Pilates Inspiration – Dance Trapeze

April Skelton, Dance Trapeze artist

Dance trapeze is a sub-genre of static trapeze and combines floor choreography with the use of a single-point trapeze – a short metal bar hung from the ceiling by ropes at either end.

The short dance trapeze routine below is performed by Arthur (one of those surname-less artists?) and shows all eight principles of Pilates in action – core strength or centering; alignment; breathing, i.e. using the breath to drive and control the moves; co-ordination; relaxation, i.e. only using the muscles needed to execute a movement, allowing others to relax; flowing movement; stamina; concentration…

Don’t try this at home, folks…or in the studio when my back’s turned using the suspension trainer…you know who you are!


Breathing for Optimum Health and Wellbeing

Elephant seal breathing, Antarctica

I read an article early this month on the Buteyko Breathing Technique, sometimes called the Buteyko Method and have been adopting some of the thinking from this into how we breathe to perform Pilates exercises.  Based on the past few weeks of testing this modified approach on myself in my daily practice, I’ve certainly noticed some benefits, i.e. better circulation, no nasal congestion, greater sense of calm/stillness in the body.  I’m therefore planning to introduce the odd minor change to the way we breathe during the Pilates exercises I teach in class.  I’ll go into exactly how later on in this news piece. First, here’s some background information…

Useful Insights into the Breath and its Role in Stress Management

Breathing is often underestimated as a means of achieving optimum health and wellbeing. Breathing properly can improve the oxygenation of the body, especially the brain, and is a powerful way of relieving stress and anxiety.

When stressed, the breath becomes faster, deeper and noisier.  Similarly, we breathe more often through the mouth and with the upper chest rather than the diaphragm when we’re anxious.  To induce a state of calm it’s best to breathe slowly, using the diaphragm. You also need to breathe less, and breathing through the nose has important benefits.

The Role of the Nose in Breathing

The nose directs around 30 different functions in the body. Nerves in the nasal passages (which connect to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus) sense everything about your breathing and use that information to regulate the functions of your body.

For example, the nose releases nitric oxide during breathing, which is carried from your nose into your lungs. Nitric oxide is a gas that plays a significant role in homeostasis (maintaining balance) within your body.  Nitric oxide also sterilizes the air carried into your lungs, opens up the airways and increases the amount of oxygen taken up and carried around the body in the blood.

Maintaining the Right Balance of Carbon Dioxide in the Body

Contrary to popular belief, carbon dioxide is not just a waste gas. Although you breathe to get rid of excess carbon dioxide, it’s important to maintain a certain amount of it in your lungs.  To do that you need to maintain a normal breathing volume, which we’ll consider more fully in the next section.

The faster and deeper breathing associated with someone who is feeling stressed, results in too much carbon dioxide being lost.  This causes the smooth muscles embedded in the airways to constrict. When this happens there’s a sense of not being able to get enough air in.  The natural reaction to this is to breathe more intensely, which causes an even greater loss of carbon dioxide and constricts the airways even further.

Over-breathing or breathing which is too deep, e.g. taking deep breaths through the mouth in an attempt to take in more oxygen and clear the head, can make you feel quite light-headed.  This is due to eliminating too much carbon dioxide from the lungs.  This causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing the blood flow to the heart.  This results in less oxygen being delivered throughout the body.

Man breathing, Buteyko Method

Breathing Less to Be More Healthy

According to medical textbooks, normal breathing volume is between 4 and 7 litres of air per minute, which translates into 12 to 14 breaths a minute.  Clinical trials involving asthma sufferers show they breathe between 10 to 15 litres of air per minute, and people with chronic heart disease tend to breathe between 15 to 18 litres of air per minute.  This suggests breathing less is a sign of better health.

Conversely, the more you breathe, the more likely you are to experience significant health problems. Your tolerance to carbon dioxide is part of this equation as good carbon dioxide tolerance equates to higher levels of health and fitness.

When your body and brain have a normal carbon dioxide tolerance, your breathing will be light and smooth because your body is not constantly trying to get rid of excess carbon dioxide. Surprisingly, the main catalyst telling your body to take a breath is not lack of oxygen, it’s an excess of carbon dioxide.

You always need a certain amount of carbon dioxide for normal functioning. If you have normal carbon dioxide levels, you will have good tolerance to it, which means you’ll be able to hold your breath for longer. Also, when you exercise, your body generates more carbon dioxide, and if you have good tolerance to it, your breathing rate will remain much lower than someone with poor tolerance.  This of course puts less pressure on the heart and lungs.

Implications For Breathing During Pilates

  • Don’t over-breathe or excessively force the breath.
  • Take a shorter inhale through the nose.
  • Exhale through the mouth (again, not excessively or with too much force), drawing the navel to spine for the duration of the out-breath to engage the abdominal muscles.
  • Observe the pauses between the breaths, some of which may be longer for large movements so they can be performed with control.
  • Breathe normally between exercises.

