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Kristin McGee

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Mind Your Body -- Pilates for Your Brain

Posted: 10/18/2012 8:08 am

Pilates works wonders for the body but also the mind! Joseph Pilates' six principles -- centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow -- all force us to use our brain power when mastering each exercise. The mind/body connection is so pronounced in the Pilates method that it is imperative a student uses imagery and his or her concentration to make sure they are initiating the moves from the right place.

Every exercise done in the Pilates method comes from the powerhouse or deep core. Our powerhouse consists of our transverse abdominals, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominals, pelvic floor, erector spinae and multifidus -- think all of the muscles in between the buttocks and the shoulders. When we move our legs and arms, they are extensions of the powerhouse.

You can lie on your back and mindlessly circle your leg around in the air, or you can connect to your deep core muscles. Imagine you are balancing a glass of water on your lower abdominals and envision your leg drawing a very precise circle. Your leg is fluid but your core is strong and you can't spill the glass of water. This takes total concentration and control in one region (the core) but a letting go and lengthening and fluidity in another region (the leg that is circling).

So many of my students talk about how Pilates makes such a difference in their mental state. The fact that we are also working on posture and moving from our center gives us a mental boost and lifts our confidence. When we feel more centered and in control physically, we feel more focused and stimulated mentally.

I personally feel more concentrated, connected and strong after every Pilates class I teach and/or take. Pilates is a wonderful workout for the holiday season, as well. Pilates can be done anywhere, anytime, and it will help you focus in on your body and let the stress of your holiday chores melt away.

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  • Beginner Pilates Move: The Bug

    Lying on your back, bring your legs up into a tabletop position (both knees bent, shins parallel to the floor, legs hips width apart). Take you arms directly above you -- shoulder width apart, palms facing forward. This is a total mind/body concentration move and gets you connected to your deep core muscles.

  • Beginner Pilates Move: The Bug

    Stretch the right arm back as you extend your left leg forward 45 degrees, but do not let the opposite arm or leg move an inch! Come back to center on an exhale, then switch sides. Keep switching sides -- eight to 10 reps -- coming back to the box shape each time and engaging your core even more.

  • Intermediate Pilates Move: Double Leg Stretch

    Lying on your back, lift your head and neck up and bend your knees in to your chest, holding onto the tops of the shins. Inhale and extend your arms back as you extend your legs forward. Do not let your head drop here!

  • Intermediate Pilates Move: Double Leg Stretch

    Exhale, circle your arms around like a snow angel, then hug your knees back into the starting position. Keeping your head up the entire time, repeat this eight to 10 more reps. You have to use your concentration, control and core strength to do this exercise correctly and learn how to connect your upper and lower abdominals to your arms and your legs and then work as an entire strong unit.

  • Advanced Pilates Move: Open Leg Rocker

    Start seated. Grab hold of the top of each ankle, then extend your legs out into a V shape in the air as you find your balance on your sitz bones. Inhale, rock back to your shoulder blades, maintaining this shape, then exhale and rock back up to start and pause for a moment. Scoop in your abs but lift out of your upper body without popping your ribs forward. You have to imagine a straw up the center of your body, and you're trying to stay tall and lifted at the top of the movement. Then, be very precise about scooping under the abs and using just the right core control, not momentum, to rock back and rock back up to sit. Repeat five to eight times.

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