Workshop #447

Back Care Essentials

1 hr 30 min - Workshop


Distinguished instructor Rael Isacowitz brings his enthusiasm and experience to you in this highly informative workshop on Back Care Essentials. If you have wondered how to proceed with your Pilates practice even when you have a history of back pain, this could be the workshop for you. Rael leads a discussion on the various components of a good back care program. Within this interactive session he will explore the anatomy associated with a back care program, strategies for effective care, and modifications to exercises on various pieces of apparatus that can be used for ourselves and our clients.
What You'll Need: Mixed Equipment, Cadillac, Reformer w/Box, Wunda Chair

About This Video

(Pace N/A)
May 18, 2011
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Okay, well, welcome to everyone. We're gonna take on a very, very important and pertinent topic today. Pilates Essentials for Back Care: A path to functional movement. By conservative estimates, some say it's even more. 80% of the population at some point in their life will suffer from back pain or back problems.

That's a staggering, staggering statistic. And we've got to think why. We've got to think, how does this happen that so many people in a society that is active, by and large health conscious, we are still suffering so much are suffering more and more from back problems. And it becomes clear. It seems clear to me that it is because of our lifestyle.

Many of us sit for so many hours a day. Sitting is part of society today. It is part of life. We sit at desks, we sit in the car, we sit at computers. We're sitting so much of the time.

I think sitting has literally changed our bodies. It's changed society. And it is not enough to say I'm gonna sit for 12 hours a day and then go and do a one-hour workout. It's simply is not enough. I'll go back to something that Joseph Pilates wrote.

I've come up with some principles for this talk. I do want to preface by saying this should be a four-hour, eight-hour, 20-hour workshop. And we're trying to just give you some pointers about healthy back here, about knowing more about your backs, and taking care of your backs. If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

And what he's trying to say by that is so much of whether we are young or old comes down to our spine, how we function. I just read an article today by a woman who is 63, a very active person. She's a pilates instructor, amateur competitive tennis player. And she went to see a particular physician, or actually a physical therapist who said, well, you're 63, you shouldn't be doing that, and you shouldn't be doing that, and you shouldn't be active and you shouldn't be, you should limit your activities to this and this. And she was highly offended because she said, you're looking at my age, not at my body.

You're looking at my age, not at what I do. And you're categorizing me by age. It was a brilliant article. I really enjoyed it. And it was about how we need to see people not by their age, but by what they are able to do.

And that is what Joseph Pilates is saying here. That if you are dysfunctional, if your spine is dysfunctional, he's focusing on the spine. At the age of 30, you're old, you should then be treated as an old person. And at 60, if your spine is functional, your body is functional, you are healthy, you are young. It has really very little to do with age.

So the first, my A, my A, my principle A is activity. Make movement an integral part of your life. And that means if you are sitting a lot, I can tell you from my own experience, as an active athlete, a professional dancer for many years, a yoga practitioner, and for the last 32 years, a Pilates practitioner, I never had back problems until I wrote my book, my first book. (woman laughs) And that is when things started falling apart, why? Because I never sat before that.

And suddenly I decided, okay, I've got to tie myself down. I'm gonna write my book. This is my goal, to get the work out there. What I didn't anticipate is that I was changing my lifestyle. I was going from someone who was moving all the time to someone who was sitting eight, 10 hours a day, sometimes more and suddenly back problems started occurring.

So the first thing is activity. Be active. If you have a job that you're sitting a lot, get up every 20 minutes. Move around. Maybe set up your office so that you're standing some or at least part of the time.

But moving around, getting up, walking around, doing some exercises, maybe have set routines that you can do. Activity is key. And I'm gonna go further. And of course I say this with some trepidation and disclaimer, and that is that even if you are suffering from some discomfort and pain. Today, the philosophy, the generally accepted philosophy is if you can move, keep moving.

Don't lie down, and I'm in bed rest because my back is hurting. Try and keep active. Just a beautiful picture of someone who is definitely active. Another quote from Joseph Pilates, "Exercise devoted not only to the mere development "of any particular pet set of muscles, "but rather more rationally to the uniform development "of our bodies." I think this takes us to the word B, balance, achieve balance on every level. A was activity, B is balance.

I think we look at the body, we tend to look at the body far too simplistically. If we're feeling any particular dysfunction, what muscle is weak, what muscle is tight, it usually does not come down to one muscle. It is about a balance, about a balance in the musculature, about a balance in mind, body, about symmetry in the body. Not developing strength beyond what the flexibility can allow and not developing flexibility beyond what the strength can allow, and recognizing that balance is all relative. It's within your own body.

For Sarah, it doesn't matter how strong my abdominals are. What does she care how strong my abdominals or my back is. She cares about the relationship between not only how strong her abs or, or her back, or her adductors, abductors, it doesn't matter. Inner thighs, outer thighs. It's the relationship.

How strong is a certain muscle group relative to its opposite muscle group. It's antagonist. How strong within your own body relative to other muscles within your own body. As long as there's a good balance, you are on the right track. Just showing, the first picture showed flexion of the spine.

I'm going through the different ranges of motion, lateral flexion of the spine. The powerhouse is the source of all movement. Joseph Pilates spoke and speaks of the powerhouse in his book. And I think it's become a very important term for us, which is sometimes regarded as synonymous with C for core. So A was activity, B was balance, C for core, the core.

Move from a strong, flexible, and functional core. Core we know is a word we hear all the time. Core this, core that, I think almost to the point where it becomes somewhat meaningless. We need to think to ourselves, what are we referring to when we speak of the core? Are we referring to certain muscle groups?

And I think we are, we are gonna go over those muscle groups that comprise of the core. Is the core synonymous with the powerhouse? I think to an extent it is, my own personal feeling, and this is my own. I cannot ask Joseph Pilates. And I'm sure many other teachers have different opinions.