Ooh good, another chance to post a Prodigy track…which means that Keith Flint bloke again…yikes!  Brace yourself…breathe with me…

How Pilates Helps Manage Stress

A new study highlighted in a recent article in the Telegraph, suggests the reason Pilates may be so effective at beating stress is because the movements calm a part of the brain linked to the fight-or-flight response.

Man deckchair beach

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh discovered a circuit which links the brain directly to the adrenal medulla – the inner part of the adrenal gland which triggers an adrenaline surge during stressful situations.

The same brain network was also found to be connected to the brain’s motor cortex which governs movements.  Scientists think Pilates exercises which require coordination, flexibility and proper skeletal alignment may dampen down the flight-or-flight response.

In their experiments, the scientists traced the neural circuitry that links areas of the cerebral cortex to the adrenal medulla using a virus which they followed as it travelled between interconnected neurons.

When scientists traced the neural circuity which links the brain to the adrenal medulla, they were surprised to find that the neural network also linked to a part of the primary motor cortex which governs body movement and posture.

The findings also shed light on how stress, depression and other mental states can alter organ function, and show that there is a real anatomical basis for psychosomatic illness. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To close, a cool chill-out track from haze pop band, Beach House…nice take on the padded room…every home should have one!

What Leading Sports People Say About Pilates

Andy Murray Training Session

There is a real trend among professional athletes to include Pilates in their training programme.  Pilates is a great way of assisting or accelerating a physiotherapy programme when coming back from injury. Also, by engaging in Pilates core exercises regularly, athletes can create better movement patterns and decrease the chance of aggravating old injuries and developing new ones. In short, Pilates can help athletes achieve optimal performance and get the most from their bodies.

Here’s what a number of leading athletes from a broad range of sports have to say about Pilates and the role it plays in their training and success…

Triathlete, Ashley Wenzel: “Pilates helps alleviate pain caused by endurance sports and strengthens the essential muscles that make you a stronger cyclist, faster runner, and more efficient swimmer.  It develops stability, strength, and flexibility, which are all needed to gain speed and prevent injury.”

Chris Froome: “One of the things I wanted to do was calm my upper body movement down and become more stable. Pilates core strengthening work has helped me with that.”

Lawrence Frank, NBA (National Basketball Association) coach: “Pilates workouts are an excellent conditioning tool for the NBA. The strength, agility and performance of my players have increased and Pilates has become an essential part of our workouts.”

Beauden Barrett, All Blacks

Kevin McNaughton, Cardiff City: “I wasn’t sure about the [Pilates] sessions at first, but after just a month I felt an improvement. It’s given me an extra half-centimetre stretch already. It’s not like the cliché of sitting in tights, stretching and meditating – there’s a great deal of strength work too.”

Conditoning Coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers, Garrett Giemont: “I look for ways to turn every ounce of potential into winning performance for my players. Pilates training strengthens the core muscles, increases flexibility, and helps my guys stay on the field — and off the injured list.”

Victoria Pendleton: “I’ve been doing Pilates for more than a year and for me it’s been a real breakthrough in managing back pain and building my postural muscles. I have lots of lumbar spine issues from spending my life hunched over a bike.”

Beauden Barrett, All Blacks: “I’ve been working on my flexibility.  I’m quite a stiff bloke and Pilates and yoga have definitely helped.  It’s more a recovery thing for me.  It’s great for the mind as well as the body.  It’s important to get that balance and I’ve seen great benefits from it.”

Bradley Wiggins: “I focus on strengthening my core for 30 minutes each day, mixing up Pilates and yoga moves and using exercise balls. Without a solid core you can’t transfer power efficiently, and you’ll be left with dust in your eyes, however strong your legs are.”

Andy Murray: “Since I had my back surgery, I’ve had to work on my flexibility.  And I have very stiff hips as well.  [Pilates and gyrotonics] not only help my tennis, but improve the quality of my life as well. My back was sore all the time and now it is way better.  I don’t think I could compete at the level I do without the flexibility work.”

Michele Landry

Four-time Ironman finisher and world championship qualifier, Michele Landry: “If you are new to Pilates, you may walk away from a session not necessarily feeling tremendous muscle fatigue or soreness. Pilates workouts are designed to make you physically balanced while building strength in the muscle groups specific to endurance sports. Pilates focuses on the tiny muscles that support your dominant, superficial muscles.”

Harry Rednapp: “Pilates can prevent long-term injuries creeping into the squad, which is why they have a class before each training session.  I think Pilates is just an amazing thing.  It makes the players more supple.”

Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears: “To counteract the joint compression caused by weightlifting, I go straight from weights to Pilates as often as possible. It helps me work on rebalancing and activating my muscles…supporting muscles that hold up the bigger ones.”

Main source material:

To close, a track from my gym training playlist…please consult your doctor before working out to this song…