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Reader Feedback – Pilates Mat Exercises

In the September issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review, we asked the question “When teaching mat Pilates, what is the most difficult exercise or concept for new clients to master? What methods do you use to help them grasp the move?” Here’s what you had to say:

“By far the most difficult concept is the cornerstone of Joseph Pilates’ work: initiating all movement from the powerhouse. It sounds easy? We were the first studio in London to teach authentic/classical Pilates. Qualified teachers in many other methods come to the studio from around the country to brush up on their classical work, because even after getting certified they aren’t working from their powerhouses. The modifications I’ve seen popping up all over London have changed the emphasis of the exercises so much that even the teachers aren’t working from their core, not to mention the clients. They might be an expert at getting a hamstring to fire or alleviating shoulder tension, but they have trouble even doing the basic exercises. I have to start the teachers with the beginner clients, teaching them how to make all the movements come from their center, which in turn helps their shoulders to relax or their hamstring to fire automatically. That’s the beauty of the Pilates method. If it’s done correctly, all the other things just take care of themselves!”

– Daphne Pena-Higgs, London

“By far the most difficult concept for adults in my classes to master is extending the upper spine. After years of sitting hunched over at desks and computers, many have developed some kyphosis, and most have weak upper spine muscles, so exercises like the breast stroke are strenuous and foreign to them. I use a low yoga sphinx pose to create awareness that the upper spine can indeed move in another direction besides flexing forward. Students start out bearing weight into the forearms to create the correct curve in the spine, and then use that feeling when performing the extension part of the breast stroke. I emphasize focus toward the floor, so necks do not hyperextend, although the temptation to see what’s up front is hard to resist.

– Kristine Spangard, Minneapolis

“I find the most difficult concept by far is ribcage breathing. I think that visual cues help. I use the visual of lacing the corset, narrowing the torso and wrapping the muscles around the spine without moving the spine out of neutral alignment. Along with that is the concept of expanding the back ribs. I tell clients to widen the back muscles on the pad as a feeling cue.”

– Lynn DeLancey, Wyckoff, New Jersey

“I think the most difficult concept that students struggle with is simple core engagement. I teach them this by putting them in a cross-legged position and telling them to cough, which automatically engages the transverse abdominals, the most difficult of the core muscles to engage because of typically strong hip flexors. Of course I tell them to pull the navel to the spine, create and maintain maximum distance between the chest and hips while sitting and retract then depress the shoulder blades.”

– Christine Simmons, Tampa, Florida

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