To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

Joe Pilates had a keen eye.

Joe looked at the skeleton and noticed the specific way our feet hang on the skeleton.2-Way Stretch and the Anatomy of Pilates

In the natural position of the bones the feet have a slight splay to them.

For this reason we use the heels together-toes apart position in our beloved Pilates method.

You may have learned this position as Pilates Stance.

Jay Grimes maintains there is no such thing as Pilates Stance. It is a made-up word. Joe didn’t make it up or use it. Joe simply looked at the way the bones hang on the skeleton.

To V

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

I love the connection and organization of the lower body I get from using the heels together-toes apart position. It's great when standing and even better when I have my lower body reaching into the air.

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

For me – I've got a slight bow to my legs – I find it to be ideal.

However, the V is not the only option we've got for our Pilates exercises.

Parallel feet hip-width apart proliferates in the method as well: Neck Pull, Short Box, Long Back Stretch, Up Stretch, Elephant.

Joe Pilates wants us to have it all.

Or Not to V

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

Certainly there are individuals for whom the V position of the feet is not appropriate.

  • Structurally those with knock knees often need a parallel-feet-apart position to have room for their knees to not overlap.
  • An individual with a knee issue may need to omit the V position – among other things – for a while.
  • The ballet dancer who lives life in turnout could find a nice challenge in a parallel position.
  • Those with a weaker side – also me – benefit from using a parallel position so each side must work individually and cannot rely on the other.

But what about those who could kinda do either position?

In our Pilates method there are no hard-and-fast rules. In fact, if you learned certain rules in your training, what would happen if you considered them to be simply guidelines?

Maybe the V position looks okay, but upon closer inspection it doesn't seem to be… quite… right.

What's to be done?

Let connection be your guide.

Every lesson we teach – just like our own lesson – is a work in progress.

Diligently we work on connecting our various parts into center. We work to exert greater control over our muscles, our movements and our daily life.

There's no reason we can't weigh a few options for our foot position while we're at it.

We're learning too.

Our feet are far away from our center and cultivating the muscles of the back and seat with our foot placement is a noble quest worth exploring.

Let's look at a bit of Footwork on the Reformer as an example:

As you perfect your 1st Footwork exercise – Toes – and also the 4th Footwork exercise – Tendon Stretch – ask yourself some questions based upon what you're seeing in front of you:

(Eyes open, mouth shut preferred.)

  • Do the knees look crowded or overlapped?
  • Does it look like one side might be working more than the other?
  • Do one or both knees want to lock?
  • What does the hip look like compared to where the knees and feet are?
  • How's the alignment of hip, knee and ankle?

If you answered ‘yes' or ‘not great' to the above questions it might warrant a trip to the Parallel Universe…

Wait.

What's all that about connection?

In our Pilates workout we're always looking for more action in our center.

All our Pilates exercises for the feet are magical and wonderful for the health, flexibility and well-being of our feet. Agreed.

But wait, there's more.

Imagine if you will, our 4th Footwork exercise again – the Tendon Stretch:

To V or Not to V: Let Connection Be Your Guide

Using the strength of the center – stomach lifting and bottom working – we'll stay light on our feet.

The whole body works to lift up in the front and lengthen downward in the back culminating in the heels reaching under the bar.

Often students will want to drop their weight when the heels drop and the ankle must overwork to hoist them back up to the toes. Boo… unhappy ankles…

Constant controlled motion is required as you reach lower with the heels and rise up again.

Hey! This maneuver done standing up is also a great way to end a Mat class:

  • Can you rise up to your heels with the strength of your center and not just by leaning forward?
  • Can you lower your heels without getting any shorter?
  • Never underestimate the Pilates exercises done lying down… you will eventually be asked to do them standing up!

Embrace the Grey

Part of the excitement and the teeth-gnashing of our beloved Pilates Method is there is no one rule to apply to every body you'll meet.

On one hand, Yay! There are not really wrong answers only better and more informed choices to be made.

Conversely, our powers of observation require constant cultivation.

  • We must truly show up and respond to the unique individual in front of us.
  • Maybe watch your student for a while saying nothing and plan your strategy.
  • Assign value to your own opinions about what you see as well as those of your mentors and from your training.

See what you think.

Questions?

Comment and join the conversation, we're a lively bunch!

