Tag Archives: Pilates

There can be no ‘return to normal’

The worldwide pandemic of Covid19 is a strange and uncertain time. Entering SEVENTH week now in lockdown!

It’s a serious and deadly virus for some. I sincerely hope no-one reading this has lost a loved one. My dear brother-in-law was on the critical list, but now appears thankfully to be on long road to recovery.

One thing is certain – there can be no ‘return to normal’; my hope is this virus will result in a new value system where humans – led by enlightened government – recognise environmental issues are more important than economic growth.  Did you know that the climate crisis has already caused more deaths than the worst predictions for Coronavirus? (Irish Times, 17/4/2020).

Satellite images are showing a marked decline in air pollution as billions of people stay home. Noxious gases from heavy industry and traffic have declined. The earth has been allowed to breathe again!

Families are realising it’s actually pleasant to hang out at home without always rushing kids (mostly in cars!) to after-school activities. The material things we are sucked into feeling we need are mostly discarded as waste.

Like many, I am worried about my economic stability into Autumn and next year, that I won’t get back to where I was before this abrupt disruption.  In my tenth year as a pilates instructor, things were going very well and then – wham bam –  nothing! But I feel lucky and resilient enough to believe I can transition to a new model of sharing the movement system I so love and believe in.

I started Pilates classes on Zoom in week two, faltered due to broadband issues, and have been back doing classes since week four (broadband better, not perfect).  Now in week seven, I am putting a monetary value on my time delivering these classes in an attempt to adjust to the new world order. I also look forward with excitement to welcoming smaller groups in my new private pilates studio at Lagganstown Schoolhouse – 2 metres apart of course!

Especially here in south Tipperary, we have the privilege of space and gardens; embrace the ‘gratitude attitude’!

We have time to ponder, walk at leisure, cook more thoughtfully, read more and realise what is truly important.  Stay home, think positive, count your blessings!


Walking with sense of centre and lift!

You may have noticed the #100daysofwalking campaign– it started on 1st January and motivates people to walk every day for 100 days and thus improve their mental and physical well-being. While a fantastic initiative, especially as it helps people get through the dark month of January, I aim for #365daysofwalking myself! Even on bad days, I almost always force myself outside for even a brief walk. No such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Too dark, go walk in your nearest town. I average about 3 miles a day, but on those darkest, coldest, wettest days, it might be only 0.5 miles. I’d like to build up my walking, but I know a little regularly is better than none!

Feeling the fresh air, observing nature and the skies, along with listening to outdoor sounds are my favourite things about walking. A good walk undoubtedly clears the head and helps you sleep better. The more you walk, the more you feel like walking. The more you walk, the stronger you become. Good for cardiovascular health and for your bones and your mood. Plus it’s free!

At first, it takes a bit to find your stride or comfortable pace. I call this finding the rhythm of your walk. There can be an urge to rush and get the walk ‘over’ for the sake of it, but I really recommend walking mindfully with awareness of your body as you go. Quietly applying the pilates principles to your walk – working on alignment and good gait – is easy to do and totally changes the walking experience.

  • Firstly, comfortable walking shoes with space inside for your toes are vital. Your toes should be in line with your heel as you step forward (not pointing outwards), so you have good tracking of your knees. Aim to land on your heel and roll over your foot, pushing off through the big toe and all toes as you transfer weight to other foot. Become aware of each foot’s rolling movement in turn.
  • Find a connection to your pelvic floor muscle (a slight lift) and have your torso upright over a neutral pelvis. This is easier if you are not rushing your walk and leaning forward or hanging back!), but relaxed and centred. Aim for about 15% lift of pelvic floor muscle which pulls in low abdominals closer to the spine. This gentle activation of the core muscles makes you feel stronger and centred as you move your legs from a stable, neutral pelvis. Feel your inner thighs as you move your legs. You should also have some activation of your gluteal muscles.
  • Lengthen up from the waist. Lift your heart while having sense of your ribs being flat to the front body (not flaring). Have a sense of connection from ribs to pelvis.
  • Check in your head and shoulders! Your skull should ideally be balanced on top of your cervical spine, not forward so that your upper back and neck muscles are straining to hold it there. Retract your skull a bit as you organise your neck and shoulders to feel relaxed; lift sternum and imagine your head is a helium balloon floating upwards with minimum effort, your ears over your shoulders and reaching up to the sky. Chin parallel to ground, eyes looking straight ahead.
  • The arms should be hanging down from well-placed scapulae – ie not rounded forward. Your arms should swing forward and back with palms facing inwards (your thumb to the front and your little finger to the back). As you step forward with, say the left foot the right arm should swing forward and as you lead with right leg, the left arm comes forward.

Try these adjustments next time you go walking, slowing down a bit to feel lifted and centred, and once you’ve got it, build your pace.  Let me know if this works for you!


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:


“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



“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


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!

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!