; just remember your pursuit will be better served if you take the time to also potentiate your efforts exerted by learning voluntary control (fluid, responsive, supple, efficient movement) – Body Mapping …

Life by Design: Reading a Script or Being a Story

“The achiever’s shadow is addiction to winning, fuelled by the never-ending desire for more. Underneath, s/he has an even stronger fear of losing.”

P. 121, The Soul of Leadership, Deepak Chopra.

Life By Design

If we choose to never fail, we are guaranteed to fail to grow and fully own the authorship of the life we have been given. 

Remember how Stephanie referred to cueing as story?  And, remember how, in a previous blog I talked about the malaise of “MORE”? How does our story deliver as relational and not just more noise? And, what is the space you have available for the more? What if there is only so much available space for more and it is being taken up by spam – like an inbox intruder? 

A great deal of what runs our lives is constantly running in the background – endless loops of old tapes that have gathered over the years of our growing up/socializing process. These ‘tapes’ include our perceptions, beliefs, fears, expectations, judgments and so much more. Without even realizing, unless we bring them into our conscious awareness, “They are running the show. So…who or what is in the drivers’ seat of your vehicle – this thing you call your life.

Question: can we call it life and living if the lights are on and nobody is home?

What I mean by this is all those times we are running on autopilot. You know…when you arrive somewhere and don’t know how you got thereJ Granted, this can happen from time to time; but what if this is your norm? I say that if you aren’t taking a few calculated risks, and living on the edge (outside your comfort zone), you are taking up too much space. It is a choice; no judgments…but, there is the question of what do you want your life to be at the mercy of – automatic-itis or committed, conscious choices?

Would you prefer a life by default or a Life by design?

It is a little bit like fitness. If you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish and WHY, are you really getting fit? And what qualifies as a fit life? Perhaps what we really need to do is simply ask more questions and dare to live the questions for a fuller presence inside the choices we make. See Rainer Maria Rilke – Click Here.

Own your body, free your mind! Dare to ask the better questions.

It is our predetermined programming that imposes judgments and ‘should(s)’ (read: absence of true choice), rather than thoughtful reflections and authentic choice. From Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl says:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”

This is where emotional agility resides. Things become increasingly complicated when we either forget we have a choice, or we don’t believe we have one – life on automatic pilot.

To ensure your version of a ‘designer life,’ why not consider a session with a “Guide to All Things Great” ©, or a review of your core fitness beliefs with a coach at the KW Art of Fitness!

Isolation is a Myth Revisited

Why it’s important that our muscles can glide their fibres long and short, instead of “clenching”

Human movement is complex.

There are many working parts that come together to help us move – our joints, muscles, nerves and fascia just to name a few.

So, if someone tells you in a movement/Pilates class that you are trying to “isolate” a certain muscle or muscle group – you should be skeptical – or at least you should be, after reading this post.

As Stephanie said in her last blog post: “Generally speaking, if all your attention is on the “one” muscle you think is being isolated the tendency is to “clench and go”. This creates many future problems. “

It’s true, if we try to use one muscle to do a job that is meant for many muscles working in concert, problems can arise:

  • we can actually block the movement we are trying to achieve by holding the muscle tightly
  • we can develop increased tension in the muscle that is difficult to release again
  • tender trigger points or taut bands can develop in the muscle that lead to pain
  • and we can ultimately confuse the brain and nerve connections to that muscle so that it’s difficult to do anything other than clench it in the future

You mean I’m not supposed to clench my muscles to really feel them working?

In short – no. But, let’s take a deeper look into how muscles really work to understand this better…

First of all, muscles don’t act alone. It’s impossible to disregard our nervous system if we are talking about movement:

Our brain sends a message to our nerves, through our spinal cord and on to many more nerves that communicate in a sequence between our brain and each muscle in our body (see picture below). The final nerve in the chain then sends a chemical signal to the muscle itself to tell it to take action. The result, is that the many overlapping muscle fibres within the muscle either contract or relax, to stabilize or move our bones and joints.

Diagram

Zoom in even further to the muscles fibres themselves and there are millions of tiny protein fibres called sarcomeres that change length as our muscles contract and relax.

As a muscle contracts – these fibres overlap more, shortening the overall length of the muscle. When a muscle relaxes after a contraction, or stretches, these fibres overlap less, expanding and lengthening the larger muscle.

So, when the brain sends a “contract” signal to a muscle, many nerves are sending many messages to many muscle fibres to make the entire muscle contract. Our nervous system is in charge of the whole shebang.