I think it's synonymous in so far as it addresses this mid-center of the body. It addresses similar muscle groups or the same muscle groups in fact. However, the powerhouse takes it a step further. The powerhouse is about the mind as well. We know in different, in yoga we have chakras.

We have the root chakra. In Tai Chi, we have chi. In Aikido, we have ki. In a modern dance, Martha Graham technique, all movement emanated from the center, from a contraction. Many, many movement forms, disciplines, regimens speak of this central part of the body.

Joseph Pilates called it the powerhouse. But for none of those regimens, is it simply such and such muscle group? No, it's about a source of energy that flows through the body. And in my opinion, good back care does not just equate to doing 20 exercises like this and 20 exercises like that and developing this muscle group and developing that muscle group. I think it's part of the picture.

The core, in my opinion, is a part of the picture. But what Pilates does is it addresses the mental aspect as well. And that's why it's important to relate to the principles of Pilates, the awareness, the balance, the breath, the concentration, the control, the center, the efficiency of movement, the flexibility of movement, the flow of movement, the precision of movement, the harmony. And we're gonna talk about a few more. We went from flexion, lateral flexion, and a picture of extension of the spine, just showing how the spine moves in these myriad of ways.

Do not practice mindless repetition. Joseph Pilates spoke a lot about mindless repetition. And I really do think that, without wanting to be judgmental, that is one of the differentiators between Pilates and some other forms of training is that Pilates, you cannot say it's just a low repetition form of training, because so is bodybuilding. If you wanna build huge muscles, you lift very high resistance with very low repetitions, but we know that's not what Pilates is about. Pilates is also not about high repetition.

Pilates is about being mindful. That's what it's about. It's being mindful, being present, being aware of what you're doing. And if you do it mindlessly, I've got to do 10 double leg stretch. Ta-ta-ta-ta, ra-pa-pa-pa-pa! 10 single leg stretch, ta-ta-ta-ta! And crisscross, and I'm gonna have a healthy back.

You won't, because it needs to be done mindfully to achieve in certainly in a Pilates approach, an ample approach to Pilates. It needs to be done with those principles in mind. So that brings me to D, diversity. Diversity is a unique quality of Pilates, and one that helps make the exercises functional, a component often missing in exercise programs. You know, I read recently an article that spoke about this called the myth of the core and the myth of Pilates, why?

Because Pilates is all about the abdominals and all about certain muscle groups. And it's not about just movement and functional movement. Well, I take this author to task because I think that's exactly what Pilates is about. It's not about one movement, not about linear movement, not about one range of movement or several ranges of movement. It's about a diversity of movement.

Think of the class that we did earlier today, how many combinations of movement? Pilates is rich in its movement vocabulary. And that is what you need for a healthy back. I agree with the author in that you need diversity. I disagree that Pilates is not diverse.

That is exactly what makes Pilates so good. It is like going out and doing many activities. I equated in a way, I love reading and I love writing. And, you know, you can see a, imagine being a writer that uses a very limited vocabulary. Well, then it gets a little boring.

They, you know, the expression of images of thoughts becomes limited as opposed to a writer who has a very rich vocabulary. They can draw on so many different combinations. It becomes interesting. It is wealthy and rich in its content. And that's what Pilates is.

It is so wealthy and rich in the movement combinations that it offers. And that is what makes it functional. That is why I believe it is so valuable, why I believe it is so important for back care is that it does. And why people get good results from Pilates? Because it prepares us for so many different activities.

I'm an avid athlete. I love mountain biking and snowboarding and windsurfing and whatever you can, hiking, whatever you can throw at me, I love doing it because it's all movement. It's all the body. But what gives me the foundation to do it is Pilates. It gets me, that's what I have found.

Now, people have asked me, is Pilates for anyone? I say Pilates is for anyone, but it's not for everyone. Meaning not everyone is gonna find their answer in Pilates, and that's fine. For me I think it's wonderful. It's been a wonderful foundation for healthy back care.

But maybe other people will find it in different realms, in different regiments. What is for sure is that it creates that foundation of healthy movement, mindful movement, mindful activity, and creates that balance in the body. E for effective exercise is the basis of a good back care strategy. The choice of exercises and the manner in which they are performed will lead to the success or failure of the program. Exercises must be done effectively.

Meaning if someone says to you, you have a bad back, an injured back, a dysfunctional back, well, just go and do abdominal exercises. That is a very, very misleading statement. And I feel cannot only lead to, what should I say? Let me put it differently. It will not only not achieve the results you want, but can possibly even be detrimental and create a worse situation.

There I was speaking of diversity of vocabulary, and I suddenly couldn't find the words I was wanting. But nevertheless, you can create a situation where it actually harms you to follow that instruction of go and strengthen your abdominals, because the chances are you will not do the exercise effectively. If you are suffering from pain, your body has compensatory patterns. You will try to avoid pain and the chances are you will be reinforcing the patterns that are creating the problem from the beginning. So just briefly going over the major muscles acting on the pelvis and the trunk, and I've called them stabilizers.

We have the abdominals, the back extensors, the psoas, the pelvic floor, and the diaphragm. And I wrote at the bottom there, strength is relative; balance is the truth. I cannot walk up to someone and say, do you have strong abdominals? Well, strong compared to what? Strong compared to my other muscles?

Strong compared to someone else? What is strong abdominals? Or strong back or whatever. So I said, strength is relative; balance is the truth. I'm going to briefly go through a picture of each of these muscles, and I'd be happy to take a few questions at that point after I've shown you these sides of the muscles.

If there are any questions about why these certain muscle groups, why did I select these muscles and not others? So let's start with the transverse abdominis and the rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is primarily a trunk flexor, a spinal flexor. It is a muscle that runs up and down, meaning from top to bottom vertically. And the transverse abdominis, the deepest layer of abdominals, which runs horizontally the fibers of the muscle run horizontally.

