Tag Archives: Pilates

Blue moon

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

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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.

Digging and clearing

Protect your back when gardening!

This is the time of year when gardens promise both home-grown food and fantastic floral displays. It’s easy to get over-enthusiastic and overdo it.

Today I dug up many giant daisies, montbretia and other perennials  that I had planted a few years ago in this prime spot in the garden near the house. I am reclaiming this sunny bed for green veggies!

I remind myself constantly to be pilates aware while in the garden, whether preparing a bed, sowing seeds or shifting stuff around in a wheelbarrow (…that’s what I seem to do most!). Here are some tips for gardening without pain:

* Make sure you are comfortable in your body and relaxed before you even begin. I highly recommend pilates roll-down to tune in to your spine before you head out!

*  Take a good long drink of water. Remember, we all thrive on more hydration than is habitual to take.

* Be sure you are wearing shoes with good support, so you can feel grounded through both feet. Digging, planting, weeding tend to be asymmetrical movements that favour one limb or side. So, return frequently to stand upright on both feet and sense where your head and shoulders are.

* A gardener’s body weight is often bent over at the hips, putting a great deal of strain on back muscles. It’s better to squat than to bend the back. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine by squatting down to ground level, rather than rounding the spine.

* Lift the right way. Between lifting bags of potting compost or transporting newly-potted planters, there is a lot of lifting in gardening. Remember – do not lift with your back; engage your abs and let your legs do the work!

* Mix it up. If you find yourself in the same position for too long, switch activities for a while and come back to it.

*  Set a stretch reminder In the garden, it’s easy to get so involved with what you are doing that you forget to use your full body. Take breaks during your work to stretch and move around.

*   If any low back pain persists after gardening (or any time), the best thing is to lie down on a mat on your back with your knees bent and your two feet flat on the mat. Get your neck and shoulders relaxed and spend about 20 minutes in this pilates rest position.


Hope to share pics of my own greens later on! Happy gardening folks!

From 1890 to 2015

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Just as healthy feet make for good alignment further up, so too will solid floor on this studio in the making. Renovation? Hmmm, more correctly, destruction and reconstruction to create a beautiful space for pilates at my home started on 2nd February. Very exciting. Also very disruptive and very dusty! But it’ll be worth it…….

Half of our old cottage (built around 1890) is getting a complete makeover to make a beautiful, well-insulated, well-finished private pilates studio. The sub-floor was laid on 6 February.

I have come a long way since I sampled my first-ever pilates class with wonderful teacher Marie Claire van Houten in the home of a lovely neighbour and friend (who is now a client) back in 2004.

My neighbour invited a few friends to try out pilates in her wonderful Georgian home. Apart from being an intense physical experience, the classes were very social – I loved the tea and chats that followed in the big country kitchen. My second daughter was only a baby at the time and I relished the social contact.

But, more importantly, a seed was sown in my head….. ‘I would like to teach pilates’. It would be a complete divergence from my career thus far. But I did it…. a lot of training, expenditure and practice later, and I am fully certified in STOTT Pilates for mat and reformer! I teach seven group mat classes each week and now plan to focus also on one-to-ones.

My new home studio will comfortably fit my V2Max Rehab Reformer. It is a hugely versatile piece of pilates equipment that can challenge the fittest of you, but can support and offer a safe way of strengthening to anyone recovering from injury or surgery.

I expect work to be finished by mid-March. Watch this space!


It’s great to be alive

I’ve got a good friend who has lived through all the challenges one person doesn’t deserve to face in one lifetime – one very tragic accident that affected her whole family, and then – just when things were sort of on an even keel – a life-threatening illness for my friend (from which she has thankfully recovered).

Meanwhile, I am kind of coasting along through the rollercoaster of raising a family and becoming a responsible adult – two daughters (now 18 and 11 years old respectively).

{By the way – my journey to becoming a parent was beset with turmoil – but that is another story.}

Back to my friend who has had all those challenges in her life, in parallel to my lesser but still significant challenges in life. Whenever I meet her, she always says how great it is simply to “be alive.” This statement probably resonates strongly with anyone who has faced a serious illness. For me, it signifies a growing awareness of how each day of one’s life is really precious.

So, I’m starting to grab every moment in little ways. And what better way to do that than to go hiking in the mountains? Tipperary is made for hill-walking – there is tremendous beauty in the hills that are never far away – the Galtees, Sliabh na mBan, the Knockmealdowns, the Comeraghs. Where else would you be on any kind of decent day, but up there in them hills? A pair of boots, some sustenance, map, compass, raingear, and a few hours away from your responsibilities.

The great thing about a weekly pilates class is that the work you do on the mat – stretching and strengthening your hips and legs, relaxing and balancing your shoulders and whole body – equip you to be able to go out and walk and climb, to be up there in the awesome landscape that surrounds us. The beauty of the world awaits you!

Become strong, stay strong, enjoy being alive!

