The Side kick series hand placement is practiced in the Classical position. The bottom palm of hand is pressed into the mat and in line with the waist. The shoulder blades are actively drawn down the back helping to support the rib cage.

However, people are spending more time at their computers and wreaking havoc on the wrists with repetitive wrist movements. The Stability position may be a more effective position because the wrist joint is stablized and supported using the fist.

To advance this series with the Challenge position, the bottom hand is slightly wrapped around the waist and lower ribs, to maintain a square ribcage, opposed to the ribs usually sinking into the mat. The shoulder blade connection on both sides is imperative to keep the spine from dipping down.

In my presentation of the full Intermediate mat, the first 3 exercises I incorporate the wrapping of the waist to support the bottom ribs, and the fist is used for the Bicycle.

Try what works for you. Classical, if there are no wrist issues, Stability, if there are, and the Challenge position to strengthen the ribcage. The final and most challenging  hand placement are the hands behind the base of the skull with the elbows wide.

Classical position - palm flat

Classical position – palm flat

 

Stability position - fist

Stability position – fist

 

Challenge position - hand wrapped around the low ribs

Challenge position – hand wrapped around the low ribs

 

Joseph Pilates was an athletic man, which makes his life’s work a natural for men – too bad the true power of his method is misunderstood by many men choosing the gym instead. By using  free weights and gigantic machines to train mostly the larger muscles groups, they virtually ignore the smaller muscles. Mr. Pilates understood not only that smaller muscles groups need attention too, but the deeper muscles, especially the ones on each side of the spine, were the secret to spinal health and longevity. He recognized that a supple spine meant efficient movement overall, and he advanced this understanding by inventing various apparatus so he himself could master the technique. Each exercise focuses on the balance of spinal strength and flexibility, and those progressions promote the use of the entire body, not just one body part.

The men I’ve worked with in the past and the ones I presently teach know that a “just show up and work,” attitude is the entry into this life-long practice, and their competitive nature motivates them to improve, succeed and give one hundred percent, each and every time. I especially appreciate working with male athletes because they don’t spend a lot of time chatting, sharing or processing and it makes my job simpler and more enjoyable. And in my view, one main reason for the ignorance about who benefits from the Pilates method, is that advertising largely pushes products and services using mostly female models, thus giving the perception that Pilates is mainly for women.

With more opportunities to share my work and knowledge of the Pilates method with both amateur and professional athletes, and to a greater extent, athletic teams, I’m confident the perception of Pilates will change as coaches witness stronger, more effective performances from their athletes.

The quiet, powerful work of acupuncture and the Pilates method are regularly partnered because of the focus on stimulating and cleansing the organs. Joe often said by practicing his method, the organs would experience an internal shower, and though many people credit Pilates with mainly strengthening the core muscles, a more complete description is that when practiced correctly, the exercises can have a profound effect on all the systems in the body.

In his book, Return to Life, Mr. Pilates speaks in depth about his vision of true health originating from the inside out and lectured to many types of doctors in order to help educate them about the value of his work. Joe also photographed his students when they first began their training, and months later, as balance and strength returned to their bodies. He was able to share these student transformations at his lectures as the photos clearly illustrated the power of his method and consequently, Mr. Pilates is credited as the first fitness instructor to document his client’s progress with photos.

Acupuncture not only strengthens the organs energy points, but treats acute and chronic pain by reducing inflammation and helping to shut down unnecessary pain signals. The needles provide increased blood flow that promotes tissue regeneration. When an injury is healed, by maintaining health through prevention with regular acupuncture and Pilates conditioning, the patient is re-educated, ultimately keeping new injuries to a minimum by improving overall body alignment.

Pilates instructors and acupuncturists both believe that alternative healing methods could alter the practice of western medicine and its heavy reliance on drug therapy. With more natural remedies available such as Chinese herbs and homeopathic supplements, it may be inevitable that the entire medical profession will have to make room for other types of health practitioners who inherently understand that the real physician exists in each one of us.

 

 

A loyal Pilates path is a righteous thing, but other types of passions can be on that path as well, and, for me, it’s always been my deep love and respect for horses. Regal, powerful and spiritual – these beings have it all. Recently, I was privileged to spend the day with a small herd of horses and had the opportunity to observe the quiet but very intense communications they had with each other. Magnificent multi-colored hills and I were an appreciative audience for these gorgeous equines.

