The Soap Box is now connected to the Pilates Style site! Visit http://www.pilatesstyle.com and click on “Blog” to see new and old entries. See you there!
Last year, a new client of mine confessed that due to her chronic pain she would regularly sit in a chair and stare into nothingness for hours at a time. I instantly thought, Am I out of my league here? Should I be referring her to a psychologist? It became extremely clear to me that she was realizing that her physical pain was beginning to have a deeper, more serious effect on her mood, psyche and ability to lead a productive life. I knew that she was in pain (that is after all why she started doing Pilates), but I saw a fighter, a woman who committed to walk into the studio three times a week, and always had a brave face on and a surprisingly positive attitude. I admired her ability to dig deep and not get lost in her sadness, so I committed myself to her cause and together we began to explore Pilates’ ability to correct her muscle imbalances and improve her function. And through rolling, stretching, strengthening and bending, her pain began to heal and her depressive symptoms began to reverse.
There is an intimate relationship between pain and depression, and research shows that depression affects the body as much as it does the mind. Pain can be depressing and depression causes and exacerbates pain. In my client’s case, her chronic pain was causing her to slip into depressive behavior, and luckily she recognized it and refused to allow it to pull her down completely. My experience with her got me thinking about how, why and if Pilates could actually serve as a complementary—if not the sole—treatment for those suffering from mild depression.
I discovered that one in eight women develop depression at some point in their life, and women suffer from depression twice as much as men. I bring these statistics to light because Pilates is more popular and practiced among women, which means it could potentially serve as an excellent treatment option for women dealing with depression. Depression can lead to changes in appetite, insomnia, anxiety, an overwhelming loss of energy, a withdrawal from others and unexplained pain in the lower back, neck and joints.
Pain and depression feed on each other; when one persists the other becomes increasingly difficult to treat and the hopes of recovery may seem futile. The problem resides in the brain pathways and the pain that is reflected in the circuitry of the nervous system. The nervous pathways that are presided over by the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine travel up the brain where they regulate mood and thinking. Interestingly, these same neurotransmitters also have pathways that descend down the spinal cord where they deflect signals of discomfort and suppress pain. Depression, as well as chronic pain, can alter the function and communication of these pathways within the brain and the nervous system. And when these pathways fail to operate efficiently, both physical pain and feelings of depression are intensified.
So how can we use Pilates to help rectify the relationship between pain and depression? With Pilates, we can help to break the cycle of pain and depression through creating muscular balance, improving mobility and by generating a functional body that can move with efficiency, control and intention. Research has found that exercise of any kind (aerobic and non-aerobic) can play significant role in the management of depression through physiological changes that show improvements of endorphin and monoamine concentrations. Research also suggests that positive feedback from others, social contact, the mastery of a new skill, and the diversion from negative thoughts are important mechanisms in how exercise can help with depression. Although there are no specific studies on the effects of Pilates relate to depression, when an individual practices Pilates principles and exercises, he or she can potentially treat pain and depression.
In a society that relies too heavily on drugs for a cure-all, and with the negative side effects of these drugs, I believe that individuals are justified in exploring the effects that a regular Pilates practice may have on pain and depression. What do you think?
Studio owners—especially new owners—need to make sure that their staff is on the cutting edge of Pilates. Currently, I have eight Pilates trainers who work at my studio in Lake Mary, FL. I give my trainers continuing education and technique classes about every two months or so. And, I require them to take at least two of my classes a week. (At no charge, of course!)
Why, you ask?
It’s simple: Before I opened my studio, I knew I had to pinpoint exactly why I was so much busier than the other trainers at the places where I had taught. My goal was to make sure that my staff was just busy as I am.
When I opened my second studio seven years ago, I had to really stop and think about why my clients were following me from studio to studio. And why did they always want to take my class and my class only? Was it because…
…my trainers were not well trained? No.
…of a personality conflict? No.
…of a time issue? Maybe.
When I asked some of my longtime clients why they were so loyal to me, they said the biggest reason was that I seem to have “x-ray vision.” They said that I could see from across the room if someone was not in proper alignment or was not engaging the appropriate muscle for a particular exercise. That got my wheels turning.
I realized that I had to teach my trainers to truly understand Pilates. It’s not about remembering all of the exercises or sequences; it’s about understanding how each move affects every part of the body, why that’s important, and how you need to modify the move if a person has physical restrictions or needs. Pilates needs to be organic.
Continuing education and practice are essential for every trainer. It took me three years of focused study to realize what I call “the brilliance of Pilates.”
Do I sound crazy? Like a Pilates addict? Well, I am!
