Had my very first ever pilates session with Kyra Miller at Spring and Pulley last night in Brooklyn. I have wanted to try Pilates for quite awhile now, particularly as my yoga practice has advanced and I have noticed a distinct lack of strength in my core as compared to other places. I am blessed with a naturally athletic body, one that builds muscle quickly, but the strength of my arms and legs in particular allows me to "cheat" in certain asanas by over-compensating with quads and biceps when I should be working on the articulation of smaller interior muscles. But most of all, my desire to stick a handstand and a forearm stand without the aid of the wall or a spotter has led me on a quest to tighten my core.
My brother (the martial artist/personal trainer extraordinare) gave me this crazy core bubble thing, which is essentially an inflated oval that you can stand/sit/balance/do crunches and push-ups on and which forces you to engage your core to stop the wobbling of the bubble beneath you. It's pretty cool, but I've not been super motivated to use it. Instead I just pull it out of one storage spot, remind myself I ought to be using it, and move it to another.
Pilates, however, I had a feeling might be more up my alley.
Kyra is an actress and went to the same college that I did (she for grad school, I for undergrad) and has recently opened up Spring and Pulley after teaching at other places for the last many years. It's a pretty dreamy set-up. The walls are a cool calming green and faces a quiet backyard in Carroll Gardens so it feels like a real respite from the city. I had the whole place to myself and she walked me through some basic mat exercises, on "the convertible" and then moved me up to the spring whatchamahoos on the fancy spring and pulley machine. ("the reformer"?) Heavenly. Totally heavenly. One, I am a sucker for anything that lets me stick my feet in rubber bands and move myself back and forth on a rolley-board. That is like...there's nothin' better! (These are all highly technical terms, mind you), but the best was the detailed discussions of alignment and musculature that went along with all the exercises. Kyra is supremely kind and encouraging and also very sensitive to the machinations of one's body. The kind of alignment instructions she gave me were so tiny and so precise, that each one pulled me deeper and deeper into the workings of my subtle body as I tried to release here and engage there.
Note: looking at Kyra makes a person want to do pilates. All the time. She has a gorgeous pilates bod, strong and supple and wide-open, so I was completely game for whatever she asked me to do. If I can have abs like hers...
Anyhow, the most thrilling part came at the very beginning and very end of our session when Kyra had me stand in front of a mirror and she very gently encouraged my body into a more natural standing alignment. As she put her hands on my back I felt my ever-jutting front ribs relax down, my tailbown scoop a bit under and my entire torso move forward until it clicked into what I can only assume was it's proper alignment and a shiver of ecstasy (no joke) fluttered across my chest and down my body. It was if all my musculature was calling out, THAT'S IT! RIGHT THERE! I felt as wide-open and relaxed and solid as I ever have standing on my two feet, and also felt exposed and vulnerable and as if I was leaning imperceptibly forward (this, from years of pulling back, sticking out my ribs and curling my pelvis under, I assume). It felt so good all I wanted to do was stand there, so that none of my muscles would ever forget what it felt like.
The discovery of this dichotomy (ribs out, shoulders back, pelvis under) at the beginning of our session helped us both focus on encouraging my body to relax and open during the work so that I could redirect my focus to my deep down abdominal muscles and urge them to pick up some of the slack. Again and again the key to finding my alignment in an exercise came when I remembered to relax and open my back ribs, letting the whole of my rib cage settle more naturally into my body. Each time I did this, breathe flooded my body.
So many correlations began to unfold for me--the feeling I have sometimes of never being able to really let a breath go, as if I am just endlessly inhaling, until I have to let it all out of me in a big shuddering sigh, the feeling I have often of emotions getting "stuck" in my upper chest and ribs, and a nagging compressed feeling in the muscles of my back around my rib cage and shoulders.
Kyra even showed me a couple small adjustments to make in my down-dog in order to continue to encourage a truly long and open spine, and today in yoga class I could not wait to test it all out. Gently, gently throughout class I brought my attention to my spine and the backs of my ribs and asked that area to open and relax, and as I did, my front ribs settled in, my spine extended, and breath flooded through my body. Again and again--in standing poses, in sitting poses, in twists--as my pelvis and ribs and head lined up in a more organic way, I could actually feel the line of energy extend from my sacrum to the crown of my head. Best of all, I felt truly IN my body, not jamming my chest out to show how "open" my heart is, but soft and strong and long in my spine.