Tag Archives: increasing flexibility

Tuesday Class: Rough Starts, Good Endings…

Had another great class, though it did get off to a rough start.  It wasn’t until about 15 minutes before class that I realized that I had not packed my extra sports bra (I could have sworn I grabbed it, but apparently I packed the wrong thing), which was making me not look forward to the jumping part of class. Also, my favorite – and enormous – bathroom stall was occupied so I had to change into my ballet gear in the most cramped quarters ever.  By the time I made it into the studio quite a few of the students were there, though the barres were not set up yet. I wasted no time in setting up a barre at my favorite mirror spot. Chatted with my barre-mate about the possibility of taking Summer class…

Barre started easy enough: two demi plie with arm in low fifth going up to demi-seconde, then eleve and open arm, grand plie bringing the arm all the way down, and cambre, in first, second and fifth. We also did the circular cambre port de bras that either is done right and looks awesome and is done wrong and looks terrible, at the end.  Tendus combination was a little trickier. Mostly becaus it involved a lot of flexing the foot when out in tendu and tenduing only to demi point first (to work on foot articulation, I guess).  It also serves to make sure we are really on our supporting leg and not using our tendu foot as a “kickstand” as Teacher says, I suppose.

Rond de jambe combination was sort of complex. We did 4 rond de jambes en dehors, fondues, then balance in 3rd arabesque, 4 rond de jambes en dedans, fondues, balance with leg out in front and arm in high fifth, close, releve sous-sus, soutenu and other side.  It was fun, though the girl on the next barre over and I kicked each other’s foot during the rond de jambes.  I love how ballet class is all you-don’t-say-anything-and-just-keep-going about little accidents like than, because it seems so different compared to how it seems people are quick to react over little things like that in the  “real world”. Or something…

The hardest part of barre was definitely the 8 echappes without holding the barre and a long balance out in releve a la seconde before finally coming back down.  It felt wobbly and  unstable, but could have been worse.

Wrapping up barre, we did the partner developpe stretch. We were holding on to the barre behind us, then developpe as high as we can and have our partner guide our leg up even higher, as high as we can. The they would let go and we would try to hold it up there for as long as possible.  Besides devant and a la second, we also did derriere, having our partner push up our leg as we went to penchee arabesque.  I think I can get my legs up higher now than the last time we tried this, especially my left leg which is usually tighter and less flexible.  After this, as we had our water break before center, a couple of the students asked me about my stretching routine. Do I stretch everyday? “Yeah, kind of. Like 5 days a week?” How long have I been stretching? “Since starting ballet two years ago.” I also made sure to mention than I’m not naturally flexible, that as a kid I couldn’t even touch my toes.  It’s been hard work every step of the way. I’ve always been more impressed by people who’ve worked hard to accomplish something as opposed to having a facility for it.  Perhaps because it makes it seem like anything can be possible if you just work hard enough/want it bad enough, and sometimes I need to think something reassuring like that…

Teacher had everyone go along the wall barre practicing steping out from a pique on to a passe releve.  Pique out the right leg, put right foot down in demi point, left leg in passe (and then the opposite to the other side of course). But she had a couple of the students from IC do pique turns instead – and she had me join them! I instantly wished that I’d practiced pique turns more recently than last weekend, but they went ok. At least to the right.  My spotting to the left still needs work, though I did manage to pique turn across the whole huge studio. I still believe pique turns are a million times easier than pirouettes.

We went over the balance, step to arabesque, pas de bourre, other side combination.  Teacher wanted us to work on bringing our arabesque leg up even higher.  That made balancing harder, of course. Something to work on at home…

While sautes seem to continue improving, changements are still leaving much to be desired.  My feet frequently land in the wrong place, or I land a good 6 inches to the side of where I took off from.  After this we did a new jumping combination. We jumped out to second, then pas de bourre three times total, then pas de chat twice, then start the whole thing to the left.  It was fun to attempt, but as I’m still lacking in speed it wasn’t looking too good. It reminded me a little of one of the combinations from IC, and I think I did do a better job at it than I did when taking IC a few months ago. And, to my surpirse, I completely forgot about the missing extra sports bra…

Then it was time to practice ballet running.  Since I was missing my second sports bra there was quite a bit of bounceage going on, but since we were all running at the same time I felt camouflaged.  Teacher told us to make sure our arms were not wobbling whele we ran, so it was nice to work on the stuff I can control and keep from bouncing. It did feel a little silly to be running around in a circle.  It wasn’t until hours after class when I realized that when Teacher has kept mentioning that we were running like a corps de ballet she actually meant this as a serious exercise.  I think I’d had a dumb grin on my face the whole time we were running.

