Class #4902

Core and Spine Essentials

30 min - Class


In this 30-minute Pilates class, Amy Havens teaches a full-body workout with an emphasis on your abdominals and back muscles. With Amy's clear cueing and clever imagery you feel and truly understand how to activate your core muscles and create more length in your spine making the effects of Pilates more profound.
What You'll Need: Mat, Towel

About This Video


Read Full Transcript

All right, let's go ahead and get started. And I want everyone to get a hand towel or a tea towel from your kitchen. I happen to have my tea towel. I like the thinner towel. And so let me just break down one quick thing while we're getting started, okay?

So everybody grab your towel, wrap your hands at the very, very end of your towel, have your arms low for a moment, just lift your shoulders, roll 'em back and kinda just relax 'em down. Gently, pull on your towel. Okay, pull it sideways and you'll feel it get tight. But I want you to feel also how that tightness in the towel is contraction in your back muscles kinda around your shoulder blades between them and on the sides of them, okay. So we'll be playing with pulling the towel tight, it's not like you're trying to rip this in half.

It's just feeling the tension, the resistance of this. And then one more little cue here, open your fingers. I'll be saying something called the wrap. And what I'm talking about in the wrap is this, let's all do this. Roll your arms, your wrist, and your hand underneath your towel so that your pinky finger side of your palm is really up in the towel, and just hold that for a moment, okay?

What I want you to feel... I'm gonna let go, you keep it. Is this organization of your arm in your shoulder is rolling back. And it's a good environment for shoulder work, okay? So you're gonna see that a few times.

So open up your hands. Let's do it one more time. It's tight and you roll your hand under your wrap. Pinky fingers up. Pull the towel tight just a little bit, feel the muscles between your shoulder blades, lower your shoulders and feel your neck long, okay.

There's not a lot of that, but there's some, I just wanted to give you a little feeling what that is. So open your towel. Let's go ahead. Everybody lie on your back and we're gonna get started. So I want you to take your towel right on top of your legs, just hold it here.

Just feel a nice long spine from out your head, down out your tailbone. Your pelvis is level, so you've got those two hip points and pubic bone parallel to the floor. Nice breath through your nose and we'll start some articulation. So if you take your pelvis, tuck it back or lean it back and start to peel your way up. You're gonna end up on the top of your back near your shoulder blades.

Use your towel, press it down on your legs as if you're trying to press your palms to the mat, feel the back of your thighs, press up into your hips, take a breath and then start to roll down your spine. So we're working on articulated movement of that spine as best we can. Inhale at a level pelvis. The exhale is that tailbone tilt, the pubic bone tilts up. We peel up into this nice flat position from our shoulders to our knees.

Keep pressing your towel down, breathing in. This is not the wrap of the hands yet. And exhale, roll your spine. Okay. So right now we're using the towel, just a little resistance for the back of the arms and the back of the shoulders rolling up.

So we're really wanting to feel mobility of our back. Rolling down, trying to get all through the every landmark of your back there, okay. One more time, we're gonna add to it this time at the top. Exhale, those abdominals deeply coming in. Now, here we are.

We're lifted, as you press your towel down, lift your heels up and lower your heels. Now I don't want anybody to drop their pelvis. Keep the pelvis lifted. What's lifting are your heel bones, and I want you to keep pressing your hips up into the towel one more time. Lift those heels, lower your heels and let's unroll.

So I'm sure you felt where that work was in your buttocks in the back of your thighs. Let's go one more time. But this time as we're up in our bridge, we'll alternate the heel lifts, okay. So we wanna keep the hips up. As you lower one heel, your pelvis doesn't drop, you stay lifted and then just change the heels.

So you can think that you're pressing your hips up, your thighs up against the towel, the towel down against your legs. Three, two, and one. And then just lift both one more time. Feel your buttocks, lift those hips, lower the heels. Okay, unroll from there.

All right. Keep your chest nice and broad. And as you're at this level, pelvis, everybody press your shoulders back a little bit. Okay, here we go. Lift your arms straight up above your chest.