And that muscle is primarily a stabilizer. Moving on, the external obliques, you can see the angle of the external obliques running from the external part of the trunk downwards towards the internal part of the trunk. The internal obliques running from the top internally and out to the sides. We've got a deep back extensor. It's cool, it's one of the deep posterior, back extensors, the multifidus.

The transversus and multifidus have been shown to have a profound effect on stabilization. And in fact, it is thought in good back care. The psoas is an interesting muscle, very interesting muscle. I think as Pilates teachers have kind of swept the psoas and some of the hip flexor group or the entire hip flexor group under the carpet. We haven't wanted to deal with the hip flexors.

So we've just pretty much said, switch them off. Just focus on your abdominals and switch off your hip flexors. It's been an incorrect, I've called it hip flexor persecution. Although many people will not regard the psoas as such as the hip flexor, but the ileus psoas is, and there are other hip flexors in the hip flexor group. The psoas is really important because it is on the spine.

I like to think of it as a neutral muscle because it helps stabilize, but it can also help with flexion and extension of the spine, depending on the inclination of the spine. And it can help with lateral flexion as well. So depending on where the spine is moving, the hip flexor is like a chameleon in that it adapts and assists in different positions of the spine, but it can be problematic when it is dysfunctional. Dysfunctional could mean weak, could mean tight, and could mean imbalanced from side to side. And just as a tidbit, the psoas is your filet mignon.

That is what it is, the psoas. I'm not suggesting we start eating each other, but if you were to go to a restaurant, that is the psoas. The pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is somewhat controversial in how much effect it has on stabilization, but certainly a very important group of muscles that lie within the pelvis. And finally, the diaphragm, a very important muscle in terms of respiration, that is a dome-shaped muscle that lies within the rib cage.

So the pelvic floor or sometimes called the pelvic diaphragm and the diaphragm lie inside the bony structure rather than outside of the bony structure like the biceps lie outside the bony structure. That's very unique. They are very unique muscles. And it's interesting that they mirror each other. In my book, "Pilates", I talk about the internal support system.

It's a cylinder of support with your abdominals, with your back extensors, the psoas right in the center, and then top and bottom, you have the diaphragm and the pelvic floor, and there's this internal cylinder of support. And that my friends is what I think is the powerhouse. Because, you know, those muscles, those deep lying muscles, they are mind muscles. The transverse abdominis won't just work. You've got to make it work.

The multifidus is the equivalent in terms of the back, it's a deep lying muscle like the transverse abdominis. It won't just work. The big back muscles will work. Your six pack will work very readily. But those deep, subtle lying muscles, they are the mind muscles.

Your pelvic floor won't just work. Well, maybe it does. But we can certainly improve its function. The diaphragm, yes, it works. We breathe throughout our lives, but we can develop that.

And certainly when it comes to the psoas, it needs tremendous attention to see whether it is functional and relative to the other muscle groups, functional. So let me open the floor to some questions and then we'll go into examples of repertoire. I'm not gonna give you a full back care program, but I'm gonna show you some examples on the equipment of exercises in flexion, in lateral flexion, and extension that, in my opinion, exemplify some of the points that I've been making. Yes. I have a question about the multifidus.

I'm trying to find ways to get people to sort of understand where it is and sort of how to feel that it's lightening up. And as you just suggested, the main powerhouse are these muscles that require us to put our mind there. Do you have some pearls or suggestions as to how you might get somebody to connect with their multifidus? Yes. A great question.

How would I offer a pearl, a suggestion of getting people to connect with the multifidus? I think any of the deep muscle groups are difficult to connect with. And, you know, I think different people relate to different images. The way I love to try and get the people to engage the multifidus is to tell them to move without moving, to go into back extension without going into back extension, particular in the lower region. So I'm doing it right now, Sarah.

I'm actually doing it right now. I'm saying to my body go into extension. So I'm engaging my back extensors profoundly, but I'm not moving into back extension. And that tends to, you can even put your hand there and say to your client, I want you to subtly push against my hand in the direction of extension, but don't move your back. And it's very similar to the transversus in that you can put your hand here and say, I want you to engage your abdominals, but without moving.

And typically what they're gonna get is a bracing effect. And that bracing effect is rarely what we're looking for in terms of the abdominals and the back extensors, that whole deep posterior group of the multifidus is probably the one we speak most about. It's a matter of bracing and creating the support system. In Pilates, we often speak about hollowing and some people prefer to speak of bracing, essentially creating support. So moving into extension without moving tends to get those deep muscles working.

Did I repeat? The question was, I gave quite a long answer, but the question was, how do we get, in this case, the multifidus to recruit and fire? I related it as well to the transverse abdominis and in fact, the pelvic floor, their different strategies and the diaphragm. Any other questions? Good, I am gonna, again, reiterate that with your clients and with people who are not specifically Pilates practitioners, but are utilizing this information for themselves.

The key is activity. And it doesn't have to be an hour, two, three hours a day. What it can be is choosing a 10-minute balanced program. And hopefully we'll have time today to go through a short balanced program where you're taking the spine through its different ranges of motion and to do it consistently, to try do it every day and maybe even choose different activities of 10 minutes three times a day rather than waiting, working 12 hours sitting at a desk and then doing your 30, 45 minutes of intense activity. That really does lead to back problems.

And today we, because people work so hard, but are also very active, we get that phenomenon of the weekend warrior. Going on a weekend, sitting the entire week and then the weekend's here and boom! Hit it as hard as you can. You know, I'm all about enjoying life. And I'm not saying to people, I've had many clients who have come in and said, I can hardly move, my back is so bad. Can you do something for me?

Sure, and then I'll say, we'll go through half a session. I say, what are you doing this weekend? I'm going out playing golf. Definitely, Saturday, Sunday I'll be playing golf. You're playing golf.

