Tag Archives: Pilates

Pilates works.

Many of my weekly mat clients regularly report with guilt that they haven’t done anything since the last week’s class. STOP FEELING GUILTY! CONGRATULATE YOURSELF ON DOING ONE GOOD WORKOUT A WEEK! The good news is that one a week makes a difference over time. See the following testimonials just in:

TESTIMONIAL ONE

“I’ve been doing Pilates with Eimear for one year now (recommended by a physiotherapist) and my back is stronger and more flexible, I’m more toned in general and I can see the progress I’m making over time which I like. I highly recommend Eimear’s classes.”

Maighread Casey, Cashel

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TESTIMONIAL TWO

“I have attended Eimear’s  weekly Pilates class for just under a year. My reason for signing up to Pilates was mainly due to back problems – stiffness and poor mobility. It is without doubt the most beneficial exercise I have done for my body.  I can now get out of bed with ease and have become much more aware of good posture.

Eimear is an excellent practitioner/teacher. Her instruction is clear and concise. Movement is gentle with particular attention paid to spine mobility and core strength.  There is particular emphasis on movement to one’s ability and forcing  beyond a person’s comfort zone is discouraged.
I would encourage anyone thinking of doing something positive for themselves in 2017 to consider a weekly hour long Pilates class with Eimear.

Margaret Murphy, Thurles

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Obviously, the more frequently you stretch and move though pilates, the faster you see results. But the bottom line is that one class a week will do you a world of good!  So make the commitment. Take on a realistic new year’s resolution. Take up a weekly pilates class. (But book sooner rather than later as there are just a few places left!!).

 

Finding energy and awareness

hulahoopingSummertime?! With the wet, drippy weather on the Monday of the holiday weekend, it’s hard to believe it’s early August. But I am happy to report that my batteries are recharged after a wonderful July…… I am really energised and excited to be starting another new term of pilates and movement classes in early September.

I admit that I often find summer a bit challenging. I am sure I am not alone in that? All the hopes for good weather, kids off school, holiday expectations, insect bites, noisy tractors on small roads, and so on. I generally prefer the in-between seasons of spring and autumn.

But this summer was different for me. I am just back from a deeply relaxing, inspiring break. With my husband and one daughter, we were camping with about 500 others off-the-grid for nine days (no electrical power whatsoever), sharing great food cooked over open fires. The weather was kind to us: no heavy rain, no really chilly days and some warm sunshine. Another positive aspect is that we didn’t have to travel far from home, no stressful airports or long journeys.

Every day was full of wonderful music and interesting exchanges of ideas. My days mostly started with the ancient ‘Dance of Life’, symbolic of our connection with the earth and nature. I did lots of fantastic yoga and movement workshops; I did multi-part harmony singing that often took me into a deep meditative state; I learnt basic drumming techniques (loved it) and I heard seasoned drummers and percussionists that made me dance, dance, DANCE!

I will sustain this energy in positive ways throughout the coming days, weeks and months. I feel empowered by all I have learned this summer. I feel aware and conscious in my body and my life.

Life can be hard. We all have to learn how to be kind to ourselves, how to love ourselves so we can love others. There are little things we can do everyday to nourish our bodies and souls. Good movement and good food, along with learning to relax and bring loving thoughts into your heart.

On a practical note: I am taking bookings for my pilates and movement classes from Monday 22nd August onwards; existing clients get first option and then I’ll be opening to anyone who wishes to join in. I look forward to meeting my pilates peeps again soon and welcoming new joiners!

Eimear x

Taming the beast: intensely interesting+physically rewarding

In the background (behind me relaxing!) is a Reformer: the largest piece of Pilates equipment devised by Joseph Pilates himself and first patented in 1924. A slightly off-putting name! But please don’t let that put you off….. it is an amazing piece of kit.

I bought this beast in March 2014 during my training period. Having first used a Reformer two years before that, I found the experience intensely interesting and physically rewarding.

Some more perspective: I did my first Pilates class in 2004 and – at a career crossroads – decided to train with STOTT PILATES as an mat instructor in 2008 becoming certified in 2009. I became Reformer certified with STOTT PILATES in 2015.

