March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

It's hard to believe we are on the cusp of March MATness 2017!

How did it all start?

March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

Now in its 5th year, March MATness is a global celebration of the original Mat exercises and brilliant body conditioning system that is our beloved Contrology.

Read more here.

OMG I love the Mat exercises!

March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

Yes.

It's true.

I'm endlessly fascinated with all of Joe's Mat exercises. He stretches us to the very edges of our capabilities with infinite variations on a theme.

My personal Mat workout consists of the 34 exercises from Joe Pilates and the 3 extra ‘Series of 5‘ exercises reportedly added by Romana Kryzanowska: Single Straight Leg Stretch (Scissors), Double Straight Leg Stretch (Lower Lift), and Criss Cross. Another staple is Thigh Stretch, an exercise Jay Grimes learned from Joe Pilates in the 1960s.

Which brings my total to a whopping 38 exercises!

Sometimes I like to add the High Bridge after the Shoulder Bridge. Because I can.

And if you can you should.

Every little bit of this workout can be completed in under 30 minutes.

Let's get the party started with the Hundred on Wednesday March 1, 2017.

The Order of the Universe

March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

I'm a huge fan of Joe Pilates' original order of the Mat exercises.

What a precious gift from Joe Pilates.

We've got an entire month (and beyond) to focus on his brilliant sequencing.

Thanks Joe.

If you're new to the order of the Pilates Mat exercises get your list of the exercises here.

Stay tuned in March for the debut of My Mat Poster…coming soon!

3 Cheers for our Faves

March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

This year I'm thrilled to have a few more favorites on the Mat than in previous years. Maybe you do too.

Since last year's MATness I have come to thoroughly enjoy Swimming.

Way more than I ever thought possible…

Other stretchy favorites include Control Balance and Bicycle.

Don't get me started on the rolling exercises…  #goodtimesroll

Wanna take a closer look?

March MATness 2017: Let the Games Begin!

On the Mat, perfecting your exercises can take time.

Use these posts to dive in deep this week and sail on through the weekend:

Maybe you're ready to link your exercises together into one glorious chain of movement?

Tighten up those transitions between exercises all month long:

Or you can watch the playlist on YouTube.

MATness All Month Long

I hope you'll join me here for Mat-centric posts as we move and sweat our way through the MATness.

Got an exercise you'd like to see featured in a post or tutorial?

Leave a comment below and I'll get on the Mat!

And here's where you can find me in 2017.

Dry Brushing the Body and the Philosophy of Joe Pilates

Dry Brushing the Body and the Philosophy of Joe Pilates

Without veering too far afield from the subject of our beloved Pilates method, I would like to confess my dirty clean little secret.

I adore dry brushing.

I've been dry brushing my skin for years.

If you're new to Joe Pilates' philosophy on the proper way to bathe, you don't know what you're missing.

It feels good and it's good for you!

It makes my skin feel so soft and smooth.

Wait there's more…

Dry brushing has become mainstream in recent years.

However, most articles and images you'll find on the subject suggest a brush with a handle so all parts of the body are “easily accessible.”

Joe Pilates ups the ante for us here with even more benefit. Can you imagine him making anything “easily accessible?”

Joe observed that “only a minority [of individuals] really achieve thorough cleanliness.”

From Return to Life:

The correct technique to use in accomplishing this highly desirable result is to use only a good stiff brush (no handle) since this type of brush forces us to twist, squirm and contort ourselves in every conceivable way in our attempts to reach every portion of our body which are otherwise comparatively easy to reach with a handle brush.

Of course he wants us to “twist, squirm and contort.”

Joe Pilates insists on a brush without a handle – no easy feat – giving us all a flexibility goal.

How flexible do we need to be?

We must be sufficiently flexible for our daily living: therefore we must be able to reach and clean every part of our bodies with the no handle brush.