You can hardly walk in here and you're playing golf on the weekend? Sure, I'm not gonna give up my golf. (audience laugh) Well, I understand that. That's the thing is that I don't expect this person to give up the golf. You know why?

Because the golf nourishes her or him. What we have got to try do as teachers is facilitate that that person can go out and play golf pain-free and hopefully perform better. But we cannot say to people, stop doing something you love. And this is so severe. And maybe for a period of time, they can be convinced to give it up.

I know people have tried to convince me to give up certain things. And after a long lecture, I've just said, you know what, I'll rather suffer, but I've got to surf and I've got to windsurf and I've got to do those things, but no, I don't surf. I love doing it, and I don't have that kind of pain. But it really is about finding a way to keep those things that you love, but to do a program, find a program that enables you to do it in a pain free manner. Good, so we've spent 30 minutes laying out the foundation.

I will just finish with one thing, and that is that discover your powerhouse, your inner strength four herein lies your path to a healthy back. Discover that inner strength. Discover the powerhouse. Discover what is best for you. For some people, it means being more mobile.

For some people, it means focusing on more strength. For some people, it may mean more back extensor work, and for some people more abdominal work. Find that inner strength. Find the balance and find that mental strength that will enable you to perform in a healthy manner and maintain what is so valuable, your backs. Just remember, as we get older, I've never seen an older person as they age get more and more and more and more upright and taller.

I wish it would happen, but it doesn't. The fact is gravity, age is pulling us forward. So as we get older, our focus should shift from this huge focus on the abdominals to our backs. I rarely am quite a back fanatic. I think the backs need work.

The back needs strength, and we need to, if anything, stretch the front part of our body, just imagine if every person on this planet would just lie over the step barrel for five minutes a day. I mean, people would be happier. That's the fact of it. Good, let's take a two-minute break as we bring in some of the equipment. Good.

Deborah did not ask a question, but made a very profound comment, and that is that balance, please understand me. Balance is not a static state. It is an ever-evolving and changing state. And Deborah not only are you correct in what you say, it changes from minute to minute, day to day, position to position, but it also changes as we change and get older and our moods change. And it's ever evolving.

So please do not misunderstand me and think that you can achieve balance one day and then (gasps) now I have balance and that's it, no. We are trying to find, we are in the pursuit of balance all the time and we probably never achieve it. That's what makes us carry, and that's good, because that's what makes us continue that journey and that pursuit. And I'm pleased you mentioned that because it is so true that when I look, when you look at a baby or I look at a young child, I am very inspired by my young son of 10 and seeing how his body has changed from when he was born and then he's a little baby and their little backs are so strong, but they have little pot bellies. And then suddenly they start, it all starts coming together with their backs and their abdominals becoming a little more balanced.

And then how we go through life, and then as we become older, we need to start focusing on getting that baby body back, of stronger backs because now we have, life has pulled us forward and we need to put more focus on the back. Whereas when we're babies, the backs are so strong. That's what allows us to survive. But the abdominal, this whole front area is not yet strong. So balance is a continuously changing process.

Thank you, thank you for making that comment. The same, by the way, with posture and alignment. I mean, it relates to balance. It's ever evolving, it's dynamic. So I just want to do, I've asked Martha to demonstrate the short box, part of the short box series, because it exemplifies very much what I've been talking about in terms of a good balance between the front and the back.

So the first one is the round back where we see Martha, starting with the arms down in front of her. The arms, there's not much focus on the arms. What we're really focusing on is this concept of creating a dynamic C curve. We're trying to get this natural curve line of the spine, as she pulls deep into this hollow region, you can feel as she's well braced in that abdominal region. She now, the abdominals become stabilizers as she hinges back to there, lowering the arms, just a little, Martha.

She hinges back up and then uses her back extensors to bring her back to that upright position. Relax the scapula. So we see the abdominals and gravity pulling her into flexion and the back extensors are actually determining how much flexion she goes into. They work eccentrically determining how much flexion she will go into. If the back extensors didn't work, she would just go very round.

But no, the extensors are working. They keep her in this nice big curve. She then goes back, the hip flexors are working eccentrically, concentrically to bring her back up. And then the back extensors bring her into that upright position. That in itself is a program.

That's a complete program right there. You do that 10 times a day. I mean, 10 repetitions three times a day, you've got yourself a little back care program. So one more, exhale. I'm fascinated by it.

And hinges back. Good ratio between abdominal strength as you can stabilize and the hip flexors. If she couldn't stabilize here, what would happen? She would go into hyperlordosis, boom! So just suddenly arch, but no, she can stabilize. She can protect herself against that pull of the hip flexors and then she gets this lovely, upright trunk with the extensors and the flexors of the spine holding her in position.

Let's take that stabilization one step further with a flat back. We've got the co-contraction of the front and the back. We talk about stabilization. We throw out that word so liberally. This is stabilization, front and back.

Sorry for patting you all over, but I'm just showing how firm and stable she is. Holds that like a firm plank as she goes to there and then goes to there. Back and... So she is taking her stabilization seriously. She is going to there and then back to that upright position, which is just there.

If she goes, show them Martha, if there isn't a good balance, go into more back extension then abdominals. Oh, I've got such strong back, but no abs. Now, she's showing you what you do look like if her abs were over active, and then she shows you what it's like when they are working together. And they can counteract that strong pull of the hip flexors as the hip flexors work eccentrically and now concentrically. And those hip flexors are, the iliopsoas is pulling on that spine.

If she didn't use her abs enough while she is down there, I'll support her, but she would go there, no. And if she used too much abs, she would sink till there, but she's got that good balance, Deborah. So she can go there and back up to there. Now, we want some rotation, don't we? Absolutely we do.

Because we've seen the flexion, we've seen extension. But we know that most of what we do in life involves turning around, taking something, getting a cup, getting a glass of wine, getting a, that's wishful thinking right now, isn't it? Getting a different thing, picking something up, picking the shopping up, picking the kid up, playing golf, playing tennis, doing this, doing that. We need rotation. So we've got that as well.