We did the 4 chasse gallops, ballet run for four counts and pas de chat combination.  Teacher didn’t correct me on pointing my feet during the chasse gallops, so hopefully that means I was doing them right. They did feel strong though, and I could actually feel the part where the ankles touch in sous-sus in midair.  It was as good a way as any to end class (though you know how much I love reverance)…

Only one more class left in the semester.  Sad 😦

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Tuesday Class: When It Picks Up A Little…

Had a pretty good class.  I’d forgotten how much more fun BC is during the second half of the semester!

We did a different port de bras for plies, the one I found so confusing last semester (starting from arm out in second, stetch out the hand and arm(like if doing a grand plie) when going down for the first demi plie, bring arm to low fifth when coming up from first demi plie, bring the arm to middle fifth (first?) when going down for second demi plie, open arm out to second when coming up from second demi plie,), and it was so much easier this time around, like second nature.  Yay, progress! Teacher didn’t come up behind me and shift my pelvis into correct position, so I’m taking that as a good sign as well. When we  balanced at the end of the plies combination I felt as though my balance was a little better than last class as well.

Which reminds me, Teacher made a remark about how it’s better to fall forward than fall back when balancing.  I would love to ask clarification on this (since I usually fall forward when I go off balance, rather than back), but honestly I would not like it to turn into an awkward movement.  It often feels like my chest is the elephant standing in the corner of the studio, the thing that must not be mentioned  or acknowledged in any way…

New – still pretty basic,but slightly more challenging – tendu combination.  From first, en avant, a la seconde, and derriere 2 tendus, third tendu flex the foot before pointing it again and bringing it back in. After tendu derriere, we tendued devant and closed fifth, tendu a la second and close fifth derriere, tendu derriere and close fifth, tendu a la seconde and close first. Repeat in en dedans direction.  I liked how it was slightly more complex than our usual BC tendu combinations, but not a super fast speed like in IC.

We did a long rond de jambes a terre and en l’air combination, going both en dehors and en dedans twice.  After the rond de jambe en l’air, we would bring our pointed foot down to the floor out in tendu, close in plie, and then rise up to a passe releve “balance” (in quotes since I don’t think a single one of us let go of the barre).  We worked on passe releve at the barre quite a lot, actually – which you know means that we were going to be doing plenty of that in center.

Finishing up our barre, we did more of those fun foot-in-hand stretches.  I love doing these, they make me feel so flexible!

We started off center with a balancé combination, similar to what we’ve worked on before (4 balances with arms, step into first arabesque, pas de bourree) but this time adding on a releve sous-sus balance the first time through, and  passe releve balance the second time. I continue to work on keeping my foot pointed on the way down, but in general my passe releve balances are getting more stable.  (I’m going to try to not be jealous of any brand new beginners that can balance already, as when I had been balleting that long I couldn’t even rise up in one-legged releves.) My balancés have gotten much more fluid as well, though to be fair we were going at a pretty slow tempo.

During chaines I was remembering to engage my back and it totally helped with stabilty.  I wish I could say that engaging my back during turning is in my muscle memory but that would not be very true.  It’s one of those things that I know I’m supposed to be doing, but when I find myself in class, lined up with the other students and Teacher tells us to go it’s a little nerve-wracking.  So I forget what I’m supposed to be doing and focus/freak out about the (seemingly) immediate objective of Cross The Enormous Studio – And Quick!  Today though, as I started my series of turns I was like ‘Ok, arms? Check. Back? Check Spotting? Check’ and tried to not think to much about the fact that other people turn way faster than me, or the possibility of a collision.

