East Bay Massage: Pilates

Straddle Rolling LIke A Ball

Those of you who know me know that I have the zeal of a new convert when it comes to Pilates. If you are a client of mine you may have even been entertained by my fitness stylings after a massage. I have a tendency to move the table out of the way to show clients ‘cool stretches’ that might help with certain range of motion or flexibility issues. It is the *only* kind of work out that seems to have worked for me. By worked, I don’t mean that I have six pack abs (I do like six packs, though, on other people, and to drink), rather that it’s a practice that is sustainable for me.

As a new mom, I thought a lot about ‘losing the baby weight,’ but could never seem to make any headway. I tried walking around the marina, restricting what I ate, and did actually try a Pilates DVD at home. That DVD totally infuriated me! I’d lay on the floor and attempt what the perky Pilates instructor on TV was doing so effortlessly. But what looked like second nature to her bore no resemblance to what I was managing. What IS this side-plank thing? People are not meant to do that! The physics of it are implausible!

Fast forward several years to my first Pilates class through my community center. What worked for me was actually having a real person present to make corrections to my form. The class was filled, but filled with people at all varying levels of practice. The teacher showed us options to make the exercises either easier or more difficult based on our level and our courage. Over time, I gained strength and courage. Guess who side-planks now?

THEN I took a cadaver anatomy class at the chiropractic college here in the East Bay. I keyed in to a concept that I hadn’t thought much about before. External pressure. Core strength (including the front abs and also the muscles of the back and sides) is central to healthy function in the body. A balance between the front and back is essential for holding the spine in alignment. Good posture takes pressure off of our respiratory diaphram and allows for better breathing and oxygenation of blood. Our diaphram and pubis cap off the middle area of our bodies– if we provide this cylinder with strong walls, the spine is supported in the position that affords us the most stability. The benefits of this are immeasurable– reduced risk of injury, reduced risk of muscle soreness, reduced risk of vertebral or other joint misalignment, reduced risk of headaches, neck pain, etc., etc., etc.

The “Roll Down” (pictured above) engages the muscles of that cylinder of support provided by our abdominals and back (eh, not to mention the glutes, inner thighs, quads and yes, even arms).

Pilates stretches the body as it strengthens it. Stretching those areas that are in contraction has tremendous benefit to our overall health and can yield surprising progress in chronically painful spots. Using a Theraband can help a lot when addressing tight muscles and is a tool that can be used in a variety of ways. Below is pictured one way of using the Theraband– extending the legs while supporting the stretch with an arm pull activates the muscles in the shoulder girdle as it elongates the hamstrings (my personal nemesis).

Leg stretch with Band

Pilates is an awesome way to stretch those muscles in contraction and strengthen those that have been stretched beyond healthy function. Perhaps what I like the most about Pilates is its whole-body approach. Instead of working just one isolated muscle, Pilates addresses the body as a whole, integrated system. Pilates includes the power of our imaginations, too– visual imaging engages the mind as we work the body. Picturing your bellybutton pulled in to your spine goes a long way in hollowing out the abs. To that end, if you’re thinking about a new approach to fitness, try signing up for a class with a teacher who can physically and mentally guide you into better shape.

Try looking at your local community center to see if Pilates is offered there– city classes are often affordable and offered at lots of different times. Give it a try and see if you don’t love it! After you are certain about your form, try getting a book like The Pilates Body by Brooke Siler to use at home. I like this book because it does provide mental imagery to use, has lots of pictures, and stays true to the original method pioneered by Joseph Pilates.

Happy planking!

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage, too!

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