The Pilates System: Teaser on the Wunda Chair

The Pilates System: Teaser on the Wunda Chair

For Andrea

A big thank you to Studio Flo Pilates for hosting me this past weekend.

It was a pleasure to be in your studio and get to know your teachers. I love connecting with fellow Pilates nerds! Thanks for stimulating such a wonderful conversation on the order of the Reformer exercises. I look forward to future collaborations with your bustling studio!

It was a fun 2 months of focus on the Reformer. Thanks also to Studio S Pilates for hosting my Transitions workshop in the month of March. You guys are always a good time 🙂

If you're like me, maybe you too can't get enough of the Reformer?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the studio…

The Pilates System: Teaser on the Wunda Chair

Our beloved Pilates method: so many exercises, so little time…in our workout hour.

Many of you participated in my recent Small Barrel Project.

I was thrilled to learn you found the Barrel exercises to be as helpful jaw-droppingly informative as I did. The Spine Corrector packs quite the Pilates connection wallop.

Reformer? Check.

Small Barrel and Spine Corrector? Check, check.

Wunda Chair?

The Pilates System: Teaser on the Wunda Chair

Anyone??

I find myself so wrapped up in my Reformer and Mat workouts, that the Wunda Chair in my studio literally gets dusty.

Oh dear.

The Mat exercises function as a barometer for “How's it going?” – are all our exercises on the Reformer and around the studio truly making our skills better and therefore our Mat exercises better?

Given this POV I propose the Wunda Chair exercises challenge our skill building in the same way. Now the playing field is tiny, mostly above ground level and fierce!

The exercises done on the Wunda Chair are sometimes familiar: Swan, Teaser, Horseback, Spine Stretch, Star. However our Mat surface here on the Chair is minimal.

No lying down and not much room to sit or kneel.

Our Wunda Chair exercises put a different spin on our fundamentals:

  • The Roll Up on the Mat and the Elephant on the Reformer become the Push Down.
  • The Knee Stretch Series on the Reformer morphs into the Mountain Climb.
  • The Wunda Chair closes up the parameters for our Spine Stretch.
  • The Frog shows up everywhere: Arm Frog, Frog Facing Away and Frog Facing Chair.
  • Swan Dive is similar minus the support for our prone body position.

With our beloved Pilates method we're always in familiar territory and yet NOT.

I plan to implement a Dust Off Your Wunda Chair Challenge for myself.

30 days.

13 Exercises:

  1. Footwork
  2. Pull Up
  3. Push Down
  4. Spine Stretch
  5. Teaser Stretch
  6. Swan/One-arm/Dive
  7. Teaser on the Chair (video tutorial at the bottom of  this post!)
  8. Mermaid Seated
  9. Flying Eagle
  10. SemiCircle
  11. Going Up Front
  12. Mountain Climb
  13. Star

Wanna play along?

Let me know in a comment below if there are exercises in my 13 that are unfamiliar to you.

I'll film a video of this full Wunda 13 Workout and also highlight unfamiliar exercises in a tutorial of their own.

Let me know what you'd like to see next!

A few of the exercises are daunting, and please know I feel the same way.

And if you've got a favorite to stick in there, feel free. There are sooooo many good ones.

13 exercises?!

Yes. My list began with 10 only to grow to 13 as I couldn't part with a few faves.

Teaser on the Chair

The Pilates System: Teaser on the Wunda Chair

Today's exercise will start us off with a bang. I find it particularly hair-raising, but with further exploration and connection I am gaining more control.

Sweet, sweet control.

In the video at the end of this post you'll find tips to refine your Teaser on the Chair:

  • Teaser on the Floor is a strengthener of our Round shape and of our Teasers all around the studio.
  • Teaser 1: legs remain in the air
  • Optional pumping the pedal: remember our priority of closing the pedal with control.
  • Teaser 2: legs lower and extend the hip.
  • Teaser 3: Everything down, everything up. Jay Grimes described this version to me as “just like rock-a-bye baby…” as I was sweating buckets of course.

Enjoy this short tutorial. 

Share your successes in a comment below.

Related Posts:

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Thanks for the great response to my first installation, Footwork on the Reformer, part 1.

Many of you asked about breathing and how it relates to both the Footwork Series on the Reformer and also the greater Pilates method. Thanks for entrusting me with this huge topic and I hope you'll find my perspective to be helpful.