So, I’ve been teaching group mat classes since late 2008 and teaching Reformer privately since for about 14 months.

I can honestly say that it has taken me a long time to assimilate all the training, knowledge and experience I have about bodies and movement in relation to the using the Reformer to teach Pilates sensitively on a one-to-one basis. I finally feel I have tamed the beast.  I have learnt how to be intuitive about how I use the Reformer with people who haven’t ever done pilates ever before.

Or whether to use it at all – often clients need to do nothing but lie in a supported position in neutral pelvis and neutral head and shoulder position for some time, completely relaxing all their muscles and ligaments, before they can move further. I have got wonderful tools to facilitate you in doing that (the Oov is my newest find….more later!)

Taming the beast that is the Reformer means really understanding the essence of each move….. not necessarily doing the moves as they appear in the training manual. It means moving according to each person’s innate needs. It means embodying not just my pilates training, but my knowledge of other wonderful movement patterns from the yoga and Feldenkrais worlds to really help people find their way to healthy movement patterns.

Come join me – connect to your body! One love.

Common mistakes in a group class

Whether you are starting your pilates journey or if it’s an ongoing thing (wonderful!!), it’s good to go back to basics. Here are some of my best tips for anyone doing group pilates mat classes.

All about the deep abdominals Getting in touch with the deep abdominals – especially the transversus abdominus – is the most important. This is fired up when you gently contract and lift your pelvic floor muscle. Use every breath out (‘exxxxxhale’) as an opportunity to lift up though the pelvic floor and engage your low abs, pulling in towards your spine. (Think about pulling in low belly as if you were getting into a pair of too-tight jeans!). Use every inhale as a opportunity to create length, space and girth in the upper torso.

Expecting too much too soon The best change happens slowly, especially when it comes to bodies. Pilates teaches you to change movement patterns that may be embedded in your muscle memory for years. It takes a while to take the pilates way of thinking on board, so DO NOT BE SELF-CRITICAL if you cannot do it all perfectly in the beginning. Do not compare yourself with your neighbour. Work with what you have and to see change within yourself over time. Have a sense of humour!

Slow and with control Doing things slowly and with control yields more results than rushing the moves. The Pilates method was originally named Contrology (the study of control) to emphasise this concept. Slower pace means you’re turning on deep stabilising muscles and you’re creating more isometric contractions. Pilates is not a race nor a competition. Good form is more important than the number of repeitions. Try to sense the particular muscles that I mention during class.

Necks get compromised, over-flexed or over-extended The head should always be sitting at the top of the cervical spine with the normal cervical extension. A series of abdominal exercises takes place in a typical mat class with the head held off the floor unsupported, as in Ab Prep, Hundreds or Single Leg Stretch. In these challenging moves, it’s common either to jam the chin down to the chest (leading with the head and over-flexing) or to stare at the ceiling with the chin jutting upwards (over extending).

When lifting head off the mat, the chin should be a little closer to the chest than usual (slight head nod or ‘cranial vertebral flexion’) as if you’re gently holding a ripe peach between these two body parts. This head and neck position also helps to round the upper spine. The head nod precedes the lift of the shoulders off the floor. When lifting your head and shoulders, feel like something is pulling your chest towards your knees. Eye line goes to your knees.

NOTE: The correct position can be very challenging if a) you have existing neck or shoulder problems, b) you are carrying a baby/toddler around a lot or c) you have weakened neck extensors (happens as we age!). Avoid neck tension in pilates class at all costs! A very valid option is to keep the head and shoulders down on mat. Or to support the head with your hands and really focus on the chest lift!

Watch out for neutral or ‘imprinted’ pelvis In pilates exercises when both legs are off the mat, you may be asked to round your low back (to ‘imprint’) and gently make your lumbar vertebrae contact the mat (‘lose the lumbar curve’). If you are unable to stabilise in neutral, ‘imprinting’ protects your lower back when carrying the load of your legs. However, rather than jamming your vertebrae to the mat, engage your abs at the front body to slightly flatten your lower back. (NOTE: if injured or very weak in abs, you would not be lifting both legs at one time.)

