In this Issue
Pilates in Flight
It might sound a bit like a movie line, but Maria Bernhard really did quit graduate school to join a circus. Juggling fire, flying on a trapeze and dancing on stilts are just a few of the talents she perfected before getting certified in Pilates. Now she teaches Pilates and an array of circus arts classes at her studio, Pilates Studio M, in Claremont, CA.
We spoke with Bernhard to find out a little more about the connection between Pilates and the circus arts.
PS: What do Pilates and the circus arts have in common?
MB: The short answer: core and local muscles. In both disciplines you use every ounce of muscle, every bit of your flexibility, and then you push it a little bit further. Pilates and aerial work both help you achieve long, lean muscles because you are always strengthening while stretching. They are both graceful, fluid movements that require a lot of focus and discipline.
The more advanced moves in Pilates really mimic gymnastics and aerial, and given that Joseph himself had a family connection to the circus, it’s not surprising. For example, the Trapeze Table (look at the name!) has quite a few aerial moves you can perform, the Ladder Barrel has similar moves to the Aerial Hoop, and the Wunda Chair shares moves with the Static Trapeze.
PS: How does one move from Pilates to the circus arts?
MB: I’ve had countless Pilates clients who were on the Reformer strengthening their upper bodies, looking up at the aerial equipment, and all of a sudden they saw their goal. Everyone wants to fly!
I find that when clients move to circus arts they lose some of their more “shallow” goals such as losing inches and start focusing on being able to successfully climb the aerial equipment. After a couple of months they realize their arms are suddenly strong, and they haven't noticed the hard work because the hard work is so much like playing.
PS: What’s the most amazing client transformation you’ve seen?
MB: I have a Pilates client who is a 50-year-old mother of four, who came in with zero abdominals, and is now able to take our two-hour Aerial Silks Classes. She takes two private Pilates sessions a week, and I have been adding aerial conditioning either on the aerial equipment or on the Pilates equipment.
She is amazing, and her transformation is proof that perseverance, consistent training and a real goal (hers being “I want to do the Silks someday”) is what it takes to achieve your dreams.
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& A with Rael Isacowitz
Q: I sit at a desk all day at work. Any tips for ergonomic positioning?
A: You and I and much of the world’s population sit at our desks far too often—it seems to be a curse of modern society. However, it’s the reality we live in, and we must deal with it as best we can. So I applaud your question.
Ergonomic positioning undoubtedly plays a big role in protecting the body from the impacts of sitting. Some of the things to look for are a good and supportive chair, the correct height desk, the correct height computer monitor, and easy access to the mouse without having to strain the muscles in your arms and shoulders. Yet with all that said, two things are key—and they have little to do with the desk, computer or chair.
First, be aware of your posture at all times. The two areas that need to be highlighted are the shoulders, which may droop forward into a “round shoulder” position, and the hip flexors, which become short and tight, due to the hip being in flexion for hours. Check and recheck that you are not slouching, slumped over, or tensing your neck and shoulders—this happens to everyone. Pay particular attention to the head, which tends to drift forward causing tension in the neck. Simply bring the body back into good alignment.
Second, get up, walk around and stretch the shoulders and chest often. Although it’s difficult to remind ourselves to do so, we must find ways. It is continuous sitting that causes the muscles to tighten up.
Rael Isacowitz, MA, 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. For more information, visit www.basipilates.com.
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Close Up: Semi-Circles and Spine Stretch
by Jillian Hessel
In the September/October issue of Pilates Style magazine, Jillian Hessel shares one of her teaching secrets: hands-on guidance. Here are two more exercises where a Pilates instructor’s help can make all the difference.
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Body Benefit: promotes full spinal articulation, as well as an assisted deep stretch for the quads and hip flexors; engages in oppositional movement to train body awareness
Student: Have student lie supine on the Reformer with the carriage fully extended, and arms extended overhead with the palms of the hands braced against the shoulder rests. Feet are in Pilates stance on the footbar.
