Posture Exercises for Standing

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I was a guest blogger at GetCorrectPosture! My clients often tell me that they have standing desks (because sitting is the new smoking) but standing with bad posture isn't that much better for you than sitting. Check out my tips and why I love the Power Circle so much at the link above.

And if you want more Power Circle, check out my abs and glutes video here.

P.S. credit to my son for the photo :)

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Top Five Differences Between Pilates and Yoga

So what is better? Yoga or Pilates? That is a difficult question to answer, and it does depend on your workout goals. Keep in mind, too, that there are many different types of yoga and even different styles of Pilates, so these are general guidelines.

The goal of yoga is spiritual enlightenment. That does not mean that Pilates cannot be a spiritual practice, and it does not mean that yoga is not a workout. It does mean that at the heart of a yoga practice is a spiritual component, and that usually involves mediation or other techniques to quiet your mind. I consider my Pilates practice a moving meditation, but I don’t spend time meditating as a component of my practice. I do meditate, but it is separate from my Pilates work.

The goal of all Pilates exercises is the strengthening of the Powerhouse. This is true no matter what style of Pilates you practice. The Powerhouse is a centering concept, but it is also a physical place. It is the two inch band that runs above and below your navel. Every exercise in Pilates is trying to connect you to this part of your body and tone and strengthen this area. This does not mean that yoga does not work your core or that Pilates does not work and tone other parts of your body. It means that Pilates exercises are always focused on this area, no matter what else is working.

Pilates was made for the modern body. Joseph Pilates created his system of exercises between 1912-1967, and moved to New York City in approximately 1933. That means he knew what concrete was, and cars, and buses and chairs. His work cannot help but be influenced by the wear and tear and stress these modern conveniences place on our bodies. The development of yoga is over 5,000 years old. It was not made for a mainly sedentary population. Most people 5,000 years ago walked everywhere, much more than we do now and sat on the floor. They got more movement preparing their food than some of us get in an entire day. That is a different body than Joseph designed his work around. This does not mean that yoga has never been updated or that Pilates does not tap into ancient wisdom. It means that Pilates was created for people who live in the modern world because it is a modern invention itself.

Pilates was not made for a yoga mat. Hey, even yoga wasn’t made for a yoga mat (see the 5,000 year old practice mentioned above). But Mr. Pilates made his own mats, and they are way thicker than your average yoga mat. They usually were a raised platform with much more cushioning for your spine. They had extra boxes at the sides to place your legs wider than a yoga mat. They had straps for your feet to help keep your feet stationary as you rolled and poles to help stabilize your shoulder girdle for inversions or open your chest for extensions. If you’re doing Pilates, you should at least double your mat to cushion your spine. Pilates has more spinal articulation and rolling (see the focus on the Powerhouse listed above) so if you’re doing Pilates at a health club, please find a thicker mat or hack one yourself to protect your spine.

Pilates has equipment. I’m not talking props like bands or bolsters. I’m talking about the Reformer, Cadillac, Barrels, Chairs…. Mr. Pilates saw the mat as the foundation to his work, but without the support and aid of the equipment, it’s really hard to progress in your Pilates practice. Equipment and mat really are meant to go together (see also Mat vs. Equipment Pilates). The Reformer and the mat are the cornerstones to the Pilates work, and Mr. Pilates always intended for his students to do both. The stretch, support, and resistance work on the Pilates equipment with the springs really has no equal in any exercise format. It combines open and closed chain work, tempo variations, and deep stretches you cannot find if you only have a mat alone.

What are your thoughts? Do you teach yoga and Pilates? How do you think they compare?

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Self Care for Pilates Instructors

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So how do you teach 6-8 or 9 hours straight? This question was recently posed to me and I thought I would add my ideas here on the blog. These techniques could be applied to any job that doesn’t have standard breaks, and in the gig economy, that applies to many of us. I should add that I am my own boss and I decide to teach these hours. I stack my schedule back to back from the hours of 6am-2pm so I can utilize my time effectively and then get home to take care of my children after school. I’m not looking for sympathy for my working hours. I understand that what I teach is my passion and an privilege, and I am not trying to say that this work schedule works for everyone, I’m just trying to share what works for me.

