Your posture is key to living efficiently. You can exercise all you want, but if you don't properly positi on yourself in good alignment in your everyday activities, you will increase wear and tear on your body. In many ways, quality of life issues as we get older are related to poor posture.
The first step to improving posture is awareness. Try this simple self-test to check your posture. Stand upright in front of a mirror and see how your feet are aligned. Are they parallel (meaning pointing straight ahead)? How far are they apart? Next scan up to your hips and shoulders. Are they level, or is one side higher or lower than the other? Now, look at the head. Is it tilted to one side, or slightly forward or back? Make note of what you see before you make any adjustments. This will tell you about your habitual stance.
Now, stand sideways in the mirror. Check to see how aligned your body is. Draw an imaginary line to divide your body down the middle. See if you ear is over the center of the shoulder, which should be over the middle of the hips, over the middle of the knee, over the middle of the ankle. See the photos at left for examples of correct alignment.
For more information on posture and how to check it, please see Ch. 2 in my book, Yogilates - Integrating Yoga and Pilates for Complete Fitness, Strength, and Flexibility.
Breathing well is living well. A simple exercise to help get you started with this all important function is to sit comfortably with a straight back. You can do this on a firm pillow on the floor with your legs crossed, or on a firm chair with your feet on the floor. Sit as tall as you can, back straight. Place your hands on the sides of ribs and close your eyes. 1. Breathe through your nose and first just notice your breath. 2. Start to notice as you exhale that you can relax your chest and shoulders as you release your breath all the way out, and that your lower belly can draw in. 2. Then, breathe in naturally and fully and feel your ribs expand to the sides while keeping the lower belly drawn in. 3. Breathe into your ribs like this for 4 - 5 more breaths. Notice with every inhale how your upper body can float higher, and with every exhale how the sides come in and down, but eventually squeeze gently taller from the inside 4. Let your breathing effort subside to an easier one, but still notice how even in stillness, your breath moves you from your center.
I devote much of Ch. 3 in my book to how to breath correctly while practicing both yoga and Pilates.
Essentially, the core muscles in the body are those torso muscles that engage to hold your body stable during a position or movement. Generally, the muscles that stabilize the spine will always be involved, those being the transverse abdominus, the multifidis, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor. Other muscles that are engaged from inside the torso to help stabilize include the other abdominals, the serratus and middle trapezius, and the intercostals, which pull the ribs together.
When taught correctly, Pilates is the best exercise system to strengthen your core because you are taught to be ever conscious of both stabilization using the deeper core muscles, and to release unnecessary tension from larger muscle groups and from habitual tension spots of the body such as the shoulders, neck, feet, hands, and back. To learn this properly, it is also good to practice yoga with a similar awareness. The breath work of yoga actually helps you to master Pilates technique because only when you learn to use the breath to relax, can you begin to discover a deeper source of grounded movement from your center. This is far superior to traditional abdominal exercises. In addition, because it is synchronized with the breath, it is more advanced than basic stabilization exercises done on physioballs and other unstable devices. In Yogilates you develop stronger core muscles with awareness of how to oppose your own body weight for greater control and skill.
KNEE FOLDS - Lay on your back with your legs bent, feet flat on the floor. During this exercise, keep aware of your pelvis, maintaining it in a neutral position. 1, Start to lift your right heel off the floor, keeping the ball of the foot on the floor. Slowly, continue to lift the right foot up to the toes. Stop here and notice how the weight of the leg lifting up is transferred to the back of your right hip. Also notice, that the lower abdominals on the front of your left hip engage to keep that side of the hip from lifting up. Holding the pelvis in place is the transfer of weight through the pelvis and the opposing muscles of the hip. 3. Continue to draw the right knee in toward your chest softly, then set the right foot back down. Repeat the exercise, starting with just lifting the heel, on the left side. 4. After doing both sides, progress to just lifting one knee at a time into the chest, exhaling as you bring the knee up, inhaling to set it down. Do 6 Knee Folds with each leg. Be careful not to lift the knee so much that it pulls your hips up from the bottom. Remember, the object is to keep the pelvis still and uninvolved with the action. Keep the legs and feet completely relaxed as you do the Knee Folds, trying to feel the lower abs drawing the knee in and lowering it down, not your leg muscles.
TOE TOUCHES - Lay on your back with your knees into your chest, arms by your sides. Allow your legs to be fully bent and relaxed. Your lower back should be flat in this position. If this position is difficult to maintain comfortably, place your hands or a folded towel under your lower hips to keep the bottom of the pelvis slightly tilted up. 1. Relax your lower abs down, drawing the navel to the spine. Exhale and slowly lower the right foot (toes first) to the touch the floor with the toes. 2. Inhale and bring the leg back in. 3. Repeat with the left leg. Alternate Toe Touches 8 - 10 times with each leg. You can change the breath, inhaling as you lower the toes and exhaling to bring it back up.
