The body’s instinct is to move. The IDEA OF A PERFECT MOVEMENT is innate in our brain, bones and tissues. Notice how your body feels when you see a dancer…
or when you watch this performance by rhythmic gymnast, Yana Kudryavtseva…
You might notice your body wanting to or even trying to copy these beautiful movements. At a deep neural, cellular level inside us, they feel known, possible even.
Pilates helps us realise this idea of perfect movement by encouraging us to be present in the body, to breathe correctly, to concentrate deeply, to centre ourselves physically and mentally, to be in control of our movements, to be precise and efficient in the way we move and to flow.
I’m now doing occasional pop-up PILATES X MELISSA tutorials focusing on a specific part of the body or exercise or skill (e.g. balance, coordination, breathing.) The 30-minute tutorials provide a chance to work more closely on this one area than we’re able to do in a general, holistic Pilates class.
The pop-up PILATES X MELISSA tutorials are FREE, suitable for most people and live-streamed via Zoom. The first one is on Thursday 4 June at 1830 and the topic is feet.
Inspired by the work ballet dancers do to ensure their feet are strong and supple, I’ll take you through a series of strengthening, stretching and myofascial release exercises you can then do for yourself at home to help you achieve your best feet.
Who will benefit
Anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet.
Anyone who does load-bearing, impactful activities like running or tennis or football.
Anyone who regularly wears heels.
Anyone who has circulatory problems affecting their feet.
Anyone who finds their feet cramp a lot.
Anyone who spends most of the summer months wearing flip-flops or fashion sandals.
If you have any healing fractures or new sprains or strains affecting the foot or ankle then none of the exercises in the pop-up tutorial are suitable for you to do just yet. Best to watch and take notes as these exercises will help you enormously once your injury has healed enough to resume gentle exercise.
The myofascial release exercises will not suit people with the following issues – malignancy, aneurysm, acute rheumatoid arthritis, advanced diabetes, severe osteoporosis, open wounds or bruising to the foot.
How will you benefit
The exercises over time will help the proper functioning of the foot and ankle, particularly when balancing, walking and running by:
improving their strength, especially at the joints;
increasing the range of movement;
reducing tension by encouraging the release of deep knots or trouble spots;
improving blood flow;
reducing aches and pains;
improving the transmission of information from your feet to your brain.
There is also evidence that performing myofascial release exercises on the plantar surface of the feet improves the flexibility of the hamstrings and lumbar spine.
What you will need for the pop-up Pilates tutorial
To get the most from the session you will need:
a 6-7cm ball of some kind, preferably a spikey massage ball or you could use a golf ball or a juggling ball;
a tennis ball or similar;
a hair elastic or a small but strong elastic band;
To attend this free pop-up Pilates tutorial for the feet, please register with Zoom here. Once you have done this you will automatically receive a confirmation email from Zoom (please check your spam folder if it doesn’t arrive straight away in your inbox), which contains a link. On the day of the tutorial, 5-10 minutes before the start time, you simply click on this link to join the session.
Before the tutorial, if you’re using a tablet or mobile to take part you will need to download the Zoom App from the App store, which is free. If you’re using a laptop and want quicker access into the session, download Zoom Client for Meetings from their website. You don’t need any kind of Zoom account to attend my online classes and pop-up tutorials on Zoom.
Please help me to help others by sharing details of these free pop-up PILATES X MELISSA tutorials and inviting any friends, family members and work colleagues you think might be interested.
To close, a fine tune from Benjamin Clementine and a fantastic video. It’s like looking inside someone’s head while they’re dreaming…
The video below is an excerpt from the hour-long dance piece, Sacred Monsters, choreographed and performed by Akram Khan with Sylvie Guillem. It’s a fine example of all eight principles of Pilates in action. The dance explores the dynamics and language of two great classical dance forms, kathak and ballet. Kathak is a form of Indian classical dance and has its origins in the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathakars or storytellers. Its form today contains traces of temple and ritual dances.
Take a look at this short section from Sacred Monsters and learn how to argue via the medium of dance…
Fascia is a complex network of connective tissue which lies just beneath the skin. Made of collagen, this stretchy, white, mesh-like substance interweaves through and around your musculature, surrounds and supports your organs, and shrink-wraps your entire internal structure like a second skin. Fascia has a key role to play in the everyday healthy functioning of the body.
The musculoskeletal system consists of thousands of separate parts: hundreds of bones held together by more than 600 muscles and vast numbers of ligaments and tendons. It is the fascia though that links the entire system, not just muscle to bone but muscle to muscle, along with all the other structures in the body, like organs, ligaments and tendons. Rather than thinking of the body as having 600 plus muscles, instead think of it as being one single muscle with 600 plus stopping points, all linked together by a fascial web that is sensitive, dynamic and extremely adaptable. There are 10 times as many nerve endings in the fascia than there are in the muscles, making it far more susceptible to pain and sensation in general than the muscles. Most injuries are in fact problems with the fascial structures, not the muscle tissue.