Shoulders rise up and the neck gets tense  Your shoulders should be anchored down your back. It’s human to engage the neck muscles and take the shoulders up towards your ears. Hunched shoulders create undue tension in the neck and upper body. Focus on the shoulder blades sliding down your back, giving you an elegant swanlike neck. Think of your head like a helium balloon and of your shoulders melting down your back.

Not just while on the mat Take the sensations, body awareness and posture cues you get in your class with you into your week. Lessons learned on the mat can help you walk, hike, bike and run better; they will also help you avoid back pain on long car trips and neck pain from spending too much time sitting at a computer.

 

 

Pilates: mind and body

2014-09-15 MeAtopGalteesI love pilates for so many different reasons.

Initially, I was drawn in by the sheer physicality of doing pilates movements. I don’t mean that that it was physically very challenging or very hard (… pilates has a reputation for being ‘hard’ but it need not be when done safely and with awareness of the guiding principles… ), no, what drew in me was that I found the classic mat pilates repetoire made me intensely aware of my muscles and bones as no other movement discipline had before. It was very physical for me.

It’s a given that if you do pilates regularly and as suits your body, you will become stronger, increase your flexibility and improve your posture. Many of my regular clients attest to these benefits. These are the physical benefits.

But the more I engaged with the physicality of pilates, the more I have also tuned into the mindfulness of it. I know ‘mindfulness’ is a buzzword these days, but this is so for good reason. Mindfulness is simply a great tool for dealing with the stressful things that inevitably happen and thus it’s a great tool for improving the quality of one’s life.

Mindfulness is stopping and noticing this exact moment in time, right now in your body, noticing your breath, accepting what is. You don’t have to empty your mind of thoughts to be mindful. You notice your thoughts pass by, but you don’t have to follow them. You can choose to redirect your attention to the here and now, the present moment – to your breath, your feet, maybe to the sounds around you or to your posture for instance.

You can train yourself to become mindful and thus empower yourself to be master of your thoughts. It’s a great liberation to be in charge of your thoughts!

As a result of my own journey, my pilates classes are naturally evolving from not just teaching clients how to apply the five physical principles of Joseph Pilates so that they move their bodies with integrity, but also to sharing ways of being mindful and finding quietness in the present moment.

Mindfulness means things like not waiting for life to be perfect – your life is happening right now. It means doing your best in every moment – your best is good enough. It means appreciating what you have and doing what makes your heart sing; life is too short to worry about what others do or think of you!

New term of mindful movement through pilates starts next week. I’m looking forward to it! Some spaces still in some classes – so please get in touch ASAP to book!

New to pilates?

There is so much to take on board in the early classes that there isn’t always time for me as instructor to ‘say’ it all; I find it’s better to get clients moving and for them to embody the principles along the way. But it helps to have some background knowledge, so here are some tips for those new to pilates:

All about the deep abdominals

Getting in touch with the deep abdominals – especially the transversus abdominus (TA) – is the most important. This TA muscle is involuntarily fired up when you gently contract and lift your pelvic floor muscle. The pelvic floor muscle is the one you would contract if you had to stop urination mid-stream. When the deep abs are working, you are creating a very stable torso. Use every breath out (‘exxxxxhale’) as an opportunity to re-engage your abs and pull them in towards your spine with a little lift up though the pelvic floor.

Slow and with control

Doing things slowly and with control yields more results than rushing the moves. The Pilates method was originally named Contrology (the study of control) to emphasise this very concept. Slower pace means you’re turning on stabilising muscles and you’re creating more isometric contractions. Pilates is not a race.

Chin holding egg against chest
A series of abdominal exercises takes place in a typical mat class with the head held off the floor unsupported, as in Ab Prep, Hundreds or Single Leg Stretch. In these challenging moves, it’s common either to jam the chin down to the chest (leading with the head) or to stare at the ceiling with the chin jutting out.

The chin should be a little closer to the chest than usual (slight head nod) as if you’re gently holding an egg between these two body parts. This head and neck position also helps to round the upper spine. The head nod precedes the lift of the shoulders off the floor. When lifting your head and shoulders, feel like something is pulling your chest towards your knees. Eye line to knees.