What does Joe Pilates say about all this?

We're all familiar with an iconic quote from Joe himself:

“…above all, learn to breathe correctly.”

That sounds important. But how do we do this exactly?

Oh good, he goes on:

Squeeze every atom of air from your lungs until they are almost as free of air as a vacuum. Notice how your lungs automatically completely refill themselves with fresh air.

Indeed. The power of the exhale shall set us free.

In my Pilates education as well as my experience of the Pilates workout in my body I believe our focus should be mainly on a thorough exhalation.

I'm looking at a key word here from Joe: automatically. Do your workout and you can't help but experience a deeper fuller breath. The exertion required in our exercises, the ever-changing position of the body and our commitment to moving get the job done for us.

A teacher once said to me “I can't teach you how to breathe any more than I can teach your heart to beat.”

We're pretty good at breathing. We've been doing it for a while now.

With the introduction of exertion, our body knows what to do.

We. Need. More. Air.

The Power of the Exhale

The bulk of our 500+ Pilates exercises will find us breathing simply as we would while walking down the street. In through the nose and out through the nose if possible, silently and without any undue noise or tension.

Tense and noisy breathing translates directly into unwanted tension in the body, not unlike the locking of our joints. Tension is diverted away from our center in both cases. We want all the exertion in our center, not in our extremities and not in our throats.

However.

Within our beloved Pilates method we do have a handful of exercises specifically designed to increase our lung capacity: our Breathing exercises. Yay!

With the help of these specialized exercises we'll exhale fully, enabling our bodies to “automatically fill up more deeply with fresh air. ” 

We are on the case, Joe.

Some common exercises to give your lungs (and your body) a workout:

The Hundred

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Right out of the gate no less… our prescribed breathing in this exercise serves to increase our lung capacity as we focus on our long steady exhale. Variations on the inhale/exhale count of this exercise for special populations like opera singers and athletes further challenge breath control.

Double Leg Pull

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Our signature move in the Pilates method. And boy is it a good one. Soon our lengthened out position here will fold up into a tight ball to force all the air out of the body.

Down Stretch

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

The Down Stretch, I must say, is an exemplary breathing exercise. Perhaps it's my favorite…

The Twisting Exercises

From the Stomach Massage Series to the Short Box Series to Snake/Twist on the Reformer and Wunda Chair. All of our Pilates twisting exercises are designed to wring out the air from our lungs.

Ok actually these guys are my favorites…

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Our Twist in the Stomach Massage Series is the first rotation of our workout.

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Next we'll take our Twist onto the Short Box and add a new element to our twisting, the Reach.

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

Our Twist position gets more complex as we proceed further into our workout.

Breathing and the Pilates Method: The Power of the Exhale

And even a nice Twist on the Mat, where we've also got the Saw, Criss Cross and the Corkscrew.

Enjoy this short tutorial.

Thanks for watching!

Hey Southern California…

Saturday January 21, 2017 California Pilates Center, Oceanside, CA

Join me for a day of guest teaching. Just one spot open for a private lesson, they filled up fast –  use this link to snag it for yourself! Register for my 10am Mat class here.

Saturday March 4, 2017 Studio Flo Pilates, San Diego, CA

Join me for an awesome Pilates Mat class. Clients and instructors are welcome. Register here.

Saturday April 15, 2017 Studio Flo Pilates, San Diego, CA

I hope you'll join me for a workshop based on my most popular post,  On the Order of the Reformer Exercises presented for the first time in San Diego! Register here or contact Jennie Groom for more information.

Wanna experience the blog live and in person?

Here’s a bit of what’s cooking for 2017:

Thursday – Sunday May 11-14, 2017 Equinox, London UK

Contact Jayne O’Brien for more info and to register.

Friday – Sunday September 22-24, 2017 Pilates Mödling, Mödling, Vienna 

Join me in Mödling just 20 minutes from the capital city of Vienna. This event is jam packed and not to be missed! I’ll be offering lessons, mat classes and workshops. Workshops include: The Teaser: The Truth will PrevailOn the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises and 3 Chairs + 3 Barrels = 2-way Stretch and On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

Contact Andrea Seipel for more info and to register.

Saturday + Sunday October 7-8 2017 Everybody Pilates, Portsmouth UK

Contact Amy Kellow for more information.