As she stabilizes, boom! In rotation, all the rotators are working. Don't think it's just abdominals. No, no, no, no. The back extensors are also rotators. So we're not just focusing on the obliques.

We are focusing on the back extensors, working in this unique pattern together with the abdominals to create that rotation. You're giving me a little imbalance, Martha, thank you. She achieved balance, all relative, and dynamic. And up she comes. Rotate.

Inhale. And exhale. Go, beautiful. And inhale. Notice she's not letting go here.

If she let go of these intercostals and obliques, we would go the other way actually. There, that would happen. If she's using them too much, she would get that. But she's got balance, and up. Just think how much balance is going into that exercise.

And reaching over. And back to center. Thank you very, very much. (audience applauds) Bravo! So briefly, showing a preparation for the teaser. Why I love the preparation for the teaser, come, Christen, show us a preparation for the teaser.

(faint voice talking) (instructor laughs) It takes a lot. I have known her for many years, so that gives me the right to pick on her. Okay, I'm not gonna go for the full teaser. I'm gonna go for a teaser that's very accessible to a large population, to people out there who have noticed by the way the rounded edge of this box accommodates for a nice arch of the spine. So let's give you a nice comfortable spring.

Let me... What we're gonna do, if you wouldn't mind hopping off and I'll just show what I want without the spring. But what we're gonna do is I'm gonna give her the handles in her hand. The thoracic spine is the area that I feel needs so much work, so much attention. So we're gonna go from that extension of the thoracic spine, but keeping this abdominal connection.

Teaching people to work their abdominals while in extension, and then coming up to there, just to there for now and then bending and stretching out. Okay. That's a great pattern. It's got this extension of the thoracic spine with a lot of connection here of the abdominals. Good.

So I'm gonna hold her legs for a moment just so she feels stable. Take the arms all the way back. Are you okay? Mm-hmm. Straightening the elbows more.

This elbow a little more. Good, good. Now bring the arms from the bottom as the legs straighten up. Good, and palms face upwards. Eyes directly forward.

Legs straight up, we're getting that beautiful line there. So it's no secret that she has great abdominal strength. You can see the beautiful support. What I'm gonna see is if she has as much, she can maintain the support as she goes down into extension. Extension, extension, extension, she's reaching back.

She's still got the support here. I feel this band of support protecting the lumbar spine, but enabling that stretch of the thoracic region. And up, we reach up to there. Boom! And reaching back and all the way. And one more.

(swooshing) Beautiful. And you can let go of that. Let go of that, and I'll help you up. Excellent. (everyone applauds) Very nice.

I'm gonna demonstrate a pulling strap that I'd like you to do. It's just a version of pulling straps, a variation. Who would like to feel their backs working? Just get some nice back working. Sarah?

Good, okay. So... Sarah, what I'm gonna ask you to do is come onto the box. Holding the straps, the legs are parallel to the floor, you do a bicep curl as you, then the triceps holding the back up and reach forward. And inhale.

Inhale to extend and exhale as you lower. Okay. I love that. It just feels like I'm swimming butterfly. Great back work.

What I love about it is we work biceps and then triceps. We've got the hip extensors working throughout. We've got this great balance between the lower, mid, and upper back extensors. And then very importantly, we've got the posterior deltoid holding those arms nice and high. So we've got posterior deltoid, rhomboids, all these great muscle groups that give us stabilization, that give us support for the movement and give us ever-changing balance.

So, Sarah, you just have to hold it little differently. Listen to your guide. There we go. I had a feeling that I wasn't holding something correctly. Your feeling was correct.

So, no, you're just right, you're right. Just straighten arms. Don't worry if there's no tension now. You'll be happy that it's not too much later. Okay, so I want her to try and externally rotate the arm more.

So the palms face the ceiling. Can you face your palms to the ceiling? So that's the topic of our next workshop, external rotation of the shoulder. And Sarah is having a hard time. (everyone laughs) Sarah is having a hard time with it.

Okay, she reaches back. She's got a great back and she's got beautiful delts at that point. And she goes down, there. And she inhales as she reaches back. I want you to think of less height but more elongation.

What that's gonna give me is more work in this part of the back. The lower back is her comfort zone. This is the part that I'm interested in. So just a little lower, perfect! Hold that height as you come around. Very nice and then lower.

That was a beautiful one, Sarah. And then from there we go back again, reaching, synchronized. Don't break your wrist. And then hold that height as you come around. And then she rotates and lowers.

That is beautiful. (audience applauds) Very nice, thank you. What I loved is seeing the difference between the first one or two and then when we got the balance in the back extensors. Because the first one or two, she was so dominant in the lower back. That's her comfort.

Went right into the lower back, but there was very little work in the upper back. And because there was very little work in the upper back, the upper back muscles relate closely to the scapula, muscles that control the scapula, which of course relate closely to how the arms work. The moment she organized her back muscles and got more balance throughout the back, then her arms just function so beautifully rather than restricted as they were before. Any questions before we move to a different piece of apparatus? This was just an example of some exercises that work on the abdominals, that work on the back and abdominals together, that work on the rotators of the trunk.

And finally, on the extensors of the trunk. Of course, limitation of time is keeping our repertoire quite small. But just to give you some variety, some variety of movements. Any questions? No, we're gonna move on to the Wunda Chair.

It's no secret that the Wunda Chair is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. And I'm gonna show you a short basic back care program. Again, you know, five, 10 minutes on this small piece of equipment, and it gives you a diversity of movement. It keeps you active. It creates the balance.

It strengthens the core, creates a functional core. I don't like to use the word strength. It creates a functional well balanced core, gives us diversity of movement. And as long as we're performing it correctly, it is effective. So I'd like a volunteer who wants to go through some work.

