Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Pilates’ Category

What’s with 6 months?

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When I started my weight-loss effort with Healthy Way, I followed their guidance carefully, keeping my journal of weight, food, and exercise, along with my journal of reflections, and though I lost weight consistently from the gitgo, I felt frustrated and dissatisfied because I couldn’t grasp the connections among the data: true, I was eating right and, overall, losing weight, but each time I got on the scale I had no idea what to expect. It was like walking blindfolded to a destination: even if you arrive, you get the feeling you missed a lot.

And then, about 6.5 months in, I suddenly “got it”: I felt that I suddenly understood, at a deep level (the level at which you play a game without thinking about the rules because they have become simply part of how you think about the game) what I was doing. I felt in control. I knew what I would see (more or less) when I stepped on the scale, and I knew exactly how to lose any weight gained. The whole experience around food lost many of its emotional overtones and became just an enjoyable part of daily life, not an arena of struggle.

I started Pilates around the beginning of November. The last couple of sessions have seemed really different: I am beginning to be able to do the exercises with much better form, which means I am better able now to control my body: when the instructor asks me to do something (drop my shoulders, point my ribs down, and so on), I understand how to do it. I feel as though I am starting to “get it.” Again: right around 6 months.

Last night I was watching a (very good) movie in Spanish—the movie (The Secret in Their Eyes) is set in Argentina and made for a Spanish-speaking audience). The characters are lawyers: educated, speaking educated Spanish, and of course I got the benefit of body language and English subtitles (in yellow with black outline, thank God: white subtitles are the pits—yellow with black outline is best). I was able not only to recognize words here and there, and short exchanges (“Bien“), but even phrases. And when one of the lawyers referred to “una investigación“, I not only heard the words clearly and (as it were) unhurriedly—that is, I was understanding them as they were spoken, not immediately after—I was struck by how the definite article matched the gender of the noun: I had an odd, tiny emotional response of pleasure and a feeling of rightness—very much as if one of my little unconscious pattern-recognition engines was tuned in to that and responded with the feeling of rightness. Antonio Damasio has discussed in his several books how the engine of thought is driven by the energy of emotions, and emotions are essential to all our mental processes—memory, ratiocination, making decisions, and the like.

That set me wondering: things are just starting to come together for me in Spanish, so I wonder where I’ll be after six months of study, at the end of July. I’ll be interested if I experience a similar feeling of integration of what I’ve been working on.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2011 at 6:07 am

Pilates and bicycling

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I mentioned to my Pilates instructor that I had recommended the studio to a friend, whose husband was an ardent bicyclist. She immediately said that she would love to do some training with him and show him how to use his entire muscle mass to pedal effectively.

The more I thought about it, the more interesting I thought it would be to have an experienced cyclist or group of cyclists work with Pilates for 5 or 6 sessions just to see what difference it would make. Most biking enthusiasts are reasonably fit, so the sessions would not have to focus on making them fit, but could work directly on learning the Pilates techniques. Moreover, most cyclists are well-acquainted with their cycling ability, so they would be able to detect improvement readily. It would be even better to begin with a solid bank of statistics and measurements of the bicyclists’ performance.

I trotted out the idea—“Get ready for Spring cycling: 5 sessions for $99, limit to 4 cyclists” or some such: an introductory level of pricing, a limited number of sessions—though enough to make a detectable difference—and a limited number of cyclists. That should make for a program that can easily be evaluated by the cyclist and by the studio.

Well: it turns out that my instructor not only had the idea but had taken it even further: she offered to work with a cycling team for no charge at all.

They wouldn’t do it.

I was astonished, but that’s because I’m of a progressive mindset: I believe that it’s always possible to make improvements (in anything: person, process, device, and so on), and trying out something provides a lot of interesting new information because reality is richer than our mental models, so there will always be surprises.

But other mindsets are possible, and cyclists (in her experience) believe that they know everything significant about training for their sport. She also pointed out that cycling is an expensive sport—dressage is somewhat more expensive, but that’s because you must feed the horse day in and day out. (I learned that she was an Olympic cyclist herself, so she probably knows what she’s talking about.)

I’m always astonished when someone won’t even try something new, whether it’s a food, a game, whatever. But clearly many people view innovation and change with great suspicion and wariness.

Now I’m thinking that one could write an interesting article for a bicycling magazine by training a few (well-documented in terms of performance records) cyclists in Pilates for two or three months and measure any differences.