After we did a few sets of regular sautes, Teacher told us to split up into 2 groups for our echappe, echappe, echappe, soubresaut, soubresaut repeat combination. The first group was going to go at a slower tempo, then other group at a faster one. Or we could choose to do both (I did both).  During the slower tempo, I was able to focus on stuff like pointing my feet and landing in plie.  My jumps from a la seconde, like to close the echappes, have gotten much stronger than a few months ago.  And for whatever reason, I find it much easier to point my feet in soubresauts than sautes from first.

At the faster tempo it was hard! I was able to remember what kind of jump I’m doing next, and land with the correct foot in front, but other than that it was sloppy.  My feet were nowhere near pointed, and I may have been losing my turnout. However, it was so much fun! By the end of going through both combinations twice I was really feeling like I was getting a cardio workout.

We ran out of time for reverance, but it was ok – I was exhausted.

Fitness Goals Update 11

Whoa, it’s been a while since a Fitness Goals Update! No class today – ballet or otherwise (school holiday, Cesar Chavez day) – so I will be discussing Fitness, Pilates and how far I’ve come in the last 6 months or so.

As you may know – if you’ve read through the archives – I started working out last September after acknowledging that I was just not improving at certain things in ballet (like sautes, it’s always the sautes!) without some additional help.  After starting out with some general strengthening I moved on to jogging a couple of weeks later.  At my most active, around December and January, I was running 4 or 5 times a week.  Since mid-February though, my school schedule has completely destroyed my running schedule, and now I’m lucky to get to run Friday thru Sunday – though of course I took advantage of my day off today.

Anyway, as I’m not running as frequently as I was a couple months ago, I’m not too surprised that my running abilities have not improved since then – though when I first started I quickly improved from a 1 minute jog to my current level.  Still doing around 10 laps at the field (give or take 1 lap), or two miles on the treadmill. Occasionally I’ll use the elliptical after the treadmil just to get a more well-rounded workout, but in general I prefer running outdoors. Just wish I was disciplined enough to get up at the break of dawn to avoid running under the hot sun (with the added bonus of getting to run before it’s time for school).

Pilates has been going great. My whole body feels so much stronger and flexible since I started in the beginning of January (taking on average 2 hours of class Monday through Thursday, on my own on weekends).  While my workouts on my own did help, it wasn’t until starting Pilates that I gained a greater understanding of my body – actually, the body – and how the muscles work in harmony with each other for efficient, injury-free movement.  I’m actually quite passionate about Pilates now, and definitely want to work on bringing this amazing method of body conditioning to a broader audience (as there seems to be a belief that Pilates is unaffordable to most people).  My school offers a Pliates teaching certification program which I’m currently pursuing while deciding where I’m going with my other educational goals, so at some point in the future hopefully I will get to do some teaching.  As it is I’ve taught a few exercises and stretches to a couple of friends and they’ve said it’s helped them with their back pain and shoulder issues.

One of the Pilates classes I’m taking is focused specifically on dancers, and we do exercises that complement the moves that dancers do.  We did the funnest thing the other day: on the Reformers (the medival torture device looking thing) we put something called a Jumpboard (which is just a padded wooden board that fastens to the Reformer) and practiced our sautes.  It is such a weird feeling, jumping as high as you can while being horizontal, but a great way to practice the pointing of the feet. As the Pilates studio has mirrors all the way along the wall it is possible to see what we’re doing, and it was so cool seeing myself jump with perfect – though horizontal – form.  The pointed feet were not a problem, though when landing I did notice that my heels have a tendency to lift.  I actually think I need to talk to Teacher about this, as my heels tend to want to lift during regular sautes all the time. This combined with the fact that even my best grand plies do not go that far down make me think I may have Achilles tendons that are on the shorter side.

My abdomen area – the core – has gotten so strong.  One of my classmates poked me and then exclaimed “Wow, you’re buff!” LOL.  Sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever have a six-pack as the flabby loose skin from when I was more overweight remains around my lower abdomen.  Actually, on that note, I’ve gained weight since I started working out.  Not sure how much, since after I noticed the numbers on the scale climbing I stopped weighing myself – didn’t want to stress myself out. I’m sure some of the weight is muscle, but it’d be real optimistic if I said it all was.  Some days I’m ok with it – I actually have a butt now – and others I miss my smaller shape (and fitting into some of my tighter pants).  When I’d first started working out my appetite increased, but I figured you got to give the body fuel, you know? I’m not too worried, as I know how to lose weight quickly, but I don’t want to lose my muscle either.  Ideally I would like to get to the point where I don’t care how much I weigh as long as I have a healthy and fit body, but overcoming years of social conditioning is hard!