Psoas is at your core

As you probably know, building core strength is one of the key benefits of pilates. But what you may not know is that there is a lot more to the core muscles than the abdominal or tummy muscles.

The Psoas muscle (pronounced ‘so-as’) is the epitome of the core. The spine and the muscles closest to it – including the psoas – are your core, your centre of gravity. The abdominals are also part of your core, but are more superficial than this all-powerful muscle.

The Psoas muscle is one of the largest and thickest stabilising muscles; it originates all along the lower spine area from just below the ribs and attaches onto the inside of the leg (femur bone). When it contracts, it brings the femur closer to the torso (thigh flexion) – bringing your knee up to waist level, for example.Thus the Psoas is key to walking and the transfer of weight from foot to foot.

 However, because we spend so much time sitting (driving, in front of computer, watching TV), this long muscle often becomes shorter and weaker than it should be. When this happens and you move from sitting to standing, you first of all stand with your torso tipped forward in relation to your legs (slightly flexed at the hip); when you then go to straighten up fully, the Psoas muscle pulls your low spine towards your front body, making your lumbar curve bigger than ideal.

This causes all kinds of problems down the line:

The joints and the lumbar discs of the vertebrae of the spine become compressed, leading to degeneration and making you susceptible to injury.

  • If the psoas is shortened on one side only, it will cause torquing – pulling the spine or pelvis to one side, leading to pain, possibly scoliosis;
  • Your gluteal muscles may stop firing and activating normally. The gluteal (bum) muscles are other large and necessary stabilising muscles.
  • Your hamstrings will get shorter and weaker – so you are less flexible.

Taught well, Pilates works on the deep stabilising muscles. Many of these movements to sense the Psoas are low-level and simple, but must be done with discipline.

When I teach pilates classes, I encourage people to become aware of the Psoas muscle, to sense how it controls leg movements and position. It’s helpful to tune into this muscle, to feel how it connects the inner groin to the pelvis and low back. I encourage people to move from centre to the outside.

In pilates, the core point for energy is below your navel and above your pelvic floor (this is also one of three points in Traditional Chinese Medicine – others being the heart centre and the third eye). Paying attention to your centre and addressing muscles imbalances at your core pays many dividends down the line.

Tips to release a tight Psoas muscle

Stretch and strengthen:

Do pilates stretches and strengthening moves for your Psoas muscle on a regular basis– but not just for your Psoas muscle… work also on rectus femoris (front of thigh) and adductors (inner thigh muscles). It’s all connected!

Practice constructive rest:

Get deeply restful in what is known as the Pilates rest pose, lying on your back with knees bent, feet flat in line with your sit bones, cervical spine supported so your neck is not extended when your head is resting on the floor.

Here is a link to a great short YouTube on a “boring but super useful pose”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEcFi2IgXyI&feature=youtu.be

Avoid sitting too long – keep moving:

If you have to sit for long periods, make sure your torso is not tipped forward; sit back into your chair. Also keep your two feet flat on the floor (avoid crossing at the ankles).



pilates reformer instruction

A ‘Rolls-Royce Rack’: new name for the Reformer?

pilates reformer instructionMy dearest OH [my husband] reluctantly took his first session of pilates on the ‘Reformer’ with me recently…. not him in the photo!

I know some people have no idea what Pilates is, never mind what a Reformer is. (Read FAQ for background info on Pilates itself.) But let me explain that a Reformer is a well-engineered machine where your body weight and controlled resistance from springs enhances the experience of pilates. The Reformer can make movement easier and safer if you are in recovery or are older, but it can equally challenge and achieve more precise muscle targeting if you are fit and strong. In short, the Reformer is an amazing piece of kit.

Anyway back to my OH….. he is an active, outdoorsy type. Unfortunately he is a bit overweight around the middle as he loves many of the wrong types of food and seems to have a slow metabolism. Perhaps this is why he has always disliked the name, ‘Reformer’? Does he object to the idea of his body being ‘reformed’. Maybe it reminds him of a bossy teacher in school, who knows?

Nonetheless, he was definitely curious when I took delivery of my brand new STOTT PILATES Rehab reformer in early April, and finally agreed to try it out this morning. The good news is that … yes, he liked it! He had thought it was some kind of torture machine (it does look a bit like one) and he was fearful of how difficult it might be.

After his first session, he has renamed my ‘Reformer’ the ‘Rolls-Royce Rack’. Good name or not?

‘Rolls-Royce’ because of the beauty of the engineering and the smooth movement of the carriage, and ‘Rack’ because of the way he felt it stretched his body – not in an unpleasant way.

We only had one little husband-wifey spat where I thought he was not listening and thus not following my direction, while at the same time, he said I was not being clear enough. [Note, I am still practice teaching.]

Let’s hope my dear OH grows to appreciate and to love the ‘Rolls-Royce Rack’. I feel sure he can ‘reform’ his body – stretch and strengthen, lengthen and balance – improve his posture and thus protect his hips and spine for years to come.