Some additional info on Pilates and cycling here.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2011 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Extremely good Pilates session today

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The Wife and I are getting along well enough that we can have fairly strenuous Pilates sessions without constant correction of form. Not to deceive: corrections are frequent, and generally address the same small set of problems. But we respond better and there are periods when we either don’t need correction or the instructor has decided to cut us a break.

Today was spent on the Reformer, but there are some Wunda Chair exercises I want to try. Take a look at these, for example:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2011 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Fitness, Pilates

Interesting Pilates success story

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Worth reading. Pilates is an amazingly effective process—and, as The Wife observed early on, it’s “sticky,” unlike Feldenkreis. Feldenkreis can give you very interesting awareness of various aspects of your body structure and muscles, but it’s like a tour of a science exhibit: quite fascinating, but not much impact on daily life. With Pilates, in contrast, the work induces persisting changes, so that (for example) one obtains better balance, better posture, etc., even after the sessions.

Obviously, progress is always possible, and in any event it’s a process. I don’t know that you would ever “complete” the work. But so far the continuing improvements have certainly been more than worth the cost and (relatively mild) effort.

If you have access to a good Pilates instructor with a well-equipped studio, I’d encourage you to give it a go for 10 private sessions if you can. That’s 5 weeks at two sessions a week, enough to get an idea of what it can do.

I was told that Joseph Pilates said, “10 sessions to change your mind, 20 sessions to change your body, 30 sessions to change your life.” Our instructor commented that over and over she’s seen people start Pilates and then seem to start renewal in other parts of their life. Of course, people who start Pilates are already exhibiting interest in renewal, but Pilates had the interesting view that getting your body to do these specific things while exercising control (his own name for the discipline was “Contrology”)—that develops your brain in new ways, the brain being intimately involved since it, after all, is what controls the body. Indeed, controlling the body and internal processes while maintaining awareness of sensory input from internal and external sources so that the organism can respond optimally: that’s the brain’s job description and primary duties. This consciousness, rational thinking, language thing is a Johnny-come-lately and just a tiny sideline of what the brain does—save, of course, this new environment allowed the emergence and evolution of memes, whose own universe of struggle and development so affects our own lives (and evolution).

At any rate, Pilates is certainly correct that learning these new movements and how to exercise the muscle control to do them must of necessity lead to development within the brain, and since the mind resides there somehow, those changes will undoubtedly have ramifications for one’s mind. So perhaps the practice of Pilates does indeed open one’s outlook for new learning and development.

Try it and see.

UPDATE: The idea of signing up for Spanish classes came to me a month after I started Pilates. FWIW.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2011 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Pilates thought

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I was thinking about Pilates today—The Wife and I have a joint session today—and the role it was playing in my fitness program. I had been working on cardio-vacular fitness (the Nordic track) and on muscle strength (some weight training following Miriam Nelson’s program in Strong Women Stay Young), and more or less taking a pass on flexibility and balance—thinking that once I lost enough weight I’d work on those. (It seemed difficult to work on flexibility when I was encased in fat.)

Weight training builds muscle and strength, but it doesn’t really seem to address body systems the way that bodywork (Rolfing, Feldenkreis, Pilates, et al.) does. With Pilates, for example, I am working not only on strength, but also flexibility and balance, and the focus is on body systems and overall patterns of movement, which weight training more or less ignores except for being careful to use good form in working with the weights.

Pilates really seems worth seeking out.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2011 at 10:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Bodywork advice from newbie to newbie

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I have learned some things about bodywork in my Pilates training. Most of these insights are from The Wife, who has experience with a variety of bodywork therapies: yoga, Rolfing, Feldenkreis, and now Pilates.

This came up when I was talking to someone about their very first Pilates session, and she was telling me how difficult it was to keep so many things in mind and still try to move: position of feet, position of hands (palms out), breathing, spine, etc., etc.—so many things that the instructor was constantly correcting her.

I found myself laughing because that was exactly my experience, which I’d forgotten. Because, of course, you gradually learn the stance and the breathing and so constant correction is no longer needed. But her description brought back all my early confusion and frustration, so I passed along some few things I had learned about how to address the process.

First is the incredible sense of frustration one feels when the brain’s instructions to the body seem to go completely awry or be ignored. You’re trying to do as requested, but your body doesn’t seem to be getting the message. The frustration can really spike at those times, because the frustration is not erupting from your conscious mind but from high in the unconscious—close to consciousness, and close to berserk with its inability to deliver the body movements the consciousness is requesting.