Meditation is an important part of Yogilates (all the Yogilates classes and video programs start and end with guided meditation), stemming from the training of the mind that is an essential part of yoga practice. Some people are confused or hesitant about meditation because they don't understand what it is for, or how to do it. In some ways it is easiest to think of meditation as simply learning to relax the body and the mind to help relieve stress. Stress can lead to anxiety, physical tension, distraction, irritability, and a weakened immune system. Therefore, it is vital to one's health to learn how to manage and dissipate stress, and meditation is the tool you can use to do this.
1.To start, find a quiet place - away from noise, bright lights, or other distractions. Turn off your phones so you won't be disturbed. Sit on a cushion with your legs crossed or on a straight back chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands palms up on your thighs and find a balanced position with a straight spine. If you need, place another cushion behind your lower back for support. It is important that you feel comfortable and safe in your space for meditation to be most effective.
2.Close your eyes and find a quiet, steady stillness in your body. If you feel tension in your shoulders, circle them a few times. Then exhale to relax your chest and sink your sit bones like roots to the earth. Now begin to "observe" your breath. Do not try to control it yet, just notice the inhalation and exhalation and how each phase of the breath moves the body. Notice if your chest or belly expand on the inhalation, and how your body responds to the exhalation. Noticing the breath is the first way we bring our focus inward and our attention to the present. It is called "conscious breathing". In yoga, the breath represents "prana" which can be thought of as universal energy that permeates the universe, connecting all things to the divine spirit.
3.Staying with your focus on your breath, allow your exhales to lengthen a bit longer, and feel your inhalation begin with the diaphragm (located under your ribs in the center of the body called the thorax). Again, you don't need to force out the air or inhale extra deep, if you just follow all the air out, patiently waiting until you are truly empty, your inhalation will naturally start from a deeper place. Be careful not to collapse your posture with your exhale. Just feel the ribs descend and the belly draw in. On the inhalation, feel the lower ribs expand and your collar bones ascend with the breath. With practice, you can let your body and your consciousness float on your breath. Allow you're the muscles of your forehead, cheeks, and jaw to relax. Soften your eyes and your mouth. Feel lifted and supported with your breath. Stay with your breath in this way for 10 full cycles of the breath.
4.Empty your mind. Begin to allow your breath to happen smoothly under your consciousness and start to mentally gaze inward from the inner corners of your eyes. There are many ways to use visualizations to create inner calm and peace. Here is an example. As you look inward, visualize your mind as empty space, dimly illuminated like a gray cavern. If extraneous thoughts or images pop up into your consciousness, just notice them as separate from you like floating objects that eventually float away or disappear. Visualize the grayness like foggy clouds in space. Next, with the tempo of the breath, start to sweep away the clouds with each breath. From behind and above the gray clouds is clear sky and pure light. After all the grayness is swept away, allow your mind to become illuminated with this clear blue, empty sky. Sense the source of the light reflected in the sky as coming from within your torso, from your heart. Starting like the sun just poking up from the horizon, it slowly fills up in your heart/mind and the sky is expanded to the heavens. You are now filled with the aura of your divine being. It shines out the top of your head and surrounds you with a protective layer of peaceful and loving light/energy. You do not feel anymore than this; it is a natural, calming, and content feeling. Pure emptiness in the mind frees your heart source. It is ok if strong emotions come to the surface while you meditate. You may start to cry or feel sad. This is normal as your body may need to let go of fear or emotional stress. It is healthy, and will pass. Return to your breath and just enjoy the emptiness and relaxed state of being in the present - in your space - centered, calm, aware.
5.There are many books you can go to on how to meditate. Some of our favorites are
-"Simple Meditation and Relaxation" (Simple Wisdom Book)
by Joel Levy and Michele Levy.
-"Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life",
by Jon-Kabat Zinn
-"The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle.
Lifestyle Eating Principles
Sensible Nutrition for Enjoyable Living
By Jonathan Urla, MFA, Certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant
The ultimate goal in Pilates is to have balanced development of the body, mind and spirit. While Joseph Pilates did not promote one particular diet over another in his writings, it is very clear that he believed in a natural and organic lifestyle versus manufactured and artificial choices. Most likely he would have disavowed the trendy diets and supplements of today, and would have talked about how eating choices are integral to a disciplined, sane way of living. To Joseph, artificial exercise, meaning exercise that doesn’t also train the mind, is worthless and/or ultimately harmful. I’m sure he thought the same for artificial ingredients in food, or eating choices that are done unconsciously. Pilates liked things to be clean and natural, and I’m sure his diet reflected this.
