Where do I put my head?!



Joseph Pilates bobblehead created by Balanced Body, Inc.


How often do you find that your clients’ heads are not in the expected alignment? And for yourself (remember, your “favorite client” is yourself: Your Favorite Client)? Where should you put your head? How do you develop awareness of where your head ought to be in space?

In this piece, we’ll start to discover it. Let’s go step by step in several articles. I don’t want to overwhelm you. Just one aspect at a time.


Where is the first place that you can really discover where your head is in space and how?

Lying down, supine on the mat or even better yet, on the reformer…with your head on the head piece. Feeling any part of your body on the mat of any apparatus gives you biofeedback. And if we teach consciously, rather than instruct passively, we teach our clients to be aware of that feeling and develop a deeper biofeedback…neuromuscular connections develop…proprioception develops. The brilliance of starting workouts lying supine on a mat/reformer/Cadillac, etc., is not only because of the gravitational pull/balance/support, but because of the feedback from the mat. We start to develop a sense of the parts of our bodies that we don’t see. And what we don’t see, we often don’t “connect to,” consciously become aware of or develop good proprioception of that area.

When we lie upon the reformer for the first exercises in Pilates, I do strongly suggest that it’s a footwork series or footwork exercise. Not just because I’m a classical teacher and that’s what Mr. Pilates did…but because I’m a biomechanist and that is a wise place for a full body warm up. (Things have to make sense and even be backed up by evidence. Please do not follow anyone or anything blindly!) The Footwork exercises give an opportunity to have gravity supporting the body against the mat/carriage while we get good feedback from that mat/carriage. The legs are supported by the foot bar so you don’t have to hold them up against gravity. You work your legs vigorously (appropriately for the client in front of you. Vigorous to an athlete is different from vigorous for a client with heart disease and emphysema. Right? Right.) The vigorous use of the legs takes a lot of energy. There are large muscles in the legs and they require a lot of oxygen to work so well…that means your heart and lungs have to work hard to provide continuous supply of blood flow…and this is why it is a great warm up. Same thing could be said for The Hundred…except the muscles of the arms are smaller than those of the legs, which is why it is not as great a warm up as The Footwork.

OK…so we’re agreed…The Footwork is a great warm up.

Now, your head is on the headpiece in The Footwork. That means you have a little mat behind you for biofeedback! Great! Then we’d better make sure your head is in the best position possible for you to get the right neurological information…

If we recall that the concept of the The Footwork is that we’re jumping or doing many squats, but reducing the acceleration of gravity/the pull of gravity…
Footwork is like a jump or squats?
Yes, either as a new concept for you or a refresher:
Imagine that the reformer was not lying down and horizontal, but was upright and vertical.
Then The Footwork would be like a series of jumps where your feet do not leave the ground…or squats, then.
When you jump or even do your squats, there is a lot of force upon you. You are accelerating towards earth at the rate of  gravity: 9.8 m/s2
That is your mass x gravity = your weight = the force you upon the floor and the force upon you!
That’s pretty hard on your joints as you wish to regulate tempo/speed and make all sorts of glorious Pilates adjustments.
And that is why we are horizontal with springs. The springs act like reduced gravity. They provide an acceleration that becomes part of the force that you work against to push the carriage out and that you must resist as they bring you back in toward the foot bar.


What does this have to do with head placement?

Well, if we are supposedly jumping or squatting when we do The Footwork…where would your head be while you jump or squat?
Right. You’d be looking straight ahead.

Then why when you do The Footwork are you always looking forward and not straight ahead which is directly up to the ceiling?
Yes…you ought to be looking straight up to the ceiling when you do The Footwork.
Every variation. Straight up to the ceiling.
Your practice of looking forward to your teacher or the memory of your teacher is making your tip your head down at quite an angle. And passively. If you did this during a squat or jump, your head would be bobbling around. That would be silly wouldn’t it.
So why are you doing this in The Footwork? Your being stabilized by the headpiece…but what are you doing to stabilize? Where? How? Right now…you’re not doing anything. But after you read this…you will be doing a lot!



The Footwork: Set appropriate height headpiece and look straight up.


First, you must set the headpiece to the appropriate position for your client (including yourself).
Your headpiece is to support your head and your current cervical/neck curve:
Headpiece Down: If you have no forward head posture.
Headpiece on Low Setting: If you have some forward head posture (most people)
Headpiece on High Setting: If you have a lot of forward head posture
Headpiece Down with Pillow: If none of the settings seems appropriate

Now that your headpiece is in the correct position…it’s time to just look straight up to the ceiling.
With both your eyes and your entire face. Just like you do when you are standing.

And at first you say “But this feels awkward.”
Yes…when you are used to something else, anything new feels awkward.
What you are feeling is that you must use your neck and upper back muscles. These muscles are sorely underused is modern human life (in industrialized countries) and often underutilized in Pilates (stop putting your chin to your chest or looking into your abdominals, powerhouse, etc. Instead, when you flex your neck, make it light flexion that is in line with your thoracic spine. Keep your back/neck muscles working efficiently. We can discuss later. and see Fear Not the Forward Flexion of the Spine…Just Seek to Understand…) It’s time to get and keep these muscles strong. What do you think is holding your head up? Forward head posture is no joke. For every inch your head is forward, it’s another 10 lbs of load on each spinal disc in an alignment they were not designed to habitually support. This is poor biomechanics and leads to lousy things i.e. disc protrusions, arthritis, stenosis.
It begins in The Footwork.