This feeling apparently is common in bodywork, and The Wife’s advice was to stop trying to do whatever it is and take a couple of deep, slow breaths, relaxing and centering, and then try again, calmly. She said that bodywork instructors know about this phenomenon and will understand what I’m doing. Apparently, that’s how bodywork is in fact done, with the pauses to regroup when trying new things.

Moreover, the breathing, as I’ve come to realize, is really central not only to the Pilates work but movement in general. Lots of emphasis on deep, regular breathing in Pilates, and coordinating inhalations and exhalations with movement. It seemed finicky at first, but I’ve come to recognize that proper breathing delivers a lot of power and balance to movements. And yesterday, on our outing to Santa Cruz, The Wife commented that the funny little bursts of breath I would make while thinking or just sitting—those were not happening anymore. I imagine that they were the result of shallow breathing using only the top of the lungs, and now that I am breathing better (more deeply), the airbusts have stopped.

So: pause when frustrated or confused, take a couple of breaths, focusing on the the breathing, and then resume.

Once I started doing that, I found my progress picked up and I learned new things faster.

Another point: Bodywork instructors tend to use phrases that are either metaphorical or that describe things I can’t yet feel: “Push your knees with your sides,” for example. I feel no such connection (though after reading in Anatomy Trains (link is to the Cool Tools review) and watching a couple of videos (this one and this one), I’m willing to believe that there is a connection). So how does one respond?

The Wife said that what she does when she gets one of those “push-your-knees-with-your-sides” sort of instructions is that she pictures the image in her mind as she does the movement. Generally, when she does that, the instructor says, “Good,” and offers no more correction. The mental picture apparently helps the body get the idea.

Bodywork instructors seem to have a quiver full of such metaphorical instructions, which can be frustrating to the literal-minded. But picturing the image as you do the movement seems to really work.

Moreover, you gradually know what to do with your body when you get one of those instructions: it’s almost Pavlovian in that the instructor says to do something, and though you don’t know what the words mean, you know exactly what to do when those words are said. And, of course, over time and with practice you start to get the idea of the movement and “understand” it with your body (not necessarily with your mind).

UPDATE: Today (28 Oct 2011) I suddenly flashed on an image that seems to be helpful. Imagine that you’re carrying a bowling ball around sitting inside you on your pelvis.

What this image did was to focus my attention on the pelvis as my center of balance, with my torso (and spine) stacked above it, instead of my usual image, that my lower body is suspended and hanging from my head, throat, and shoulders. I have a tendency to try to move my body with my head as the center of effort rather than the pelvis. The image helps with that.

I’m still very much a beginner, so you should check out this idea with your Pilates instructor. But it seems to help me.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2011 at 9:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Good Pilates session

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Very good Pilates session today. Although my form continues to require lots of correction, at least now I have an idea of what to do when a correction is offered instead of being totally confused.

When I gave a brief talk at Healthy Way the other evening on my 65-lb weight loss (or, more impressively, my 1040-ounce lost—and much of it was lost a few ounces at a time, though occasionally two or three pounds would mysteriously vanish between weighings), they had “before” and “after” photos, and I was stunned when I looked at the “before” photo and saw that my shoulders were up around my ears. My Pilates instructor used to say that, but I didn’t realize how obvious it was to an impartial observer until I saw that photo. Thank heavens for Pilates.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Pilates: I’ve learned enough to be a beginner

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I’m really enjoying Pilates now that I’m beginning to feel what’s going on. I must have been terribly unaware of my body and body movement, and that is doubtless why initially I was having such difficulties. But now, just about 4 months into it, I am much better at feeling what my muscles and bones are doing, so that I can better follow the instructor’s guidance, and the way tiny changes in stance or in muscle tension or in one’s mental metaphor of the movement makes  a significant difference in how the movement feels is just fascinating. I sort of want to go daily now.

Today we worked on the kinds of stances and movements I make using the Nordic Track, and I can’t wait to get onto it tomorrow and see how it feels with the new awareness.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2011 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

More on Pilates

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The Wife and I were talking about our Pilates experience tonight. She had mentioned that at the outset my rib cage had been quite prominent—surprisingly so—and she figured that I was just built that way. But now, that’s almost entirely gone, and my ribs have a normal stance and configuration.

I was trying to get my head around how that could happen, and The Wife suggested that I had strengthened certain muscles and learned certain movements and that the muscles were just pulling the ribs into a new configuration.