It probably isn’t an accident that I’m attracted to an animal that serves as an instrument for healing and transformation – just as Pilates does with its own unique insights. Horses are used to help humans cope with many kinds of self-esteem issues and health challenges such as muscular dystrophy and autism. Even the mechanics of horseback riding can be seen in  the reformer’s leather straps, which were modeled after the reins to guide a horse. Horses and Pilates are a beautiful fit, so whether someone is utilizing the Pilates technique on a horse or on a reformer, this method continues to demonstrate its usefulness and specialness. Those of us who teach and practice the Pilates method already know the unlimited impact of Mr. Pilates’ vision, and know that it, too, it will remain a powerful healing modality.

 

 

 

 

 

“You’re a bull in a china shop,” he said unapologetically. So how does my interim new boss think I’ve become as established as I am? Well, certainly not from hiding behind my mother’s apron. But just before I left Los Angeles to begin a new chapter, one of my very wise clients said to me, “ Remember, wherever you go, there you are.” For me, this meant that even with my New York chutzpah and LA accomplishments, I’d still have to prove myself all over again in a new town. I knew my Pilates training would help me in centering myself.

Most of us have had the experience of dealing with a boss, partner, client or others to whom we sell services or products. Those dealings can either bring out the best or worst in us, depending on our confidence level and sense of self worth. I’m not implying that to be successful you have to bulldoze through a negotiation, but to know you are fearless enough to do so will help you achieve your objectives and goals. I didn’t need to hide behind any apron when I negotiated a higher salary and helped to redefine my role in an existing project; convincing the boss of my abilities and what they were worth to him. In another instance, with another employer,  my compensation was less than agreed on, and I kept up the pressure until the situation was corrected.

I’ve learned that it’s important to understand your value in the marketplace, be proficient in your chosen profession and continue to develop your talents. If you are not clear in communicating what you have to offer, you leave it to others to define your worth. My students know that I always encourage them to believe in their talents and the contribution they can make to the world. The confidence attained with Pilates has helped many of my students stand strong and not back down when offered a job opportunity that did not utilize their skills. Remember if you are not going to be respected and compensated accordingly, take the bull by its horns, and if needed, go and seek out your rightful place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I move further away from time spent in Los Angeles, a new sense of freedom has emerged. It’s probably the clean, crisp air that’s making me feel both grounded and open, evidenced by the ease with which I practice Pilates, because I know I did not experience this type of expansion living in LA. The funny thing is, my move to Sonoma has become more than just teaching Pilates to a new and appreciative audience; it’s invited me to reclaim my whole self. My lungs feel healthier, my stress level is much lower, and it’s so apparent how a smog-filled big city and hurried life can impede the process of practicing deep Pilates. And I can report with certainty that the mental grit and grime has also lost its hold.

However, the excitement my new students are showing for classical Pilates motivates me to share a few memories of Romana Kryzanowska both in New York and Los Angeles. What a great feeling to share those memories and to know how fortunate I was to learn from and be around Joseph Pilates’ main disciple. Two compliments she gave me regarding the way I practiced Pilates, I still hold very dear. During a Romana workshop, I was as usual working extremely hard, and  was aware that she was watching me. She moved quietly to my side and whispered, “You’re doing real Joe, now,” and I could hear the pride in her voice. Those five unforgettable words totally lit me up, especially because I’d never heard her say them to anyone before.  Another time during a continuing education class, she told me that I practiced Pilates with great rhythm and that was music to my ears as I continually teach my students the importance of transitions and the innate rhythm in them.

Romana gave me a new level of confidence in my own innate rhythm because one surprising bonus of moving north is I have ventured off the reformer, (after my workout, of course) and into a weekly drum circle where I’ve fallen for the Djuns and Tongue drums. Understanding the importance of practicing Pilates with rhythm can help in other areas of life, whether it’s music, sports or even cooking. There is a rhythmic universal heartbeat that’s available if time is taken to listen. I’ve listened, and a new Sonoma path has opened – it includes hiking, drumming and the opportunity to soar.

