Pull your 'self' up

Selena DeLeon

Sunday, January 20, 2019

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STARTING a new year can begin with a lift, using the visual of elevation both figuratively, as it applies to life skills, and applying it to your physical training practice. Believe it or not, pulling your spine upwards can increase your height, change the shape of your entire body and your mood, and result in benefits beyond your wildest imagination.

Pilates offers an entire spectrum of movement pattern exercises that redirect your body to pull upwards. Working against gravity, it trains the muscles to work on lifting you up from the head, bolstering your body from the pelvic floor underneath, and as a result the muscles in-between become stronger and trained to develop a “neutral spine” or use the abdominals to create an “imprinted spine”.

With the spine lengthening upwards, you are directing blood flow more efficiently to the brain, igniting it. Once you have this channel open, the breathing practice used in Pilates will deliver more oxygen efficiently, which improves the senses, your reflexes, and overall mental acuity, to name a few.

Pilates uses breathing practices at its foundation, which improves centring, concentration, control, precision, and flow in the movement.

With oxygen delivery at its peak, the brain is fired up, increasing the potential for enhanced attention. The question to addresswhich always arised is “how am I holding myself in this moment?” to bring your attention back to your end goal, sensed your body upward. Practising body positioning increases stimulation for your senses of hearing, taste, touch, making you more alert, and improving balance.

2019 lift up to live up practices

The place to start is by asking yourself the question, “What is my mode of thinking about my body and my outlook on the intentions that I have for the future?”

Your conversations that you have with yourself are spoken in the position of your body, and the mo of thought translates to how you hold your posture. Believe it or not, your body language is a mirror of your thoughts.

A useful series of questions to run through in your mind are:

1. Is this the appropriate time for me to feel the way I do?

2. Checking on myself, what is behind that feeling?

3. Am I aware of this in my body?

4. What thoughts are lurking behind it?

The first thing there is to understand is the concept in Pilates known as axial elongation. This is placing the body in it's optimal position to increase the available degrees of freedom of movement, as well as efficiency of movement.

Moving, stretching and breathing in combination improves thought, and with both the body and the mind in sync you design an optimal platform to create the best of who you can be, and quality in your life.

Contrary to the thought-provokes-body language view, a 2012 TED Talk by Amy Cuddy discusses the benefits of power posing and the studies that have been done on the chemical effect that an upright posture has on the brain. She masterfully presented data on the resulting increased secretion of testosterone, and decreases in cortisol — the stress hormone.

The theory presented here is that your body sets your mood and you can pose your way to more confidence and happiness, or do just the opposite in cultivating depression and shyness by shrinking the body downwards. Whichever way you look at the cohesion of body and thought, a choice can be made in a moment, and the effects can be felt for a lifetime.

I often use a visual to cue myself to pull up out of a slumped posture, where I imagine that I have a meat hook attached to my chest, somewhat like the much-loved sculpture Phibba by Laura Facey.

I feel the hook right in the centre of my chest, and wherever I am I sense an instant lift in my body. Once my spine lengthens upwards, I notice the tone in my abdominals and pelvic floor. Then I settle into alignment by thinking of my weight over the centre of my feet, hips over heels, and I pull my ribs over my pelvis, shoulders over ribs, and the back of my head over the back of my shoulders. It is a simple fix that you can practice and get a huge return on for your longevity investment.

'Strong mind' ambition

A healthy mind directs a healthy body, and the discipline behind training the mind should be as much of a priority as the discipline that we bring to our physical fitness. When you look at the goal of having improved posture and quality of life, and consider what might be missing from your daily life and practice, how much time do you dedicate to mental health practices such as meditation and relaxation?

A daily Pilates routine serves as mindfulness training, muscle strengthening, and postural improvement all in one.

Every little lift goes a long way.

Selena DeLeon has been a personal and group fitness trainer for 16 years. She has a Pilates studio in Kingston called Core Fitness, where she helps people to move and live better. Its website is: www.corefitja.com


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