What kind of work? (everyone laughs) Go ahead. It's okay. No, go ahead. (talks faintly) Okay, come, Mary.

So we're gonna start, I don't need to demonstrate to Mary. We're gonna start with a pelvic curl. Please don't be shy. We'd love, you know, some of the people I haven't had the pleasure of cuing before to come up as well. So let's lie down.

We're gonna start with a pelvic curl. The pelvic curl is one of the very first Pilates exercises we learn and yet doing the pelvic curl on the chair elevates the difficulty, the challenge exponentially and introduces the element of potential strength gains. Because the pelvic curl, as we do it in the mat work, is a good mobility exercise, but there will not be any strength gains from that exercise. There's not enough overload for the muscles. But the moment we introduce some resistance, her hamstrings will be working significantly and a good balance between hamstrings and abdominals.

Hip extensors, I should say, hip extensors and flexors of the spine. Hip extensors, flexors of the spine, and even extensors of the spine. So we put the feet on the pedal and press the pedal down. If you feel you need to adjust your distance, that's fine. Good, so now Meredith has got her feet on the platform, on the pedal, nicely wrapped around in that prehensile position.

She inhales and exhales as she rolls down. Oh, the pedal is not allowed to move. The pedal is not allowed to move. She's got it, okay. And exhale as she rolls up.

Cramping, a little quite natural. It mean she's, yeah, she's using those hamstrings. And exhale as she rolls down all the way, all the way, all the way to that neutral position. And inhale and exhale, keeping the pedal down. And that takes ever dynamic balance of the musculature.

It's changing all the time. As she changes her body position, she has to apply a different amount of pressure onto that pedal. I'm just gonna change your foot position slightly. There we go. And inhale and exhale, keeping the pedal down.

So look at this, go a little higher, Meredith. We've got hip extensors. We've in fact got adductors, adductors. We've got hip extensors. We've got some gluteal work.

We've got back extensors working. We've got shoulder extensors working. And now as she rolls down, we've got the abdominals coming in as they go into spinal flexion and then she establishes that neutral position. Beautiful exercise, changes it dramatically by doing it with this resistance. Bring the pedal up slowly and go halfway down.

Put the hands behind your head. And another exercise that is changed dramatically by having some resistance is the chest lift. And exhale as you lift up, keeping the legs pressing down all the time. Can you go a little higher? Yes, you can.

And inhale and exhale as you go down. So we mobilize the spine from the bottom. We now are mobilizing the spine from the top. And exhale as you come up. Inhale and exhale as you go down.

And inhale. And exhale as you lift, lift, lift, lift, lift. Inhale, and exhale. And the last one, inhale and exhale. And let's add of course some rotation to it.

So we would go exhale and exhale, and exhale, and exhale, and exhale. One more. And exhale. And come to center, slowly down as the legs come up, beautiful. If you could come into the sitting pike.

After all that hamstring, I (voice drowned by laughter). Ooh, yes. Okay, feet up there. So the sitting pike is a beautiful exercise, and I wanna use it to establish good connection between the abdominals, the upper body, the shoulder extensors and the hip flexors. So I'm gonna do it a little differently today because I want to encourage some hip flexor use, but I'm giving her, I'm giving the abdominals the advantage.

So I'm gonna tell her to lift her legs one at a time into the air. So she's gonna hold her legs right there as if they're on the top and press down. This exercise is typically done with the feet on the seat, but we've added this element of difficulty by bringing the hip flexors into it. Boom, try and keep your hands nice and long, Meredith. And two and more, keep the legs out, keep those legs long.

And (grunts) and down. Give her a hand. (everyone applauds) Thank you. Good work, great work. Yeah, she was working hard.

So did you discover your powerhouse? Yes. Yes, she did. They're my hamstrings. (everyone laughs) She discovered a powerhouse and her hamstrings.

The hamstrings are extra little bonus we added, good. So taking this into lateral flexion, I'm gonna, again, work on an interesting combination. Let's just move this slightly to the center. So can everyone see me well? Yes, perfect.

So going from here, the beauty is that the chair can help or in fact not help you by, and that is determined by how much or little spring you have. So if you work on a light spring, obviously, you have to use your own body more. And now we add to it hip abduction. To increase the resistance just slightly, we can take it over there. Let me just move this a little bit further this way.

So from here we add that hip abduction. And again, to get a longer lever, we simply add the arm to it. And perform the same with rotation. We've got the rotators of the trunk. We've got the extensors working in rotation.

We then say, why not add some gluteal work to that? And finally we say, we are all about balance. Can we find our balance? Yup. Where is your foot, does it matter where your foot (talks faintly)?

Yeah, I want the foot and my foot should have been absolutely in line with my body. If it comes forward, you're gonna start using your hip flexors. If it goes too far back, you start using too much of your gluteus maximus. And I want you to really focus on your gluteus medius. That combination of oblique work and gluteus medius work is a wonderful combination working together.

So I want just one person to quickly try and do two of each, come. What is your name again? Colleen. Colleen. Yeah. Okay, Colleen.

I feel quite lopsided now, but we will correct that when we're off camera. Okay, so notice this leg is not hooked there to offer you support. It is rarely just to create a line. It's not doing much, that leg. This leg is in line with the body.

And put your hand down there. This one can go behind the head. I'm gonna go just a little lighter for you. Perfect. And away she goes reaching over and up.

Reaching over and up. She's beautiful. Look how stable she is in the pelvis. Don't go forward though. Keep the trunk back, and working beautifully.

Add the leg to it as you go, inhale. Comes up and the leg works. Do you feel that? Yes, she does. And boom.

And up. And boom, and up. Hold it, hold it, hold it. She's working. She's working.

Slowly down, rotate. And lifting up and down. Let the head go a little further. And reaching out through the tip of the head up and down. And up and down, add the leg to it.