That sort of baffled me, until I realized I was associating my (living) skeleton, made up of (living) bones held in a tensegrity-like structure, with my previous experience with skeletons, which was quite different: all the (dead) skeletons I had observed, all of those stripped of the muscle and ligaments that once held them in the tensegrity structure that the living embody. So of course systematic and knowledgeable work strengthening specific muscles and muscle groups in the right sequence, aided by apparatus designed for this sort of thing—in fact, for exactly this thing—would, in (a relatively short) time, result in changes such as that made by my ribs.

A more dramatic (and beneficial) change has been observed by The Wife, who has suffered leg problems in her right leg due to an ankle injury she suffered as a child. She has observed that she no longer is having the problems so much, and in fact her leg has straightened quite a bit: she caught sight of herself in a mirror as she walked into a building, and was astonished.

I of course had read about Pilates and his ideas and apparatus, and how the dancers in New York flocked to him for help with strengthening and flexibility and with injuries. Why did they do that? Because Pilates’s methods work.

It’s another example of the phenomenon exemplified by my reading some best seller and being astonished that it’s good. Duh: that’s why it’s a best-seller. Worse yet, I’ve done this repeatedly (with different best sellers, I emphasize). Big double-duh. But I keep making the mistake, and being astonished at the successes of the Pilates method after specifically reading about how the method was sucessful: how thick can one get?

I should note that we have the great benefit of having a truly knowledgeable and capable trainer/instructor—and perhaps that is why the studio (Lighthouse Pilates) is expanding.

Good times on the fitness front.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2011 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Great Pilates session

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Man, that went fast. My instructor was making “wrap-up” remarks, and I thought we still had at least half an hour to go. Time flies when you’re focused.

Now I’m off to Whole Foods: I just called the meat department and they not only have Monterey Bay sardines, they also have 3 Spanish mackerel from the East Coast. Mackerel is a fish I dearly want to try with this new method; I imagine it will work like the sardines, making an incredibly rich rice, with all those lovely veggies on top. And I do like the way red chard works.

UPDATE: Back, with .95 lbs Monterey Bay sardines (it took three) and a .95-lb Spanish mackerel, all with heads and tails, and the sardines I have to gut as well. So they’ll be much closer to half a pound once the guts, heads, tails, and spines are gone. Also more red chard and some bok choy. Yum

I figured out why I’ve gained back a couple of pounds. Obviously, it’s too early to move feta back into the diet, so that will go. The real problem, though, is Tues and Thurs: class is from 11:30 to 2:00 (nominally: by omitting some breaks we get out at 1:30), so I’ve been trying to eat lunch before class, but then in the evening I’m too hungry. So here’s the new plan for those days:

regular breakfast, then assemble a GOPM and put it into the fridge

snack just before class: an apple

after class, come home immediately and put the GOPM in the oven

I figure this means that I’ll eat lunch around 2:45, which is late, but I’ll have a clementine as soon as I get home—the one I would otherwise have as afternoon snack. If I’m eating lunch that late, no other snack needed. The GOPM will serve for both lunch and dinner.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2011 at 3:22 pm

Good Pilates session today

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I read some novel about the military, and I think it was one of the well-known ones—Battle Cry, The Naked and the Dead, From Here to Eternity, maybe even The Last Parallel: A Marine’s War Journal, Martin Russ’s great memoir of the Korean War. At any rate, the enlistees in boot camp have bonded under the pressure of their sergeant, who seems to criticize their every move.

The new troops are disgruntled and tired of the mistreatment, but one day, as they march back to the barracks, chanting, one says to his buddy, “Hey, the sergeant’s not yelling at us much today,” and his buddy replies, “I think we’re starting to do it right.”

I feel as though we are starting to find our groove in the Pilates work. We obviously still require instruction and correction, but we’re starting to understand what it is we are supposed to do and how to breathe in the exercises, and so on. So we have periods where we are just working on the reformer, and the only sound is our breathing.

Of course, we’re also quite a bit stronger at this point, and that helps as well.

Much still to learn, and our form is a LONG way from polished, but progress is noted.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2011 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Pilates report

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I’m happy to report that my instructor is seeing signs of progress. And my cleaning lady, who hasn’t seen me to six weeks, commented that I not only had lost weight, I seemed taller. So my posture may be changing.

The soreness in my back muscles are the rhomboid muscles, currently engaged in a struggle with some other muscles that properly should be doing the job. That will get sorted out in time.

My right foot has a tendency to point outward—and that, I suspect, is the source of my knee problem in walking. We may be able to help that.