So…. the first tip is what you do the night before a long teaching day. I have gotten super disciplined about getting to bed. My usual waking time is 5am, so that means I try to wind down by 10pm. Sometimes 10pm is my first opportunity of the day to workout if my schedule has been stacked and my kids need me, so sometimes my workout is 5 minutes of wall or 10 minutes on the roller. I try not to skip Pilates any day of the week, but I will shorten the duration of the workout so I’m fresh to teach the next day. I also don’t drink alcohol the night before I teach. I find it disrupts my sleep and I have a hard time getting focused to teach. Finally, I will look at my schedule and make a rough plan for the next day. I don't write anything out formally, but I’ll take a few minutes to look at my semis and think what would work best for the group (for some people its the second or third workout of the week and I don’t want to repeat), and I have a small studio so sometimes I have to plan how to use the props or the space, and sometimes I’m just reviewing who is injured and making sure I’ve looked at what we did last time and making observations to see if they are progressing or showing signs of readiness for additional exercises. This mental preparation is key so I’m not caught unprepared. A client walking in you haven’t prepared for can take a lot of mental energy and I wan’t to make sure I’m conserving what I have for the entire day.

Second…I have a plan for what I’m going to eat. If I teach longer than five hours in a row, I have a smoothie at hour 3. I can drink the smoothie during transitions and I get more than water but protein and fat to keep my brain working. My smoothie is a banana, sugar-free sun butter, matcha, and greens. This is what works for me, and I’ve found over time that fruit in my smoothie gives me a sugar crash. What you may need to eat may be different, but I like getting the smoothie as a meal replacement that I can gradually drink (instead of trying to gulp down a protein bar all at once). If I have a break, I make a green tea. If I have time to eat lunch, I do a salmon salad with kale (I put salsa on top. It adds nice flavor and softens the kale). I always have snacks on hand, and eat while the clients clean if I feel brain fog coming on. My favorite snacks combine some fat with protein. I usually have dried buffalo bars, Trader Joe’s Coconut Clusters, RX Bars, chocolate covered almonds, or dried fruit on hand. I also like dried chickpeas and beat chips. I love dried seaweed, but I’ve found it’s too messy for a quick grab (and I have a bag of snacks in my car for the ride home in case I crash then).

Thirdly, water is super important. I’ve found that drinking enough water really helps prevent brain fog. I generally take a sip from my water bottle during the big transitions on Reformer (another great reason to teach your clients to do their own transitions). I have a water bottle I just tip and sip (no covers or lids to slide) so I can watch my clients do the transition after I say it. I won’t use a water bottle where I can’t keep my eyes on the clients for safety reasons.

And my last tip is…I try to stay off my phone. If a client is late or goes to the bathroom and I have a few minutes, it’s super tempting to check my phone. But that takes me out of the room, and most importantly, out of my body. If I do have the shortest of breaks, I first check in: Do I need to eat? Drink? Stretch my calves? Lay over the barrel? The phone will always be there after the session, and it can be a big energy suck, or I might get an email that will distract me from my next lesson. And I often remind myself, there is never an email emergency. People call or text in those situations so I don't need to keep checking email while I’m teaching. It’s better to do that at a separate time (and usually not when I’m with my kids either).

So there are my big tips. I hope they help. I’ve found the more disciplined I am in how I structure my time and nutrition, the better I can serve my clients. And the most important thing is that I am present and available to lead them through the best session I can give them that day. And with a little bit of planning, I can do that.

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Pain, Pilates, and a Tool to Help

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One of the things I love about Pilates is how it gives us permission - permission to listen to our bodies.  I feel like when I was younger I was all about pushing myself and pushing my body to perform.  In order to do that, I had to ignore signs of fatigue and pain.  

Then I found Pilates, and my teacher would ask me questions like "Where do you feel that?"  Nobody had ever asked me that before.  As long as I was performing well, nobody cared.  Now that I've found Pilates, I use my workout time to not only improve the performance of my body, but to also check in.  It's one of the things I love about traditional Pilates that follows Joe's order.  If you repeat the order of the exercises each day, they become a barometer to check in and see how your body is doing.  The consistency acts as a guide to see how my body is feeling each day.  If the 100 is always first, then if it feels different, better, or worse, I know I need to adjust.  I need to listen.  So if I feel a twinge or a pain, it matters.  

The other thing that Pilates taught me is the difference between good pain and bad pain.  Discomfort that lasts during an exercise but goes away when I'm done?  Good.  Discomfort that lasts hours later?  Bad.  Muscle pain?  Good.  Joint pain?  Bad.

And that joint pain leads me to that little bottle above (housed in front of my manuals and research and general to-dos).

I was sent a sample of the Banja Balm by Khroma Herbal Products, so if I was working out and felt a twinge or pain, I would apply the balm to the area after I worked out.  I would massage it in and I always felt better.  So better, in fact, that applying the balm is now part of my ritual after my Pilates practice.  Usually, I workout at 8 or 9pm after the kids are in bed, so I use Pilates as a way to unwind and check in after a long day.  After my workout, I'll apply the balm, and really massage it in.  I've found it also helps relieve the over-stimulation that nighttime workouts can give me as well.  It smells super good, and is full of vegan and organic yummy ingredients.  I've been recommending it to my clients who want a sore muscle rub without camphor because some of them are adverse to the smell.  It is a little grainy, which concerned me the first time I used it, but the balm melts on contact and absorbs well.