Swoon…So demanding 🙂

Benefits of dry brushing

From Return to Life:

The use of a good stiff brush as described stimulates circulation, thoroughly cleans OUT the pores of the skin, and removes dead skin too. The pores of your skin must “breathe” – they cannot do so unless they are kept open and freed from clogging.

Dry brushing the skin benefits our health as well as our appearance. Regular practice of a thorough brushing leads to:

  • improved skin appearance and texture, minimizes the appearance of cellulite by distributing fat deposits more evenly
  • improved circulation and lymph flow
  • an invigorating experience for your skin!
  • relief of stress
  • exfoliation of the skin
  • improved digestion and kidney function (Yesssssss!)
  • improved flexibility when using a no handle brush

It's good to have goals…

I once observed an Olympic-caliber volleyball player apply sunblock to the center of her upper back.

The center. Of her upper back.

I am not blessed with the long arms of a volleyball player. But I wasn't even sure arms could do that.

My upper back and shoulders have a tightness that I work very diligently to alleviate. (Repetition est mater studiorum.)

When I saw the volleyball player apply her sunblock I had a new goal:

I shall work to reach the center of my upper back with my ‘good stiff brush.'

What I wouldn't do for a good stiff…BRUSH.

For a while I couldn't find a stiff brush without a handle.

So I had a handle at first. I got a Japanese Body Brush.

Dry Brushing the Body and the Philosophy of Joe Pilates

And it was okay. Well I thought it was perfect until I knew better… as you can see I pretty much destroyed it.

Why do I still have it to photograph?

Tangent Time!

Soon it must go.

I've just read an amazing book that is taking my belongings to task. If you're a fellow control freak (and if you're reading this post I suspect you are) check it out:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

End of tangent…

Finding Perfection

This is the best no-handle brush I have found.

Dry Brushing the Body and the Philosophy of Joe Pilates

I found mine at a beauty supply store and at CVS for $6.49.

Dry Brushing the Body and the Philosophy of Joe Pilates

There are many options, but I do suggest you try it out to see if it is to your liking.

I tried one brush that had no handle, but it had VERY soft bristles. Too soft for my taste.

Oh I like a good scratching…

TMI?

Just building up the courage to write a post on Pilates and digestion…which may never see the light of day.

Dry Brushing Technique

I am told Joe Pilates would interrupt a client's post-workout shower to instruct them in the proper techniques of cleaning themselves.

Although I make a point of staying out of my clients' showering experience, I have a few tips to share with you:

  • Use your ‘good, stiff brush' on dry skin before entering the shower.
  • Begin at the extremities and use long strokes that brush toward the heart.
  • Be gentle on delicate areas of the skin: the face, genitals or any areas with irritations or abrasions.
  • I usually brush for 5-10 minutes. Until my skin feels invigorated and alive.
  • I also have a bristle hair brush that feels good on my scalp – so as not to skip anywhere.

Since I've got my goal of reaching the center of my upper back – this is really the only place it's hard for me to brush thoroughly – I spend some time passing the brush from one hand to the other behind my back.

The internal shower + an external one: It's addictive!!

Joe Pilates promoted his method of exercise as an ‘internal shower' for the body.

From Return to Life:

Your blood will flow with renewed vigor as the direct result of your faithfully performing the Contrology [Pilates] exercises.

This is the equivalent of an ‘internal shower.’

[Pilates] exercises drive pure, fresh blood to every muscle fiber of our bodies…

As a heavy rainstorm freshens the water of a sluggish or stagnant stream and whips it into immediate action, [Pilates] exercises purify the bloodstream and whip it into instant action.

It's truly a remarkable aspect of his system: the stimulation of the center, the organs, the viscera.

It's a Stomach Massage Series for the whole body keeping your insides in tip-top working order and ready for optimum performance.

My Pilates workout plus the health and hygiene encouraged by Joe's dry brushing philosophy work together beautifully: the workout keeps me in great condition and all my twisting, contorting and squirming as I dry brush lets me know how I'm doing.