Feel your shoulder blades flat on your mat. Let's stretch our body a little bit more before we add more muscle work. So just feeling the arms length and overhead. maybe you get your hands totally flat. It's okay if you don't.

And then bring the towel back above your chest. Let's do a full cycle of breathing, inhale, and an exhale And return. Just one more time there. Get really long in the sides of your body from your hips all the way to your fingertips and then above your chest. Okay, here's the wrap.

Do the wrap. Wrap, wrap, wrap. Now press that pinky finger part of your hand. It's kind of challenging here, and then see where you are, just take your arms a little bit overhead. Not very far, please, just go a little bit.

Keep the wrap. Notice the challenge of keeping those pinky finger parts of your hand on the towel, and then just above your chest, unwrap. Bend your elbows, pull your towel tot a little bit and then to the ceiling. We'll do that three more times. As you pull the towel tot we're really thinking open chest muscles, active upper back muscles for posture, spine long, abdominals engaged.

One more time. Just a little bit of work for that upper back. Okay, everyone time for some abs. Let's go, let's put this towel right behind our base of your skull and you can keep your feet apart or you can bring your feet/knees together. I kind of like that.

I like to press the knees together. Now with the hands, I want you to let your elbows lift up, kind of framing your head, breathe in. As we lift the head and move into a forward flexion of our upper spine. It's really just the towel is there to hold your head, you're not pulling with your hands. In fact, the contact is fairly light with your head in there.

I almost kind of lean my head back in the towel. That helps me get my abdominals ready to bring me a little bit higher up this way, okay. That's what we're aiming for, three more reps, exhale. We bring it up. Inhale, we lower.

Press your knees together. You'll feel a little more. Lift up off your back and release. One more. So this is our basic chest lift.

Lot of great abdominal exercises come from that position. But what I wanna do next is just have you slide a leg out once you lift your chest up. Slide a leg out everybody, and then slide it back in. Change side. So I've just separated my feet a little bit.

So what we're looking for on this leg slide is that you don't drop your head back, you keep your pelvis level parallel to the floor, building a little stamina endurance in your tummy, and then let's take it back. Okay. Now we're gonna add to that. So curl it up, there's your chest lift. Slide your left leg or one leg out.

Now here's some fun. Rotate toward the bent leg. And when I'm rotating, I'm kind of rolling onto the, of the shoulder blade of this arm, and then I'm gonna come back and change legs. All right. So you're getting into the waistline of your body on this rotation.

Change again. If you need to take a little rest with your head and the chest, that's fine. Come back. One more time, slide the leg out, keep that chest lift. And you're really rotating onto that one shoulder blade coming back to center leg in and lower.

Can we add just one more round to that? So take a breath. Exhale, chest lift. Slide one leg, do the rotation. Let's do four little extra pulses to that leg.

We go one. There are extra contractions, two. Keeping your hips level on the ground, and four. Other side, leg out, keep your chest up, twist. It's a rotation.

Energy in the straight leg. Tailbone is on the mat. Here's your last one. Oh my gosh, okay. And we come down.

Lift a towel off your head. Knees to your chest, flex your ankles, towel up, breathe in. I want everybody to lift their chest and try to reach this towel over your feet. Yep. You gotta pull your knees to your chest to get that towel around your feet.

Let's reverse it. Breathe in, exhale, up we go. You've got to reach, reach, reach, reach, and pull the legs in. And we do it again. Can you feel how the abdominals are active on this round shape of your body?

One more time. That was actually not quite the truth. You've got one more right here. Then we get to stay, okay. Bring your knees into what we call a 90/90 angle, 90 degrees at your knees and hips.

Long arms tot towel. Breathe in, chest comes up. Now I want the towel away from your hips, right? So if it's in here, use your arms and reach and then just start up and down motion with your towel. Breathe in and out.

You can do inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. We don't want this to be stressful breathing. Try it with your legs up for a little more challenge. You can also keep your head down if you don't like the head up. So we've got lots of choices.