My pilates journey continues!

pilates lift

Lift the crown of the head while dropping the shoulders

liftOne of areas of difficulty I regularly observe in my clients is in the shoulders and neck.

Many people are habitually tense in the shoulders. The head is often held forward, out of alignment with the cervical spine. All those hours staring at a smartphone, doing computer work – or slouching starting with the lumbar spine – take their toll.

Muscles at the back of the neck and shoulders tend to become elongated while others at the front get tighter and shortened.

It takes good focus and practice to release and drop the shoulders into a good place, while releasing upwards through the very top of your skull.

Carrying a weight on the crown of the head as many African women do out of necessity for essentials such as water is luckily not asked of us in our privileged lives. But we can learn from how these women move. Imagine you are carrying a basket of roses.

The disciplined shoulder and neck movements of pilates really help to rebalance our elongated and shortened neck muscles. Over time, pilates restores equilibrium.

Where pilates really helps is with getting an ongoing sense of your posture. It is not a quick fix but something that grows and becomes part of your everyday being.

What do you want from 2014?

new year resolutionsWhen a friend asked me this question recently, without thinking much I replied that I wanted ‘nothing to go wrong’. But later on, I thought, no, I can do better than that. Here are my hopes for the year coming up (note: I am not calling them resolutions; I never keep them!)


Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Maybe one of yours is to improve your posture, become stronger and more flexible. Maybe this is the year you’ll discover pilates! I’d love to help you with that……. 🙂

Best wishes, Eimear

Pilates, yoga, Feldenkrais or whatever – the name doesn’t really matter

pilates-yoga“The body doesn’t care whether we call it Pilates, yoga, Alexander, Feldenkrais, Nia, Continuum—or, for that matter, washing the dishes. What it does care about is if we’re moving with awareness.”

So says Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle, in the current issue of Pilates Style magazine. I completely agree with her.

I started out doing yoga in my 20s with a wonderful teacher in the office blocks of Craig Gardner/Price Waterhouse in Dublin. I will never forget my first few classes – the joy I felt at discovering movement and connection to my body.

Ever since those early classes, I have included weekly yoga into my schedule where possible. When my kids were young and it wasn’t always possible to get out to classes, I used to earmark Sunday mornings for yoga practice.

Then about nine years ago, I discovered pilates and I loved it. It spoke to my body in a different way to yoga; I felt energised and could feel physical changes happening more strongly in my body than with yoga.

When I came to a career crossroads in 2008 and wanted to try something new, I decided to undergo professional training in pilates. I am now certified in STOTT PILATES. I still practice yoga, I go to classes whenever I can. I often include chest and hip opening yoga moves into my pilates repertoire and teaching.

What is more important for me is to keep learning, to keep an open mind and not to close myself to other possibilities from other movement disciplines.

So back to what Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle said above: your body doesn’t know care what name your particular movement routine has. The many different disciplines are all working with the human body to the same end: movement with awareness. Body movement is key for preventing pain or sometimes to help you get free from pain.

At different times, you may dip in and out of the different movement disciplines. Your body may need different things at different times of life. You can be enriched and empowered from many different sources.

What really matters is that you get to know the structure of your body to connect with your breathing and that you learn to nurture your own lifeforce.

Pilates certainly empowers you to do that – as too does yoga, Alexander technique and Feldenkrais; never had the chance to try Nia or Continuum!

And, yes, you can can carry that same body awareness and inner strength through to when you are doing chores or playing golf or whatever!

Noticing where your head is becomes a habit

One of the best things about doing pilates regularly is that you develop awareness of your posture – and you improve it steadily and surely. As a pilates teacher, I am always proud when I see my clients stand tall and connected with their bodies.
Poor posture makes your back vulnerable to fatigue, strain, and injuries. Good posture makes you stronger, less prone to back ache; good posture also makes you look taller!
Changing your postural habits is a decision; you need to retrain your muscles, you need to tune in.
The first step is to become aware of the position of your body. Start to notice the position of your head. The head should sit over the torso, not in front it. The chin should be parallel with the floor. The chest should be lifted slightly but not jutting forward, the shoulders should be down and back but soft and relaxed. The ears, shoulders and pelvis should line up (when viewed from the side).
The pelvis should be in neutral. [What ‘neutral’ means deserves another post, but, briefly, tilting the top of the pelvis forward increases the curve in the lower back; tilting the pelvis backward flattens or decreases the curve in the lower back.]
Keep the shoulder blades back and down but don’t overdo it. The shoulders should be relaxed.
Check your own posture several times a day, take note of your posture. Is your head centred over your torso? Is your chest slightly elevated? Are your shoulders down and relaxed? Is the curve in the lower back supported while you are sitting?
Do this simple posture exercise several times a day! Release your shoulders away from your ears, lengthen your neck by feeling the crown of your head lift upwards, squeeze your shoulder blades together – hold for 10 seconds. This will strengthen the upper back muscles that keep your shoulder blades in a good position.
Remember that good shoulder position does not mean rigid posture. Soften those shoulders!