(Wearing a leotard in front of a large number of people does not help.  When  I’m totally thinking of overindulging I always have to remember the leotard.)

My arms and upper body strength have increased as well.  While I still can’t do any pull ups, my push ups and planks (called “Front Support” in Pilates) have improved so much. We do lots of exercises for the triceps, biceps, shoulder rotators, back extensors, and chest and the result has been that my arms finally look toned. All my life my arms have been one of my problem areas, so I’m glad to have found some exercises that work for me.

Overall, I’d say I’m in great shape though.  We’re learning new exercises in my Pilates classes all the time, so I can’t wait to see how I’m doing by the end of the semester. Now, has all this helped with my ballet technique? I would say yes, as you can never have enough leg strength. The stamina gained from all the running has helped me when doing countless sautes or petite allegro. My “turnout muscles are much stronger as well.  I can finally identify my lats and know if I’m engaging them for my port de bras. My calves are much stronger – and, incidentally, bigger – and I can do one-legged releves super easy (though balancing while up there is still hit or miss). We have done stuff for our balance (like standing on the foam rollers on both feet and then one at a time), but I still struggle with balance.  Perhaps I always will…

Physics, man. Blame it on physics!

The start of my work out adventure: http://www.balletandorbust.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/as-strong-as-the-weakest-limb-i-mean-link/

All other fitness-related posts that followed are under the category “fitness for ballet”, for easy viewing, if interested…

Fitness Goals And Pilates Update

At this point, 6 weeks into my daily Pilates course, Pilates is just about the only exercise I’m doing, not counting cardio and, of course, ballet.  But ballet is more for fun than for exercise so it doesn’t count…

I’m still loving my Pilates class. It’s gotten progressively harder, and there’s been so times when my muscles have been aching like never before. Some of those abs sequences, having the muscles tensed for minutes at a time – my core feels worked out like never before.  And then, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, here come the exercises for the sides (obliques). There’s been so many times when I’m thinking ‘Lady, you’re killing us!’. In a good way, of course. In general my abdomen area feels so much stronger than before, even when I was doing the ab wheel exercises at home.

Thanks to my habit of laying sprawled on the couch  on my right side, causing the muscles to be stretched unevenly, my left side is stronger. I have noticed this during any  of the oblique-targeting exercises, as one side is much easier to do. Since noticing and making sense of it, I have started alternating the side I’m sprawled on. As a whole, I tend to pay much closer attention to my body’s alignment and all the asymmetries that need fixing, as well as to what my habits are doing to my posture.

It’s so interesting how the body works and how if the different parts are not used efficiently it  will wear down, how our habits and posture shape our bodies.  I’ve pondered long about how my body got it’s (pre-ballet, and definitely pre-pilates) lack of shape, and have come to the conclusion that it was likely due to me doing any movement the easiest way possible (such as standing with my knees hyperextended rather than engaging my muscles or slouching when I should be standing straight, dragging my feet while walking). I was always uncoordinated growing up, and nobody ever taught me how to use my body otherwise. Does a child need to be taught  how to use their body? Many may not, may have their ease of mobility be naturally-occurring, but others, like me, do.  From the time I was a baby who learned to walk at a late age, to being the only kid in the preschool yard who couldn’t climb on the merry-go-round, to falling over while trying to sprint at age 8, physical activities have not been my strong point.

Before I would have thought that there was no fixing it, that I’m just naturally clumsy, but I don’t any more.  I simply just had no idea of my body’s range of motion, of what my body could actually do. Sometimes I feel like this is what Physical Education class is really supposed to be about, except just mindlessly walking laps in the hot sun and being a prime opportunity for school yard and locker room bullying.

Anyway, at least I’m learning now. You have no idea how grateful I feel…

And the whole “shoulders back” thing, that alone has helped my body so much.  My upper back and shoulder  soreness is gone, my all-over-back tightness greatly reduced. I would say it’s gone, but the other night I slept in the wrong position and felt super stiff. My arms are so much stronger and I can now push up into the backbridge position like it’s nothing. While up in the backbridge position I’ve been working on tapping my feet, lifting them up slightly, trying to get comfortable with the feeling of just being up there. My upper body strength has increased enough to make a walkover possible in the near future, if only I get over my fears.