Has my body found more balance? How is the center of my upper back doing?

Smooth skin and a supple body: priceless! Thanks JP.

From Return to Life:

Your skin will soon respond most gratifyingly to this perhaps seemingly “Spartan-like” treatment and acquire in the process a new, fresh, glowing appearance, and develop a texture smooth and soft to the touch.

So brush away merrily, and heartily too!

More Kool-Aid please 🙂

Big fans of of Joe's dry brushing techniques?

Share your experience in a comment below.

Pilates Language: The Cult of Neutral Shrine

Kudos Paleolates!

Thank you so much Mike Perry for your wonderful and beautifully articulated post: Neutral?

At the risk of jumping on the well-worn band wagon, I must confess that the infusion of the word ‘neutral' into the Pilates Method of Exercise is one that has always confused me.

Neutral vs. Movement

Neutral and movement appear to be at opposing ends of the spectrum. Ironically, neutral is a word that is anything but. Strong passionate feelings surround the argument both for and against the use of the word applied to the Pilates exercises.

But let's leave neutral for a bit to focus on a word we surely agree on.

Pilates Language: How did the word 'neutral' become divisive?

Yes?

Hang on, I am getting a little ahead of myself…

From wikipedia:

A neutral spine or good posture refers to the three natural curves present in a healthy spine.

Okay, let's have a quibble with the word ‘natural' first.

I agree with Mike that those who have perfect posture and ‘live in neutral' are fictitious creatures and are probably not our clients. 

Ethereal perfections! What need have they for Pilates?

With the gravitational pull on our bodies, a lifetime of sports, activities, tensions and tendencies we have arrived at a posture that may not be ideal or sustainable. We may develop exaggerations in the curves of our spine.

Oh dear, what's to be done?

As gravity continues to weigh on us, one or more areas of the spine can become compressed resulting in a swayback, a rounded upper back or a bit of both as our bodies seek equilibrium.

But just because I have a swayback doesn't make it ‘natural' in any way. My swayback also does NOT need to be honored. What it needs to do is decompress and…

Wait.

What was that about Length?

Imagine all the instances within the Pilates repertoire where it is desirable to have a long lengthened back.

When you are lying down for Footwork? Of course.

Standing up at the end of the Push Down on the Wunda Chair? Yes, please.

Sitting up à la Rowing Series on the Reformer? You betcha!

These 3 positions of the back are all the same shape in the Pilates Method:

A long (and ever-lengthening) back position

Looking at it through this lens, to keep any one section of the back in a static or fixed position would not aid us on our quest toward elongation.

It is through this very elongation that we create lift, strength and flexibility in our backs.

Strength? Flexibility? That sounds complicated…

Pilates is strengthening (Strength) and opening/stretching/lengthening (Stretch) resulting in balanced strength (Control) of your body.

In other words: Everything works.

To find this balanced strength and length, our spines must endeavor to move in all directions: back bending allows the back to lift and strengthen and forward bending helps us open and lengthen the back. Both are necessary for a healthy, strong and supple spine.

With regard to forward bending: we are not simply flexing the spine, gnashing bones together willy-nilly. We are in the business of finding lift!

The position of the back in the Pilates method is often defined by language created by one book in the '80s that birthed the whole “navel to spine” label. Now we have been branded with it. Your navel needs to lift itself all the way up to the nape of your neck!

Hence the elongated curve of the round shape exercises of the Pilates Method.

Movement must be Job #1 in the Pilates Method.

Et tu, JP?

Could the emergence of ‘neutral' be a reaction to Joe Pilates' direction in his legendary Return to Life: to “lie flat?” I do realize that “flattening” the back is believed to be detrimental to the spine, however I must pose the question:

Is it possible solely through muscular effort to actually “flatten” one's spine?

Surely we would not have survived as a species were we to possess such a capability.

So I tried it – you can read about it here.

