Posts tagged ‘Stott’

Fear Not the Foward Flexion of the Spine…Just Seek to Understand…

Spine Stretch Forward - Forward flexion of the spine...evenly with length.  Photo Credit: Andrea Bonalberti and IdeaPilates

Spine Stretch Forward – Forward flexion of the spine…evenly with length.
Photo Credit: Andrea Bonalberti and IdeaPilates


Are you beginning to fear forward flexion of the spine? Let’s take a step back. Fear is not a great educator. Study is. Fear not forward flexion of the spine. Let’s just seek to understand what it’s all about and how to do it in Pilates and other modalities in a way that our bodies were meant to do it and in ways that are appropriate relative to our modern lifestyles.

Well, that sort of said it…”our bodies are meant to do it”. You are meant to do forward flexion of your spine. You absolutely are. If you were not, your body literally couldn’t do it. Can’t do forward flexion of the femur mid-femur can you? Of course not…there is no joint there. But there are joints in  your spine…that’s a huge part of why you have a spine.

Spinal Nerves relate to body parts and organs - Thank you for this image.

Spinal Nerves relate to body parts and organs – Thank you for this image.

Many Back Muscles - Thank you Gray's Anatomy

Many Back Muscles – Thank you Gray’s Anatomy

Let’s review the purpose of your spine (or many of them):
Your spine provides:
1 – Protection for your spinal cord
2 – Muscular attachments
3 – Pathways for your nerve endings to leave the spinal cord to the rest of the body
4 – When vertical, it aids in vertical support, the ability to be upright
5 – When vertical, it provides some shock absorption
6 – Because there are joints in the spine (your separate vertebrae to each other), it allows movement of the torso

Are there more purposes of the spine…sure, of course…but let’s go with these for a moment.



What is the “localized spinal system” comprised of? (Yes…I’ve just coined that “localized spinal system”. It is a valid image for the moment, though, it is clearly part of the whole you.)
This “localized spinal system” is comprised of:
1 – Bone – vertebrae
2 – Ligaments – connecting bone to bone
3 – Tendons – connecting muscle to bone
4 – Muscles – creating force to move bones
5 – Discs – providing easy gliding motion of vertebrae, shock absorption, space as the nerve endings leave the spinal canal
6 – Fascia – (We’re going to have to lump all different types of fascia together here. There is not nearly enough space in a “brief” article to write about the intricacies of fascia. However…) fascia: providing easy gliding motion and support of all tissues (soft and “hard”),
7 – Nerves – not just the spinal cord and nerve endings…but the ones who are feeding the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, bones and all with information of what to do and what not to do
8 – Blood vessels – feeding the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles
9 – Cartilage – at the superior and inferior faces of the vertebral bodies aiding in gliding actions of the vertebrae and hydration of the discs
10 – and even more than this list

That’s a lot of “stuff”. What an interesting part of you…this “localized spinal system”. When you move…do you see some of that or all of that? And then, can you see all that acts on it and how your body works? If you see all of it…then you will move like the organism that you are.

So…what creates or encourages movement of the spine?
1 – The localized muscles, ligaments and tendons act on the spine via nerves and fascia (Not just back extensors…but what about quadrates lumborum, posterior serratus, diaphragm, intercostals, etc., etc….)
2 – Other muscles, ligaments and tendons act on it, too. For example, the abdominals who are not even connected directly to the spine…they are connected to the spine via the thoracolumbar fascia.

What limits movement of the spine?
1 – Soft tissue that acts on it properly (abdominals, psoas, back extensors, quadrates lumborum etc.)
2 – Soft tissue that is imbalanced (like weak muscles or stiff discus that are improperly hydrated because of a lack of varied movement…it’s varied movement that fully hydrates discs)
3 – Posteriorly, the spinous process limits the back extension
4 – Longitudinal ligaments…oh, the remarkable anterior longitudinal ligaments…anterior and posterior…

Spinal Ligaments (some, not all) - Notice the Posterior Longitudinal Ligament and the Anterior Longitundal Ligament. Illustration Credit: M. Headworth via

Spinal Ligaments (some, not all) – Notice the Posterior Longitudinal Ligament and the Anterior Longitundal Ligament. Illustration Credit: M. Headworth via

Yes…the special longitudinal ligaments! Let’s take a look at them shall we?