I'm gonna try this one for a little bit. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Couple more. You can also come back here.

Inhale, exhale. How about last one right there. Bring your head down. Aah, but you've gotta pick it up because we've gotta get the towel away from the back of the legs. Here we go.

We're into that little rolling like a ball position and then rest for a minute. How you doing? Feeling all of this wonderful part of your body? Okay, everybody take your legs out straight, just bounce your legs. Okay.

We're gonna work on a stretch for the back of the leg and a little bit of foot awareness. So I want you to put your foot in your towel and make sure the towel is wrapped around the entire ball of foot. It's not just up on your toes or your heel. You're right on the ball of the foot, okay. Now hands on the bottom of the towel, extend the opposite leg.

And for just a stretch right now everybody, put your hand on the back of your thigh, your hamstring muscles. We want this entire half of the body to be reaching this way, that hip. So energize a reach of that hip and notice what you feel, probably a lot more sensation there, and just hold. What I'm doing though, is I'm pulling down with my hands, pressing up with my heel and then just wiggle your ankle a little bit. Big toe, pinky toe side.

We could spend a lot of time here, but I just wanted to give you a nice stretch in your legs that'll come handy in the next few exercises, okay? Yeah, feel that. Now, if anyone wants to increase this, challenge yourself, you can start to bring your leg that way. But after doing that, we're trying to keep our knees straight and this hip this way. Pilates is pretty complicated sometimes, but very doable.

Lot of details, lots of concentration. Okay, that's plenty. Go ahead and just bend that knee and change legs. So we step in. Extend the other leg long with energy.

Take a moment just to check in, you've got the towel wrapped around your foot completely this side of your hip. Remember we're trying to reach it out away from the ribs so that you don't have this side of your waistline kind of ah, short and crinkled. We want lots of length there, okay. And if you emphasize the lengthening, you'll probably feel more of your stretch. That's a good thing.

Let's go ahead and rotate the ankle. So what I'm trying to do is kind of push my pinky toe side of my foot up and my big toe side of my foot up. And pinky and big toe, just to feel some stretch all the way down at the bottom of the ankle. Okay. Now level the foot, your heels pretty high, pulled down with your hands.

And if you're interested in trying to go a little further, go for it. Try to keep that knee straight. You know, if it bends a little, you know, we're going toward trying to get it straight. Take a nice deep breath and then lower your leg and just shake that leg out. Good, you guys.

So just shake your legs here. Okay, now what I want you to do is just put your feet together for just a second. Lift the towel up, bring your knees in. Let's do that little challenge again one more time. How'd you do?

A little bit better this time? The more we practice the easier that gets. Roll yourself up. Okay. This is a fun one.

This continues the feeling of the stretch of the legs, the hamstrings, but now you're really gonna start feeling how they work together with your back muscles and the abdominals. Okay, so more full body. So let's go ahead and wrap the feet again and we'll do both feet around. I have my heels and knees apart. And for right now everybody, pulling on the towel a little bit, make a kind of a roundness in your back, a little round shape.

And if you have the luxury of having someone with you, maybe ask them to be behind you and kind of wrap their arms around your abdomen and gently pull you backward. If you don't have that access, we have to imagine that we have that and we just kind of move the back of the waist back, okay? So you might be feeling the stretch in that as well as the abdominal contraction. Now hold that shape in your back and start to straighten your legs forward as much as you can, I'm trying not to shift my weight off my sit bones. Ooh, which is a nice, nice, nice stretch from my back and my legs.

Take a breath, everybody. Now we have to bring the heels back toward us. So we have to pull them back. I am using my arms a little, but it's mainly my stomach. Try that again.

Push. Push your heels as if you're digging your heels into sand, keep your waistline reaching away from your legs. Try to get those arms and legs straight, take a breath. Exhale, pull yourself back in, breathe in. Now we're gonna do it one more time with a round back and then we'll change the shape of the spine, okay.

We'll try. That actually starts to activate more of your back. So breathe, and we pull. I often think of that the shape of my back, like a parentheses mark, you know in grammar, like one of those shapes, or sometimes you'll hear the C shape. Think about the back of the back.

