Archive for November, 2009

13 November

Joseph Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology, Part 1

Joe Pilates Blog_3

As discussed earlier in this blog, Joseph Pilates was a man ahead of his time.  He witnessed the industrial revolution from its’ birth to seeing factories erected in every major city.  He saw factory workers standing doing repetitive motions all day.  He noticed the air quality because of those factories become polluted.  Although it was the general consensus that industrialization was good, Pilates had reservations about it supporting a healthy lifestyle.  The following excerpt is taken from his book Contrology and it is titled, “Civilization Impairs Physical Fitness.”  I hope you enjoy it.

        Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.  Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.  To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limit of our ability.  This very rapidly progressing world with its ever increasing faster tempo of living demands that we be physically fit and alert in order that we may succeed in the unceasing race with keen competition which rewards the “go-getter” but by passes the “no-getter.”

        Physical fitness can neither be acquired by wishful thinking nor by outright purchase.  However, it can be gained through performing the daily exercises conceived for this purpose by founder of Contrology whose unique methods accomplish this desirable result by successfully counteracting the harmful inherent conditions associated with modern civilization.

        In the Stone Age and onward man lived mostly outdoors with practically little shelter from the elements.  He has not yet lived long enough indoors with protection against the elements to be able le to successfully withstand the daily strains and stresses imposed upon him by our present mode of “fast” living.  This explains why both you and I and all the rest of us are compelled in our own interest to give constant thought to the improvement of our bodies and to spend more time in acquiring and maintaining that all important goal of physical fitness. 

        All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our well being deserves (you may want to read that sentence again).  True, we do stroll in the fresh air whenever out whimsical spirit moves us, or whenever necessity compels us to do so, with the result that on these occasions we do, in spite of ourselves, exercise our legs to this limited extent, accomplished, however, at the sacrifice of the rest of our body which after all is much more important to us from the viewpoint of our general health.  Is it any wonder then that this haphazard and wholly inadequate body building technique of the average person fails so miserably in the acquirement of physical fitness!

        Admittedly, it is rather difficult to gain ideal physical fitness under the handicap of daily breathing the soot-saturated air of our crowded and noisy cities.  On the other hand, we can more quickly realize this ambition if we are privileged to breathe the pure fresh air of the country and forests without the accompaniment of the traffic roar of the city, which constantly tends to keep our nerves strung taut.  Even those of us who work in the city and are fortunate enough to live in the country must counteract the unnatural physical fatigue and mental strain experienced in our daily activities.  Telephones, automobiles, and economic pressure all combine to create physical letdown and mental stress so great that today practically no home is entirely free from sufferers of some form of nervous tension.

        Because of the intense concentration demanded by our work and despite the real enjoyment our work may bring some of us we, nevertheless, gladly welcome any additional relief in the form of diversified and pleasant recreational activities, preferably outdoors, in our constant attempts to offset the effects of increasing cares and burdens so common today.  To ease mental strain and relieve physical fatigue we must acquire a reserve stockpile of nervous energy in order that we may really be able to enjoy ourselves at night.  Hobbies and all forms of play tend materially to renew our vitality with accompanying moral uplift.  Play is not necessarily only confined to indulging in conventional games.  Rather the term “play” as we use it here, embraces every possible form of PLEASURABLE LIVING.  For example, simply spending a quiet and pleasant evening at home with our family chatting with congenial friends is, according to our interpretation, a form of play, that is delightful, pleasant social entertainment as distinguished from our daily work.  This finds us cheerful, contented, and relaxed.

        However, many of us at the end of our daily work lack sufficient energy at night for recreation.  How many of us simply spend the night routinely reading the evening newspaper?  How many of us are entirely too exhausted to read, even occasionally, an interesting book, visit our friends, or see one of the latest motion pictures?  When some of us occasionally spend a weekend away from our usual city haunts and environments, instead of receiving the immediate benefits of that desirable change in the way of complete revitalization (without fatigue) as the result of our experience outdoors in the bright sunshine, we are more often than not likely to find ourselves only recovering from the shock of our disappointment about the middle of the following week.

        Why?  Because our previous mode of living and the consequent neglect of our bodies has not prepared us for reaping the beneficial results of this diversion.  We lacked the necessary reserve energy to draw upon for this purpose and the fault lies only with us and not with nature as most of us like to think.  All that any normal body should require is a change from whatever it has previously been subjected to.

        Accordingly, since we are living in this Modern Age we must of necessity devote more time and more thought to the important matter of acquiring physical fitness.  This does not necessarily imply that we must devote ourselves only to the mere development of any particular pet set of muscles, but rather more rationally to the uniform development of our bodies as a whole – keeping all our organs as nearly as possible in their naturally normal condition so that we may not only be in a better position of earn our daily bread but also so that we may have sufficient vitality in reserve at night for the enjoyment of compensating pleasure and relaxation.