And reaching up, lifting, lifting, lifting. Don't let me disturb you. And down. And up, and down. Last one, she stays up there.

Yes. That is the moment where the student overtakes the teacher. Very beautiful. Very beautiful, lovely work. Thank you. Lovely.

(everyone applauds) Okay, the final one is the Swan, and I feel that no workout on the chair could be complete without the Swan. And then we're gonna do just a few Cadillac exercises. Is your back okay? Yeah. You don't have back problem?

I don't. Okay, lying up here. Okay. So the ideal position is having, does that feel light to you? Very light? That's light.

That's good, okay, that's good. So light is good. Her shoulders should be just above her hands. So she could come forward even just, there we go. Starting from that position of parallel to the floor, I want to see this reverse articulation as she reaches out through the tip of the head, comes through the spine.

Da-da-da, da-da-da, da. Don't rush, don't rush. We're just over here and you're already going there. No, we're just there. Good, come up the spine.

Excellent, excellent. Can you come higher? Can she come higher? Yes, yes. Keeping the legs a little higher.

What a back. And then reaching out as you go down. Again, articulating the spine as we move down the back, down the back, down the back, down the back. Now don't start rounding. Think of long.

Think of long. Just taking it all the way down, all the way down. That is beautiful. That is gorgeous. And reaching out again, articulating.

Now, if someone can come this high, that's also fine. If someone can only come this high, that's fine. If someone needs more support, meaning a heavier spring, that's fine. You can even go heavy so that they're having to use their abdominals to go down and the coming up is really passive in the back just to get range of motion. And then you start changing the spring to the point where it becomes active back work.

And then as she's doing, which is very active back work. Because think if the spring was not heavy, she would have to use her abdominals to pull it down. But right now, no, it's so light. She's using her back muscles eccentrically to control it on the way down. And what she's saying is, could you stop talking and let me go down?

Okay (chuckles). Now the beauty of this also is that let's say you're working with someone out there. If you can just come back slightly, I want you to put your feet on the floor. So I'm gonna hold that there for you. And bend your knees just a little.

That's perfect. You can even stabilize, support her. Let someone come up just that high, just to get those back muscles. 'Cause I feel this is the part of the back I wanna work with her. This part of the back is as strong as anything.

This is where I want her to work. Yes, that was it, right there. Perfect, and then slowly down. So we simply, I decide I'm gonna take her lower back out of the equation right now. In fact, you could actually push your pubic symphysis slightly into that chair.

And we're gonna focus on this area, moving down to about here. And away you go one last one. Reaching, reaching. Reaching, reaching, reaching, reaching. And then in that position, when we're firing that muscle, sure, we can now say, reach this leg out to get that cross pattern.

And bring it back and reach it out. Great cross pattern, just like swimming. And bring it back. Bend your knees just slightly. That's it.

You got the pelvis back in place. And slowly moving down. I've got the pedal. Good, good, good. Okay, excellent work.

Thank you. (everyone applauds) Just a few more minutes as we go over some exercises on the Cadillac. Okay, everyone. I know we were a little limited with time. I did just wanna show some more basic exercises that help access the abdominals, that same kind of chest lift and chest lift with rotation concept.

I do wanna just show one of the magician series exercises, which I think is such a good example of that balance that we're looking for in a more unstable position, lateral flexion exercise. And let's finish with a hanging back. I think it's a great exercise because it's actually not that difficult, but I want it done very precisely. So can I just have someone up? Mandy, why don't you come and just do the, the mini roll up and mini roll up oblique.

Okay. So I've given Mandy probably more spring than she needs. Just remember having a bit more spring makes it easier. If you want to make it more difficult, go to one spring or go to no springs. She's holding her pelvis in that lovely neutral position.

She lifts her head up on the inhale. Come up a little higher, Mandy, there. If you could, your shoulders are good. And from there, that's her beginning position. That's the beginning position.

She exhales as she goes. Don't thrust the head forward though. She goes to about there. If you went any higher, she would start letting go of this beautiful curve. Her shoulders are directly under her hands at this point, that's optimum.

And inhale as she goes down to her scalp. And exhale, and inhale. Now, if you want to be very adamant about neutral pelvic position, you could say to her, perfect, go to your neutral position. She was just tacking up a little, and exhale. And this is a great place to teach that concept of neutral.

And inhale as you go down. And exhale as you lift up, keep the arms nice and straight. I like your focus now. That's good focus. And inhale, and exhale.

She's focusing on keeping her pelvis well positioned. And inhale all the way down. She now changes her grip to an under grip, you know what, do the other arm, Mandy, just for the sake of time. And she comes up into forward flexion, rotates towards you, and exhale as she goes up, and inhale. Focus out to them, Mandy.

And exhale. You can see how she's keeping the flexion and she's using her obliques beautifully right now. Nice. If some people start letting go of this side and they go into lateral flexion, so can you let go there? They do that.

There we go. And that's really those internal obliques that she needs to bring into play. Her externals were working well and she needs to bring her internals more into play. And exhale up and inhale down, comes to center, come to center with the hand behind your head. And she goes down.

Any questions about it? Of course we would then do the other side. Just do one on the other side. This arm is opposite the shoulder. Opposite? Opposite the shoulder.

Yeah, not to the center of the bar, so opposite the shoulder. There we go. And then she comes up, rotates. You don't need to shift the body. Just there.

And then exhale as you lift up. And inhale down. So the arm is opposite the shoulder. She stays on that center line. Beautiful.

Keep this elbow a little wider and down. Come to center. Eyes forward, Mandy. And slowly down. Okay, please be safe with this bar.

And you can let go. Thank you very much, nice work, beautiful. (everyone applauds) Okay, I want someone who wants to turn into a magician. Come, Leila, good. We need someone long.

(faint voice talking) So if you can lie with your head there, legs there. Can I actually ask you to straighten your arms? Wow, let's see. (audience laughs) Christy, the other bigger Cadillac? (everyone laughs) Okay, those are long legs.