As you look directly up to the ceiling with your eyes and your face (just like you do when you’re standing, walking or jumping) you’ll feel that it is the center-back of your head that is  weighted against the head piece. You can feel that light activation of your neck muscles which starts to tell your brain and all neurons involved in your proprioception/where you are in space literally…where you are in space. Where your head is in space relative to the rest of your body. It takes muscular feed back to make it all happen.

Let’s start to train ourselves doing “Correct Actions Correctly” right there in The Footwork.

More to come, but this is a great place to start!
Practice your Footwork in this manner.

****Please reach out with questions, comments, concerns! The comment section is perfect for that, but if you have something more personal to discuss, always just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Let’s work together!
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November 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm 1 comment

Hand Grasp and Wrist Positions: Which Do I Do and When?


Do you wonder how to manage the choice of hand grasp and position of wrists in Pilates exercises? What is the best for safety and strength? The choice of hand grasp and the position/angle of your wrist make a difference for safety as well as arm and shoulder strength. Choosing the correct one for each exercise does not need to be a mystery…
And, as always with my work, some of what we were taught by our favorite people is not always effective…or could be more effective. I apologize in advance…as always!

Where do we even begin?

Well, let’s start with a little bit of information on hand grip and what that is all about. First and foremost…we have hands to hold onto things. We hold with different types of grips/grasps. And we only have arms so that we can move our hands to go and grip/grasp/hold something!

Well, let’s start with a little bit of information on hand grip and what that is all about.  We as humans have opposable thumbs. That means our thumbs flex into our other fingers for a grasp. Those other fingers are strongest in flexion; bending in for grasping. Yes. Humans are the great graspers! The grippers! We hold onto things! It is part of the development of humans as the hunters of the Earth. Humans started throwing rocks, using clubs and then javelins with such skill that we could hunt our prey without getting killed ourselves! That comes from…you guessed it: Grasping! Gripping!
OK, OK…more than just grasping and gripping! It took being able to be upright, developing patience waiting for and tracking prey, great force from legs and back…then being able to have such an incredibly big range of motion of our shoulder joints so that we could actually throw the way that we do. Oh…and amazing eye-hand coordination!
Additionally, the ability to club and throw…helped in fights between fellow humans! Yes! Men with better gripping abilities won the fights…and then actually procreated more! There are theories that our hands developed with amazing thumbs, smaller and straighter fingers than others because of this mastery of clubbing and throwing that led to procreation of better clubbers and throwers!
Women with better gripping abilities were able to protect their children and get into food storages better.
All in all…progress was being made with the grasp!

There are two primary grasps that got us to where we are: the precision grip and the power grip! Ohhhh they are so good!
The precision grip throws a javelin. The power grip pounds the club.
In our world now:
The precision grip holds your pen, your mascara wand, your knife when you cut your food like a lady or gentleman.
The power grip holds your baggage, a hammer, your water bottle.

Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

How does this apply to Pilates?

What are our reasons for gripping and which types of grips are we looking to use in Pilates. Which ones will help us achieve our objectives.

When we consider what we do with our hands in Pilates, we are generally grasping a bar/handle/strap, a leg. We press down and pull against bars and pedals. Sometimes we are also attempting to make sure we do not pull a bar. No matter which, we are generally concerned with our ability to maintain that hand position and usage. We are concerned with alignment for wrist and shoulder health…and development of strength. How we work our hands and wrists will help us achieve our goals.

Handles: Power Grip
Let’s begin with handles. Handles on the reformer and Cadillac Arm Springs. These are bars. They are designed for the power grip. Now, some people have straps. I recommend bars. Even the cushy padded ones. This way one can achieve a healthy and powerful power grip.

Oh, I know! I know! I was taught to keep long fingers. You were, too. But except for the karate chop or if you have a hand injury, there is no reason to use long fingers. Why were we all taught this? The human hand is made to grasp. It doesn’t make sense to keep long fingers.

Part of strengthening the entire arm is…yes…you guessed it: Hand Grasp/Grip!
Hand strength actually comes from the forearm. Developing your forearms is essential to developing healthy arms and shoulder girdle.

Here…in this photo (below) you can see how the muscles of the fingers and entire hand originate in the forearm. Their tendons pass over the wrist and into the hand. Do you see that. There’s no room in the hand for powerful muscles. Oh, sure, there are little ones that are vital to precision. But our power of our hands comes from our forearms.

It’s amazing, really!

One of the actions that gets lost as we age is the grasp. The grip. In fact, it is the earliest loss of action as it is an early loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) and a predictor of aging and increased disabilities. (Oh, my!) I strongly suggest we work our hand grip over our lives to be able to carry things and keep our strength!

That means during The Hundred, Coordination, The Rowing, Seated Twist, Pull Straps, Backstroke, Teaser, Breaststroke, Horseback, Reverse Horseback,  etc. etc… Full power grip! Be strong!