As for cardio, I’ve hit a plateau. On days that I use the treadmill, I’ve slowly increased my speed until most recently been averaging  a little over 9 minutes a mile.  But I haven’t increased the total amount of time ran (around 20-25 minutes). It’s not that I’m completely exhausted so much as I get bored or start thinking about other things I need to take care of. I’ve been good about getting myself motivated to go out there and run; I don’t want to ruin it by putting increasingly higher expectations upon myself. Better to keep it fun!

I’ve still been doing the jumping jacks and squat jumps as well.  These have helped me so much with jumping in ballet class.  I can really tell the difference, and when before jumping felt like it took huge amounts of effort it now feels almost effortless.

I’m really glad I made the decision to begin working out (5 months ago) and especially take that Pilates class.  I’ve read somewhere out there on the internet that it’s not necessary to cross train with ballet.  I don’t know why people say this, or if that advice only applies to children and not to an adult’s body.  For over a year and a half I refused to work out to supplement my ballet, telling myself that I would get stronger just through ballet.  And this did work – to an extent.  My barre work improved, and the small muscles that help you hold your balance or fondu or point your foot did develop, enabling me to get better. But as for my jumps – I was getting nowhere! I did countless foot exercises with my theraband, thinking that weak feet were the problem (to why I couldn’t point my feet midair).  My feet got stronger, but still, my jumping sucked. It wasn’t until after doing cardio consistenly I started to notice results. Perhaps this is because I was extremely out of shape and didn’t know it.  Perhaps this doesn’t apply to anybody (or any body) else. But all I’m saying is, if your seem to hit a ballet plateau, and you don’t already, it may be beneficial to do some cardio. I wish someone had told me…

Pilates, Week 2: Reform Me!

As you can (possibly) tell by the title, during the (latter part of the) week we made it onto the Reformer during class. We’re still doing basic exercises on it, mostly working our legs, calves, ankles, arms, and of course, cores, but trust me, it is challenging!

Hopefully I’m not the only person ever who thought at first glance that the Reformer looks like a medieval torture device. I was thinking ‘Is that what they use to stretch out your limbs?’

(I love how the studio has pictures of Joseph Pilates doing incredibly hard-looking exercises on the Reformer on the walls; compared to that, what we’re doing at this point looks like a piece of cake.  Mmmmm, cake… I once got this cake that was made with ice cream and coconut and it was soooo good… wish I had some right now… if the place that makes it wasn’t clear across town and it wasn’t rush hour I’d probably try to go get one… Anyway.)

During the calf leg raises and “prances” exercises Pilates Teacher pointed out that my ankles were rolling in a little bit, which I guess would be like sickle-ing on releve.  She said we have some work ahead of us! However, I seem to be getting the hang of the core tightening and breathing, so it’s not all bad. We work on the Reformers in partners, kind of checking on each other’s alignment while P Teacher makes her way around the room.  Working with a partner is fun; being socially awkward, I like having an excuse to talk to someone sometimes.

We did these arm exercises on the Reformer that were sort of like cable pull downs, as well as arm circles and curls.  I walked out of class so incredibly sore after that!

During the first half of class we’ve still been doing mat work.  P Teacher has been gradually introducing new exercises to us as well as repeating the basic exercises daily.  I think by now I figured out that the last day of the week she works us out extra hard, giving us the weekend to recover.  We’ve been using this thing called a Magic Circle which looks kind of like a steering wheel but with padding on two opposing sides.  The Magic Circle goes between our knees (while our legs are up in the air in the “tabletop” position) and then we squeeze as we exhale to work out our adductors. Then we put it between our ankles and repeat (this is the part when audible groans of pain begin to ring through the studio) and this last time P Teacher had us lay down on our stomach and do it between the knees in this position as well. Ouchers. But my behind feels so nice and tight afterwards…

For the most part, I’ve been able to keep up in the mat work.  However, we did this exercise called a “roll up” that involved laying down face up and, well, rolling up; first the head, then shoulders, then vertebra by vertebra, until (hopefully) coming up to a seated position with the back straight, all without getting any help from our legs.  I wasn’t able to make it up to the seated position, only about halfway, and then I could feel my legs trying to get involved so I went back down. Oh well, I’m just a beginner – we’ll see in a bit as my core and back get stronger.