Our need for food and drink joins us with all living creatures, and the particular foods we eat, along with how and where we consume them, helps define us as a culture. Unfortunately, in developed countries, we mostly take our food for granted. Often, we eat boring meals just to keep the fires going, or we eat for emotional reasons that have nothing to do with the need for nutrition. These unconscious poor eating habits have to be broken, just like having a habit of poor posture needs to be corrected.
If you are looking to create an ideal body for life, you will need to integrate your style of eating with your other mindfully healthy lifestyle choices. For exercise, I have provided you with what exercises are most effective, and the proper way, or how to perform them, and I’ve also given you guidelines for the appropriate amount of exercise to do given your individual goals. For diet, the considerations will be the same thing. You need to first look at what kind of foods you put into your body, the amount of food that is appropriate for you based on your individual activity, and, equally important, the way you eat and drink, or how you consume. The good news is you don’t need to count calories or analyze the ratios of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to achieve your ideal weight. Over the course of more than twenty years coaching people to manage their weight and eat healthy, and having seen one diet fad after another come and go, I have realized that what people need are simple guidelines that make eating smart a natural part of living well. By following these seven lifestyle eating principles you will liberate yourself from counting calories, seeking new diets, and worry over eating choices, and will instead gain confidence and lifetime control over food and your weight.
I. EAT A VARIETY OF FRESH FOODS. A variety of fresh and natural foods is always best. You can listen to this expert and that expert talk endlessly about how this nutrient and that nutrient is good for you. And it’s true; our bodies need many different vitamins and minerals, and science is finding that some micro nutrients play very important roles in how our body functions. However, all these experts eventually agree that the best way to get your nutrients is with a variety of fresh foods. Rather than angst over not knowing if you’ve gotten enough of this nutrient or that vitamin, you should first make sure your diet is varied and includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Get used to shopping a little each day to buy salad vegetables, bread, milk, and fish on the day you are going to eat them. Purchase other fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheeses/yogurt, and meats within 1-3 days of consumption. Obviously, some grains and nuts and other staples can be purchased in bulk and stored for longer periods, e.g. rice, dried beans, nuts, pasta, spices. It sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how much people will buy processed or packaged meals just to save time and effort. In the end, they may save some shopping time, but your nutrition suffers. Eating fresh food purchased the day of is one of the key aspects of the Mediterranean diet that make it so healthy. Frozen foods and juices are unheard of in Europe and South America. In almost any major city outside the United States, you see people in the morning drinking fresh squeezed orange juice that is available from any café or street stand. It’s the only way to go.
II. AVOID SATURATED FATS AND LIMIT SALT AND SUGARS. Saturated fats are found in meats and dairy, and hydrogenated oils are found in margerine and processed foods. Saturated fat and cholesterol go hand in hand and are present in some quantity in all animal protein. This stuff collects in your arteries and around your organs and can cause serious health problems. But you can limit your exposure to saturated fats and cholesterol by limiting your consumption of red meat (beef, veal, ham, bacon, lamb), egg yolks, and cheese and cream made with whole milk, to once a week and substituting fish, poultry, and vegetable protein for the red meat, and egg whites and non-fat milk products for the others. Although most nutritionists recommend having a little protein at every meal, remember that many grains and vegeatables, as well a low-fat dairy products like yogurt, also have protein. That means you don't need to eat animal protein to eat a balanced diet.
Another source of bad fat is found in processed foods in the form of hydrogenated oils. Margarine is the most common source, but you can find partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient in many other less obvious places. Crackers for instance, even the whole wheat kind, often list partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. Now, if you are at someone’s house and they offer you some crackers, eating one of two of them even if they are made with hydrogenated oil isn’t going to kill you. Just don’t buy them or regularly eat them as snacks.
