Archive for the ‘Pilates’ Category
I am so glad to be back. Much work to be done. Pilates (in a 1- or 2-person session with a trained instructor who has a good studio with the various apparatuses Joseph Pilates invented to focus on various parts of the body) is sort of a cross between physical training and physical therapy. One thing I noticed, being freshly back after a 6-month layoff, is how much of the work (at least in this session) was exercising one’s trunk in various ways: twisting, arching, bending, etc., against resistance (the pull of springs or one’s own weight). Of course, I knew as an abstract statement that the focus of Pilates was on strengthening the core—that’s commonly known—but today I noticed (and felt) it in practice: my trunk was well exercised, and it felt very much that distinct layers and groups of muscles in the trunk were being exercised separately.
Of course there were exercises of arms and legs, but even in those the focus was on how the muscles in the trunk controlled those movements or provided the support or balance for doing them. In a chair exercise, for example, we (The Wife and I) each stood on one leg in front of a Wunda Chair (pictured), arms folded flat and held in front of us, the other leg raised so the ball of the foot rested in the middle of the cushion on the paddle, heel raised in high-heels position. The exercise was simply to push down the paddle and then let it return.
Obviously, this exercises one’s balance—I had a lot of trouble with this when I first started—but the deal is to feel how the legs sort of are connected: the straight leg holding the balance and providing support for the leg pushing up and down, and she emphasized how we should feel in our lower back the connection as the leg moved up and down. We also had to focus on the muscles on the inside line of the supporting leg.
One doesn’t do Pilates exercises to exhaustion—that would really impact form—and the whose session moves directly from one exercise to another, with lots of groups of muscles getting their turn. We did this one with about 8-10 paddle pushes per leg, then sat on the edge of the chair and pushed paddle down from that position, first with balls of feet, then arches, then heels, arms straight down at our sides, trunk upright, and then into next exercise.
It sounds sort of simple, but by the end of the one-hour session of exercises I felt a warm glow all over from the muscles that had been worked. Great stuff. We also did a lot of work on the Cadillac today (shown below), but no Reformer work. We used the bar at the left end, the swinging wooden bar at the other end, springs attached to the end-poles (feet in slings so legs stretch the springs) and so on: quite a few exercises for various muscle groups in the core, including bending to the side (each side), kneeling and leaning trunk back, lying on back, etc.: lots of different exercises.
To give you an idea, the following video shows a series of exercises on the Wunda Chair. The first time I did the exercise the instructor calls The Swan (5:08-5:32 in the video), I got stretched out, my arms holding down the paddle, and when my instructor told me, “Now bend your arms,” I could not do it—somehow I could not figure out how to make my muscles do that. It was if I could not find the wiring in my mind to send the order. It was the same feeling I get when I’m trying to lift one eyebrow (something that, say, Stephen Colbert can do readily): for me, the communication channel to that muscle is somehow blocked, or I can’t find it. Same with trying to move the muscles that wiggle my ears: don’t know how to reach them. But this time it was bending my arms. I was able to do it after a brief (10 second?), confused pause, but the feeling of not knowing the pathway to get to those muscles at that time was quite strong.
Which is one of the things that Pilates develops: new neural pathways in the brain for controlling muscles. A lot of activities do this, of course: learning to play a musical instrument (the piano, the clarinet, the guitar, whatever); learning martial arts; learning various sports. Pilate simply does it with respect to general movement. Joseph Pilates called his discipline “Contrology” because it was learning to control the body.
UPDATE: As I thought about it, it occurs to me that the various exercises are designed to focus on a particular muscle or group of muscles, and that the difficulty I had was that The Swan’s focus was a muscle I had not generally used by itself—in moving my arm, I had probably developed a pattern to calling on other muscles, and this particular muscle—the one I couldn’t readily command—just went along for the ride in my normal activities. Being called out specifically showed that I had sort of lost contact with that one. This is consistent with both The Wife and I finding that after some sessions we’re sore in strange places, like inside our thorax at various places—places where we didn’t even know we had muscles. “Strengthening the core” means strengthening (i.e., locating and exercising) muscles that we’ve allowed to atrophy somewhat, but the apparatuses and exercises find those guys—with a good instructor. You’ll not in the video the instructor is constantly offering little corrections and also touching the student’s body lightly—my instructor does the same, instructions and the light touch, which she uses to make sure the right muscles are engaged and working and not slack and resting.