I love every facet of Pilates. To say that Pilates is for everyone is a huge understatement to me.
Next up: how to develop that x-ray vision. Be back soon!
Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body): That was Joseph Pilates’ gold standard standard. Who can argue with that? But it’s easier said than done.
Even mastering just one of those—the mens sana or the corpore sano—would merit three cheers when two out of three Americans (excluding we, Pilate-istas, of course) are tipping the scales these days.
The principles we’ve previously considered in this blog include balance, control, integration, imagination and intuition—both on the mat and on our menus—and how they can work to help us achieve that mens sana in corpore sano goal. But there’s more: Consider flow or fluidity. Can you move easily through your meals and menus? That is, can you flow from the soup to the salad to the dessert the way you flow in your practice? If there’s something missing, can (or should) you create a bridge with food supplements?
In a word (my word), yes. Everyone agrees that our diets need to provide a certain amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for us to flow on the mat and elsewhere. But are you meeting your needs with food alone? Probably not—even if you take the time to record your meals in a food journal. Although not everyone agrees that supplements are essential protection, I think that, if you are like most of us with a bad eating habit or two, you could do worse than supplementing meals with supplements. Just as adding a Magic Circle or Theraband to your workout can make you physically stronger, a little help from that tablet or capsule may make you nutritionally better protected.
Supplements are a good elective for another reason. Some nutrients go out the window even if you are meeting your RDA if you also take OTC or prescribed drugs, drink alcohol or slurp too much caffeine. Oral contraceptives, for example, deplete a number of nutrients, including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and folic acid, while antacids delete calcium and thyroid medications interfere with iron absorption. Remember, the right balance of vitamins and minerals is essential for digestion, absorption, the metabolism and transport of nutrients throughout your body. Toxins in the water, air and soil (and they number in the thousands) also deplete various levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need to look good, feel good and flow. Just taking a single aspirin, for example, can interfere with your uptake of iron, potassium and vitamins B5 and C.
So what’s the take-away about supplementing? At a minimum, you need at a good multivitamin (preferably one formulated for your sex and age that carries the United States Pharmacopeia crest). Additional ascorbic acid (vitamin C), preferably in the optimally absorbed Ester-C form, is also needed to help keep your immune system strong. One or two grams daily taken in spaced doses couldn’t hurt (and if you don’t need it, it’s water soluble and will simply be voided). A bone support supplement that contains calcium, vitamin D and perhaps bone health compounds such as boron and silica and vitamin K is a must for women, too. Wash it all down with a cup of green tea and you’re good to flow!
Most men love sports, which require strength, flexibility, stability and balance—so why aren’t more men flocking to Pilates studios? It’s been 17 years since I begin teaching Pilates and 10 years since I opened my own studio, and during that time only one thing’s been missing: men. I’ve taught Pilates to men, including a few professional athletes, however, I think many studio owners will agree that women vastly outnumber men as clients.
Until recently, Pilates was a well-kept secret among professional athletes. I recently taught two high school kids who were enthusiastic about taking Pilates because they learned that many NFL players are required to use it (using the Reformer, which I believe makes the workout safer and more effective) as part of their workout routine.
So if macho men who are paid millions to play football can do Pilates, I wonder…Why aren’t more men taking advantage of this exercise? Do they acquaint Pilates with ballet or do they consider it too “feminine?” Do they hear that it strengthens their core and increases flexibility and think, I’ve got a six pack and who wants to be flexible? Has our industry done a poor job of communicating the significant benefits of the exercises created by Joseph Pilates?
I was once a skeptic as well. When I was in my early 20s, I lived in Miami where I taught kickboxing, weight training and gymnastics. Needless to say, I thought I was in great shape. A friend of mine who was a ballet dancer was taking Pilates classes. I watched a class and thought, that’s for girls—it’s a little stretching thing. My friend convinced me to take a class and you know the rest of the story: that class kicked my butt! I fell in love with the Pilates exercises that provided strength and flexibility, along with balance, joint stability and body awareness.
I began taking classes while still nursing a nagging back injury and little by little, the injury went away. I began studying for certifications and along the way got into the best shape of my life. Pilates has changed my body physically, and has changed my life mentally and spiritually, and I want to share that with everyone…from children to adults, to men and women, to professional athletes or office desk jockeys.
So how can a regular Pilates class benefit any man? Well, to begin with, it’s one of the best ways I know to improve your physique or your game, whether it’s hockey, basketball, baseball, running, golf or cycling. Among my former clients are an Olympic skier, two tennis playing sisters of international fame, and probably the world’s best-known golfer. He knew Pilates would increase his flexibility and range of motion and help prevent injuries during a long pro tour—and the results have made sports history time and again.