And then also the front of the body makes this little small C. Some visual things might help, okay. Now this one though is not the C, but more of a diagonal in your back. This is a little different for some of us. So take a breath.

Sit tall. Same idea though. You're keeping even weight on your sitting bones and feeling like you're taking your torso this time forward with your legs. I'm pulling the towel tot, and I'm really trying to keep my shoulder blades back, okay. Now from the side of your hips, all the way to past your ears, lift up tall for a minute.

So you are leaning forward slightly. Can you feel the difference there with this one? Then as you exhale, let's bend the knees, pull the heels back and bring your torso upright. Two more of those. Exhale.

So we're doing a hinge at the hip joint, trying to keep the back in a nice line of extension. Lift your waist up. Inhale. Exhale, pull back into vertical, one last time, everybody. So this one should be getting you to feel more of your back muscles versus the tummy muscles on the last one.

Okay, everyone, we're gonna move on to an exercise called rolling like a ball. You can just put your towel back here, we'll get back to it in a minute. Rolling like a ball is a fairly common Pilates exercise in the mat work, and it's fun. I think it's challenging for some of us. Let's start this way.

Put your hands behind the bend of your knees and just let your ankles dangle, okay. We want to start back on our tail bone, which is challenging to also for some people. You might feel like you wiggle a little bit, but you can keep your feet on the floor to start it and just kind of find this shape or next layer up. You could take your feet up. But if you feel like you're wiggling, that's okay, you'll learn, or you could just set your feet down.

Okay? I'm gonna show it this way with my feet up. Now, press your thighs into your hands, but start to roll back and up. And what I want everybody to focus on is holding the shape of kind of that parenthesis mark that we played within the sand tunnels and having a smooth roll in your spine, okay? Pressing your legs onto your hands.

Let's try it one more time together and then pause here. Now you can continue doing that or let me show some of you, everybody the next child. You could pick your hands around your knees and tuck into a smaller shape and try that rolling. Now you'll find for some of you, this may be harder. You might like the challenge of being in a tighter shape.

Most likely you'll feel the effort in your abdominal muscles. One more. For those of you who have have less mobile of a back, that's a challenging variation or challenging approach to it. Let's try about five, more like this, okay? Just so you can feel.

The chest is pretty far away from the legs. It's a smaller range, but you might have build your success in this style and then go to the harder one or the bigger, smaller, a smaller ball shape, okay. All right. Let's keep on going. All right, turn this way.

I want you to pick up your towel and we're doing more spine, but adding a little bit more back and shoulder work with this. So extending your legs right in front of you I have, with the mat, now sit up tall. You can bend your knees if you need to. Take your arms in front of you. This is where I want everybody to pull that towel tot and let's practice the wrap just three times.

Wrap and release, and wrap and release and wrap, just to feel those shoulders and the connection into your back. Here we go, breathing tall. This is called spine stretch forward. You've pretty much done it. You balanced on your sitting bones, you're gonna make that parenthesis shape of your spine again.

I'm reaching my arms forward from my back. I'm pulling my waistline back as best I can. And now as we roll up, bring the towel toward your chest. Inhale. We'll do it twice more, everybody.

We try to make that C shape or parenthesis shape mark of your back, stomach back, roll up and then pull the towel to your chest. One more time. Exhale. Waistline goes back. Body goes up and forward, we're stretching the spine.

Can you tighten up your waist just a little bit more and roll up. Okay, bending your elbow to your chest, same idea, but with a little rotation. So I'm facing one leg, extend your arms. Now we're bending over that thigh. Just over that thigh.

We're doing our best to keep both hips down or both sit bones down, roll up and bend your elbows, let's do it again. And it's a little variation, right? And you're feeling some more waistline work, I think, hopefully around your ribcage and your lower tummy. Let's do two to the other side. Arms go straight, body rounds over that thigh.

