Tuesday, July 27, 2010


In both Yoga and Pilates we focus on the connection of breath and movement.  Yet the breathing process is different in each method and has a different purpose.

In Yoga, the most common breath taught through the asanas is Ujjayi. An inhalation through the nose and exhalation through the nose, which makes a soft sound at the back of the throat on the exhalation (much like Darth Vader from Star Wars).  The breath is meant to be loud enough to be heard without being too forceful. It is meant to create a rhythm and flow for movement and to create an internal heat.  Many forms like Ashtanga have a set number of breaths for each posture or asana.  The internal breath heats the body from the inside-out, creating a sweat, and detoxifying the body from the purging of this sweat.  There are also many ways of studying the breath through Yoga called Pranayama. Pranayama teaches how to control the breath in different ways for specific purposes, i.e. digestion, stress relief, enlightenment.

In Pilates, the breath is built into the movement as well as cued.  Different than Yoga, Pilates breath is an inhalation through the nose and an exhalation through an open, relaxed mouth. Joseph Pilates called this breath "an internal shower". Imagine trying to see your breath on a cold day or fogging up a mirror.  This breath "supplies the bloodstream with vitally necessary life-giving oxygen in the most efficient manner. Also the complete exhalation and inhalation of air stimulates all muscles into greater activity", according to Joseph Pilates writings Return to Life through Contrology. The breath is used to cleanse and purify the body of toxins, increase circulaiton, and wring the body out.  The movement and breath coordinate with one another the inhalation is usually done on a lengthening or stretching movement and the exhalation on a contracting or shortening movement. It is meant to aid in the movement and the movement aid the breath.

In both practices it important to remember to breathe and not hold or ever tense up on your breath.  If you practice both Yoga and Pilates you may find switching from one style of breath to another confusing. Try to relax and most importantly breathe, regardless of which breath you end up with.  As Joe is often impersonated, in his thick German accent "you must in d air to out d air".

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pilates saved my life...literally.

Madison hiking in beautiful Aspen.
My motto is that "Pilates is not just an exercise regimen but a way of life". Nothing became more true on November 22, 2006, the day before Thanksgiving.

I was living and working in Aspen, CO. It was a beautiful morning and with the holiday had a light schedule at the studio.  I was planning to go into town to teach and then come back and take my Golden Retriever, Madison, on a nice afternoon hike. Maddie tried several times to jump into the back of my Honda CRV and come to work with me. I kept rationalizing whether or not to let her come with me or leave her at home. Three separate times I pulled her out of the car, deciding (thankfully) to leave her at home. I packed up the car with laundry. Had my morning coffee in hand, NPR on the radio, and headed down the mountain around dawn.

It was a beautiful Colorado morning.  And the road conditions were very clear.  As I was making my way slowly down the mountain to the studio the sun was beginning to come up. I made my way down the windy roads and as I was coming down a section noticed that there was something forming a shadow ahead in my lane.  As I proceeded closer I realized that someone had hit a deer in the middle of the night and left it in the road.  I slowly looked into my rear and side view mirror and proceeded to veer to the right lane to avoid the carcass. I thought that I had cleared the animal, when all of a sudden I felt my car tip towards the right, lifting the driver side of my car off the pavement. Calmly I leaned my weight gently to the left, hoping to plant the car back down on the road safely.  Unfortunately, what I did not realize was that the animal was a buck and it's antlers had popped my front, left tire as I was changing lanes. So, when I dropped the car down by leaning my weight there was no air in that tire.  My car began to roll over and spin. It flipped three times. I know this as I counted "floor, sky" as the car flipped.