When we grasp a handle, keeping a strong fist and a neutral alignment of the wrist is essential. Put your thumbs around the bar and use your opposable thumbs. Grasp the bar with a power grip. Keep the middle of your hand in line with the middle of your wrist. This will give you the greatest strength while conserving energy and developing your muscularity well.

Do you see in this well-aligned photo (below) that my hand-wrist-forearm alignment is strong and forward while the handle itself is on an angle. That’s how it goes! That angle is something we will wish for in longer bars and will have to alter our grasp for in other actions (read on…)









And then you can see that in profile (below), the hand is neutral to the forearm. There is no extension or flexion at the wrist.


What do we need to watch out for? Wrist deviations in any plane:
















And not just with the handles, but with all hand placement. We’re seeking neutral wrists in all three planes: coronal/frontal, sagittal and transverse. Unless, of course, it’s a safety issue we must manage.

Foot Bar
So…that means, on the foot bar of the reformer we seek a neutral wrist. Take Long Stretch Series, for instance. Work to keep your wrists straight in all three planes. Well…that’s rather tricky when your weight is on the foot bar. You’ll be able to align the middle of your hand with the middle of your forearm easily if you release your Power Grip and bring your thumbs over to the side of your fingers.
You can see in the photo below that the power grip really deviates the wrist:

And…release your grasp completely because grasping always comes with the intention of pulling and grabbing. However…you do not want to pull or grab the foot bar. Nope. You want to press against and down up it while hugging it with both hands, but not pull on it. Because what brings the carriage in? (Think about it… Think… No…not your abdominals. Not your power house. Nope. Think… Right! THE SPRINGS! And what do you do with springs? RESIST them! So…you wouldn’t ever grab and pull on the foot bar because then you are pulling the carriage in. But that is the job of the springs. You must push springs out (the easy part) and then resist their pull in (the hard part). So…we skip the power grip and go to thumbs with fingers with as much neutral alignment as possible.

Also, on a classical reformer, the foot bar does not lock. So it is most important that you only push a foot bar and never pull on one because the foot bar will fall down…and so will you!

Check out these photos of good foot bar alignment for hands in Long Stretch Series or Knee Stretches or any exercise that requires hands on the foot bar:




So we’re looking for:
As close to neutral wrists in all 3-plans as possible
Grasp handles
Push but do not grasp or pull foot bars

Leather Straps and/or Ropes
When doing Pull Straps or any other exercise that requires you to hold onto the leather straps or ropes, also make a full power grip with neutral wrists in all three planes. I know many of us were taught that it’s more advanced to do Pull Straps holding onto the strap with the thumb and first finger…but that’s really weak. The exercises are about arm, shoulder girdle to torso integration and strength. That requires a grasp all the way to your smallest (pinky) finger! If you wanted to be fancy…you hold on with your two smallest (pinky and ring) fingers while still doing the rest of your arm and shoulder girdle stunningly. Let’s not worry about being fancy. Let’s worry about getting the job done well and effectively! Make a full fist and pull!

But ropes are difficult in this manner. So what I do is fold the straps up so that I have something to really grasp onto!

Push Through Bar
Now, what about the Push Through Bar?
In exercises like Teaser Push Through, The Push Through, The Reverse Push Through and the Kneeling Flexion and Extension exercise (some call it Cat/Cow). We find ourselves with a safety issue where neutral wrists are not nearly as important as the safety of the power grip. In these exercises, please, oh, please use a full power grip. Use your opposable thumbs! In The Teaser Push through, for both safety and appropriately efficient manipulation of the bar, make full fists around the bar. Let the bar roll in your hand. I know of a teacher in Los Angeles that while teaching Teaser Push Through and leaning over her client to give hands-on cues, as we do, her client lost hold of the bar, it smashed into her jaw and broke it. She got a broken jaw because her client didn’t have the appropriate grip and she as a teacher didn’t have her hand on the center of the bar to watch out for that! And…I know of a Pilates Elder who seemed rather proud of herself sharing the story (at a workshop of mine) of how this happened to her 3 times…and she didn’t get hurt. (Personally, I find that a proper abomination.)

These photo (below) is how we grasp the Push Through Bar for those exercises (pardon the weird shot of me!):

Now, what about Mermaid with the Push Through Bar? It’s very much like using a foot bar. There is no safety issue with needing the power grip and we can prioritize neutral wrists once again. Do like we do on the foot bar: thumbs with fingers, long fingers so you don’t consider pulling on the bar. You push it with your body weight and you resist on the way up. See this photo (below)

Roll Back Bar
With the roll back bar we have similar situations to the Push Through Bar. Often we have to choose between power grip for safety (which will cause radial wrist deviation) and releasing the grip in one manner or another to retrieve the neutral position for better strengthening. I suggest that Beginners or anyone with a perception or neurological disorder use the power grip…those opposable thumbs and really wrap around the bar. It’s safe, though there is clear radial wrist deviation.
HOWEVER…you can modify that power grip and direct the pressure toward the small finger side of the hand releasing a bit of the thumb grip. (See photo below)



Or place the thumb beside the fingers while maintaining a neutral wrists. Or, of course, the full alteration with thumbs with fingers and long fingers. I was always taught that this is the ideal way of working with the bar…but I don’t agree any longer. With the knowledge of how important the grasp of the hand is to the development of the hand, arm and shoulder girdle…I resist this position. (See photo below)
What about during pull ups? This would be a good time for the modified power grip: thumbs with fingers while making your full grasp. (See photo below) You can get a solid grip while keeping relatively neutral so that you can get the full strength of the upper limb.