Teacher: Stand in a wide squat in front of the footbar, flexing from the hips. Cup hands over the top of student’s knees/lower thighs.
- Have student perform Semi-Circles in each direction.
- As the knees extend, maintain contact with the legs, ensuring the knees are fully extend but not locked.
- Guide your hands to the top of the hipbones, to ensure they are level as the student rolls the pelvis up.
- In a massaging action, glide your hands from the front of the hips to the junction where the glutes meet the backs of the upper thighs, as student brings the carriage home.
- Repeat 3 times, providing a BIG stretch to student on the first and last rep.
- To provide the stretch, make fists to press the hips up while using your upper arms to press the thighs down.
- Protect your own body here: Squat, use your core and drop your shoulders as you provide resistance.
Cadillac Spine Stretch
Body Benefit: promotes full spinal articulation while in proper alignment; provides an assisted stretch
Student: Student should be seated with legs in a “V” at the Tower end, with one or two springs from the top of the push-through bar. Arms are extended and holding the bar.
Teacher: Kneel behind student’s hips, using the front of the thighs and hips to form a “wall” for proprioceptive feedback.
- Have the student inhale as he or she bends the elbows, keeping the lats engaged.
- On the exhale, the student should flex forward, pushing the bar out over the legs, as you pull back on the waist/rib area, guiding spinal flexion. Make sure the student does not hike up the shoulders. Student should maintain forward flexion and resist the pull of the bar, breathing out though the back of the ribs.
- Have the student return to the starting position and do two more repetitions.
- Shift to the outside of the Cadillac frame and pull the bar toward you, encouraging the student to continue scooping the abs and dropping the shoulders.
- Encourage the student to articulate the spine, vertebra by vertebra, keeping both sitz bones grounded on the mat.
- Add extra breathing, emphasizing the posterior/lateral action to encourage scooping of the abs and the opening of the sacroiliac area.
- Provide assisted stretches on the first and last rep.
Teach with All-Day Energy
If you’re like many Pilates instructors, personal time and proper nourishment can often fall by the wayside of a packed schedule. We talked with Los Angeles-based holistic nutritionist Derek Johnson about what to eat to stay energized from your first client through your last.
Begin with Breakfast
Eating a breakfast of complex carbohydrates and lean protein within a half hour of waking will get your metabolism humming and set you up for a whole day of sustained energy. Conversely, if you wait too long to eat in the morning, your body will kick into preservation mode. This rather taxing process breaks down stored glycogen into usable fuel, giving rise to bouts of low energy, loss of concentration, and an insatiable appetite come midday.
Start your day with an omelet and a slice of whole-grain toast, a bowl of slow-cooked oatmeal with a scoop of almond butter, or a smoothie made with nut milk, chia seeds and frozen berries.
The Power of Protein
When you are feeling a little sluggish between clients, chances are a cookie, bagel, or soda might sound like just the thing to give you that burst of energy you need.
In reality, however, such simple carbohydrates will ultimately drag you down. First, they make your blood sugar shoot way up, giving you that quick jolt, but soon your body releases a hefty dose of insulin into the blood, sweeping all that sugar into cells and storage, leaving you once again lagging and in need of fuel.
The solution? Always eat some protein with your carbs to delay the absorption of sugar into the blood—meaning a steady flow of energy for you. If you have the time to eat a real lunch during the day, try a slow-burning combination like a turkey burger on a whole-grain bun, or salmon and veggies over brown rice. If snacks are all you can fit in, be sure they include protein and carbs, too.
Even if you only have a few minutes between clients, you can still fuel up on smart snacks that will keep your energy even. Here are a few ideas that combine complex carbohydrates and lean protein:
- Half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat
- Handful of raw almonds or cashews
- Hard-boiled egg
- Hummus and veggie sticks
- Small cup of yogurt with slivered almonds
- Smoked salmon on rice crackers
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