By Kari Gregg • Edited by Amanda Altman
Throughout my years of practicing Pilates, I’ve always thought it fitting to come “full circle”—that is, back to the very first piece of Pilates equipment I worked with, the Magic Circle. I love using it in my personal workouts, and also in my classes. But one glance at the mat to see a Magic Circle awaiting my students, and a collective groan always follows. What is it about this little prop?
Maybe it’s that adding the Circle to your practice presents a formidable challenge. But I kid you not, learn these eight exercises, and allow yourself 10 minutes two to three times a week to practice them, and you’ll discover a new love for this simple tool.
These exercises center my body and mind, helping me to concentrate, focus and breathe. The movement allows me to flow and find my internal rhythm for the day, and reminds me that I do have control. Sometimes we need a little reminder to get out of our heads (and off of our phones) and into our hearts. Let this Circle routine be a positive tool to incorporate into a warm-up before your favorite activity, or as a beginning or ending to your day.
Whether you’re working the grind in the city-that-never-sleeps, are a dancer-turned-wanderer with dreams of mountains and oceans in your sights (like me, at the moment) or somewhere in the middle, I hope you take this time for yourself and enjoy the here and now. Because it’s something you shouldn’t miss out on.
Props: Magic Circle
Breath: Breathe naturally unless otherwise indicated.
• Hold the Magic Circle in the heels of your hands with your fingers long and together to find the best squeeze and the proper engagement of your muscles.
• The Magic Circle is a representation of the powerhouse: When it’s squeezing, so is your powerhouse!
Do this because… it will help you find your abdominals and mobility in your low spine to prepare for the rolling exercises. As an instructor, this exercise is a great “diagnostic” tool to determine how to proceed with the rest of the session.
Setup: Sit tall with your knees bent hip-width apart, feet flat on the floor, and the Circle placed just above your knees, between your inner thighs. Hold onto your outer thighs with your elbows wide, using your arms to help lift your chest. Inhale to prepare.
1. Exhale as you squeeze the Circle and curl your tail forward—with your nose toward the Circle—to roll back, keeping your elbows bent. Inhale as you release the squeeze.
2. Exhale as you squeeze the Circle and begin to roll forward.
3. Inhale as you release the squeeze and roll back to start. Do 6–10 reps.
4. Repeat steps 1–3, but this time, roll back until your arms are fully extended.
5. On your last rep, hold halfway down, and release and squeeze the Circle for 10 reps; roll all the way down to the floor to finish.
Advanced: Don’t hold onto your thighs! Instead, extend your arms long by your sides.
Supine Arm Press and Pulses
Do this because… you’ll increase your back-to-abdominal connection.
Setup: Lie on your back with your legs long and actively wrapped toward your midline, feet in Pilates stance (heels together, toes apart). Holding the Circle between your palms, extend your arms above your chest. Keep your abdominals active, collarbones wide and shoulder blades dropped.
1. Press the Circle and hold for 3 counts. Do 3 reps, then do 10 quick pulses.
2. Lower the Circle above your thighs and repeat step 1.
3. Lift the Circle by your ears (or on a high diagonal, if your ribs start to splay) and repeat step 1.
Tips: Don’t overgrip the Circle; the squeeze should come from your powerhouse, not your hands/arms. Avoid hyperextension in your elbows.