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Pilates was quoted as saying he was fifty years ahead of his time. I can only imagine what he might have thought knowing that even as he was developing his system of mind/body fitness, the American public wouldn’t truly appreciate his contribution to wellness, until decades later. Over eighty years have gone by and Americans as well as the global Pilates community are indeed celebrating his methodology, as well as rediscovering the natural design and intentions of the human body.

However, he might not have imagined a future in which so many diluted versions of his method with hundreds of certification programs that promise fast results for students and faster certificates for teachers were now offered worldwide. Though Mr. Pilates’ theories about reclaiming our youthful spine have been fully embraced, he might question those programs that bare his name and yet take liberties with his technique.

Those who were fortunate to study with Romana, as I did, would often hear her say that bad Pilates was better than no Pilates and even if people were learning unrecognizable variations of the Pilates theme, it was better than nothing. The first time I heard Romana utter those words, I was speechless. How could she be okay with one of the most brilliant systems of body conditioning ever developed be continually changed by people who claimed to teach the work of Joseph Pilates, but were not? Her words seemed out of sync with the stringent guidelines that she encouraged us to follow as we practiced and taught.

It’s clear that today’s client isn’t so attached to tradition, and welcomes a variety of techniques so long as the magic word Pilates is promised. As a traditionalist and practitioner of the original work, I understand that those of us who continue to teach what Joseph Pilates taught, are often at odds with clients who have the mind-set that supports whatever “Pilates” regimen will give them a great butt or an awesome upper body or a Pilates teaching certificate. My students understand that practicing Pilates is more than just developing a good looking bottom and strong upper body – they know the true value is how practicing Pilates consistently makes their daily activities easier, lighter and more effortless.

Any of the classical arts, when compared to the modern representations, can evoke heated conversations as to which style has more value. Still, if the many non-classical approaches that the public is more familiar with, can produce similar results, maybe that’s better as Romana said, than no Pilates at all. But Mr. Pilates may just have the last word, as I can imagine him saying to himself, “Fads fade, classics stay and my work will remain ever more.”

 

 

I’ve always said that the Pilates method is simple but not easy. It’s the same with achieving breath control and quieting a busy mind – easy to understand but difficult to execute.

When I moved up north to be closer to nature, I intuitively knew I’d find the peace I’d been asking for as my creativity was slowly diminishing. Helen Putnam Park is walking distance from my new home, and it has given me the chance to slow my breath and still my mind.  I refer to the park as my friend because in a sense the park has become a partner I can depend on to assist me as I release, let go and reignite my imagination.

As I climb higher into the park, spectacular settings are everywhere. My lungs ask for more and more air that I gladly pull in knowing it’s clean and fresh. A lone wooden bench summons me as I reach the top of Ridge Trail, and sit, enamored by the stillness – a stillness that only recently seemed attainable. Helen displays her multi-colored beauty and whispers to me that with clarity of mind, all things are possible. When new ideas and dreams are aching to surface, there is no better way than inviting nature to help them burst upward and blossom. Nature’s faithfulness is with you and all you have to do is seek her out.

A big city can swallow you up if you aren’t careful and it’s understandable for your tender side to stay hidden. But if you decide to leave for a smaller town, make sure to unearth your soul and take it with you.

As I move closer to leaving Los Angeles, a place I’ve called home for over two decades, I guess it’s only natural to look back at many of the experiences that have helped to shape my ideas and beliefs. I want to share some of those with you and perhaps offer a few insights.

On friendship in LA:

“Find your tribe first.”

I always wondered if it was the weather, the traffic or the celebrities prancing around that kept many people distracted from forming intimate relationships. They say keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, and in this town, the “enemies” aka, “pretenders” seem much more interested in cultivating relationships – that is of course, as long as it fits their agendas. Finding solid friendships in a town that asks you to be real only once you get into character doesn’t exactly create a trusting environment.

Advice on friendships: As you navigate around the superficialities of a big city, try finding your tribe first, and not after you’re able to drop names and what you might or might not be able to do for someone. You’ll attract takers, not givers.

On dating in LA:

“When did Hello, become such a threatening word?”

More times than I care to remember, while shopping in a grocery store, I’d make eye contact with a gentleman and say hello, only to have him look away. I couldn’t have kale salad lodged in my teeth every time, so what was it? My goodness, I only said hello. I didn’t want to marry him. Distracted or unhappy or narcissistic people miss out on the fun, yet fleeting moments in our daily routines.