Remember I am not suggesting one tuck the pelvis and use the legs and hips to press the low back into the floor. No bueno. Joe Pilates does not say that either, and that's certainly not lengthening anything. 

Perhaps Joe Pilates uses the phrase “lie flat” to indicate that one should not begin the exercise sitting up.

Et tu, PT?

In my understanding from all the Physical Therapists in my Pilates life, ‘neutral' does not come from Joe Pilates, but rather from the realm of Physical Therapy.

“In the Physical Therapy literature the historically older term is ‘core stability.' In the latter part of the 1980s, a concept of a ‘neutral spine' developed among physical therapists and physicians who were treating individuals with back pain.” (damienhowellpt.com)

I believe it should be noted that the presence of back pain is causal to the creation of the term ‘neutral spine.' Conversely the term may not necessarily apply to all populations, e.g., the healthy individual.

The article goes on to differentiate ‘core stability' from ‘core strength.'

‘Core stability' as it has been defined since 1992, includes a stable or “neutral” trunk while the limbs are in motion.

“‘Core muscle strength' is usually operationally defined by a measurement of the strength of the core muscles, either in terms of how much weight/resistance a muscle can lift, how many repetitions a muscle can perform, or how long a muscle can hold a neutral, stable position.” (damienhowellpt.com)

The crux of the article looks at the efficacy of ‘core strength' to improve athletic activity and performance and reduce the risk of injury.

The author considers an ongoing debate: can core strength also accurately be measured when the spine is in motion?

Hey! That sounds like the Pilates exercises!

And here we find controversy. Quel suprise…

But we are encouraged to use our intuition.

Yes.

Despite the lack of hard scientific evidence to irrefutably prove that ‘core strength' (as defined above, including the presence of a “neutral, stable position,”) enhances and improves athletic performance, this article encourages us to use our intuition!

Our common sense.

Surely increased core strength leads to improved athletic performance and injury prevention, yes?

The Physical Therapist then expresses his opinion that “core training should strive to simulate the athletic activity.”

Ok. This is a big statement.

The Pilates Method of Exercise is replete with exaggerated versions of our everyday movements.

For all intents and purposes:

Athletic Activity = Life!

“Much of the core training that is practiced involves abdominal exercises lying on the ground. The only sport I know of in which you are laying on the ground on your back is when a wrestler is losing a match.”

Point taken.

“Core training should involve dynamic movement progressing from slow to fast.”

Our daily tasks are varied in their tempo and rhythm.

“Ideally it should involve diagonal movements as most athletic movements involve rotation of the trunk and spine.”

Daily we reach for things in life that may be on a higher or lower level, or even across our bodies or behind us. 

“It should involve activities which require endurance.”

 

Some days may be very long and filled with activities – think of preparing a holiday dinner!

“Of course it should involve some reaction to changes in surface, or outside forces.”

Clearly this exists in life, but it also sounds very much like the Reformer.

#moveitorloseit

A life in motion requires an exercise regime that is also full of motion: up, down, bending, reaching in all directions. Our body conditioning must prepare us for a vibrant and dynamic experience of daily living.

Movement must be Job #1 in the Pilates Method.

I find one clear image sticks with me: Do I want to be the wrestler losing the match?

Pilates Language: The Cult of Neutral Shrine

“It is the spirit that builds the body.”

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)

Midnight MATness

Midnight MATnessJoe Pilates was never at a loss for words with regard to the benefits and efficacy of his exercises.

Generally I do not suffer from insomnia, but occasionally due to impending travel, a big day ahead of me or in this case – a thought-provoking read before bedtime – it can take me a while to actually fall asleep.

My thoughts wander (read this as ‘obsess') and maybe I'm too warm. Sometimes I've eaten irregularly, or chosen foods that disrupt my digestion. Usually I view it as counterproductive to get up and out of bed, despite being totally awake and lying there. Surely staying awake is not the answer.

Or is it?