We also do stretches for our hip flexors and hamstrings, both on the mats and on the Reformer.  It’s probably too soon to make this claim, but I think my flexibility has increased more already.  I did read somewhere that flexibility is a combination of flexibility and strength, so if I’ve gotten stronger it would make sense that I’m more flexible, I guess. I did notice today during my home ballet practice session that my hips feel more “open”, especially my extra-tight left one.

Then there’s my shoulders. I’m still constantly monitoring them to make sure they are not forward, and if they are, I bring them back.  I’ve also begun to identify triggers, like driving, that cause me to bring my shoulders forward. But my upper back/shoulder pain (which I’ve suffered pretty much continuously for years) is practically gone, which feels really awesome.

Why did I not try out Pilates sooner?!

Fitness Goal Update 9

Still at it, doing my best to be in shape, 18 weeks later!

Cardio:

Running/ jogging about 5 times a week.

When the weather permits, I’m still running/jogging outdoors at the park.  I’ve been doing interval running – jogging part of it, sprinting (or as close as I get to sprinting, lol) the other parts – for anywhere from 16 to 22 minutes, depending on how I’m feeling. The other day (Sunday?) the park was kind of flooded so I ran uphill on my old walking route. It went pretty well, I wasn’t even more exhausted than usual or anything. Soon I will put my fitness to the test and try going for a run on this one very steep mountain with a paved road I know about.

Previously I’d been apprehensive about running on a surface harder than grass, sand, track, or treadmill, but I got myself a new pair of running shoes a couple weeks ago and ever since then it’s felt like I’m running on air. I was long overdue for a pair of running shoes…

My running shoes. Such an improvement over the shoes I had previously been running in!

My running shoes. Such an improvement over the shoes I had previously been running in!

On the days that are just too rainy to run outside I’ve been running on the treadmill at my apt’s gym.  I read that running with no incline on the treadmill is comparable to running downhill, so I always set the incline to 2 or so.  I’m going to start working up to a higher incline though. Right now, my mile time (on the treadmill, no idea about outdoors) is at around 9 minutes, which is better than my high school time but definitely nothing to boast about. Not that I’m a particularly boastful individual, or anything, but I do get a kick out of feeling younger than I did at half my age…

I’ve still been doing jumping jacks, immediately after my run, 100 of them. Then I’ve been doing squat jumps, but only about 20 before it feels like my legs are on fire, and “gallops”.

Strength:

Ever since I started my Pilates class last week I haven’t been doing much strength training at home, just stretching (and doing a Pilates mini-session on weekends).  After my posture assessment during Pilates class I realized than I’ve probably been performing most of my strength  exercises in bad form, so I’m taking a short break on that so I can get my posture and alignment right (those darn shoulders!).  Honestly, just writing right now that I’m “taking a short break” made me feel so lazy! But 2 hours and 15 minutes of Pilates daily is enough (non-cardio) exercise, right?

My backbridge is still struggling along. On some days I feel like I can’t do that push that it takes to lift my head up off the ground, other days it seems effortless. No idea what it has to do with, or if it’s just a mental block still.  On the days that I do get myself into a backbridge, I’ve been practicing rocking back and forth on my hands and feet and tapping my feet. Still haven’t attempted to take a foot off the ground yet, but I am able to stay in the position for longer every time. And I do feel so much more flexible when I cambre back.

In other news, about a week ago I taught myself to do a cartwheel (with the help of youtube videos). It was the first (successful) cartwheel I’ve done in my life! Hooray!

And I have ballet tomorrow! Yay!

Pilates And Me, End Of First Week

End of my first week of Pilates.

So far, I love Pilates class! Love, love love it!  I come out of there each day feeling nicely sore, though completely relaxed.  I think it’s all the deep breathing, only to exhale and squeeeeeze the belly button in as hard as possible.  Yes, simultaneously sore and relaxed and there’s even nice soft ambient music, sometimes classical, playing softly in the background. Feels like I’m at a spa or something – or how imagine a spa would feel…

I am so glad I went in. I’d signed up because last semester in ballet class Teacher had mentioned that Pilates is good for dancers (even us amateur dancers). So I’d signed up, but as the day came closer I started to get a bit anxious.  Just like ballet class almost two years ago, a new First. And I started to worry about some of the more practical details some of us girls worry about: what do I wear?

