Tutorial #4660

Stomach Massage Series

10 min - Tutorial


You will gain a deeper understanding of the Stomach Massage Series with this tutorial by Diane Diefenderfer. Stomach Massage can often be difficult to do and feel so it is often skipped. Diane shares tips that she learned from Ron Fletcher and Romana Kryzanowska to help you find better placement so that you can enjoy this movement in each position.
What You'll Need: Reformer (No Box)

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(Pace N/A)
Sep 17, 2021
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Hi, I'm Diane Diefenderfer. And this is Laura Hanlon. We're gonna work together today to talk about the stomach massage. And I've chosen this exercise, this movement, because frankly, for all the years I've been practicing Pilates, it's been one of the more difficult exercises to do, to find, to feel, to perform. When I was a new Pilates student many years ago, I actually really didn't like this exercise.

I knew it was called the stomach massage. And I thought, well, that sounds good, but it's one of those exercises like catch 22. If you can't feel it, you can't get it. And if you can't get it, you can't feel it. So we're gonna try to get it, and she's gonna try to feel it today.

So we're on two red springs, just for your information. And then we're going to use this gripper. First, I'm going to talk about the version that I learned from Ron Fletcher, who I worked for for many years. So we have the gripper and in general, depending on leg length, hip flection, that sort of thing, the grippers about a wide hand-width from the end of your carriage. Okay, so Ms. Laura, you're gonna sit right there on the gripper and bring yourself into a Pilates stance position in a moment.

I also want to say the foot bar should be neither too high or too low. All right, go ahead and bring your feet up to a small, like a first position in dance or Pilates stance, and put your hands between your feet. All right, so I like this as a preparation. Sometimes I even take it to the floor and work into a mat class, but that's another story. So first the student can actually press a bit with the feet, pull with the hands, and I love a hand pull, push, press along the spine.

It usually comes with a lot of, "Oh, that feels good" comments. The neck is lengthened. Sometimes the ponytail helps to feel the length of the cervical spine, as well as the line of a straight a back as you can get it. We're still in the preparatory phase here. I'm gonna have you take a nice breath in.

Stay tall, exhale, grow even taller, reach the top of your head to my hand. And then on the next breath, she's going to go into her position. Start to exhale. It comes from the belly, the arms release, and she's rounded. Now it's hard for her to stay here, but I want to talk about it for a moment. Are you okay? Mm hmm.

All right, the chin is hovering over the chest. It's neither dropped nor is it looking up. So the neck follows a natural curve with the rest of the spine. And I like to refer to it, not as a C shape, but as a parentheses or a half-moon shape. Crescent moon, I should say.

The armpits are over the hips. Let's have you go ahead and press out. So you don't stay there so long. Inhale, flex the heels, exhale. That belly real beautiful pulled in.

Inhale, exhale, return. So as she moves, I'll talk about a little bit. So the contraction, which is what it is, comes from the breath and the belly. So it is quite internal, massaging the stomach, the organs. The spine is rounded because of the contraction of the front of the body.

So you clearly have a concave curve and a convex curve. I also like to think about a roundness across the back diagonally width-wise. I said this already, but I want to emphasize her shoulders and arm pits are over her hips. We'll do it incorrectly in a moment. Her arms are nicely rounded and sloped by her sides, as though she's around a huge ball.

Beautiful. And come on in and rest. Good, why don't you put your feet down for one second. Yeah, all right. So we give it a little bit of a break there, hold on. All right, so let's go ahead now.

I hate to ask you to do it incorrectly, but we will, sometimes a picture is really worth a thousand words. So back to this small position. Yeah, and also, make sure, there are a lot of details, that the legs don't turn out too much. That does not feel good. All right, she is at that same spot where she had been before.

All right go ahead, my dear, and take a breath and go into, drop into your low back and let go. She's exaggerating quite a bit, but not so, yeah. Sometimes people just kind of sink and slink and drop into that low back flection and really uncomfortable and not correct. Or they go too far forward. Lots of things can happen. Now correct it, please.

And get that lift, go ahead and press out. So I also like to cue here that there's a lot of space, you can keep moving, between the ribs and the hips and that should keep her or anyone from sinking, drooping, a lot of words you can use to make your point. And again, I want to refer to the neck, because so often the chin drops down and then the consistency of the flection of the spine is lost. So it's a gentle flection of the neck. Beautiful and rest, good.

Now, going on, take your hands behind you and hold onto the shoulder blocks. There's different versions of the flat back, straight back version of stomach massage. This one is one, you can go ahead and start. And then we'll show a couple others. Good, I love this exercise, still part of the stomach massage family, though, you're not in that deep contraction.

But definitely still pulling navel to spine. I love this for an opening of the chest, a stretching across the pectoral area. Beautiful, really helps with people that have poor posture. Again, the neck is in line with the spine, she's sitting so close, which is great, that she's almost in a hinge backward. Nice. Laura.

Why don't you show a couple other hand positions that you can do? They can turn this way. Nice, she has her fingers extended, So she's not gripping that shoulder block. I also like that she's not locking into the elbows, having a hyper extended elbow. I even think this position for you made you a little bit more lifted.

And then an easier position is with the hands down on the carriage. And that can help for people that have not as much flexibility in the shoulder. Great exercise again, to open up, stretch the back, beautiful posture, belly tight. I love it, good. All right, but we're not quite done.

All right, so rest for a second. Feet down on the ledge, and we're gonna make this gripper disappear. And she's going to roll down to the reformer and place her feet in a small Pilates stance, which is a small turn-out. And dear, wonderful Ramana had me do this. My first day with her.

I thought we were gonna do some more leg and foot work, but no, she said roll up from here, inhale, exhale, using the belly, and boom. And I thought, "Oh, I'm really close to the end of the carriage." This is after I'd worked with Ron for several years, but this is how she taught me stomach massage, no gripper. She sitting much closer. The hands or fingers are intentionally around the end of the carriage and the idea is that she's pulling up on the end of the carriage with her arms activating, her triceps, lats. But the rest of the idea of the deep stomach massage contraction is the same.

Beautiful. Yes, voila! Good, thank you. You may rest. Good, and that is our stomach massage. There's more to this, but this is all we were gonna focus on today. Thank you.

The Pilates Essentials: Tutorials with Diane Diefenderfer


Thanks, Diane, for this tutorial. I have never tried the rollup to stomach massage set up so I will try this tomorrow in my classes!
Michael Mary S
Thanks for the tips.  I always find the stomach massage series difficult to teach to my class.  I can't wait to try it tonight again.
Thank you very much!
Edgar A
I don't think I had seen Romana's version of the stomach massage. I like that you explained that pressing the hands against the end of the carriage that way also activates the lats and other muscles in the back. I look forward to trying this one.
Jen U
Loved it!  Beautiful!
very useful! I too used to dislike stomach massage, but grew to love it. With this tutorial, perhaps I can share the love with my students!
Gianna  A
I thought that the version holding the carriage could be great if the flow of a reformer class would be stopped by putting a gripper down. A good alternative/extra information for those who may be struggling with this exercise too. 
Coral S
I found that the Romana version really activates that deep abdominal connection right away when rolling up from the reformer. May be helpful for students struggling to find that rounded position from a straight back.
Ashley O
The cue of keeping your shoulders right above your hips and space between your hips and your ribs is super helpful and visually looks lovely with that lifted curved position in the rounded stomach massage.
Katie W
It was nice to see all the cues used to ensure the client was set up for success before beginning the exercise. I appreciated the time spent on the preparation and found the cue of keeping the space between the ribs and hips to be very useful. It was also interesting to see the difference in the Romana version and how to engage the lats there.
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