Anatomists say ‘muscles attach to bones’, but muscle can’t attach to anything. It’s the fascia that goes over, around and through your muscles that organises that tissue into linear pulling machines.
The fascial webbing itself is organised into distinct meridians, or “trains” — dense bands connecting multiple muscles and spanning multiple joints, tacked down at numerous bony “stations” along the way. There are about a dozen of these fascial superhighways, which help in understanding how we move and help in treating pain and dysfunction. Some run the length of your body, head to toe; others spiral the torso, pass over the top of your head, and run down the middle of your back.
Like guy-wires on a well-rigged boat, a balanced, harmonious tension among these myofascial meridians helps support fluid, effortless movement. Too much chronic tension or slack in key meridians can lead to poor posture and pain — and not always in the places you’d expect. Trace the fascial lines through the muscles and across the skeleton, and it’s possible to see, for instance, how shoulder pain might be caused by dysfunction in your opposite ankle, or how tight hamstrings might actually be caused by tension in the soles of the feet.
It is through these myofascial lines, moreso than through individual muscles, that the body adapts to and reinforces alignment and movement. Fascia adapts to every move we make — good, bad or indifferent. Over time, the fascia in the front of the rib cage of someone who sits at a desk all day may become thick and short to reinforce a habitually caved-in posture. And injuries, even minor ones, often result in fascial “patches” in the muscles that can cause restricted motion, leading to compensations in gait and movement. These might remain long after the injury itself has healed.
Injured or poorly adapted fascia can start to act like glue, binding to muscles, other fascia, even your ligaments. Your entire individual life history — exercise habits, injuries, common sitting and sleeping positions — is effectively written in your fascia.
How Pilates can improve your fascia
Targeted Pilates exercises which aim to strengthen and stretch the body in fascia-friendly patterns, can help to improve the quality and elasticity of the fascial web.
The Pilates method involves slow, controlled movements timed with the tidal rhythm of the breath. If we stretch too quickly or intensely the muscles go into a protective mode, contracting and resisting. Pilates gets round these protective mechanisms, by romancing rather than attacking the body. When we are in a relaxed, calm state, our muscles and connective tissue are much more responsive to working. Pilates favours smooth motion over thrusting, ballistic actions, and encourages us to work within a range of movement that feels comfortable.
Each Pilates exercise slowly and rhythmically moves our limbs in a series of shapes, which usually increase incrementally in size with each repetition. These gently expanding movements can elicit a soothing, parasympathetic response from our nervous system, much like rocking in a chair or swinging in a hammock. Pilates never pushes the joints to their limits, instead the exercises carefully test the boundaries of the range of movement we are capable of on that day and in that moment. The slow, rhythmic tempo provided by the Pilates approach to breathing, lowers apprehension, allowing us to get past resistance in the fascia and work the muscles more effectively.
This calm state also primes the client for learning new movement patterns, while at the same time, the broad, multi-dimensional movements associated with Pilates exercises, stretch the entire fascial fabric in ways that conventional stretching doesn’t.
Pilates is particularly effective at redressing imbalances in the fascia because rather than stretching one muscle group at a time, the exercises encourage us to stretch an entire plane of the body at once, involving long movements that extend and spiral the body head to toe. Pilates exercises also provide the chance to stretch the body in multiple planes, releasing the fascia and improving flexibility.
For greater suppleness throughout the fascial network, Pilates exercises that incorporate some kind of bouncing are beneficial. As we age we lose elasticity in our fascia. Children exemplify the bouncy elasticity in their fascia. Bouncing helps us hold on to this fascial elasticity.
The best safeguard against tightness and adhesions in the fascia is variety. Repetitive physical action — including forms of exercise like running or cycling — can leave its mark on the fascia, unnaturally tightening certain areas and eventually leaving us more susceptible to injury. The key thing to do is mix things up, constantly changing the Pilates exercises we do in class and finding new ways to move. Just as the fascia links the muscles together in interconnected chains, so integrated exercise and movement link the muscles functionally, through dynamic, coordinated movement patterns.
Contradiction is at the heart of Pilates and arguably the source its power and effectiveness. The Pilates breathing method, exhaling whilst at the same time sucking in the tummy, is a perfect example of this opposition, and it is the navel-to-spine outbreath which provides the engine and support for most of the large movements in each exercise.
In dance too, the best pas de deux involve contradiction, the meeting of opposites. This is beautifully demonstrated in a new duet, SLIP between I.aM.mE hip hop dance crew member, Phillip “PacMan” Chbeeb and ballerina, Renee Kester. Choreographed by Chbeeb, SLIP uses the languages of hip hop and contemporary dance to create a piece which explores contradiction. See how Kester’s lush extensions perfectly offset the hard angles of Chbeeb’s movements . SLIP also shows all eight principles of Pilates in action…