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Hey there all you Pilates cats and kittens 🙂 I hope you had a great week of oppositional reach from your strong center.

A hearty thanks for being awesome subscribers and sending your Pilates love. It totally makes my day. I'm so glad you find the posts and videos to be helpful to you on your Pilates path.

And I'm thrilled to learn my posts have now been translated into Portuguese, Spanish and Korean.

Thank you so much friends, hugs and kisses to you!

Current Pilates Obsessions

A lovely by-product of surrounding yourself with Pilates apparatus is the ability to dial deeply into each apparatus. Current obsessions include the Toe Corrector, Foot Corrector and the Ladder Barrel.

If you've been following my blog for a while you may recall I broke a bone in my foot earlier this year.

Along with some therapeutic massage, I've been putting my Foot Corrector to the test.

Just a few standard exercises are really making a difference. And my feet need maximum correction…

The exercises are essentially the Footwork exercises of Reformer fame:

  • Toes

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Arches

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Heels

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

  • Tendon Stretch (which I like to call The Massage – not sure it has an official name? And the socks help to move smoothly as you press.)

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Actually I didn't know my foot felt stiff and owie until it felt amazing again.

Clearly Joe Pilates wasn't kidding: pay attention to apparatus promising ‘correction' right there in the name.

Now for the Hacks…

One of the challenges in my workout is the delicate balance between precision/working properly and pace. Our Pilates exercises should MOVE!

The magic is in the movement.

I've used the following hacks with great success. Essentially I pick one thing that strikes my fancy and apply it over every exercise I will do.

Literally. Try it on and see what happens in the exercise.

How does my one thing feel in this exercise? In the next? In the one I hate? Etc…

1. The Pilates Concept Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Initially Pilates trains our bodies with exercises fully supported by the apparatus which gives us vital feedback.

Think about all the lying down exercises done on the Reformer, Cadillac and Mat. Even the High Chair gives us a fully supported seated position.

The support and feedback of the apparatus teaches us how to find length in the back. I believe this to be the major tenet of Joe Pilates' work.

I desperately need the concept of ‘finding length in the back' in exercises where I am devoid of support or contact with the apparatus.

Can I remember what the apparatus has taught me repeatedly over all these years?

This is not a test. This is for the win!

Read more about this hack in a recent post: One Pilates Uber-Concept PLUS Introducing the Workout Quickie

2. The “It's just like that other exercise!” Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Got a favorite exercise that illuminates a challenging skill? Seize the day!

This hack is a favorite of mine. You know my fondness for The Long Back Stretch.

It's my favorite game of “Let's pretend.”

And it's really an offshoot of our signature hack: We Only have One Exercise.

Treat yourself to a workout in which you search for the Double Leg Pull in every exercise. It's a game-changer.

Check out these recent posts to see this hack in action:

3. The Apparatus Hack

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Every day I become more enamored with the Spine Corrector.

Again, the word ‘corrector' in the name should be all the information we need. It can be one of our greatest teachers.

The Spine Corrector should be everyone's favorite hack.

Jay Grimes describes the Pilates Method as “all about opening.” The Spine Corrector fits brilliantly into this POV.

Perfectly positioned to open the back, the hips, the shoulders –  it's pretty much the place to open the body and enhance your execution of your Pilates exercises – the Spine Corrector is the Pilates equivalent of your best friend.

Other than moi…

Let's spend some quality time with our Spine Corrector this week:

Oh and then there's the Arm Chair:

Thanks for reading and have a great week.

3 Pilates Hacks to Explore in your Next Workout

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

For Nan-Young

Recently on the blog we've examined the value of categorizing the exercises in the Pilates Method.

We took a look at the labels “basic”, “intermediate” and “advanced” and how they apply to the body in front of us.

The Shape of Things

In 2012 I completed The Work, the phenomenal program of study at Vintage Pilates‘ in Los Angeles.

Through my study at Vintage (and beyond!) we learn to look at the Pilates repertoire through the lens of Body Shapes.

In the Pilates method we have 5 archetypal shapes of the body (the back):

I find using the body shapes to be a wonderful teaching tool.

We can convey complex exercises to clients by reminding them of skills they've achieved in simpler exercises that share the same shape.

With this POV and the body in front of us, let's ask ourselves some questions based on the evidence of the exercises.

