Specific solutions to very prominent problems:
P: I can’t keep up in regular Pilates classes
A: Most popular classes push people into general intermediate Matwork too hard and too fast. Most people look for the burn. But one must get out of the workout mentality and look first for understanding. I like to compare Pilates to a martial art. No one can be a black belt overnight. You have got to start at white belt and work your way up. Without patience, persistence, focus, concentration, and control, one cannot master the Art of Pilates. The essence is in the detail. An exercise you may have done before, will feel like a completely new experience when done correctly. Some of the simplest movements can be excruciatingly difficult to do. So do your research and look for very qualified teachers. Look for small group or ideally one on one training to truly get the benefit of Pilates.
P: Pilates hurt my back
A: The Core is misunderstood! Gripping the abdominals and becoming rigid is not Core Stability. Balancing on a ball is not Core Stability. A stiff spine is not a stable one. Joseph Pilates said, “ a man of 30 with a stiff spine is like a man of eighty, and a man of eighty with a supple spine is like a man of 30.” A supple spine is a healthy spine. I often hear clients complain that they cannot do the Rollup because they think that their abdominals are not strong enough. My answer, “No, it’s because your spine does not bend at the right places.” First unlock the spine and then your abs will work effectively. The Rollup will all of a sudden feel easy to achieve. You cannot push your joints where they won’t go. It takes time to open those joints. The body best responds when we respect it. People hurt their back because they are pushing it beyond its ability, the abdominals don’t work effectively and hence their spine is unsupported in a vulnerable position.
P: The breathing confuses me.
A: The breath is there to guide you. Unfortunately, most people move first and then either breath or forget to breath entirely. First, learn to unlock your breath so that your breath rhythm is even, your lungs can work efficiently with the diaphragm. This then wakes the core to work properly, it also moves and frees the spine, and feeds your muscles and cells while you work. The breath gives you strength and stamina and inevitably releases excess tension the body holds. Consciousnesses, awareness, control. Slow down. Breathe first; wake the core, and then move.
The teacher will cue the breath rhythm according to what they want you to focus on, though it may sometimes feel like the opposite to want you want to do when moving, . The teacher may ask you to breath a certain way in coordination with your movement in order to help you gain more control first, and then once mastered, the teacher may change the breath to challenge you. So there is not necessarily one way to breathe, and no way is the wrong way. What is important is that you use the breath to guide your movement. Look at it this way…your breath potential is equal to your movement potential.
P: I just got out of rehab and all of a sudden I am getting pain again.
A: Relapse after injury is common. Don’t let it wear you down. REHABILITATION DOES NOT EQUAL CURE! If you are doing Pilates as post rehab, you will naturally be getting stronger. This does not mean that you will never get re-injured. What I usually tell my clients is to look out for the gap between relapses and the time it takes them to recover compared to the previous times. As you get stronger, you want to look out for quicker recovery periods and less frequent relapses until one day you either stop relapsing or they are very seldom. It is normal to relapse, so don’t give up on your strengthening program.
P: I can’t find/feel my Pelvic Floor.
A: Do not be embarrassed if you cannot find or feel your pelvic floor. It is an area often ignored. It is also an area that can hold a lot of tension, and therefore become weak; hence the difficulty to contract.
The Pelvic Floor muscles hang at the bottom of the pelvis almost like a hammock hanging from tailbone to pubic bone and also across the two sit bones. Through the muscles exit the Urethra, anus and vagina (women). For example, they are the muscles you use when you need to stop/hold your pee. Do not confuse this contraction with a buttock (Gluteal) contraction. They are a completely separate group of muscles. Often there is weakness in this area if there has been trauma (e.g. childbirth), or surgery (e.g. prostectomy) or if it is too tight (anxiety, stress, pain can be causes.)
One way to find the pelvic floor is to lay on your back with a small wedge (rolled up towel will do) underneath your hips as to prop you into a mild decline position. Pull your legs up towards you and open the legs apart letting them hang to each side. This puts the pelvic floor on a gentle stretch. To contract, imagine closing the exit holes. Imagine closing the curtains around your sit bones/anus and then re-opening. In this position, you cannot use the buttock muscles. It is easier to isolate. If you tend to tense up around these muscles, think instead of relaxing them, letting the curtains open…I often give the image of a blooming flower down there! Practice a few times a week until it becomes easier to control.
Q: Why can’t I do the Rollup?
A: Don’t beat yourself up. Most people cannot do the Rollup. This is a movement often misinterpreted as purely an abdominal exercise. Stop looking at the difficulty of the movement, and instead look at what it can do for your spine! This exercise aims at improving the sequential articulation of the spine (i.e. moving one vertebrae after the other in sequence) through flexion/ a forward bend. One of the jobs of the superficial abdominal layers is to flex the spine. But what happens if the spine doesn’t flex/bend very well? Then surely the abs will not work, they buckle and other muscles will have to get you up off the floor. Picture this, your spine curling freely as to roll like a ball forward and back off the mat, compared with a flatter/stiffer spine hinged up through the hips like a door swinging on its hinge. Obviously the latter would be more difficult and is what happens most often than not. Begin by searching to lengthen the spine from head to tail. Pull each end away from each other, decompressing the joints of the spine so that they can open into flexion. Allow your hips to roll and the spine to pull away from the hips on the way down so that you elongate also as you descend. Coming up surely more difficult, but not so when finally the spine unlocks. Just keep thinking, “ give the spine room to move…lengthen, lengthen, lengthen. Don’t forget to lead the movement through a full breath, because if your breath locks, so will the spine. Give it time to respond and soon one day the Rollup will feel effortless.