        Perhaps with some feeling of doubt you ask, “How can I realize such a utopian condition?  At night I am much too tired to go to a gymnasium.”  Or, “Isn’t it too costly to enroll for a conditioning course in some good gymnasium or club?”  RETURN TO LIFE fully explains how you can successfully achieve your worthy ambition to attain physical fitness right in your own home and at only nominal cost.

        Return to Life is what Joe Pilates called his book.  The full title is Return to Life Through Contrlology.  It was originally published in 1945.  The part you have just read comes in the beginning of the book.  It has a little bit of a sales pitch to it at the end, but Pilates’ really had a passion for wanting people to becoming familiar with their physicality.  He felt it was one of the most important things in life that one could accomplish.  I find this article on physical fitness and society particularly interesting because even though it was written over sixty years ago, it still has a message for us today. 

1 November

Practice, Practice, Practice

The Core: Pilates Part Six




Now that we have covered the four parts of the core; transversus abdominis, multifidi, pelvic floor and diaphragm, it is time to get practicing. Although it would be great to be able to imagine the whole core simultaneously, that takes quite a lot of coordination. So what I recommend is that you break the core down in order to practice the connections. If you have trouble feeling these connections, imagery can be a helpful tool.

First, is to play with the connection between the transversus abdominis and multifidi. Notice how they give you a hugging sense around the center of your body. As you inhale they will move slightly apart, and during your exhale they will engage around your spine. My instructor used to tell us to imagine that we were an exquisite wine glass being held by our stems. Remember, it is not a clenching, but a connecting. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most muscular contraction, you want to work at about a 5-7.

Second, take time to relate the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. During your inhale, they both descend, and when you exhale they ascend. The two working together often gives me the sensation of being in the ocean. There is a back and forth motion that massages your organs and feels very meditative. You could also use the image of a jellyfish moving through the water like the picture above.

Lastly, try to image all four parts of the core working as one. This may take a little practice, but it is possible. The four parts work together to create intra abdominal pressure to stabilize and support the low back and pelvis. It will feel like having a jellyfish or lava lamp in your abdomen. Something that is strong, connected and yet quite movable. Remember, at any time you can go back through the blog and re-read parts of the core that are not making sense to you. You can always go back to using them as described above in duets rather than all four together. The point is to keep practicing and investigating the parts of the core that may be confusing to you. You get better at what you practice.

Whenever learning a new movement, you must have an idea in your mind of what you want to have happen before you can accomplish the physical task. Imagery can be a helpful tool in helping you learn a new movement because it is what helps to create the idea of the task in your mind. The two types of imagery that happen during motor learning are internal and external imagery. According to sport psychologists, internal imagery is a first person process involving mostly a kinesthetic representation of the action, whereas external imagery is a third person process involving a visual representation of that action or the environment where it takes place(Jeannerod, p.5). So, when learning a movement there is a process of watching someone doing the movement while you have a sense of what is happening(third person), then you attempt to imitate the movement yourself(first person).

For example, when learning to throw a baseball, the pupil watches the coach demonstrate the action without moving himself. It is important though while watching that the student attempts to image the coach’s action. Imaging an action means to create an idea of how the mechanics work, and then to create an idea of what it must feel like doing the action. Using imagery for the latter will give the student a higher degree of maintaining the motor skill because it creates a more vivid idea of what the action is and can induce changes in the student’s heart and respiration rates. Imagery like that is closest to the physical practicing of the movement skill without moving. The speculation then is that the image or kinesthetic representation turns on similar neurons in the brain as those which are active during the actual action(Jeannerod, p.5).

Taking this into your core practice can be helpful. Unlike watching someone throw a baseball, which is a pretty obvious action, connecting to your core involves movement that isn’t easy to see. Although when someone connects to their core, they do have postural changes, the movement is not as dramatic as throwing a baseball. So, imagery is going to be a key ingredient to learning how to connect to your core. The third person imagery or watching someone do the action will need to be replaced by an image that relates to what connecting to the core must feel like. You are by default going directly to the more vivid kinesthetic imagery. It is important to use an image that you are familiar with. For example, I live next to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In the aquarium there is a huge kelp tank that includes the ocean current. For me that is what the core must look like. It is cylinder like, and is constantly moving up, down and side to side. So, I use the kelp tank as my third person image. That image then turns on the same neurons I need to connect to those muscles in my core, and I then have the first person kinesthetic awareness of that image. I took an external image and turned it into an internal image. That is what needs to happen when learning a movement.

The last five blogs on the core, plus this blog on practicing is enough information to keep you busy for some time. Even though we will be going forward in class with more movement, keep going back and practicing your core, and bring ideas about the core into every movement. I would suggest the following exercises:

1. Connect the multifidi and transversus abdominis.
2. Image the relationship between the diaphragm and pelvic floor.
3. Image putting it all together
4. Try to maintain this connection in a daily task. For example, doing dishes or sitting at your desk.

Keep working on these ideas. Do not get discouraged, it takes time to create the awareness and maintain the connection to the core. Make it fun so you will continue to explore and find new ways to connect to your center.

Jeannerod, M. (1994). The representing brain: Nerual correlates of motor intention and imagery. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 17 (2): 187-245.