Advice on dating: Socrates said, “Know thy self” and he might have added, “Know your value and know your worth.” Have complete faith in yourself and keep saying, hello. Eventually, if you’re willing to let your faith shine, a special someone will shine right back at you, whether in a grocery store or putting gas in your car. And then, just maybe, your hello, will be returned.

On Team sports in LA:

“Choose your team wisely.”

Another love of mine is softball. I wanted to play with both men and women, so I joined a co-ed softball league. I never knew that this league was referred to as the “beer league” which would have put me off from the beginning. And true to that title, the very first team I joined seemed much more interested in drinking than playing. From the start, it seemed a bit odd to me the so-called captain never encouraged us to get to the field early so we could throw the ball around or even have someone at home plate hitting grounders and flies to us. Instead, the women on the team who obviously either socialized or played together previously would huddle before each game always excluding me, so I’d gravitate towards the men. They weren’t much better, but at least they acknowledged me, and didn’t shut me out.

Advice on choosing to play with others: Have confidence in your capabilities and what you bring to the table. Then if the team you choose doesn’t feel right, find a team that welcomes you. And this is what I finally did. My new team is encouraging, we all high-five each other regularly, and everyone is interested in playing the game and winning. Even my hitting improved, so much so that the umpire took notice and remarked, “Look at you, you’re all grown up now!” And then he began calling me, “Slugger.”

On teaching Pilates in LA:

“Don’t be afraid to ‘divorce’ your students.”

Teaching the Pilates method in a town that’s filled with type A personalities, and where everything needs to be fixed or changed immediately, a thoughtful and methodical approach to Pilates often goes unappreciated. One day, a client came to me and raised her arms out to the sides so I could see a pair of non-toned arms, and said, “I’m going to be in a wedding next weekend, I need you to make my arms look like yours.” Even though I tried to explain that if she wanted permanent change for the body, not to mention for her mind and spirit, she’d have to be willing to put the hard work in. Well, she didn’t last long, and unfortunately, those who aren’t capable of committing to the work, will prove to be more trouble than they’re worth.

Advice on teaching: Be willing to forego a full roster to maintain space for those who want to be dedicated and don’t have commitment issues. And practice and more practice until you, yourself, know the work backwards and forwards. If you don’t understand a concept, ask someone you respect to explain it to you, and if that person doesn’t have time for you, move onto another. Stay curious, keep learning and wanting to make an impact. When you remain interested in the Pilates method, your clients will remain interested in you.

A question I’ve often asked myself: “Was this LA chapter of my life worth all the time, effort, sweat, worry, tears and sacrifice that I put into it?”

A very long pause…

Yes, it was. Los Angeles gave me the opportunity to grow in ways I could not have anticipated, and though I endured many disappointments and rejections, both professionally and personally, I was able develop my craft at a time when people only knew to ask, “What’s Pilates?” And as the Pilates method became known and accepted in the fitness industry, Los Angeles gave me the chance to freely develop my technique and style,  which I continue to teach today.

THANK YOU, LOS ANGELES.

 

When a door closes and another one opens, it may be that this door has been there right along; it’s just up to us to be open and available to it. I learned this life lesson when I closed my studio, and put all of my equipment in storage. I had no plans to teach right away, because after almost twenty years of my Pilates commitment, I needed a break from everything and everyone. I even wondered if my impact in the Pilates world was still relevant.

On the West side of Los Angeles, there is a Chiropractic Wellness Center. The owner, a chiropractic doctor, had always envisioned adding Pilates to his Center. He treats one of my clients, and during her lessons with me, on several occasions, she told me about him and his interest in meeting me. A new door was slowly opening and though I hadn’t thought much about contacting the doctor, once I did close my studio, his name came to mind. To my delight, the doctor’s philosophies and mine about total health were so similar that working together was a natural outcome. A surprising bonus was where I had stored my apparatus, literally yards from his office, ensured an easy to transfer of equipment to his Center.

Timing, as we know is everything, and to remain open to new possibilities, new doors, new people, I find it helpful to quiet the mind and repeat a positive mantra such as this one, “All good things come to me at the right time. With trust, all good things come.” Like our muscles, trusting ourselves needs strengthening on an on-going basis so we can recognize those opportunities we might have otherwise overlooked or ignored.