Anterior Longitudinal Ligament provides both support and intrinsic stabilization to the vertebral column with most obviously the anterior portions of the bodies of the vertebrae and discs attached. A continuos structure along the entire front of the spinal column, it provides support to the vertebral column during spinal extension. Thereby limiting…or helping support an end-range of spinal extension. In spinal extension as discs appropriately bulge anteriorly, this anterior longitudinal ligament provides a stopping zone of sorts for the discs. A limit. However, the greatest limiter of spinal extension are the spinous processes. They are the great limiters of motion…on purpose.

And what of Posterior Longitudinal Ligament? Special structure! This one, like its anterior match provides both support and intrinsic stabilization to the vertebral column with the posterior portions of the bodies of the vertebrae and discs attached. It is continuous, again, like its anterior match. So, we see that it provides a stopping zone for the discs during forward flexion like the anterior. However (…and this is a big however…), are there spinous processes at the front of the vertebral column? No…no there are not. So, that means the range of motion for forward flexion is greater in the spine than back extension. OK…this is important because we need a lot of forward flexion in our lives. Most of what we physically do requires action at the front of the body. Our greatest abilities are in the front, though, of course, we have a range of actions in the back…but our greatest strength and versatility of movement occurs in front of us. So…we require greater range of motion. Just like in the shoulder girdle versus the pelvic girdle, greater flexibility of in forward flexion of the spine means less stability.

Stability of what? Many things, but most obviously the vertebrae and discs. Well, then, we’d better strengthen all back muscles to have posterior support of the spine during forward flexion. That eliminates the old phrase of “Don’t use your back muscles…only use your front muscles…abdominals, “Powerhouse”, whatever your style of Pilates calls them. We actually need to use our back muscles during forward flexion to assist in limiting forward flexion…because remember, there are no spinous processes in the front of the spine to limit movement. And…because that is a major action of the back muscles. In fact, all soft tissue works all of the time…and that means in forward flexion the back muscles work. Please don’t try to make them not work.

Not to mention, we have thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) and thoracolumbar complex (TLC) that will tighten/stiffen the lumbar spine to limit forward flexion if…if…if we keep the TLF and TLC healthy. (How do we do that? Another article another time…and a book. We can’t do it all in one article.)

Wait! Why do we even care to limit movement? Well, one reason, and the one most are concerned about, is that we need to protect the discs from protruding back into the spinal canal…into the spinal cord. Oh. Right. That is one major function of the Posterior Longitudinal Ligament. Oh!

And what happens when the discs are constantly jammed into the posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL)? That ligament has to try to continue its job of not letting discs go into the spinal canal and cord…it thickens up. Well, because we need movement of the lumbar spine (including forward flexion), this PLL (it’s time to abbreviate…this is a long article) is actually thinner around the lumbar spine than in other areas. So…if it thickens it will either limit movement or if it thickens far too much that leads to narrowing the space for nerves to leave through the foramen and can even impinge the easy flow of the spinal cord through the spinal canal: Central Spinal Stenosis. And ultimately, if you keep forcing a disc against a thicker and thicker ligament, the disc has to give weigh…and then we have herniations.


Wow…there’s a lot of forward flexion in Pilates and in life. A lot. What do we do?! Do we just not do forward flexion because we’re afraid that the discs might push back into the PLL? No, no, no…of course not. We just make sure that we use all of our bodies’ natural tools to ensure good movement. That means movement with support. Do we need to collapse or crush into a rounded shape? Can’t we be rounded yet lifted?