With regard to limiting salty foods and those with added sugars, it is not that salt and sugar are inherently unhealthy for you. However, most people don't realize just how much of them they are actually consuming, and it is usually alot more than anyone needs. They are the most common form of ingredients in packaged and processed foods, and because they can be easily concentrated and chemically enhanced, they can greatly affect your system. Having too much salt (sodium) in your diet can increase your blood pressure, and having too much sugar (glucose) in your diet can make a person prone to metabolic diseases like diabetes. Most people consume twenty times the daily amount of sodium their body needs, and since sugar has no nutritive value other than calories, it is also consumed excessively, particularly in sweets. In addition to the obvious health concerns, there is another reason why you should avoid salty foods and sweets, and that is they can create unnatural cravings for more of the same foods. We were born with a wonderful sense of taste that allows us to appreciate all kinds of flavors. When we artificially add salt or sugar to our food we are training our taste buds to be less sensitive to natural flavors of food. Moreover, we then crave this same strong flavor in foods that otherwise have a naturally mild flavor. Cheese, potatoes, pasta sauces, and soups are examples of foods that are regularly over salted for consumption. It terms of sugar, it is nearly ubiquitous in packaged foods and drinks, especially cereals and sodas, in the form of syrups and chemical extracts. Like sodium, sugar occurs naturally in vegetables and fruits, and it is only when we condense it and add it to flavor our food that it becomes a problem. Eating sweets such as candy or ice cream regularly, and/or drinking sodas, even artificially sweetened ones, has been shown to have an adverse affect on the metabolism. This means that after you eat or drink them, your metabolism speeds up briefly to process the sugar, then slows down to a setting that is lower than before. This makes it harder for your body to burn calories at rest and can lead to weight gain.
III. BE MODERATE - YOU CAN EAT TOO MUCH OF ANYTHING. Joseph Pilates said, “Man should bear in mind and ponder over the Greek admonition – Not too much, not too little.” Moderation is a key principle in Pilates and here it means choose sensible portions. Portion size is relative to calorie intake, and calorie intake should be relative to activity level. It is also related to your age. When we are younger, our metabolic rate (the amount of calories we burn at rest) is higher than it is when we are older. That’s just a fact of life. Although a very fit and active older person can have a higher metabolism than a sedentary young person, their metabolism will still have declined proportionately to when they were in their thirties. That is why you see so many ex-athletes get fat soon after they retire. They stopped doing their athletic activity, but can’t stop their athletic appetites.
My recommendation here is to limit your portions to one serving of the main dish (3-6oz of protein group) and one side (3-6oz of vegetables), and they should both fit on one normal size dinner plate. Breakfast and lunch meals should never require more than one dish, whereas dinner may require another for the salad. Unless you have been training for marathons, this will be enough to satisfy your needs. I see people overeating everyday, even with healthy food choices like vegeatables and fruits. A large baked potato or large banana can be a whole meal unto itself. Be aware of the weight of your food as well. The heavier the food the more dense it is, and hence more calories. If your plate of food requires two hands to carry, it is probably too much.
IV. BE CONSCIOUS WHEN YOU ARE EATING AND WHEN YOU ARE NOT. Your body is like a car engine. You need to stay aware of your body’s fuel gauge and make sure there is water in the radiator. One of the easiest ways to sabotage your metabolism is to skip meals. After you wake up in the morning, your metabolism will be on low. Activity starts it revving up, but if you don’t put some fuel in the tank pretty soon (within 2 hours of waking) it will start to slow down again. Basically, you will turn your engine on idle, because your body will be trying to conserve as much of its fuel as it can. Eating your first meal too late in the day will not reset your metabolism to high, since your body was already deprived of fuel and now is going to look to store fuel for the future. This metabolic formula is true for anyone, and is why you need to eat three square meals a day not just for nutritional needs, but also to keep your metabolism fired up. I don’t believe you need to eat more than three meals a day as some have proposed, since I don’t find that practical and is not lifestyle friendly. Healthy snacks are good enough if you have a fast metabolism or have extra energy needs due to your work or exercise regimen. The main thing is to pay attention to how long it has been since you last ate. For example, it is seven pm and you’re still working. You remember that you had lunch at 1pm. You should be conscious that it is time to eat something to keep your metabolism from ratcheting down and possible cause your body to start cannibalizing muscle tissue. Time to stop work, or, if you can’t, it is time to order in.
The other part of this principle is to eat consciously, meaning to be present or in the moment and not to be completely distracted when you eat. Even if you are in a rush or at an event, take a moment to remember that you deserve to eat healthy. Make wise choices always and then slow down. Eat consciously and appreciate that you are doing something healthy for yourself. Unconscious eating is the root of weight problems in our society. Eaten with disregard, even healthy food can be overindulged and cause problems with digestion and nutrition. Always remember to appreciate the value of food and how it is provided for you – from the earth, from farms, from animals, from grocers and markets, and ultimately from your hand to your mouth. How you eat is an expression of yourself and your lifestyle, so do it with grace and enjoy the time you are taking to nurture your body.
