I usually follow Yoga asanas in this blog, but today (the beginning of summer) I thought it was time to mix things up and share my other passion: Pilates.
I stumbled upon Pilates after moving to Portland this past September. As a dedicated yogi for years, I had the mistaken understanding that Pilates and Yoga were enemies. So, I faithfully stuck with Yoga. Finding and training for Pilates under my teacher, Leslie Hamm, turned my world upside down. In case you had the same misunderstanding as me, Pilates and Yoga are NOT enemies. In fact, when they're put together, they work beautifully in harmony and help one another. So, the elegant klutz shall now be covering BOTH Pilates and Yoga :)
Not convinced about Pilates yet? There is a reason that Pilates exercises are listed in the top 5 exercises for your abs. Check this chart to compare a gym crunch to a Pilates ab exercise.
Type of Pilates: Pilates’ Mat & Pilates’ Reformer
Notice the "C" curve position: rolled off your sits-bones and resting on your sacrum
“How To” While Sitting on a Pilates’ Mat:
1. Sit at the top of your Pilates’ mat (different from a Yoga mat, a Pilates’ mat has much more cushion and is shorter). Inhale to sit up tall with your shoulders over your hips.
2. Exhale as you roll of your sits-bones onto your sacrum. You will find yourself in a “C” curve where you’re rounded in the lower belly and tall in your sternum and upper chest. Allow your shoulder blades to drop down your back.
3. Inhale bring your right knee into tabletop (knee stacked over your hip), exhale bring your left leg to meet it. If your lower back or hip flexors start to scream, bring your hands behind your thighs for support, otherwise reach both arms out by your side. If you’re getting into your neck, lower your arms. If you feel comfortable in your neck and shoulders, lift your arms up higher while keeping your shoulder blades dropping down your back.
4. Finally, if you feel steady and ready to go to the next step, exhale and reach your legs long so that your toes point up towards the sky. Your core stabilizes your legs and arms if you stay static in this position. To go further, activate your core muscles reaching your legs in closer towards your body. Keep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Each time that you activate, reconnect to the core muscles (the power house in Pilates). Stay for 5-7 breaths or 30 seconds. Repeat 3X.
*Pilates’ Teaser exercise is dynamic and usually moves. In today’s blog, we are simply holding the Teaser position in an isometric hold as shown in my picture doing Teaser on a Pilates’ Reformer.
Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates, demonstrating the Teaser.
*Keep your legs stick straight if you are ready to reach them out long
*Drop your shoulder blades down your back
*Whether you keep your legs in tabletop or straight, push yourself and bring them in closer towards your chest
Emphasized Body Parts: Rectus Abdominis and External Obliques
Mental Achievements: Teaser brings a lightness, energy, and uplifting spirit to your body and mind.
An aid for beginners: For those having trouble bringing both legs up, try the one-legged teaser. Keep one foot on the floor with your knee bent, bring the other leg into tabletop and then reach it long up towards the sky. Continue using your breath, deep inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Do not let your abs go and stomach expand as you inhale!
Modification: bent knees (less weight on the abs) and hands holding on behind thighs (for hip flexor or lower back issues)
Modifications: Pilates’ exercises do not simply work your Rectus Abdominis (surface abs). They also get into the deeper abdominal muscles (External Obliques, Internal Obliques, and Transverse Abdominis) that aid in stabilization and strengthening. If there is one exercise that you dislike or find really challenging, you can use different Pilates’ exercises to strengthen the same abdominal muscles. There are also millions of levels and modifications for Pilates’ exercises. Here are some modifications for Teaser, but a good rule of thumb is to listen to your body. It’s important to know the difference between a good hurt (muscle strengthening) versus a bad hurt (injuring yourself). Similar to Yoga, Pilates is a somatic technique that encourages a mind/body connection.
Lower back/hip flexor issues: keep hands behind thighs with shoulder blades cascading down your back and legs long or bent in tabletop
Spinal Fusion in Lower Back: Keep legs down, feet on the floor. Roll down into your “C” curve and lift arms up.
Pain in Neck/Shoulders: Lower arms to relieve pressure.
Rotator Cuff Injury: Keep arms down unless you find that lifting to a comfortable height is appropriate for your body.
*If your lower back, hip flexors, and/or neck begin to hurt while in Teaser, take a break and then come back into the position. Those areas are trying to take the weight off of your abs, not strengthening the back, abs, or hip flexors. So, be safe and know when to come out of the position!
Contraindications: sciatic pain, osteoporosis (depending on severity)