Vertical Poles
Leg Springs is likely the only other set of exercises (next to Long Stretch Series and Advanced Tendon Stretch) that I actually encourage the hands have thumbs with fingers and you press on the heel of your hand. Why? Because you want to push those vertical poles rather than pull on them. If your leg springs are appropriately strong, you need to press against the poles so that you don’t slide back toward the back edge of the Cadillac/Tower tower…or slide off all together. You push on those vertical poles with your hands to “brace” yourself…just like your shoulders end up pressing into the shoulder blocks of the reformer during leg springs. Those shoulder blocks are there so that you don’t slide off the back edge of the carriage! (The original apparatus that the design of the  reformer was taken from had no shoulder blocks.)

The Challenge of Change
I understand it’s difficult to change habits. Especially when someone important told us to do it a certain way. But I’ve got to say…why do you think you would ever want to work with those long fingers all of the time? What’s the purpose? I used to do it and think it was fun…until I learned about how you strengthen an arm and shoulder and body in general. Why, oh, why would we ever neglect the hand? The entire purpose of having an arm is to move your hand where you want it to go…to grasp something! So…let’s get grasping!

I call the long fingers: wearing your Pilates mittens. It’s time we take our mittens off…unless we really need them (on the foot bar or the vertical poles for leg springs).

Enjoy your power grip!

****Please reach out with questions, comments, concerns! The comment section is perfect for that, but if you have something more personal to discuss, always just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Let’s work together!
Weekly live-stream and recorded web classes! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/classes
Recorded webinars! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/recordedwebinars
Workshops in person! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/workshops
In-person or Skype sessions! www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/sessions













Young RW. Evolution of the human hand: The role of throwing and clubbing.
J. Anat (2003) 202, pp165–174

Lewis WG, Narayan CV. Design and sizing of ergonomic handles for hand tools. Applied Ergonomics 1993, 24 (5), 351-356

Abe T, Thiebaud RS, Loenneke JP, Ogawa M, Mitsukawa N. Association between forearm muscle thickness and age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass, handgrip and knee extension strength and walking performance in old men and women: a pilot study. Ultrasound in medicine & biology. 2014;40(9):2069-2075.

June 25, 2018 at 6:25 pm 4 comments

The Elephant


Thank you, Elephants for Africa for this photo. I did not receive permission for the use of it and do not have a photo credit. It’s a beautiful photo and I hope they don’t mind my using it here. http://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/

I used to wonder what The Elephant on the reformer was all about. Did you? Do you still? I couldn’t understand how I could excel in so many exercises but still be plagued with The Elephant. From my early on and all through my apprenticeship it felt like my teacher’s greatest dilemma: how will we get Shari to do the Elephant. She just has it all wrong.

Totally defeated, I would teach The Elephant to my clients…and just find it utterly mysterious. WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE ABOUT?! Why can I do super advanced work and not “get” The Elephant and super beginner exercise.

Well, now, I am very happy to announce that I can tell you why: because apparently my teachers didn’t know what it was all about either.

So…what is The Elephant about?
Sure it’s to strengthen your abdominals…everything in Pilates is.
Or if you want to call it your “powerhouse,” it strengthens that, too.
I remember being told it stretches your back body and strengthens your front body.
Well…sort of, but not really.
I mean…it encourages an elasticity in your back body…and…also strengthens it.
Oh, was told that it’s about opening your lower back, I was told.
Nope. It’s so not.

I was encouraged to make a shape that looked like an elephant’s back.
Some sort of relationship to why we call this “The Elephant.”

I was told the story that Joseph Pilates created this exercise for women who had “elephant” skin at their outer thighs.
So, maybe this was about working the thighs?
Something resonates here…

What is it really?
A hip joint mobility exercise and a shoulder joint stability exercise.
That’s it, folks.

Is it a torso strengthener, too? Of course. It’s a “full-body exercise.” (a phrase that makes me laugh because every exercise is a “full-body exercise.” Some have more benefit for the entire body than others and some trainers/teachers cue in ways that are more beneficial than others, but even a leg press at the gym is a full body exercise. Every muscle in your body works all of the time and every muscle makes whatever you’re doing happen.) But the primary focus is hip joint mobility and shoulder joint stability which creates all sorts of full-body strength.

Now…the hip joint mobility portion is the most interesting and this is where we get into all sorts of differences in how to do this exercise: body weight forward over the spring bar or body weight back. Spine rounded, natural curves, etc.

If this is about hip joint mobility then it would be wise to seek a position where the person will have the greatest range of hip joint motion available. And that is with the torso rocked back toward the heels. Unless a person is really “connected” and flexible, that also means that the pelvis will be just barely in front of the ankle joint (so as not to allow the mobility and not get stuck in the weight of the pelvis over the legs over the ankle and foot not allowing the carriage to move. Again…more advanced and flexible people can do it with pelvis directly over the ankle. However…let’s stay away from pelvis behind ankles.)