It’s not difficult to move with support when you realize that you body is meant to move with support anyway. That is what biotensegrity is all about. Biotensegrity? Yes…your body is set up with a balance of forces: soft tissues resist expansion and bone (“harder” soft tissues) resist compression. This allows a really easy system where your bones are suspended in a web of soft tissue that moves your bones, creates support for your bones and all tissues. (Bones are really soft, by the way…just not as soft as other tissues and their chemical make up resists compression rather than resisting expansion. Amazing what a bit of calcium [and more] will do to a group of cells.) So, if we are moving well and as nature intended, then we already have great support.

However…we don’t move as nature intended, do we? No..and that is where trouble exists. In Pilates we’re supposedly seeking actions to restore our natural physical environment. We note that life is full of forward flexion and collapse in the spine. Weak abdominals, weak and overstressed back muscles, weak psoas, hip flexors and hip extensors and gluteals. Man…we’re a mess in modern life! And we lose our biotensegrity…our innate balance of tension, our natural balance of expansion and compression. We must seek to restore.

Spinal Curves - Vertical And Space for Organs1When we forward flex, there is a tendency for collapse. That collapse is possible because we don’t have those anterior spinous processes, modern life has weakened our back bodies and because we have so-called “hinges” at the transitions of the curves of our spines. As the curves alternate (a big part of being an upright being so that we have spaces for our organs and then still maintain our vertical alignment and perhaps some shock absorption built into the inherent structure of any vertical alternating curves with gravity acting upon it…but I digress…) as the curves alternate, the transition joints are hyper-flexible. They need to be, but we need to be aware of this and support the hyper-flexibility if we care about PLL and discs and spinal cords. Sure we care.

That means…we have to be wise in our repetitive movement and exercises (even Pilates has repetitive moves and exercises). Mindful! When seeking balanced movement of any joint or joints, we seek to mobilize the stiff and stabilize the hyper-flexible joints. Relative to the forward flexion of the spine, that means…move the stiff parts and support the flexible parts.

And…what sort of ideal forward flexion are we seeking in Pilates? Well…I strongly suggest that in forward flexion of the spine we are seeking a long and even curve of all vertebrae into a long and even curve of the entire spine. Oh…and that would be the same in full spinal extension, also in lateral flexion of the spine (side-bending). Evenness! That will be the ability to mobilize and stabilize. Balance!  Stretch, strength with stability and stamina. This is sounding great!

Now…that was a lot of information. How does it relate to your Pilates work?

Forward flexion of the spine:  Spine Stretch Forward


The magenta line is attempting to trace the curvature of the spine...not just the silhouette. See into the curvature of the spine. The top two photos are a harsh curvature of the spine that hinges at the tops and bottoms of the curves.. The bottom two photos are seeking a long, even curve of the spine. Spinal flexion with space. We're trying for that. Curved, but not collapsed.

The magenta line is attempting to trace the curvature of the spine…not just the silhouette. See into the curvature of the spine. The top two photos are a harsh curvature of the spine that hinges at the tops and bottoms of the curves.. The bottom two photos are seeking a long, even curve of the spine. Spinal flexion with space. We’re trying for that. Curved, but not collapsed.


Back extension of the spine:  Swan Preparation

The magenta line is attempting to trace the curvature of the spine, not the silhouette. See into the curvature of the spine. The first two stacked photos show an almost flattened spine. They don't even show enough of how the thoracic spine is still rounded outward. The 2nd two stacked photos show the attempt to reverse the curve of the thoracic spine while stabilizing the curve of the lumbar spine. The effort in the 2nd stack develops strong back muscles rather than a compression. Let's match curves and then increase curves later on...with balance. Notice...lumbar curves are different in both people. Top photo vs. bottom photo. Everyone has different curves of the spine.

The magenta line is attempting to trace the curvature of the spine, not the silhouette. See into the curvature of the spine. The first two stacked photos show an almost flattened spine. They don’t even show enough of how the thoracic spine is still rounded outward. The 2nd two stacked photos show the attempt to reverse the curve of the thoracic spine while stabilizing the curve of the lumbar spine. The effort in the 2nd stack develops strong back muscles rather than a compression. Let’s match curves and then increase curves later on…with balance. Notice…lumbar curves are different in both people. Top photo vs. bottom photo. Everyone has different curves of the spine.