Keep your waist back, roll up, bend the elbows. One more time. I'm trying to keep both sit bones anchored into your mat. It's a nice foundation to work on, and then return. Okay, everyone lower your hands, just roll your shoulders.

Wiggle your legs a little bit. So we've done a lot, but we're doing a little bit more yet for the sides of your waist now. So I'd like you to sit in a straddle'ish position. I say ish, because if this is not available for you, you can also do something like this. You can even do feet together, okay.

But it's kind of fun to challenge this. And if you have a pillow nearby, you could try it sitting up on a pillow. All right, ready to work here, let's go. Take your towel up. Not all the way above your head.

I'm kind of on a diagonal to my forehead and ankles are energized, toes are up, breathing in. Now we're bending toward one leg. Bending toward one leg. So think that... Yeah, bending.

Take a bend, a C curve, sideways, parentheses mark. Other side. Bending, bending, bending. Bending, bending. Try to stay looking forward for now.

Okay, lower your arms, we'll do it again. How about some breath and exhale. (exhales) Inhale up. (inhales) And exhale. (exhales) And in inhale up, lower the arms, couple more rounds.

Let's start the other way though. Our brain likes to change things up. Change it up. Bend. Now when our arms are this high above your head, you do need to put some thought and lowering your shoulders down.

But some of you who are really new to this work, if your arms are up here, you're probably gonna get tired at some point anyway, so drop 'em down and bend. Use your waist and your spine to bend, okay? Bring your arms up and lower. Let's do one more each side, it goes like this. One and your spine bends easily.

And your spine bends easily. We have to start one more to the other side and your spine, and lift, exhale, spine, and lift, and let's lower, okay. Woo, feeling all this wonderful parts of your body. About to feel more in your back now, everybody. So here's what I want you to do is you put your towel down right there.

We're gonna come down on our front. And for right now, you can just put your hands on the ends of the towel and pull it pretty close kind of underneath your chest here, okay. So I have it ready to kind of move out from me, I'm not on it. And then your hands can just be flat for right here. Rest your forehead and your nose down.

Now what I want everyone to do before we do this exercise is check that your, what's going on in your lower back, right? So when we're face down, we have to a lot of times remind the, where the support comes from for here. And a lot of times it's in the stomach. It can also be a little bit in your legs or your buttocks, but primarily it's in your stomach, your abdominal. So can you make that imaginary...

Not imaginary effort, but the effort of the C curve. See how that changed my back. Look, there's a bend, and then, woo, support. Okay, now everybody hover your head just a little bit. I want you to look forward with your eyes.

Follow that with your nose and your chin, and maybe, maybe lift your chest up a little bit whole there. Now we're not gonna go too much further than this right yet. Press your elbows down. Elbows down, hands can come up a little bit. Feel the muscles between your shoulder blades and then release it and come back down.

Let's do that again. Get your stomach supporting your back. Head, eyes, nose, chin, chest a little bit, elbows and shoulder blades. Postural muscles for your upper back, okay. Now we're gonna add a little more, same way.

Head, eyes, nose, chin, and chest. Now this time, if you want to go anymore up, see if you can do it without pressing your hands, you can press your elbows a little bit and come up a little higher. Look to what's in front of you and then lower down. You can stay with that. Or I'm gonna change and put my hands now down way over here by my side ribs, chest wall.

If you're interested, try this with me. More of a Swan. It's a Pilate's exercise that we call Swan. Shoulders go back. We're already ready to go.

Eyes, nose, chin, chest. Now to go higher we will need to use the hands. But I think about lifting up, up, up, really feeling energy through the legs. You can even look up if you wanted to. And then come down, bend your elbow slow.

Keep your elbows close to your body and everybody down. Should we try it one more time? So if you don't like any that, that's too much for you, you go back to this one and you just do that little lift, okay. But let's try the bigger one. So stomach is in, chest goes up, your eyes, nose, chin.

This is sequential movement pattern for that spinal extension. Yeah. You might even like to look up, shoulders back, and then everybody come all the way down. So lots of back work here, right. Now, before you move on, let's, everybody take your hands, reach the towel forward.

