When I first learned the Pilates method from Romana, she referred to the method as the “Pilates system,” as there were eight major pieces of equipment that Joseph Pilates invented* and each had its own specific exercises. As one of the eight, the Ladder Barrel at first sight is just a large round hump with a small ladder attached to it, but for those who practice the Pilates system, it has become a favorite for stretching the legs and spine.

A part of the Pilates method called the “Short Box Series” is often taught on the Ladder Barrel, and the last exercise of this series is called, “Climb a Tree.” While most of us in Romana’s certification program were dancers and former dancers and quite capable of extreme stretches, she didn’t want us to teach Climb a Tree as there was (and still is) an element of fear in leaning backwards for the non-dancer type clientele. Romana’s belief in safety in teaching the Pilates method never wavered, and neither has mine. Yet, as my teaching abilities matured, I was able to clearly explain and demonstrate for my students the benefits of the full exercise.

You can view the Short Box Series, on an iPad/iPhone app, DVD or on my YouTube channel. I demonstrate it on the safest of all the apparatus – the Mat. The mat provides support for the spine and legs which makes it an easy place to practice, and if you’re a teacher, to teach it. In addition, the fear factor for “Climb a tree’” is non-existent as there isn’t an opportunity for full back extension. However, for my students who learn the Pilates exercises including the Tree, on the apparatus, they learn the true meaning of “You are as young as your spinal column,” which is part of the Pilates philosophy.

* Joseph Pilates’ creative genius was always at work, even on a ship sailing to America. The ship also carried a cargo of wine barrels – and that led to his experiments of leaning backwards over a wine barrel and feeling the immediate stretch and release in the spine. This resulted in his invention of the Ladder Barrel as well as the Magic circle, inspired by the steel bands that encircled the barrels.

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