Surely I couldn’t show up in ballet attire (though if someone who is not terrified of attracting attention were to do that it would be awesome!)?  But would a baggy T-shirt be ok? I remembered this exercise class I tried attending once back the first time I went to college, back when I was very overweight, and being intimidated by a majority of the class being very slim and athlelic, some of them displaying a six-pack.  A leotard I can do, for the same reason I can’t do many workout wear tops: a leotard keeps the stomach covered (or at least any of the styles I buy, lol).

Well, I sucked it up, faced my fear and went in there.  My outfit was a compromise: a T-shirt on top, black yoga pants on the bottome.  I got there, saw that there was diversity in body types, and started to relax.

Pilates is very focused on the core, I find out. So far it feels good.  I’d been starting to worry that the AB-wheel exercises I’ve been doing at home may have been making my abs grow outward (however weird that sounds), so I like the focus in Pilates of squeezing them inward. Apparently it’s supposed to feel as though your core muscles make a muscle “girdle” for your spine and stuff. That’s pretty cool, and I can already start to feel it, especially in the sides (I guess obliques) area.  And we haven’t even done any reformer stuff yet, just mat work (which is really fun!).

But while the ab benefits are great, there’s been another unexpected (to me) benefit: shoulders.

My shoulders are a mess! I’d noticed within the last year – though the problem most definitely extends since my  early-to-mid-childhood, but at the time was obscured by all my extra padding – that from a front view  my shoulders sort-of curve inward in a  crescent-like line from shoulder to shoulder. Never been a part of my body that I  like, but figured I couldn’t do anything about it. I mean, I’ve tried to straighten my back out (when I remember – which is about 50% of the time – and I try especially during ballet class), but I’m not even talking about my back I’m talking about my shoulders. Which are easily 2 inches forward of where they should be pretty much all the time! And previously to taking this pilates class I had no idea that this was going on. It’s called a fatigue position or something which just sounds so unappealing, ugh.  Whenever teachers have said “Shoulders back!” I guess I hadn’t really understood what they meant. Kind of how for the first year or so I had really no idea what it meant to point  the foot (as opposed to just flexing the ankle)…

Anyway, the thing I’ve been finding the hardest so far is keeping my shoulders back.  It’s not in muscle memory yet, but I find myself so conscious of my shoulders as I go about normal activities throughout the day. Every time I remember I pull them straight back!

(While writing this blog post, I’ve already reminded myself four six at least 20 times. Once I remember, pulling them back feels so good…)

By now I discovered that this shoulder forward-hunching appears to be responsible for my constant tight, sore feeling on my upper back/shoulder area. I’d previously blamed this pain on my bra strap digging in, but now that I’ve been putting my shoulders back consciously the pain has been diminishing and I’m still being dug in to by the same strap. Also, having my shoulders forward appears to be the cause of this stubborn under arm/upper chest flabbiness that seemed to never go away.  If I can manage to remember to keep my shoulders back,I may even feel comfortable in a tank top soon (assuming the weather was warm, of course).

Check out the difference:

shoulders back!

shoulders back!

Shoulders curved

Shoulders curved forward

We’ve also been using balls! Both a small dodge-ball-looking ball to squeeze between our knees, and tennis balls to rub the feet. As I’ve previously mentioned, I looooove my tennis ball, rubbing my feet on it and also my back (coincidentally, at the spot where it hurts from hunching my shoulders forward). Oh, and also these really big balls – I think they’re used for ab work – to support the feet for some of the students without sufficient ab strength yet (luckily, all my past few months’ worth of exercise has keep me from falling in that category; so far I’ve been able to do all the exercises, but in my pre-exercise condition half a year ago I probably wouldn’t have. At least not the double- knee raises…).  But I’m glad to see that there’s modifications available to make it possible for all different kinds of people to try it.

I’m so glad I decided to try this class out. If you have not already done so, I recommend that everyone, regardless of current state of being in shape or not, try out Pilates.