I was completely conscious and active as the car flipped and spun seemingly around me.  Once I realized the car was flipping my Pilates immediately kicked in instinctively. I locked my arms out on the steering wheel with my hands at 3 and 9. Drawing my shoulder blades and pelvis into the seat. With those stabilized and the wheel locked out I drew into my center pulling my core and body into the seat and breathed.  The car literally felt like it was moving around me.  I was fully conscious. Thinking that "if this was my time to go I had no regrets, couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day or place to spend my last minutes, and hoping that my parents would take good care of Madison."  Then the car came to a stop, upright. I took a deep breath. "Did I make it? Was I alive? Or was I having an out of body experience and was looking back on myself?"  I took another deep breath, put the car in park, unbuckled my seat belt, and opened the door to step out.

Two onlookers on the other side of the road where running across the median at this point and stopped dead in their tracks when they saw me step out of the vehicle. I was shaky, but coherent enough to realize that my laundry, skivvies and all were strewn across the highway and immediately began gathering them up. The onlookers were now at my side telling me to sit down. It was at that moment that I saw my car for the first time. The front window and roof had separated, the side door was dented in, and the glass from all the back windows and hatch were completely blown out.  I had not a scratch or cut on me! And miraculously NO INJURIES! And someone had to have been looking out for Madison as there is no way she would have survived that accident.

The principles of Pilates like centering, breathing, concentration, and stabilization kicked in when I needed them most. That feeling of being present and connected to my body and breath just took over immediately. It is because of these that I was able to stay calm and instinctively do what needed to happen to allow me to survive and be able to fully live my life to its best potential to do this day.  Pilates is not just an exercise regimen, it was my way to life that day.

This was written as a guest blog for Pilates Body NYC

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Mirror Conspiracy

Yoga and Pilates are both mind/body systems. They focus on how you feel in the posture or pose, alignment and being present in your body.  So how do you feel and react to a class with mirrors? And does it differ for you from one system to the other?

For me it differs from one to the another. In Pilates, I like having a mirror to check in on structural alignment and posture to be sure that what I am feeling and seeing are the same.  I tend to use it more from a side view rather than a frontal view.  And use it as a tool, but not throughout the entire session.  In Yoga, I am completely thrown by a mirror. It messes with my sense of balance in standing postures and I find I am not able to stay inside with my breath and postures but taken into a place of judgement by the visual. The absolute reverse effect of what I am looking for in my Yoga practice.

I am always amused by people who throughout a class or workout are so drawn in by their reflection in the mirror.  Yoga and Pilates are about connecting internally. The external results that happen are just a cherry on top of the sundae.  So next time you are in a class with mirrors take notice of how much you notice your reflection.  Are you using it for vanity or growth? Are you able to only see externally or internally as well? Is visual your strongest sense of self?  Challenge yourself to look inward, rather than outward and your reflection of yourself might just surprise you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Take a bottle, drink it down...

To quote a Pearl Jam song "Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around". Although surely Eddie Vedder probably wasn't referencing water, it applies.

In the middle of summer with many cities experiencing heat waves, it especially important to remain hydrated throughout the day. Are you getting enough water?

According to the Mayo Clinic the following are signs that you are not getting enough water: (mild dehydration)

  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Sleepiness or tiredness — children are likely to be less active than usual
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urine output — fewer than six wet diapers a day for infants and eight hours or more without urination for older children and teens
  • Few or no tears when crying
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

The media output is "8x8". Meaning 8 oz of water 8 times per day.  However, this is not truly accurate but a good starting point. Activity level, diet, environment, pregnancy/breast feeding can affect how your water intake is being processed.  There are some easy tools like a daily water calculator that calculates how much water you should be drinking per day based on your activity level and weight.

How can you take in this much water throughout the day? Try tricking yourself by adding lemon wedges or cucumber slices into your water for a little more flavor. I also like adding a green tea bag, like TAZO's Zen tea with lemongrass and spearmint, into my water jug with room temperature water and drinking throughout the day.  If you are working out quite a bit try adding ZICO Coconut water after work out. Full of natural electrolytes and rehydrates quicker than water.