When I say “mobility” that requires strength. That does not mean stretch or floppiness. The more range of  motion of the femur in the acetabulum, the greater strength we can develop. Greater strength leads to greater mobility. Yes…that’s an interesting concept and one I will discuss further in a future post. Stiffness requires strength for elasticity.

And what about the shape of the spine? I strongly suggest learning this with a flexed spine (with a posterior tilt of the pelvis relative to the lumbar spine) so that the lower abdominal and gluteus maximus connections are easiest to develop, as they are in flexion. Then over time when your client is able to stabilize the shape of spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle (relative to the slight movement that must happen as the legs press out and then back in) your client can advance to natural curves of the spine. It is a greater challenge to make a lower abdominal connection in natural curves than in flexion with posterior tilt…so this is an understandable progression.

Now…what about curve of the spine in flexion? We’re looking for light flexion. That means long, supported, strongly muscular lifted flexion. “Lift tall” or “lifted” in my world and The Vertical Workshop world is always more space between each of your backbones no matter what shape you call your spine into. Remember that’s really your disc space…so…all around your vertebral bodies and in between: front, back, sides, etc. They are little discs (See an earlier piece: Abdominals. Spine…) that you want to develop the proper tension of soft tissue (tensegrity) to keep them apart…always…as a priority! (Again…see Abdominals. Spine…)


Now…was I taught like this? Absolutely not! Heck no way!
I was taught like many of you were taught: my body weight forward, a really rounded spine (which is a force of the thoracic spine and hinging at C7-T1) and shoulders slid off the back to have “shoulder blades flat on the back.”

When the body is so far forward, hip joint action is minimal. It’s not possible to get the most out of the hip join flexion and extension because you’re already set up in a sort midway or more through your range of motion. That’s a problem.

When the spine is so rounded at the thoracic spine and collapsed at C7-T1, there is no use of the spinal extensors balancing the pull of abdominals and gravity…and that causes passive stretching of soft tissues, most likely the ligaments. That’s a problem.

When shoulder blades are slid off of the back to be flat on the back, the upper back muscles are weakened and shoulder girdle muscles are at a disadvantage as the primary shoulder joint muscles originate on the scapulae and require the scapulae to be on your back (See a really, really old post that I’d like to update, but that’s how I feel about all of my posts: Shoulder Girdle: A Delicate Balance) When your arms are up between your eyes and ears, you’re at near, but not quite at , your end-range of supportive motion of your shoulder joint. This is a great place for strength of shoulder girdle. ALSO…when your arms are in this position, your latissimus dorsi (LD) is in its longest position. The tension within the muscle puts tension on the thoracolumbar fascia (TFL) which translates to tension to the contra-lateral (opposite) gluteus maximus (GM – glutes). This makes your GM work really well! So…we want to be in a position for maximal effect on the GM for the posterior tilt of the pelvis and hip extension because that’s a primary part of what The Elephant is about. And…never have to squeeze your buttocks to do it! (Read Buttocks – Seemingly Every Fitness Person’s Favorite Subject… ) With that…this position of pelvis just in front of the hips provides all of this.

Lean bodyweight back until pelvis is just in front of ankles.
Flex spine, be in posterior tilt AND maintain strength and support in spine.
Keep shoulder blades on the back which is easy when arms are up between eyes and ears.

And what is the Go?
Press the carriage out with your legs.
Resist the springs in.

What? No “pull the carriage in?”
That’s right, my Pilates friends. That’s right.
What brings the carriage in?
Nope. Not your abdominals.
Nope…not your power house.
Oops…it’s not your legs.
The springs. The springs bring the carriage in on all exercises.
Your job is to resist the springs.
The eccentric contraction of the same muscles that pressed the carriage out is resisting the springs in! Ooooooh that’s so good! (I’ll share more about eccentric contractions and their value in an upcoming piece.)

How far do you press the carriage out?
Only as far as you can keep the pressure at the very back edge of the bottom of your heel so that you work your anterior tibialis! Poor thing is a wreck from flip-flops, hard-soled shoes or clogs, backless shoes. Poor anterior tibilis that is essential to walking, simply not falling while standing and many other things in movement life.

What’s the rhythm? Good question! Ooooh rhythm questions are great (see The Music of Pilates workshop that you can download right this moment at a fab discount: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/the-music-of-pilates/)
Press the carriage out in 1 count.
Resist the springs in for 3 counts.
1  3 2 1

Here’s a little goofy video of me saying things about The Elephant:


Questions? Concerns? Thoughts?
Drop me one in the comments!

Thank you for joining me here! I appreciate your interest in learning and playing!

Want more?
Workshops: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/workshops/
Classes: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/classes/
Sessions: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/sessions/
Photos: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theverticalworkshop/
Tips: Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShariBerkowitz

I’m all over the place and would love to see you in person or virtually!