Like all Pilates instructors know, this golfer realized that most pain and injuries are the result of muscle imbalance and a lack of flexibility. For example, too often men train their upper bodies, and that creates muscle imbalance and misalignment, which can lead to injury. Pilates is one of the best methods I know of for preventing balancing muscles, aligning the body and preventing injury. For that reason alone, men should be running to their nearest Pilates studio. I’ve trained NBA players because they knew that stabilizing their hip and knee joints is critical to their performance on the court, not to mention the increased range of motion they experienced.
In our studio, we can train clients for a specific sport, however, by following the Pilates principles of moving with stability to engage the appropriate muscles, enhance body awareness, strengthen the core and increase balance and agility, we engage the entire body from the head to the tips of the toes.
The men I work with say Pilates is without exception the best exercise they’ve ever done. When they first experience it, they are surprised it is so challenging, and how good they feel after the workout. For example, one of my clients, a former baseball player, was so stiff he could not put on his shoes and socks without difficulty and discomfort. After just five sessions, he was able to bend over with no discomfort and slept without pain for the first time in 10 years.
In fact, many of the men I work with come to me as a last resort before surgery, but if they were coming in during their athletic years, they might be able to prevent the injuries that lead to pain and surgery. I’m glad to see that Pilates is finally being recognized in the rehabilitation field. For so long, most doctors trying to help people recover from their injuries didn’t have much body awareness themselves.
If you are a man who is looking for a full-body workout that’s going to build more muscle fiber and strength while increasing your flexibility, mobility, joint stability and the ability to move with ease in every range of motion, I encourage you to be open-minded and give Pilates a try. Try different studios and different styles until you find the right fit.
Go into it with no expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised. When you look for a Pilates instructor, check out their background and ask questions. Make sure they hold a national certification for Pilates, and find out how long they have been teaching. Once you give Pilates a try, I believe that like most of my clients, you might just find yourself hooked on this not-for-women-only exercise philosophy.
Here are just six challenging Pilates exercises and the benefits they can provide to men, and women.
Arabesque This position provides stability and strengthens the core abdominal muscles. It also promotes flexibility of the thoracic spine and lower extremities.
Boxing using slastix Men know that boxing requires power, agility, control and balance. All of these are achieved by using the slastix attached to the Reformer tower. You learn to box with power and control.
Control front This move provides some serious core and upper-body strength.
Jumpboard with slastix One of the more aerobic exercises done on the Reformer apparatus, this plyometric exercise is a challenging, full-body workout that promotes higher vertical jumping.
Russian Split with slastix This position offers strength, stability, flexibility and balance. It provides hip, quadriceps and hamstring flexibility, while strengthening the knees, hips, lower and upper back and triceps.
Side Plank Tightens the core and midsection; shapes and sculpts the back and shoulders.
I am a baby boomer, and I am proud of it. I was born in July, 1953, in Los Angeles, CA, and will be 58 this year. How did that happen? We have zero control over when we are born and, unless you have a secret the rest of the world does not know about, no one is exempt from getting older. In fact, I believe that it is a privilege to age. Consider the alternative: When someone passes on at an “early age,” we cry that that person left us so young. And yet, the day before, we may have been criticizing the lines on his forehead, or the muffin top above her waist. We complain about it, obsess about it, hate it, fight it, get depressed about it, but, at the end of the day, it is inevitable. It’s not like Jane Smith will stay her age forever, or Joe Blow grows younger each year, and you are singled out by the universe to be one of the few to grow old and die. All that being said, what does being a baby boomer have to do with Pilates?
As the largest population group in history, it has a lot to do with Pilates. The United States Census Bureau considers a baby boomer to be someone born during the demographic birth boom, between 1946 and 1964. I am amused when people talk about the effect boomers have on the economy. Well, in 2011, the economy is the boomers! There are 75 million of us—that is a statistical reality. What are we spending our money on? Us! Our health, youth and staying young with whatever that takes. Whatever is being sold to keep us young and fit, we are buying it.
Why are baby boomers gravitating toward Pilates? Simple; it keeps you young. And we baby boomers are determined to stay young.
“You are as old as your spine is flexible,” Joseph Pilates once said.
The number one complaint among boomers is feeling stiff, all the time! They wake up stiff, and go to bed stiff. Being on a computer all day, working, and living life in general is stressful, and their bodies take the punishment. Plus, the number of years of physical pounding, old-school aerobics, running, or just plain being a couch potato has taken a toll. We thought it would never happen to us, but guess what? It did—and still is.