(from Return to Life through Contrology by Joseph H. Pilates)

Most important in the matter of enjoying good recuperative sleep are quiet, darkness, fresh air, and mental calm.

Okay, ‘mental calm' seems to be the component I lack at the moment.

Nervousness is usually aggravated by a lack of proper exercise, especially in the case of one with a troubled mind.

Yes, my mind, ‘troubled', will not turn off.

The best alleviative for this condition is exercise. So if your sleep is disturbed, rise immediately and perform your exercises.

Hmmm…If you can't sleep, “rise immediately” and Open Leg Rock yourself to dreamland. The exercises will act as a sleep aid, despite their vigorousness, yes?

Yes. This is my inclination…but I have never before put it to the test.

What would be more fitting, I ask you, than a noble experiment in the midst of the MATness?

Rising (immediately) from my bed, I decide to give it a go…

It is far better to be tired from physical exertion than to be fatigued by the “poisons” generated by nervousness while lying awake.

Poisons??!

Sheesh, I'd better get moving…

Particularly beneficial in this regard are the spinal “rolling” and “unrolling” massage exercises which relax the nerves and induce sound, restful sleep.

Super! Rolling exercises are my favorites as well.

I must mention this moment as Perk Numero Uno of having a home Pilates studio.

Out of bed and onto my proper mat – pretty comfy so far and still lying down. Since we're in the middle of the night I keep the lights off with just the light from outside – moonlight I guess – at the window. Not that Joe (husband) would be too shocked should he awaken to find me exercising in the wee hours…in the dark…but still it feels exhilarating and eccentric. Which pleases me.

And wouldn't you know it, there in the darkness, I truly did the best Hundred ever. I felt my legs super scooped into my stomach.

You'll just have to trust me on this one, I cannot produce a witness.

I decided on a 15 minute version of the Mat, so as not to be up too late I suppose. Just thorough enough. And lately I'm not happy if I don't do the Side Kicks…who AM I?

Post MMATness

My breathing which had elevated during the exercises, slowly started to ease. Once again in my bed each full breath brought more relaxation and quiet to my mind. My head felt lighter, internally and on the pillow. My brain loosened and silenced, mercifully.

Why don't I do this every night?

My body and back felt fantastic. Even my digestive system had sorted itself out. I was comfortable. In my own skin, as well as under my duvet. And then it seemed to be morning – as I shortly fell asleep.

OMG this stuff WORKS!

Observe, too, how cats sleep – utterly relaxed whether they happen to be lying on their back, side or belly. Contrology exercises emphasize the need for this constant stretching and relaxing.

“C'mon, be a cat. You cannot do it right or wrong. You're either a cat or you're not.
No two cats are the same, so you're not learning a movement, you're a cat.” 

Kathleen Stanford Grant

Please share any and all March MATness midnight capers. I must be advised…

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013

I knew the legend of Romana long before I ever met her.

My first Pilates teachers Lesa McLaughlin and Kerry DeVivo spoke of her fondly. They would tell their apprentices and clients stories about studying at Drago's gym (now True Pilates NY).

Sadly, I was only able to meet Romana a handful of times. My study at Drago's was just at the time of her retirement. She had recently moved to Texas and was no longer in the studio everyday. My dear colleagues that studied regularly with Romana for years have truly received a special gift.

I got just a little taste of her magic, and even that small amount was huge!

Romana Kryzanowska visits San Diego, California…

Moses Urbano brought Romana to San Diego in 2006. We had a big party and Mat class at the Hotel del Coronado.

It was my first time to meet Romana and I remember I did the Rocking with such a will that I rocked myself into a crazy calf cramp.

It was still my best Rocking ever and hey…

It's Romana!

I don't see her everyday and I made sure I got myself into top shape before the event.

Jerome Weinberg, one of Romana's top teachers, was next to me in class. Romana looked at him with a twinkle in her eye as he did the Teaser.