Pilates does come together so that you can definitely feel the postural changes distinctly, as I have intermittently, but it’s hard to keep that feeling. You more often can readily feel when your posture, stance, or movement is wrong, and then correct it. But that strange postural frisson doesn’t last—it’s like regular enlightenment: a great experience, but one cannot simply live in that state.

That’s what I got from what she said. Remember, you have an imperfect communications channel here.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2011 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Fitness progress

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I’m still at 199.5 lbs, second day in a row. I suspect that it’s working up to a drop, but in the meantime I just keep eating right, logging my food, and exercising. It will happen.

Today, I’m shopping for a GOPM (glorious one-pot meal) of what Yarnell calls Cioppino, but obviously it’s a one-pot variation. I’ll use WW rotini pasta, and it calls for shrimp and scallops. Yum. Yellow and red bell peppers, and I really like the way the peppers turn out in these meals. I’m going to add some fresh fennel on my own: fennel seems to work well.

Of course, I’ll spice it up some to remove the curse of blandness. Wish I could add some Worcestershire sauce, but that has 3 weeks to go. (Check back in 21 days for a report.)

As a result of the Pilates, I intermittently feel that I’m holding my body in a new way. I suspect that these events will become more frequent as I continue the work. I am now very pleased that The Wife vetoed the large Pilates exercise classes at the Monterey Sports Center: those are good as exercise, but I doubt that they would have the same impact on my posture.

For one thing, they don’t have the machines, and although the mat exercises are “complete”, it still is a great help to novices to use the machines, which specifically exercise, strengthen, and draw attention to the muscle systems that have not been much used.

For another, the instructor has too large a class to provide individual attention. In the beginning, when I do just about everything wrong, it’s quite helpful to have on-going correction.

I noticed for the past couple of weeks that I’ve had a soreness in my back—sort of low and at the sides. Last night I suddenly realized, “Duh! I’ve been exercising those muscles a lot.” I tensed the muscles that we’ve been working on: exactly the places where my back was sore.

So that’s understandable, and the soreness will fade.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2011 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

More CoreAlign work

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The CoreAlign is a strange little machine, but it really seems to do the job—at least if you also have an instructor’s help. My Pilates studio has one of these. Take a look:

And another look:

What’s sort of strange is working at some exercise for a while and then suddenly discovering (as it were) the muscle you need to use in the exercise. Makes a world of difference.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 January 2011 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

Terrific Pilates session

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This month will be private lessons so we can really focus on improving my technique. Today was amazing. My general current posture profile has me throwing out my chest, with everything then pulled out of alignment. My instructor had me stand sideways in front of a mirror, my back to an upright pole. When I looked, my head was tilted forward at an angle and my posture was sort of slumped.

We then went to a table, and worked on enabling me to lie properly, and finally moved to just get me to breathe properly: not using my head and neck and shoulders, as I seem to (those muscles are tensed), but rather my diaphragm and lower chest, my back flat on the table, with fuller breaths. It’s quite hard for me to describe, because I don’t understand it and generally I can’t even feel small differences in muscle tension and alignment that are obvious to my instructor. But we continued to work on the breathing, and I did make progress, beginning to breathe more fully with greater relaxation of irrelevant muscles.

After about 40 minutes of that we returned to the mirror. I was truly startled by the difference: my head was upright instead of tilted forward and my overall posture greatly improved.

I suddenly realized why my height has mysteriously shrunk from 6’1″ to 6’0″: it was my poor posture (and weakened muscles that determine posture).

This is important: I can reach the same BMI at 180 lbs when 6’1″ as at 175 lbs when I’m 6’0″. If I can improve my posture, that’s 5 lbs I don’t have to lose. Smile

I highly recommend Pilates with the caveat that you need a good instructor and, at the beginning, either private or 2-person classes or a mix.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 January 2011 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates


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Our Pilates classes are going well. The Wife wanted to know some mat exercises, so she could do those while she’s away in Paris, so our instructor particularly recommended two books:

The Everything Pilates Book: The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Body Stronger, Leaner, and Healthier, by  Amy Taylor Alpers, Rachel Taylor Sege, and Lorna Gentry

A Pilates Primer: The Millennium Edition, by Joseph Pilates

Obviously, nothing replaces a good instructor, who can catch and correct subtle errors of which the client is completely unaware. But in combination with an instructor, these books can be quite helpful. The first is out of print, but you can read Amazon’s reader reviews here.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2010 at 12:22 pm

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