V. DON' DEPRIVE - TRAIN YOUR TASTE BUDS. Built into the notion of dieting is the idea that you will be depriving yourself of certain foods. This mindset implies that are natural urges need to be constrained. Traditional dieting thus creates resentment toward controlled eating and invariably is why most diets fail. The solution is that you shouldn't deprive yourself, but train your taste for greater sensitivity. To understand this principle, you need to understand the difference between real hunger and cravings. True hunger pangs are a message from your body telling you that it needs nutrition. Cravings on the other hand are messages from your brain that stem more from emotional, chemical and sensory triggers. For example, sometimes you might crave a salad. That could partly be your body telling you it’s hungry, and partly be your body telling you it specifically wants fiber and vegetables. Your mind may also enjoy the idea of using your teeth and mouth muscles to chomp and chew on crunchy stuff. All cravings are information that shouldn’t be ignored. If it has been awhile since you last had a certain type of food, your body and your mind may crave that for your next meal. We are omnivores, meaning we can eat a variety of foods to sustain us, and principle one tells us this is a good thing. However, cravings are also created from our eating habits. Because salt and sugar are such potent flavor enhancers, food companies rely on them as important ingredients for most of their products. You will even find prepared sauces, breads and crackers that have both salt and sugar ingredients in them. Once again I urge you to avoid processed or prepared foods and seek fresh, natural foods instead. If you must buy prepared foods, read and know the ingredients. When preparing your foods yourself, you can practice fooling your taste buds by substituting lemon juice for salt.
Sweets and salty foods affect the body much like addictive drugs, with repeated cravings that are hard to control. The good news is that cravings that stem from these flavor seducers can be trained like overly anxious pets to calm down. To reduce cravings for sweets first cut down on their consumption. Next, substitute nutritional sweets for those with no nutritional value, i.e. fruits for candy. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat a piece of chocolate or bag of chips. In moderation, these foods are fine. Just watch the frequency and quantity closely so they don’t dominate the calories you consume that day. One or two small pieces of good dark chocolate aren’t going to hurt you if the rest of your lifestyle eating habits are all healthy. Likewise, eating a few chips with salsa at a weekend get together isn’t going to ruin your diet either. However, buying small bags of chips or m’n’ms and munching on them everyday before or after dinner isn’t acceptable and turns a craving into something more like an addiction because your ability to control it is lost.
VI. KEEP HEALTHY SNACKS AT HOME, WORK, AND SCHOOL. Since principle three tells us to be moderate in our portions, you may find yourself hungry again before another regular meal is planned. Principle four tells us to be conscious of not going too long without eating. This means it sometimes makes sense to have a small meal or snack once or twice a day. However, most of us are busy and we can’t always be near ideal food sources when we need to eat. Usually the food sources available are anything but ideal – quick stop shops full of soda, candy, and donuts, or pizza or hot dog stands. Don’t even think about it! The best way to avoid ruining your healthy eating lifestyle is to always have healthy snacks around at home, school, and work. Examples of items you can easily carry with you include most fruit, e.g., apple, orange, banana, kiwi, strawberries, etc. Other foods for snacking include carrots, nuts, string cheese, low fat yogurt, vegetable juice. You could even have a little peanut butter on celery sticks. One of the best things I see busy New Yorkers do is get healthy food, like salmon or chicken salad with no fat dressing, from a café, and eat half for lunch and save the other half for later in the afternoon as a snack. However, be careful. I’ve also seen some women get a little crazy with the idea of eating mini meals throughout the day and purchase extra portions of several dishes to go. Then eating what is in effect another full meal worth of calories later. That is like having four full meals, not five small ones. Remember, order one regular portion of food, and if you want to get a little extra as a snack for later, that’s fine. But don’t order two entrée size portions thinking you can eat the second meal later. That’s gluttony.
VII. COOK OR AT LEAST LEARN HOW. The preparation of food is an art and, like any art, the more informed we are of how it is created, the better we can appreciate it. You don’t need to become a chef to learn the basics, and you will learn a skill that is really basic to all cultures. Start with easy meals like breakfast and lunch. Decide what you want to make, or choose something from a cookbook. Then, line up your ingredients and work carefully. Another great way to learn to cook is to watch your mom or dad making the favorite dishes. If mom and dad don’t cook anymore, than find a relative or friend who does and ask if you can help them the next time they are making a special meal. Cooking is mostly about practice, once you make something right, it is easy and fun to keep going with creating delicious meals. Once you learn the way foods are prepared and cooked, you will appreciate it more and be better at choosing meals at restaurants. Eating well is one of the great pleasures of life, and having quality food that you, or someone you know is a good cook, select it and cook it is what eating well is all about.