A good testing point is your urine outtake. According to my acupuncturist, your urine at the beginning of your day should be the most concentrated and dark. If you are drinking enough water throughout the day it should gradually become less and less concentrated until it is clear by mid afternoon through the evening.

So drink it down and stay hydrated, healthy and happy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Veg out this summer

Changing or experimenting with a Vegan or Vegetarian diet has never been easier. During the summer time with all the fresh picked fruits and vegetables being locally grown is a great time to experiment.

I like to go to my local Farmer's Market and stock up on what ever is being locally grown. Chicago Farmers markets are all over in different neighborhoods on different days. Google Farmer's Market in your area to find out when and where they take place. Plus we have Green City Market which is the only Chicago year round market. Many of these markets vendors also provide CSA boxes (Community Supported Agriculture). Consumers purchase a share of the farm’s harvest at the beginning of the season. The farmer then delivers periodic (usually weekly) boxes or “shares” containing the best of what the growing season has to offer. These boxes are a great way to eat what is being produced locally in season, support the community and explore new foods and recipes. I take all of these weekly finds and add beans, tofu, seitan, and other vegetarian options to create fabulous stir fry, quinoa, wraps, salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. I will share some of my favorite recipes later in the blog and hope you will share some of yours with me.

With the growing amount of people becoming Vegan or Vegetarian many supermarkets and companies are jumping on the bandwagon. There have never been so many options to substitute meat free/dairy free items into your favorite dishes. Some of my favorites are Gardein, Fakin Bacon, Daiya, Dr. Praeger's, Morning Star, and Light Life Smart Deli. I make BLT's, Nachos, Chicken style wraps, Pizza, and Burgers substituting these products in place of meat or dairy products.

Looking for Vegan recipes? Two of my favorite books are Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook and Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet. There are also several online sites that you can either subscribe to or friend on Facebook like Fat Free Vegan.

Why not try a Vegan or Vegetarian restaurant on your next date night? Here in Chicago I recommend Chicago Diner, Green Zebra (which does have meat dishes, but has great Vegan and Vegetarian options), and Karyn's on Green, whose motto is "making Vegan sexy". In NYC Candle79 is one of my favs. Write in and let me know some of your favorite Vegan/Vegetarian friendly restaurants in your area.

Hope you will explore Vegetarian and Vegan eating and realize that not only will you be eating great, healthy, flavorful food that is good for you, but you will be helping support your community and the earth. Nature is bountiful. Let me know some of your favorite Vegan/Vegetarian recipes, products, companies, and restaurants to share.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Taking your Practice on the Road

Taking your Practice on the road doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your workout. Why not pack some props in your suitcase to keep your workout going.

If you are taking a beach vacation, why not pack a mat and practice on the sand. Manduka is my absolute favorite mat provider. Eco friendly, thick, slip-resistant, recyclable. They also carry towel like mats which are super easy to pack, wash, and wipe the sweat off with when you're done. Thick enough to roll your spine on for Pilates. Non-slippery for even the hottest of yoga practices. These mats are well worth the investment and my mat of choice for life.

Resistance bands are super easy to pack and use wherever you are. They come in various resistance and options. I like Thera-bands. Use them for arm work and leg work, on your own or hooked onto a desk, bed or door in your hotel. Tubing with handles or without and/or Exercise Bands (I prefer latex free). These can help take your matwork to the next level and mimic exercises done on the Cadillac and Reformer. STOTT Pilates has many DVDs using resistance bands to choose from or have an instructor lay down a personally tailored workout for you to download onto your mobile like pi-LALA-tes : Pilates without Borders (Insert shameless plug here).

Magic Circles are a great small prop as well. A little more awkward, heavy, and space consuming than the resistance bands. Gaiam has a lightweight circle that comes with a DVD. Children's playground balls can also substitute for a ring and can be found in any toy store, target, and even some grocery stores (depending on time of the year).

These are just a few suggestions to take your practice on the go. You really don't need much to get a great workout wherever your life may take you.