I resume my Pilates today, a duet session with The Wife. I’m looking forward to returning to that. It’s not aerobic (as are the walks), but it definitely helps strength, balance, and flexibility, all important parts of fitness and things that the aging must pay close attention to.
Weight today is down from yesterday’s 185.8 to 184.3. I did finish off about 12 oz of cured ham that I bought along with the duck and pancetta. You’re probably wondering why a guy who’s trying to lose weight would order smoked duck breast, cured ham, and pancetta. I am, too. But it’s gone now, save for the pancetta, which will remain in its wrapping until I arrive at 175 or lower.
I’ve already taken the walk: 5400 steps so far, 20 flights of steps climbed (Fitbit counts each 10′ of ascent as 1 flight). I walk to Pilates as well, and I have to do shopping this afternoon, so comfortably over 6K steps today.
William James famously wrote that we learn to ice skate in the summer and bicycle during the winter, meaning that the acquisition of skills is facilitated by fallow times. I’ve now had a 3-month break from Pilates, with today my first session back.
Some strength has been lost, as I would expect. That will return. Also some flexibility is gone—the tops of my ankles are less flexible now. But, on the whole, it felt good and I felt I could often respond correctly to the instructor’s directions. The studio is a 10-minute walk, and the return is uphill, all to the good.
I’m extremely happy to be back at it.
Tiny bubble still present, will be gone soon. (The time it takes is for the gas to be absorbed; the doctor say the vitreous fluid can be regenerated by the body rapidly—like if he drains the fluid from the “front part” of my eye (whatever that is), it will be replaced within half an hour.
But: no new prescription for glasses for another 5-6 weeks. Even after the bubble’s gone, it takes time for the eye to settle, and his concern with my getting a new prescription next week, say, is that my eyes will change enough that the prescription will have to be redone.
However: I can return to Pilates. I’m hoping to start Wednesday if my instructor still has a spot for me.
From a letter I wrote to a friend:
In the movie Ordinary People, a family has lost their older son in a boating accident, and the younger son (played by Timothy Hutton) goes to see a psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch). It’s a town in Illinois, and Hutton goes upstairs in an office building to a hallway where the psychiatrist’s office is located. He’s standing front of the door (psychiatrist’s name on the frosted glass) when another door, farther down the hall, opens and Hirsch sticks his head out. He says that he’s the psychiatrist Hutton is to see, and to come on in.
So Hutton goes in and they begin the session. Hutton sees his (emotional) problems as a lack of control, so he’s telling Hirsch that he’s come in hopes of increasing his control of his emotions. Uh-oh. Hirsch explains that first, perhaps, they should explore what’s happened and see whether more control really is the answer.
And, of course, it turns out not to be the answer. The movie has nicely symbolized this: Hutton expects that he will go through the obvious door, but it turns out that a different door is opened and is the one he needs to go through.
That sort of thing happens with Pilates: you think you’re just going to get more fit, but it turns out that other doors open.
One thing that I (and, apparently, many Pilates novices) struggle with is that when I am exerting effort with my body I tend to focus my movements and efforts in my upper body: throwing back my head, raising my shoulders, throwing out my ribs. That response is not merely unhelpful, it’s counterproductive: in most of the exercises in which I do this, I should be keeping my spine flat, not arched backward, and the upper body should be more relaxes, being carried along.
Yesterday I was listening to my instructor conducting a class for two other students—I had arrived early—and she was talking about focusing one’s weight and effort away from the upper body, and suddenly I had an image of a bowling ball nested in my pelvis. The image alone immediately made me consciously of my lower-body weight and musculature, the wrappings of muscle that constitute the core.
When my own session started, I kept this image in mind and returned to it repeatedly when my attention drifted and I started to arch my upper body: I would focus again on the bowling ball weight in my pelvis and use that as the anchor and center of my effort and movement.
It seemed to work. The instructor repeatedly said I was doing the exercises with the best form I have shown so far. I did tell her at the end of the lesson the image I was using, which she liked—indeed, she said she’d be using that one. So I offer it for your own consideration.