Monthly Archives: November 2010

Feeling Good

I consider myself moderately attractive. Some parts are better than others. I’ve been known to get a compliment or two on my backside,  in a lesser Kim Kardashian way, much to my dismay, because it is one of my least favorite attributes. I much prefer my eyebrows, which rarely get the credit they deserve.

The Womanly Ideal in 1910s according to Encyclopedia of Physical Culture

There is no perfect ideal that crosses all cultural boundaries and personal opinions, not even Angelina Jolie. In the African countryside of Mauritania, Jolie would be considered ugly. Large women are the ideal that the Mauritanian society finds appealing. Skinny is considered poor and weak. Young girls are often forced-fed to grow fat, mirroring Western culture’s less direct food deprivation through eating disorders and quick weight loss diets. Big or small, it’s all in the name of beauty.

Mauritania Woman

We are shaped, pun intended, not only by what we eat and do, but by our thoughts and actions. I’d bet you can think of at least one well-toned person who is unattractive based on their attitudes or deeds.

Comparing ourselves to the world around us can make us feel pretty low. I like to think we are works in progress, never quite finished, each with unique variations. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The scale and the mirror are shallow friends when it comes to support. In most cases, your body and mind themselves are your best friends. Who gets up with you every morning to start the day?

If you are about to undertake an ambitious health overhaul or wanting to improve yourself, keep in mind…it’s relative. Go slow. How you feel is most important. Sure, it’s a canned self-help answer, but it was canned well. If you feel good, keep going. If not, stop. Rethink the approach.

Celebrating the perfect, imperfect you is liberating, whatever your size, attributes, best and worst features. There’s no one else quite like you…that’s a pretty cool thought. Take care of what you have and stay moderately healthy.

Ending this post with the song of the same name. A little inspiration for your day from Nina Simone. Ms. Simone herself a strong woman, perfect in her imperfections.

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Scooping the abdominals in sit ups

Last week we delved into what it means to  “scoop” the abdominals in Pilates. If you haven’t, I recommend starting with the previous post here.

Continuing the abdominal scoop adventure, today’s saga crosses paths with the #1 exercise culprit which, when done incorrectly, can lead to back pain and neck and shoulder tension…it’s the sit-up.

Don't do this

Try one, looking for these foreboding signs: Does your back tense? Do your legs pop up? Do your neck and shoulders round forward into your ears? Do you hold your breath? These are all signs your core is skipping out on the work. You may feel some ab muscles working, but, as mentioned in the last post, there are many muscles that make up the trunk.

Up. Up and away…

Try these deconstructed versions of sit ups for a few weeks. You may notice your core pulling in better, supporting your back and lengthening your posture.  The key is to scoop the abs and stretch and breathe while moving. Phew, that’s a tall order! Small and slow movements win this race, no matter your athletic ability.

The chest curl

The Chest Curl

How high can you curl your chest up while keeping the low back and belly down?

Lie on the back. Stretch and curl your chest up off the floor, keeping the low back on the ground and the abs scooped in. Push the back of your thighs into the floor.  Hold this lift for two breaths and then stretch back down.  Do not let the belly push out. (If the belly pushes out, you’ve gone to far and chances are your legs have popped up a bit and the shoulders are tensing forward.)

Keep it small! Focus on stretching the back and neck muscles alone the spine. If your neck is tensing, support your head with your hands. Try 10 of these.

The modified roll down

The Modified Roll Down

Sit up as tall as possible, As though your spine is lifting up by a string from the top of the head. (This alone should be work). If your back is strong the legs are straight out in front and together. If your back is tight and you feel leg strain, bend your knees and squeeze them together. Holding a tennis ball or pillow between the knees helps.

More challenging Roll down

From this lift, begin rolling back by curling the tailbone towards the back of the knees. Roll back one bone at a time to stretch the spine. Only go back as far as you can keeping the feet firmly planted on the floor, the legs from moving, and the shoulders relaxed. Hold this position and take two breaths. Curl back up into the upright position.  Again, it is important to keep belly scooped in towards the spine. If the belly is pushing out it is an indicator your spinal posture is crunched and not staying long and lifted. Try 10 of theses.

In either of the above moves, if you feel pain or pinching, STOP. It might be time for professional help.

Remember, the best way to get the most work from the trunk muscles is twofold: (1)  simultaneously lengthen while in motion. (2) Coordinate your breath with any movement.  The combination of stretch and strength with diaphram work produces a flowing, smooth, safer movement.

I didn’t say it was going to be easy…

Go with your gut

No Matter how smart and evolved as a society we think we are, we will always look back and recognize the mistakes of the past.

Media seems omnipresent, and advertising is lodged into every nook and cranny of the day, softly and incessantly suggesting how we might want to feel, act, and be. There are few moments in the day to stop and listen to our own thoughts. It’s easy to disconnect from our own inherent knowledge, which is lifetimes more intelligent than the advertising or media of the day.

Being election day, it seems an appropriate time to remind ourselves we each have a unique intellect, different from everyone else. Take time to be still. Turn off CNN. Step away from the computer. Take a walk through the autumn air and discover where your mind takes you. Go with your gut.