If your upper abs are weak, the correct position will be challenging. Avoid neck tension at all costs! A very valid option is to keep the head and shoulders down or support the head with your hands.

About ‘imprinting’
In pilates exercises when both legs are off the mat, you will often be asked to round your low back (‘imprint’) and gently get your lumbar vertebrae to make contact with the mat. This protects your lower back when the load is great. However, think of it as using your abs at front of your body to lengthen your back rather than jamming your vertebrae to the mat. If you can stabilise you low back without imprinting, when your legs are in the air, that is even better. At all costs, avoid your low back arching away from the mat when your legs are in the air!

Where are your shoulders?
Your shoulders should be anchored down your back. It’s very normal to overuse the neck muscles and take the shoulders up towards your ears. Hunched shoulders create undue tension in the neck and upper body. Focus on the shoulder blades sliding down your back, giving you an elegant swan-ike neck. Think of your head as a helium balloon and of your shoulders melting down your back.


Not just while on the mat

Take the sensations, body awareness and posture cues you get in your class with you into your week. Lessons learned on the mat can help you walk, hike, bike and run better; they will also help you avoid back pain on long car trips and neck pain from spending too much time sitting at a computer.

Head and neck alignment

BreastStrokeExamples AbPrepExamplesDid you know you move your head minutely approx 600 times per hour?!

Your skull is heavy (about 5kg) and ideally should balance directly above the shoulders with a natural curve of the cervical spine. This is the case whether you are:

  • standing up
  • lying on your back (either flat on the mat OR with head + shoulders lifted off (in, say, Ab Prep)
  • lying on your tummy (with head down or with head + shoulders lifted off (in, say, Breast Stroke 1)

In fact, most of us have our heads slightly forward in everyday life (bet you do as you’re reading this on your screen!!).

Pilates attempts to make you notice your posture, to get you to use the right muscles to move your head with integrity in order to achieve dynamic stability and neutral alignment.

The two photos (courtesy www.merrithew.com) here show the ideal (and incorrect!!) head placement in both Ab Prep and in Breast Stroke 1 – two moves we do regularly in class. These exercises are the blueprint for so many others; if you get your head placement right in these, you’ll be set up for many other moves.

NOTE: Lifting the head and shoulders off the mat is very hard for some people. This may be because they have a very forward head position AND/OR very weak neck flexors. Supporting the head with the hands is the best option.

The other important thing is not to over-use the big muscles of the neck, the sternocleidomastoid or scalenes. The ‘head nod’ exercise is basic to recruiting the deep segmental neck flexor muscles before you lift your head and shoulders off the mat. The head nod is what I often refer to as ‘lengthening the back of your neck’ or ‘bringing your chin a bit closer to your chest’.

REMEMBER: if you feel neck strain, your position needs adjustment. Never work through bad pain. Bring the head down, relax and try again! And sometimes, it’s better to leave the head down altogether! Your best is good enough.

Getting the most out of your pilates class

Good alignment is important – your pilates class is a chance to retrain muscle habits. Quick posture checks before and during any movement can help you avoid injury and get maximum benefit from your class. Here is what you need to know:

  1. Stand up straight. When I ask you to stand up tall, that means keeping your:
  • chin parallel to the floor
  • shoulders even (roll them up, back, and down to help achieve this)
  • arms at your sides, elbows relaxed and even
  • abdominal muscles pulled in
  • hips even and level
  • neutral pelvis, natural curve of lumbar spine present, with ASIS* & pubic bone in same plane
  • body weight evenly distributed on both feet.

*ASIS = anterior superior iliac crest (or front and top of your hips)

  1. Strive for neutral.

Neutral alignment means keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe except for the slight natural curves of the spine. Whether you’re standing or seated, that means your spine is not flexed (to flatten lumbar) or 2015-08-27 18.27.01arched (to overemphasise the curve of the lower back.)

One means of finding neutral is to tip your pelvis forward as far as is comfortable, then tip it backward as far as is comfortable. Neutral is roughly in the middle. If you’re not used to standing or sitting up straight, it may take a while for this to feel natural.