March 15, 2018 at 1:53 pm 6 comments

I’m coming back to the blog…


Hello! I’ve been on a long journey of education and growth and have stepped away from The Pilates Teacher Blog for the most part over the past few years. I’ve just earned my Master’s in Ergonomics and Biomechanics fulfilling a promise I made to myself when I was 17. That no matter how long it took, I would return full-force to science.

Before I post my first proper piece back here, I want to invite you to check out what I’ve been posting over the past month on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShariBerkowitz
I have been and will continue to post daily tips on Twitter. Yes…every day. Maybe not every weekend…but nearly.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theverticalworkshop/
Weekly photos with a bit of info, too. However…since March has turned into a mat-a-palooza…I have been joining in on March Madness and have posted one or two photos on both Instagram and Twitter with different tips in each location every single day.

I invite you to check them out…
Dig into the tips…
Ask questions…
Share with friends…


I have much to share with you…even more than ever before! Having earned my master’s was a really life-changing experience for me. Broadened my perspective and opened many doors for me. My research skills are more refined than ever and my abilities to answer your questions and bring you toward new ways of thought and understanding are at the ready!

Check out Twitter and Instagram and then I’ll have a solid piece up here rather soon!


Workshops: www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com/workshops

2018 will be full of more and more live-streaming webinars and live-streaming classes. I have been doing Live-streaming work for years now and find it quite successful for the participants. Curious? Just email me and I will tell you about it. info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com or go to the Contact section and send me an email there!

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates
March 18 Webinar (with recording)
April 15 New York City, NY
April 27-29 Colorado Springs, CO
May 11-13 Seville, SPAIN
19-20 Atlanta, GA
June 22-24 Rio de Janeiro, BRASIL
16 Paris, FRANCE
July 20-22 New Orleans, LA
Aug 10-12 Boston, MA
Sept 21-23 Istanbul, TURKEY
Oct 12-14 Chicago, IL
Nov 2-4 Austin, TX
Dec 7-9 Venice, ITALY

(more soon to be posted with work online, recorded and in person)

March 13, 2018 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Independence by toeing the line…

What does Independence mean to you?
Yes…all that you just thought is exactly what it is. It is so many things to so many people.

And in Pilates…what is Independence?

It’s Independence Day here in America and I always consider what this means in relation to Pilates. As I’ve written before, Mr. Pilates wanted to encourage independence in the studio. That his students wouldn’t rely on the teachers for everything, but for only what they need. That piece was many years ago and can be read here: Independence: It’s Fundamental to Pilates!

Today, I want to consider the remarkable internal feeling our clients develop when they discover that they are getting stronger and more able…and how we really can help them get there.

You know that feeling. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve surprised yourself that you could do something you thought you couldn’t? And do you know the feeling of confidence that you can do anything that you call your body into? The first is more common. The second is less common. Let’s discuss…

The First: The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve surprised yourself that you could do something you thought you couldn’t?

This is something that we can really work to help our clients achieve. It’s tempting to keep our clients in a safe zone of easily accomplishable exercises. Ones they feel they “get” and need very little struggle to achieve. Keeping things safe won’t help our clients achieve their physical goals. Not really. Most physical goals are achieved by going just beyond normal effort. It’s the struggle that is of value. But how much struggle is enough? How much is too much?

I’d love to say that there is a clear sign, a meter you can attach to your client or to yourself to answer these questions. Of course, there is not. However, if we train our clients to pay attention to their internal actions and communicate with us…then we make it possible to continually work towards the appropriate struggle.

The appropriate struggle is when your client can almost accomplish the task/action without being in danger of getting hurt and can sense that it will be possible in the near future.

Wow! That’s awkward! But that’s it!
1. Safety first: NO DANGER! No danger of injury relative to your client’s imbalances and no danger of injury of falling off an apparatus or pushing too hard. (You think I jest…but I’ve seen teachers push people so hard they fall off apparatus or apparatus has fallen on them. It’s not pretty. It should never happen.)
2. Almost accomplish the action: This means it’s not perfect. It should appear to be a bit of a struggle. Your client has to fight for the exercise! And that there is a positive development from the first repetition to the last repetition. However…positive development does not actually mean nailing it! (See another really old article I wrote: Expectations: It’s About Growth – Not Perfection)
3. Sense it will be possible: That’s the kicker! An internal sense of possibility! That’s where drive and desire come in! Your client will almost be able to taste possibility! She’ll want to do another repetition when all repetitions are completed…and you don’t let her. Because the truth is…it won’t happen in this session in that one more repetition. It will happen in the next session…not this one! If you give her that one more repetition she will  feel failure. So…you say “memorize that feeling! Let’s play with it again next session! And…next exercise is:____________!”

Toe the line of possibility and accomplishment! Get your client to the edge of her abilities of the day to excitement about what is possible for tomorrow! It’s just beyond comfort into a bit of a push. An appropriate push.

That’s key: ” An appropriate push.”

I am not a supporter of giving your clients exercises that they simply aren’t strong enough to really dig into. Some teachers choose really hard exercises so that their clients feel weak and then want to be strong enough to do it. No. Embarrassment is not a good teacher. Toeing the line: Good! Pushing beyond excitement and into embarrassment or deep competition: Not Good!