One Sarcomere:

Sarcomere

Richfield, David (2014). “Medical gallery of David Richfield”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.009. ISSN 2002-4436. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2264027

If you would like to learn even more information about muscles and their fibres, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcomere

Quick review:

SYNERGIST: The synergist in a movement is the muscle(s) that stabilises a joint around which movement is occurring, which in turn helps the agonist function effectively. Synergist muscles also help to create the movement.

AGONIST and ANTAGONIST muscles often occur in pairs: as the agonst contracts (and shortens), the opposing muscle or antagonist, relaxes (and lengthens). Example: during a bicep curl, the bicep is the agonist and shortens, and the triceps is the antagonist and lengthens.

However, in our day to day lives, our brain rarely sends a “contract glutes” message, instead the brain sends a “walk” or “sit” or “stand” message. When we produce movement in our joints with our muscles, there is never only ONE muscle working alone to produce that movement. Even when we are using muscles to stabilize a joint and producing virtually no movement – ie. the deep synergist muscles around the hip joint when standing on one leg, there is still not only one muscle working to create that stability and stillness. Our joints are 3-dimensional – there will always be muscles working 360 degrees around them, some shortening while the opposing muscles lengthen, or multiple muscles surrounding the joint contracting simultaneously to create stability. AND sometimes – most of the time – all three of these things are happening all at once.

Isolation is indeed a myth.

Now, you may be saying, “but my (insert rehab or movement professional) has given me exercises to isolate my glutes, core, rotator cuff… before”. While this may be true, there is a very specific purpose for exercises like this. When you have an injury or pain, the brain-muscle connection can weaken or become confused, and so a Physiotherapist may give you exercises to try to “wake up” that brain muscle connection again. However, this type of “isolation” exercise should only be done for a short period of time until the brain-muscle connection strengthens enough to get that muscle working properly again during larger functional movements, like the ones we do in Pilates and in life. Keep in mind, if you are moving your leg while doing “glut isolation exercises”, or moving your arm while doing “rotator cuff exercises”, then you are still using many different muscles working together to move.

So, what happens when you try to isolate certain muscles while doing Pilates?

Well, when you focus your attention on contracting one particular muscle, or you try to use only one muscle to perform a complex movement, it is easy to end up clenching that muscle instead of contracting it effectively. Clenching sends too many “contract” signals to the muscle, so that all of the overlapping fibres are held too tightly, or for too long, and the muscle doesn’t have its usual opportunity to relax so that the muscle fibres can move apart again. Over time if you are continuously trying to isolate or clench one particular muscle or muscle group, this can interfere with a muscle’s ability to relax in general, and tender trigger points or taut bands of muscle can develop, which can eventually lead to muscle pain and tension at rest.

When we allow all of the muscles around a joint to work together to produce leg, arm or spine movement, then each muscle gets a more balanced amount of “contract” signals. They work together to share the load, contracting together, or some contracting while others relax as our bones change position. When we allow muscles to work together – synergists, agonist and antagonists – each one doing their part of the work, then each muscle is able to glide short on contraction, and glide long on relaxation, instead of getting stuck in the shortened position during a “clench”.

So, unless you are in the very early stages of working with a Physiotherapist to rehab after an injury, don’t worry about trying to “isolate” your glutes, core, or any other muscle you might want to work on. When you perform skillful Pilates movements and listen to your instructor’s cues, the work will happen, you will still get the burn, and that post-Pilates soreness will be the “hurts so good” type, and not a confused, painful muscle still trying to relax after being clenched.

Strategies to avoid clenching:

  • LISTEN carefully to your instructors’ cues – at Art of Fitness, the instructors use their words to skillfully guide your movements and shapes, rather than specific muscle contractions, to get your muscles working properly
  • Then, focus on the MOVEMENT you are meant to perform, not just the muscles that are working to get you there – if you do the movement successfully, the work will happen, you will feel the burn, and the load will be shared between all the interested parties/muscles
  • And remember to BREATHE – breath holding often goes hand in hand with bearing down or clenching muscles instead of gliding them long and short with your breath cycles

If you find that you are still clenching after this, then speak with your Pilates/movement instructor to help you change how you are doing a certain movement; and if you have excess tension or pain developing in any of your muscles, find a trusted Physiotherapist for further consultation and treatment which would include manual muscle release, focused muscle relaxation techniques and reprogramming of the brain-muscle connection.

Sarah EbyWritten by Sarah Eby
Physiotherapist and Owner of Root Physiotherapy in Uptown Waterloo
www.rootphysio.com
Facebook: @rootphysio
Instagram: @rootphysiosarah