Note: if you have an exaggerated lumbar curve (anterior pelvic tilt or ‘lumbar lordosis’), you should strive to go beyond neutral and tilt towards a posterior pelvic tilt to stretch and decompress the lower back. Also, if weak the abdominals, it helps to tilt the pelvis to achieve stability when legs are raised from the lying-on-your-back postion.

  1. Focus on angles

Think back to set squares in school. Visualise a 90-degree angle as the letter ‘L’. I often refer to a 90-degee or 45-degree angle for where your legs may be in relation to your torso. Mentally slice the 90-degree angle in half for 45 degrees.

It all takes time and practice. Take a few moments each day to practice better posture – even weight on both feet; roll shoulders up, back and down; lift through crown of head; abs gently contracted, sensing your centre as you quieten yourself through your breath.

Why do I teach pilates?

10478942_945769355448564_1071619806643703873_nFor me, pilates is about finding my sense of balance, flexibility and strength from my feet through my core, up through my shoulder girdle and out through my crown, along with – critically – learning how to relax and let your body be still, as you lie on your mat, fully supported by mother earth.

This time of year is all about booking classes for the autumn. To be honest, it’s always a time of questioning for me – while I am passionate about pilates and love teaching this wonderful movement discipline, I am not as keen on the admin/marketing side of things.

When I finally turn up to teach a class of people who have found me or with whom I have reconnected, you see only the tip of the iceberg.

A lot of work goes into getting a group together. There are trips to put up posters; the next day, your poster has been taken down or covered over ….. it’s mentally fatiguing. There’s endless texting, emailing, taking phone calls. There are last-minute cancellations. There is a tiny minority who do not pay and still attend your classes.

It has always worked out in the end and I make a bit of profit from my time spent teaching classes – once rent and travel costs have been paid. (I dare not cost my time spent promoting and planning classes). I always feel proud to start a new term. I also feel nervous as I do my best to share my knowledge and bring the benefits of pilates those who make the effort to come.

I’m one of those with many careers; I’ve had three distinctly different careers thus far – pilates teacher, library work and freelance editor/designer. I still do the latter (www.wordworks.net if you’re interested!)

So, I’ll keep breathing deeply, keep my cool, keep taking names and hope that enough of you commit to attending classes to make it worthwhile for me to keep teaching!

 

 

Blue moon

I am feeling a bit sluggish and slow today. I thought I knew why but now I’m not so sure.

2015-07-29 17.30.102015-07-30 11.29.49-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt that I was suffering the ill-effects of too much food, wine and indulgence in general during my recent holiday break in beautiful Donegal. Hmmm, I swam and hiked a good bit, I even did a fair bit of pilates and yoga on the mat I expressly laid out in my spacious, bright bedroom – I really enjoy keeping focused on my health and well-being. I did lots of lovely stretches and energy work while I was away.

But this doesn’t appear to have been enough to counterbalance all those good things that one offers oneself on holidays. I mean, how good does a glass of white wine go down at lunchtime on holidays! Why not share another ice cream with your kids?! And yes, thanks, I’ll another sucky sweet to distract me on the 200 mile long drive home from Donegal to home.

Home again and I’m conclude that I am definitely suffering from post-holiday tiredness and over-indulgence. But then I see a post from my tai-chi friend Nadine Buttery:

“We are just after experiencing a big blue moon. What does this mean in our practice? It is a transitional time, moving from yang (creative, expansive energy to yin, quiet, nurturing energy); many of us can find this difficult. It might manifest in a sensation of struggle. You might feel you are not getting the job done, so to speak. To assist in our training, we need to embrace this time by practicing standing meditation, rooting, grounding and going more inward.
When we take note of the seasons and lunar cycles, our practice becomes more flowing. We are one with Tao. So today, rest and remind yourself of your support, in all the aspects of your life. Prepare for the next burst of yang. “

So that’s it! I am simply moving from yang to yin (for now!).

I am inclined to overthink and overmeasure when really what I need to do sometimes is just stop and be. And root and ground myself. YES!

Thanks Nadine.