We toe the line to be slightly uncomfortable in the sense of wanting to get something that is just barely out of reach. Almost accomplishable…but not quite…you can see it and smell it and taste it… From there great strength and excitement develops! An inner sense of independence develops because you’ve gone just outside of your comfort zone and then over time you’ve achieved!

Make sense?

The other concept I expressed was the amazing independence of being able to do anything that you physically (or mentally) ask yourself to do. Well, that is something that not everyone will be able to achieve for many reasons. Physical, emotional and/or chemical barriers to being able to accomplish all. Some of our clients are acutely aware that they are limited and feel their Independence is therefore limited as well. They cannot do all that they wish to do. It’s more normal than not. Feeling limitations. However, I do believe that what we do in Pilates especially when we toe the line and make for accomplishment over time and all of the time helps our clients find more and more that they are able to do rather than focus on what they are not able to do.

Independence…are we working with our clients and ourselves (our favorite client…oh there is a piece I wrote on that right there: Your Favorite Client) in a way that we seek to accomplish what is just out of reach all of the time? Can we help our clients focus on what they can do more than what they cannot do. And not by saying…but by letting them experience it!

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please write in the comment section! I’m glad to have a discussion!

Thank you for having taken he time to read this article and I hope it encourages you to move forward in your teaching and practice in this stunning way!

If you have any questions at all or want to share your thoughts in the comment section, please do!

****Live-Streaming and Recorded Sessions: Twice a week I hold live-streaming group sessions with teachers that are recorded. People join in from all over the world both in the live-stream and viewing the recordings. In the live-stream, I see everyone and cue you as though we are in the studio together…individually. If you would like to learn more about these remarkable sessions, go to: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/classes/

****Workshops: Please view the workshop list in the side column/bar. I hope to see you soon! Or go to: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/workshops/

****Skype Sessions: Let’s work together no matter where we both are! I teach Skype sessions all over the world each week! Email me to set up a session! info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
More information is here: https://www.theverticalworkshop.com/#/sessions/

****Consultation: Are there clients you’d like to discuss? Issues in the Pilates studio of any sort: Pilates exercises, biomechanics, teacher dynamics, teaching tools…anything else? We simply set up a Skype appointment and work together! Again, email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com


July 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm 4 comments

What will it be this year?



What will it be for you this year?
The year it was Capoeira was perhaps the most life-enhancing for me.

Each year, I seek something that I can be a beginner in. Something I can do 3 times a week as a newbie, a tyro. Something where I must experience what it is like to know nothing, learn, study, work hard and accomplish! Something where I can learn from an expert in a field that I know nothing about.

I’m not a fan of resolutions. They are not only nearly always broken which then makes the failed resolver feel guilty, but they are usually guilt-inspired, too. Either you’re going to work out more or eat less of this or eat more of that or do something that is so completely out of your norm that you despise it. You’re going to go out less, drink less, go out more, drink more?! You’re not doing them. You’re not. You don’t want to you. Guilt is not a good educator. Guilt does not inspire. Guilt is not an enhancer for life. Resolutions fail. If you’re the one person reading this who says “My resolutions don’t fail” then I applaud you! Go for it! But you are one of not-so-many.

What if you did something that you want to do? Not a punishment, but something you find interesting and fun! And as teachers, here on The Pilates Teacher Blog, what if you were a beginner at something that you are interested in that might make you an even better teacher? What if you put yourself in your beginner clients’ shoes? Your clients come to you after the new year looking to fulfill their resolutions or start mid-year hoping to accomplish something important to them. Achieve goals. They come as sheer novices seeking guidance from you…the teacher. What if you did the same?

Sure, we can all remember being a beginner. I remember being a beginner at Pilates. I remember nearly everything about it! Can you recall what it was like being a beginner in Pilates? Do you remember what it was like doing each exercise for the first time? (Strange!) What it was like walking into a Pilates studio for the first time? (Weird! Every apparatus looks horrifying!) Having a teacher stand over you and touch your abdomen? (Unless you’re a dancer, this is bizarre!) Taking some time to remember what it was like to be a beginner in Pilates yourself is an important task. Remembering what it is like to be a beginner and less accomplished makes you extra compassionate to your clients.

Along with the vital quality of being compassionate…becoming a beginner, again, makes you a better teacher! You will learn from your new teacher some skills that you don’t already have. Putting yourself in an unusual circumstance enhances your ability to recognize good (and not so good) teaching skills. I mentioned Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) at the start of this article. When I started training in Capoeira, I didn’t realize how much I would learn about being a teacher. I thought I was just going to get an excellent workout! Two of my teachers were particularly special: Eletrico and Mestre Boneco (these are Capoeira knicknames). Eletrico was one  the most clear and encouraging teachers I had ever had in anything (aside from Germaine Salsberg in tap, but  I haven’t been a beginner in tap since I was 3 years old). He was remarkably sure of the technique of each move, when and how to use them in the playing of Capoeira. If I had a question, he always answered it clearly in a way that made me very sure that I really understood. He cared that I understood. Then there was Mestre Boneco. “Mestre” is Master in Brazilian Portuguese. And he is the master indeed. He was overjoyed with Beginners! He’d walk into his classes and exclaim “Beginners!!!” He recognized that Beginners are everything to a real teacher! Teaching beginners well, encouraging their growth is what brings life what it is that we teach! Mestre Boneco spoke in a very powerful voice. Loud, sure, but it wasn’t just volume that commanded the room. His voice bellowed in a way that made each student know that they were individually seen and cared for. His voice was strong and supportive. My female or male teachers in dance and Pilates never used a voice like this. The most famous directors I worked with never had this. My greatest academic teachers did not embody this. I learned that if I wanted to teach with the strength that I had inside of me, that I must lower the tone of my voice, use more muscular and deep notes. I’ve always been known for my musical voice in my teaching, but hearing Mestre Boneco command the room as he did with his resonant voice and joy for beginners…it called me to attention and drew me to be excited to learn. His voice made me feel he was ever-present, supportive and happy to be there for us! We were a bunch of nervous beginners…we needed support! I certainly did!