So how about a little self-massage after your Pilates session?  Don't mind if I do.

Disclaimer:  I was given a free bottle of the Banja Balm, but all opinions expressed above are my own.

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How to Eat Like a Pilates Teacher

 

So this is not a post on how to loose weight, or what Pilates teachers eat.  It's a post for all the Pilates teachers out there who don't eat.  I usually teach at least five hours in a row, and don't have time to eat.  Literally.  And that's not ok.  And while my go-to lunch is a salmon salad with kale (just let the kale sit with basalmic and it softens up just fine, thank you, no need to massage the kale - hey, why should my kale get more massages than me?), there are days I bring my salad home uneaten.  Not ok.  I can't get up at 5am and then be home at 3pm and not eat.  So one of my mentors, Pamela Garcia, gave me a great tip that I want to share with you:  Eat while the clients clean the equipment.  They really don't need you to direct them while they do that.  It's ok.  The trick is to have food you can quickly grab a few bites of, so it has to be eaten out of hand and not too messy.  Fruit works - apples or oranges are good (you just have to pre-slice them like you're in preschool. I find an apple or orange eaten whole is too messy).  Trail mix is good.  I like the mix of good fats and protein.  You can buy it, which gets expensive, or make it yourself.  Tanka Bites are a great source of protein and not too messy (some jerky gets a bit greasy).  And you can always go with a bar.  I recently tried the Sunwarrior Sol Good Bars, and I liked them.  They were easy to break into pieces to eat quickly, had ingredients I could pronounce, and use plant protein.  I found them filling without being too sweet.  My favorite was the blueberry, which had actual blueberries in it!  So Pilates instructors, make sure you take care of yourself.  It was one of my New Years Resolutions last year (along with Use the Bathroom When you Need To.  No, Seriously, Use the Bathroom When you Need To.).  Sometimes the simplest change is the best.  Practice self-care this year.

**Please understand that I am not suggesting that the above ideas are substitutes for a healthy balanced lunch.  They are simply suggestions as to what you can eat to keep your energy up without a lunch break.  I still eat that salad as soon as I can.  

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How to Drop a Few

My clients often ask me how to drop a few pounds right before a big event, and I've found a simple formula that works, so I'd love to share it with you today.  It's perfect before a big event like a wedding or reunion.

So my secret is simple (Don't you like simple?  No books to buy or complicated lists of "yes" and "no" foods).  Only eat foods that start with a "S" - smoothie, salad, and simple super.

Check out my Mama Morning Shake Recipie to see what I put in my morning smoothie.  I've been digging this protein powder lately.  It has no added sugar, and doesn't have such a "protein powder" taste that I can't taste the fruits and veggies.  I want my smoothie to taste like food, not like chalk.

For lunch, have a salad.  I'm a protein girl, so I usually have salmon on mine, but you could do hard boiled eggs, chicken, or keep it vegan. 

A "simple supper" for me is meat and unlimited vegetables.  Namely, try to avoid carbs late in the day.  Learn how yummy and filling fruit can be.  Add rice or quinoa if you still feel hungry, but add vegetables before that.

And that's it.  Here's why I love this plan:  It's simple, you can repeat it without thinking (sometimes my leftover dinner meat is my salad for the next day), and you can customize it to your budget.  I love a cleanse as much as the next girl, but sometimes those get ridiculously expensive.  Flexibility for me is key - make it vegan, make it organic, make it local, whatever works for you.  Just eat the 3 "S"s!**

 

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My New Secret to Keeping Healthy

At the end of a long day, I used to sit down with a piece of dark chocolate.  That was my "reward" for working so hard.  But after awhile, I started to rethink my idea of "dessert."  Often, when I was working out my clients, they would remark how good it felt to stretch, and I would say, "That's your Pilates dessert." (For example, after Teaser on Reformer, when you drop the straps into the well and arch back, that's dessert for doing Teaser).

So, what if my treat at the end of a long day is to reward my body?  To thank it for the hard work it did to carry me through my workout, run around with my kids, fuel my brain?  What if "dessert" meant taking care of myself?

But who has the time?  Don't I deserve a few minutes to sit?  As a Pilates teacher, I'm constantly on my feet.  As a mother of two young kids, I'm rarely sitting down (unless I'm driving them somewhere or reading a book to them).  Who has the time?