Here are our “basic” exercises:

Basic Reformer Exercises

  1. Footwork
  2. Hundred
  3. Frog/Leg Circles
  4. Stomach Massage Series
  5. Short Box Series
  6. Elephant
  7. Knee Stretches
  8. Running
  9. Pelvic Lift

Basic Mat Exercises

  1. Hundred
  2. Roll Up
  3. Single Leg Circles
  4. Roll Like a Ball
  5. Single Leg Pull
  6. Double Leg Pull
  7. Spine Stretch

1. What body shapes are most prevalent in the “basic” exercises?

I spy mostly the Round and Tall shapes, with a few moments of the Arched Back in our Stomach Massage Series and Knee Stretch Series.

The Short Box gives us one moment of Side Bend and we have a couple Twists in Stomach Massage Series and the Short Box.

2. Why is this?

Pilates begins in the very center of the body.

We'll concentrate on the scoop only for a while. Only when the center is strong can you build up other solid strong things on top of it.

We'll get to the fingertips but it's gonna take a while.

3. What does this say about the organization of the order of our Pilates method?

The order of the exercises is our teacher – make no mistake.

Moving through our “basic” Reformer exercises, our scoop in the Round and Tall positions will strengthen the center the most.

I think about the Round and Tall shapes as familiar, pedestrian movements. Yes, we must learn to find lift in our center, but these 2 shapes promote a deepening in the center.

We are required to pull in and up, but our body parts are not reaching away from center yet in these 2 basic shapes.

Later we begin to reach away from the center more deliberately with Arched, Side Bend and Twist positions.

Our Tall shape is also the foundation on which we'll build our Side Bend and Twist. If our Tall back is not strong and solid, it's only gonna fall apart when we try to Side Bend or Twist, both of which take us away from center.

The Order of the Universe

Joe Pilates trains our bodies over the full repertoire and also within each of his exercise series in the same manner.

Within each series we also find our theme of Round/Tall positions first – strengthening and solidifying the center – before adding Arched, Side Bend or Twist positions which reach away from the center.

Our series in the basics:

Footwork: only in the last of the 4 Footwork exercises, Tendon Stretch, do we reach away from the center. After we've built in the skill of Footwork over 30 repetitions.

Stomach Massage Series: Within this series we reach a bit more away from center as we move from Round to Hands Back, which takes us more upright in the upper body.

From Hands Back we move to the Reach, a position identical to the Teaser exercise.

Finally we'll move the farthest away from center when we add the Twist.

Short Box Series: The exercises in this series progress us systematically from Round to Tall, and later into Side Bend and Twist.

Eventually our Twist will progress to Around the World, perhaps the ultimate in reaching away from center with the upper body.

The Tree is our first exercise done one side at a time and reaching away from center, and over time it will take the position of our first High Bridge.

Knee Stretch Series: Our Round position must stay intact when we change to the lift of the Arched Back.

In these 2 first exercises our range is modest. Finally the Knees Off takes our solid scoop and reaches long and away from center and back again.

4. Why so much Round?

In our foundational exercises, we are quite scoop-heavy. The body is learning and building strength. Yes, there is a predominance of Round shapes and support from the apparatus in our Tall shape.

Read more info on these Round exercises and discover what they teach us about training the body.

But I want it all!

An example of how internal strength and the eventual reaching away from center work in tandem is found in one of the most iconic exercises in the Pilates method:

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

The Teaser requires a deep scoop in the center making this a Round exercise.

However, as you become more and more proficient your strength of center will support the upright lift of the chest and upper back to challenge the position further.

Body Shapes in the Pilates System: Basic to Advanced

But this lift away from the deep center in the Teaser will not happen on day one.

This is the challenge.

Ideally you want both a lift up in the upper body and a deep scoop of the lower body, but the strength of center must take precedence and be cultivated first.

Out in the Field

See what you think in your next workout.

Notice when you find yourself in a Round position and see where you go from there. You'll begin to notice larger sequences of exercises that start out pretty tame and soon blossom into an extravaganza of Body Shapes.

Here's a sneak peak into one of my favorite sections on the Reformer. It's a long one but such a lovely progression of skills and shapes.

In the middle of the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises we have:

Thanks so much for reading. Have a great workout.

If you'd like to see this final list of exercises in a post of its own or in a video tutorial, leave a comment below and let me know!