In Pilates, we strive for a spine that is flexible, articulate and strong. No matter your age or abilities, a spine that can bend forward, backward, side to side and rotate is a young spine. And we can keep it young into our 90’s and beyond. To articulate the space between the vertebrae is the best way to stay healthy, pain free and flexible. We must keep the spine loose and lengthened. Hence the mantra, “one vertebra at a time” that we use to cue Roll-Downs. We must imagine our spine long and lean, like a beautiful string of opulent pearls. This allows all the nerves to freely flow throughout the canals. We keep the musculature in proper alignment with our skeletal system so that the nerve endings do not compress into the muscles. We breathe deeply and fully to allow oxygen to freely flow though out the body, and facilitate the movement. We are so used to using just the front of our bodies; the back rarely moves into extension.
Constant use of computers keeps our shoulders rounded and the spine constantly flexed. It’s as if you are one-dimensional instead of three.
I remember as a young teenager only tanning the front side of my body because I had no awareness of my back! As we age, ignorance of our back side kicks us in the butt, so to speak, and we experience stiffness and pain throughout our bodies.
As boomers, our goal is not to be on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, or to have the hottest body at the beach. We want to be comfortable, to look and feel good, and have the feelings we experienced back in the ’60s and ’70s when the world was our oyster. Good news: It still is. Only now we are older and wiser! We appreciate all that we have worked so hard for, and we are not going to let our bodies be the last to enjoy what life has to offer.
Life for us Baby Boomers is just beginning.
Are you powering your powerhouse with power foods or is it running on empty? If you are tapping into your innate intuition about your body’s likes, dislikes, limits and challenges (that your Pilates practice has helped you develop), it’s probably the former. “Not mind or body, but mind AND body,” Joseph Pilates once said. That mind-body-in-tandem principle applies to our life at the table as well as our life on the mat or apparatus.
Igniting our intuition (another Pilates principle) can have far-reaching results. It can save us from pain and disease, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that regular consumption of fatty foods triggers dangerous inflammation in the body that sets the stage for type II diabetes. Other studies have pointed to inflammation as the key factor in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
At the very least, the act of turning off your intuition and indulging in tasty (temporarily) but unhealthy foods will result in a Pilates body that is fat, not fit (sooner or later). It will also ruin your palate (sooner rather than later) for the very power foods that intuitively we know help to balance our moods, give us energy and boost long-term health.
So what are the power foods that a finely tuned intuition tell us should be in our pantries right now? Which foods prevent rather than provoke disease-triggering inflammation?
In the interests of full disclosure, I am biased (I don’t think coffee is the wonder food it has suddenly become in some quarters, and as an ethical vegetarian I admit that grass-fed beef and wild salmon, despite their nutritional virtues, don’t make my list), but my short list does includes plenty of garden variety foods that aren’t eaten nearly enough by most of us, even though intuitively we know they should be on our plates.
If you wouldn’t let a week go by without doing the Hundred a few times, you shouldn’t let a week go by without empowering your body by eating most (if not all) of these powerhouse foods:
- Apples, berries, oranges and other citrus fruit
- Walnuts and other nuts and seeds
- Spinach and other leafy green vegetables
- Soybean foods (tofu, miso, Tempeh)
- Whole grains (rice, bulgur, quinoa)
- Olives and olive oil
- Broccoli and other cabbage family vegetables
- Carrots, parsley and other salad bowl herbs
- Green and black teas
- Garlic, onions and legumes
- Tomatoes and yogurt
What makes these specific foods valuable—or, rather, indispensable—to good health? They are all high in an assortment of substances that build and repair health (antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, trace elements) while relatively low in calories, fat and sodium.
For example, don’t turn your nose up at those carrot sticks sitting next to the cottage cheese. Carrots do more for your vision than almost any other vegetable because of their high beta-carotene content. And they deliver hard-to-get vitamin K for strong bones.
Twenty-calorie-a-stick carrots are also effective liver and intestinal tract cleaners and their high fiber helps keep LDL levels in check. Eat them, raw, eat them cooked or try as a salad dressing in the following recipe:
Carrot-Citrus and Ginger Salad Dribble
Yield: about 1 cup
Mix in the blender or food processor:
½ cup freshly juiced carrot or canned carrot juice
2 tablespoons fresh or from concentrate orange juice
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sesame or flaxseed oil
1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon orange zest
½ teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
Dash black pepper or kelp powder
- Toss with raw leafy greens, or spoon over steamed, dark leafy greens like collards, chard or spinach, or fold into cold whole-grain pasta.
See my book SUPER IMMUNITY FOODS for more information on powerhouse foods and the recipes that go with them.