Learning to ballroom dance was another great experience. Though I had danced all different styles professionally since I was a child, I had never had formal ballroom dance. Being choreographed in a tango, rhumba, waltz or swing is not the same as taking lessons to go beyond choreography. At first, I took group lessons, but soon realized that if I was going to get what I needed, then I would have to commit myself to one-on-one lessons. Somehow I carved out the time. My teacher, Danny, was the guy you’d see on the dance floor and wish you could be his partner. Everyone wants to dance with Danny. So…why not take private lessons? Again, though an accomplished dancer, I was such a true beginner in ballroom! I was happily stunned to be a novice! I love when I know nothing and then give myself the opportunity to learn. I loved that he really had to teach me how to follow, what are acceptable steps and what are not and so much more. I loved that as a woman being “the follow” and he “the lead” I had to go backwards into every step and not know which step/move he was going to lead me into. I had NO IDEA what was going on and that was a great thing! Give yourself up to your teacher and trust! As I took each session, I learned more and more. I went from stepping on my teacher’s toes and feeling lost to dancing backward (in heels) with confidence. I learned the nuances of being led, which steps were appropriate, how to move around a crowd of other dancers without bumping into others…and that made me feel accomplished! Going from newbie to accomplished student made me feel happy!

Struggling and then succeeding brings on happiness! We see this with our clients and we deserve to feel it, too!

Now, as a teacher of movement, you might think that engaging in a movement practice is the only way to embark on this, but it’s not. What about learning a new language? Learn to play an instrument! Learn to play golf! Learn to write screenplays! Learn anatomy and physiology! Learn something new! Give yourself a gift rather than a resolution! Put yourself in beginner shoes and feel the great accomplishment of going from novice to, well, not-novice!

Each year, I embark on learning something new. I make myself a beginner every single year. Sometimes more than once a year. You might say “who has the time for this?” You do. We all do. The time spent on Facebook or some other social media…if you tallied that all together you know that would be enough time to do something considerably more productive that would bring you far more joy and sense of accomplishment than a resolution that you’re going to drop. That wasn’t meant as guilt, but rather to show you that you do have the time. We all do. We all have the same 24 hours in each day. What we do with those 24 hours is a set of choices we each make that either brings us to feelings of true joy or not. Now, in truth, there are times in our lives where it is impossible to do something so satisfying as learning something new and being able to make time for it. Sometimes there is literally no way to build in the time for 3 times a week of study or even one. However…most of the time there is. Sometimes it might just be taking on a new sort of puzzle: crosswords, sudoku… Maybe it’s cooking a new recipe even once a week.

Do something new! Something that you are a beginner at. Be incredibly terrible at it and then learn! Accomplish! Enough with resolutions where you will fail yourself and live in the cycle of guilt. Instead…learn something new. Commit yourself to it for 6 months. Be a beginner who develops and feels the joy of accomplishment. Let that seep into your teaching experience. See how your compassion for your students burgeons and your skills as a teacher grow exponentially!


****Thank you for having taken he time to read this article and I hope it encourages you to move forward in your teaching and practice in this stunning way!

If you have any questions at all or want to share your thoughts in the comment section, please do!

****Live-Streaming and Recorded Sessions: Twice a week I hold live-streaming group sessions with teachers that are recorded. People join in from all over the world both in the live-stream and viewing the recordings. In the live-stream, I see everyone and cue you as though we are in the studio together…individually. If you would like to learn more about these remarkable sessions, email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Workshops: Please view the workshop list in the side column/bar. I hope to see you soon!

****Skype Sessions: Let’s work together no matter where we both are! I teach Skype sessions all over the world each week! Email me to set up a session! info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

****Consultation: Are there clients you’d like to discuss? Issues in the Pilates studio of any sort: Pilates exercises, biomechanics, teacher dynamics, teaching tools…anything else? We simply set up a Skype appointment and work together! Again, email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com


January 4, 2017 at 6:57 pm 10 comments

My Hero…

and then
when all of your heroes are gone
what then?
will you be your own
hero at long last?
will you be so brave
to realize
have been?
– Shari B.


December 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

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(more soon to be posted with work online, recorded and in person)

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates

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Would you like to do a workout, question/answer or mini-workshop session with Shari? Each week, Shari works with teachers all over the world via Skype. Email Shari at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com


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