Then it hit me.  I love to eat my little bit of chocolate while watching TV.  You know, those shows you're addicted to?  (And I've already shared a lot of myself on this blog, but I'm not ready to share my guilty pleasure I like to watch at the end of the day.  Let's just say we all need a mix of high and low culture).  What if I use my time watching TV to use my roller?  That's 22 minutes treating myself really well, stretching my muscles (and I always feel really good after).  My kids are already in bed, I watch my shows on the computer when I want...it wouldn't be hard to just change what I'm doing while I'm watching. 

And that small change made a difference in my life in that I'm rethinking what a "reward" is.  A "treat"  treats myself well.  A dessert doesn't have to come in a tub of ice cream.  And I've started looking forward to my roller (almost) as much as I look forward to my chocolate (hey, I love a good dark chocolate).

So has this helped me drop 10 pounds?  No.  But it's changed my thinking about my body, and that's just as important to me.

And the chocolate?  Yeah, I still eat that too.  It's all about balance.  Only I don't label it as a "treat" I've earned.  I think the more we separate ourselves from food labels, the better.  If it's not a treat, then I don't eat it just because I had a rough day.  I eat it because I want to and I enjoy it.  I'm aware that it's what I desire, not what my emotions dictate.

So, what's your definition of Pilates dessert?

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Heal Inflammation from the Inside Out

Do you often treat muscle soreness with pain medicine or creams?  Why not try to make your own tea with healing properties?  It's made with food, so it will nourish your body without any side effects, and it only takes about 5 minutes to make.

I love to make a healing tea with lemon, ginger, and tumeric. 

Lemon is a alkalinzing fruit.  Most Americans have a high acid content to their diets (from eating dairy, meat, sweets, and caffeine).  Lemon can help balance pH levels in the body which has been linked to better digestion, mood, and less pain.  More information on alkaline diets can be found here.

Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, and can also help to aid digestion.  It's also an antioxidant.  It's ability to help with nausea is well documented as well.

Finally, the active ingredient in tumeric** (what gives curry it's yellow color) is curcumin.  It has strong anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant properties. 

So, to make the tea:

1.  Heat some water (I usually just make a single cup for myself)

2.  Squeeze half the juice of one lemon into the water (don't worry about the seeds, you'll strain it later)

3.  Grate about 2 teaspoons fresh ginger into the water

4.  Grate about 2 teaspoons fresh tumeric into the water (peel and grate the tumeric as you would the ginger)

5. Wait about 5-7 minutes, then strain out the ginger, tumeric, and lemon seeds

6.  Enjoy a glass!  If you want to add some sweetness, I recommend honey.

** Tumeric can be found in most health food stores in the produce section, usually by the ginger

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Inspiration

Thank you Ton Voogt for sharing this quote when I took the Super Advanced Reformer Workout at the Pilates Empowerment Summit!  I'm still thinking about this!

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You Are More than Your Body

I was reading this blog today and this line really struck a chord with me:

"Stress trumps all.   Even when the diet and movement are right, you can be undermined by a mind that's bearing a heavy load." 

Isn't that true?  Every time I've had a major injury, it's been during a very stressful period in my life.  I've taken to preemptively doing energy work before a stressful event because my body manifests stress so strongly physically.  When I last sprained my ankle, I was a Graduate Teaching Assitant, was completing my Masters, was teaching full time, and completing the highest level of Pilates certification.  So was it the movement in the ballet class that injured me?  No, it was the heavy load I was carrying in my brain and in my heart.

So, how are you planning on taking care of your mind this year?  How can we lessen the load for each other? 

This may be my New Years Non Resolution .

This will Seriously Change Your Life

Do you remember life before kids? Before college? Before full time work when you could lie around in an epsom salt bath?  It helps to release toxins from your sore muscles so after a tough workout you could just soak, add an essential oil or two, and sip some coconut water so you don't get dehydrated?  Oh, and while we're at it, your maid cleaned your house and your chef prepared your meals for the next day?  Wait, you never did that?  Well, why not, epsom salts are so good for you!

The benefits of epsom salts are well documented.  They are full of magnesium and sulfate, minerals that help to detoxify the body and ease muscle cramps.  And while a bath every so often isn't practical for most of us, did you know that you can just rub them into your skin in a shower?  I got this advice from a client of mine who is a nurse, and I've been doing it for years, and it definitely works.  I just keep my epsom salts near the shower, then rub them into any sore or tight muscles.  Then I can get the benefits without having to take the time to run a bath.

Someday, I'll return to baths.  But until then, at least my body doesn't have to miss out on all the benefits.  And now you don't have to, too.

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