Guess what we get to do? The wrap. We get to do the wrap. Now, wrap your hands, bend your elbows and bring 'em back just a little bit. Bring your legs real close together, everybody, and hold that towel.

Hold the towel. Wrap with the pinky finger. Now what I want us to feel here is, as your legs are close together and your pelvis is down, hip, hip, pubic bone. But what if we make an effort with the abdominal wall and bring that abdominal wall up off of the mat, notice what may have happened in your upper back. You may have gone into what I'm showing you.

This is tricky. We wanna keep the upper back wrapped and shoulders back, but the tummy up. See if you can hold that position and bring one heel to your buttock and lower down. And one heel, we're alternating legs. (exhales) So you really have to use the muscles of your upper back to keep you up the stomach to support the low back.

Yeah. One more each leg, we're trying not to drop out of the shape. And in, and relax. Okay. Now hold onto your towel, just keep it in your hands.

You can just put one ear down on the mat for just a minute, guys, let your neck rest. And lift your head and do your other ear. Just notice that neck starts to get involved with back work and shoulder work. This is always a wonderful option. There are some other exercises that happen from this head turn, which we're not going to do today.

We'll save that for another round. Okay. But you can let the towel go. Bring your hands back. Let's come up and do a little closure with this pretty common cat cow or flexion and extension of your back.

We work the muscles of your tummy and your back so much today, so let's just give them a release. Okay, we'll do probably three rounds. So just set your knees underneath your hips, your hands underneath your shoulders. If this is not a position for your wrist that works, you can also be up on your fists. That's just fine.

You could also come lower on your elbows. Okay? Take a nice breath. We've got energy reaching out the head and the tail and we change the straight line to that parenthesis mark again, the curve. Some of us really have to focus on the curve in the lower back part of your spine.

Some of you need to do it all the way through to the neck too. It's a light press of my hands and my feet into the mat. So that's the flexion. The opposite is the head and tail reaching away from each other in extension. Now, even though we do bow the spine, we don't relax the abdominals.

We keep them held in to support this bend. Ready? Let's do it twice more. So we're just slowly going to flexion of our spine. Press the feet, press the shins, press the hands.

See if you can let that head go. Inhale, exhale. Let's go through that extension. I like to imagine my hands are pulling back toward my knees, my chest going more forward, my tail as high as I can. One more.

And we go into a flexion. Low back C, parentheses mark through the spine. And I want you to stay in this rounder shape and just kind of wiggle from left to right, side shifting. As you do the side shift left to right, start to make your way back. Most of you are gonna be fine with this in your knees and ankles.

If this is not available to go this far back, you go back as far as you can or you just stay up in that round cat back. But if you're doing where, where I'm at, we're just gonna settle now. Ooh, and just take about three more deep breaths with no movement except in your lungs and your ribcage. (exhales) Really nice work. One more big breath cycle, everybody breathing.

And just exhale. (exhales) All right. I hope everybody feels amazing.

Active Aging: Pilates for Healthy Aging


Lina S
2 people like this.
As always, your instructions are beautifully well explained.
1 person likes this.
Love all your classes Amy.. very creative, precise, clear and fun to do....hope to have a chance to take classes with you in person.
1 person likes this.
Great class; thank you
1 person likes this.
Thank you, felt great!
PARASKEVI M Cigdem A Hilda S Lina S thank you all, so glad you enjoyed this class!

Alexandra H
This felt SO nice on a groggy morning. Thank you :)
Lynn C
I just loved this class Amy. Great cueing and precision of movement. It’s surprising how much burn in the abs there is with such small, concise movements. Feel wonderful!
1 person likes this.
This was amazing. Your precise cues were exactly what I needed to feel the movements in the right places. Thank you! My body feels SO much better!
Thank you, Amy. Coming back to Pilates after a few years away. This was exactly what I needed! I love the towel work - studied with Kathy Corey many years ago and the towel was integral to the work.
Cynthia G
Thanks for considering us seniors. Loved the class, so appreciated. 

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