Okay, beautiful, beautiful legs. If you could put your arms just there. So the arms, I want the arms to push away from the springs all the time. I don't think there'll be too heavy, but let's see. In this, what's that?

Leila will do anything. Leila can do anything. So, Leila, what we want you to do, I'm gonna work actually a little bit of external rotation. Bringing the legs down to about 60 degrees, from here on out, Leila, your hand, your leg, feet stay on my hand. This hand here.

They don't move. Not up, not down as she rolls up through the spine. Stays there, a little higher. Now that is gorgeous. And rolls down through the spine all the way to the sacrum and takes the legs up to 90 degrees.

And lowers the legs to my hand. My hand, my hand, my hand, my hand. A little higher, little higher. Now stop there. Deborah, you remember the balance you were talking about, the ever changing balance?

This is what it's about. This is what it's about. It's about changing. She's unstable and her body is adapting to this change. Look at that.

All the time, our body's adapting to that change. Isn't that amazing? And slowly lower. Intricate changes in the musculature. All the way down to your sacrum and then take the, and lower.

And roll up. Keep the arms very straight, straight pushing away from that bar pushing away from the bar, pushing away. Again, stable back, stable here, stable. Obviously, the hamstrings are working a lot and slowly rolling down. Thinking here of pushing the sacrum away from you and then align the legs to come up to 90.

Beautiful. (audience applauds) Beautiful, really beautiful. Thank you. Okay, let's just finish off with the hanging. With the hanging, what I want to demonstrate here, this is the one exercise that it's a beautiful exercise.

I see it being performed well at times and sometimes it is not pretty. It just is, it exemplifies everything that we're trying not to achieve in Pilates. There's not the good balance of musculature. There's not the good distribution of work through the back. The forces are all shearing into one place.

And to me, I can always look at a picture of someone or someone doing it and say, this person is well organized within their body. They know what they're doing. They have that awareness or they don't. They've just seen a movement and boom, try to do the movement. From here, what I want you to do is notice how I stabilize the different parts of my body.

I roll through the spine. I reached that flat position. Right now I'm organizing my pelvis and my lower back. Right now I'm reaching through the thoracic spine, through the neck. Then at the end, to put the cherry on the top, I may wanna go a bit further.

And then I unwind going through that thoracic spine, through the neck. Then I come down through the spine all the way. So again, reaching out, finding that straight line, elongating. Now I'm going through that thoracic spine, upper thoracic, into the cervical spine. Then I add some hip extensor, shoulder extensor.

Organize myself. And... (audience applauds) Okay, thank you. Let's have someone come up. Lisa.

Come. Lisa, by the way, is now on the cover of both my books. And she, that came as a surprise to her today. She didn't even realize. And-- Oops.

So. So this one I'm looking at, I can already tell, she understands that organization of the musculature of the core, of the powerhouse. She starts rolling up. Okay, now this is way most people are gonna just fly into their lower backs. Here I want this stable.

I want you to work through that upper back through the neck. She reaches. Now she's in a position to go that little bit further. Look at that long neck. That's where I want it.

And now coming back to center, she rolls up and then rolls through the spine to the neutral position. And rolling up. Now she stabilizes here and she's thinking I've got my lower back organized. I'm gonna move through the thoracic spine. I'm gonna move through the neck.

Only add this at the end, Lisa. So we'll do one more. I felt that she started adding her hamstrings a little early. Let's go down. Because there was more, she had more potential in that upper back.

So she reaches up. She now creates that stabilization here. Now she's maximizing this region of the back, moving through that region. Now bring your hamstrings because she's not, you see the difference? Lovely.

Yes. Yes. And good. (everyone applauds) Very well, very well. Thank you.

Okay, so are there any final questions? No final questions. Good. When are you coming back? (everyone laughs) Well, I certainly hope to be back.

You have been absolutely nothing but a delightful group of people to work with. Inspiring, energetic, great questions, great comments, great strong work. I just wanna say again that the essence of Pilates, the essence of what we do is what is going to allow us to have good backs, to be able to take care of our backs, to be able to take care of our bodies. So let's not take that whole concept of the powerhouse lightly. And it all comes down to this.

We're active. I know we're active, but it comes down to this ever-evolving balance. As people get older, working with the people you have in front of your eyes, never losing sight of creating that balance within people's bodies. So with that, I'm gonna thank you very, very much. (everyone applauding) Thank you, thank you.

Thank you. Great work! (audience cheering) (everyone applauding) Thank you so much.

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4 people like this.
awesome as usual!!
Oh God...I could write a book about how Rael is great over and over again and it would have hundreds of pages to prove it!!! Loved it!
Thank you Rael for such an informative class! I enjoyed this so much and was inspired to continue to learn all I can on this subject since yes it seems almost every client I have suffers from some sort of back pain. And it was a firm reminder of some of the things I learned in my BASI training 4 years ago.
Your the best!!!
Another masterpiece! Very informative and always inspiring! Thank you Rael! and Thank You Kristi!!!!
It's really my pleasure Joanne, but really all we did was press record. The masterpiece part, well that is all Rael.
1 person likes this.
gotta say, good job Meredith (that top spring must have hurt - in both pelv curl and pike sitting...) The Man knows how/when to challenge....!!
Let me know if you ever get the technology to be able to watch the learning center forums on iPod. I think it would be a great addition to what you offer.
You know it Joleen!! Can't wait to see you soon.
I absolutely love this It's so amazing to watch Rael and all the great teachers that you feature on this site. I loved watching Rael and listening to his philosophy on balance and the exercise examples. Excellent information for all teachers willing to learn and grow in this non static practice called Pilates
1 person likes this.
Beautiful spinal movement. I really enjoyed the variations to simplify and yet challenge. Really helps to see the lines of movement. Excellent!
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