“Get your legs together. Work a little.” Jerome also had a twinkle in his eye and a smile, and of course, worked even harder for Romana.

2008 New Orleans

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013

It was Halloween in New Orleans and it was my first Romana's Pilates Conference. I had completed their training program the previous year and I was super-psyched for this event. I did not know Romana personally, so I took every one of her classes. My favorite was a class on the Reformer, about 30 of us, again, striving to do our best as Romana watched and inspired us to do it better than we ever had before.

Just in case you're curious about the photo above, my ‘popo' is the first one on the left.

After class Daria was kind enough to introduce me to ‘Grandma.' I had heard a colleague say that Romana was slowing down some and not the tour-de-force she once was in the 1990s.

Well, neither was I.

Romana shook my hand, firmly I might add, and took one look at me after teaching that big class.

“Honey, you need to relax your neck.”

Oh she's still got it.

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013A bit later in Los Angeles 2008

Romana is in the state of California! And there was much rejoicing!

Michael Levy hosted the yearly continuing education and Daria and Romana were in Los Angeles. Wooo Hooo!

This time it was a Mat, Reformer and Reformer Mat extravaganza.

Early on in the Mat workout – during Rolling Like a Ball – Romana had us do somersaults and come up to standing. It was early in the morning, this was not a move I was familiar with yet and Romana was shaking us all up.

Alas, she was not very happy with our efforts. But after about 20-30 more of them we got a little bit better.

All that happened before 10am.

By afternoon most of us were on the Reformer. If you were not on the apparatus for all the exercises you were expected to follow along doing the Reformer exercises on the Mat. Yum yum. Much to my surprise Romana encouraged me to fold myself up smaller than I thought possible in Coordination. Such an innocent exercise, you might think…

Now I understood all that talk of “Squeezing the juice out” of the exercise. I had worked harder in that one exercise than I had all afternoon.

“Now it's Something!” said Romana.

Arlington, TX 2009

Seeing Romana in Texas was perhaps the best time ever. My in-laws live in a tiny town in Texas about 2 hours from Metroplex Pilates in Arlington. 2 hours? Perfect. I was in the same state as Romana, there was no way I was not going to see her. We were in Texas during the Christmas holiday, so Romana's daughter Sari was in town as well. I was hoping to get a private lesson with Romana. Oh boy. Christmas indeed.

Good Cop Bad Cop

As it turned out, I would have my lesson with Sari, although Romana would be in the studio. Ok, still great. Although I had been eating a lot of BBQ since my arrival in Texas…hmmm…

When I arrived Romana greeted me wearing the beautiful Robin's egg blue color I always saw her in. She also sported some really awesome cowboy boots. Red ones, I believe. Sari gave me a lesson on the Reformer and Romana sat beside us.

Romana soon became my cheerleader.

Whatever Sari picked on, Romana applauded. To my horror, after the debacle that is the Snake/Twist, I began to take requests.

Me: “Should I do the Backbend with the Straps?”
Sari: “Why do you want to do that when you can't even do the Snake/Twist?”
Romana: (applauding) “I want to see it!”

So I did the Backbend with the Straps – and even Sari had to agree that it was better than my Snake/Twist.

Romana taught a duet after my lesson to Cha Cha (owner of Metroplex Pilates) and Sari. That was a fun treat as well. At one point Romana decided that Sari needed some help with (irony alert!) the Snake/Twist…

“Honey, help her.”

To my surprise I was now giving Sari a spot for the Snake/Twist.

See, it's everyone's favorite exercise 🙂

 

Thank you so much, Romana, for all your hard work through the years to disseminate Pilates to the world.

You have given me and countless others a passion, a discipline and a livelihood while enabling so many to become the best person they could be.

My thoughts go out to you Sari, Daria, Monica and your families. Peace and warm wishes to you all.

Love all around.

 

Share your thoughts or stories about Romana in a comment below. Thank you so much for reading and sharing the love.