What about Rolling Like a Ball?

Rolling Like a Ball with markings1

Now, we can find this in many and every exercise. Can you flex/round, extend/arch, side-band and rotate with space and support. Can you seek evenness. Is it contrology or a crap-shoot?

So…you don’t have to round into the tiniest ball or arch backwards into a fold or sideband in half. Big hinges happen at hips, knees, ankles, toes; shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers. Smooth curves happen in the spine. Or at least that is what we can achieve and thereby achieve great strength, flexibility…support…stamina…movement!!!

Please move…in all directions…just with support and understanding! You don’t need to be afraid to forward flex or back extend. You just need to know what’s going on and why you don’t want to crush your discs into the PLL and/or collapse at your hinges.

You’re a mover! You’re a teacher of movement! Now…move and keep educating yourself with balance. You get scared when someone teaches an extreme statement of the body and it travels all over our social media and workshops. Extremists help with awareness, but…they are extreme. Until we are educated, we follow extremists because they are colorful and loud and then we believe and fear. It’s education and understanding that will eliminate fear. You don’t have to go all the way into biomechanics as a scientist like I am. No. But you are working with human bodies…so you have the responsibility to study. I will keep encouraging your study. Study and become a critical thinker.

Thank you for reading this! It was a lot of information. Please reach out to me when you have questions! Seek me out at workshops and such. You’ll see them listed on the sidebar of this blog page and I always list them on my website. And we can do consultations or sessions together in person or via Skype and workshops at your studio. Let this be the start of a conversation, not the end, as I am wont to say.


May 14, 2014 at 9:06 pm 29 comments

Buttocks – Seemingly Every Fitness Person’s Favorite Subject…


Dearest Fitness Fans…You’ll please forgive me as I am about to share something that will shock and appall:
Getting bouncy buns, strong buttocks and a lifted bottom doesn’t come from what you think it does. It 100% does not come from squeezing your seat, buns, butt, buttocks or tusch. All that squeezing you’ve been doing…it ain’t doing what you think. I know you’ve been told by people with gorgeous back sides that this is “The Way”. You’ve seen dancers with bottoms to astound. You’ve seen boxers with buns of steel. You’ve marveled over carved bums of seeming marble on your capoeira master. However, my fellow fans of fit…when they all tell you they got it by squeezing their seats (or any of the aforementioned terms)…they lied. Not intentional lies…but…perhaps that makes it even worse.

Why? Why do people think that squeezing your seat is going to get you a great seat? (Yes, I’ll go with seat or buttocks…the rest are rather crass [butt is crass] or childish [tusch or tuschy…as much as I love Yiddish, no one with a tusch is posing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and none of my powerful clients who own half of your country and mine have “tushcies”. They have backsides or buttocks or seats.] I’ll go with seat, buttocks or backsides.) It’s funny to me how many people squeeze and squeeze and tell you to do so…but they do not have enviable backsides. Hmmm…if this works so well…why aren’t their buttocks so glorious? And why haven’t you thought about that?



Now, not every fitness trainer is going to look like an Adonis or the female equivalent (what is that…Athena?).  That is not the goal. And please let’s recall that what is en vogue in this generation is perhaps anemic looking to another. So, may please agree to be  working towards fit, strong, healthy and able…and have fit buttocks as part of that package.  Still, I ask why doesn’t everyone who says to squeeze and those who do squeeze have sensational sit-upons (appropriate to body-type)? Why isn’t it working for you?

Because it doesn’t work.


First, I must share with you that there is not such thing as “spot training”. You cannot craft the perfect set of buttocks by squeezing them or working them alone. You are an organism and not a mechanism. So, you work as a whole. We can’t just work your buttocks alone. And that squeezing in each exercise is saying that you can.

In truth, you never have to squeeze any muscle to get it to work or strengthen or look fit. What you do have to do: actions that use those muscles in their primarily and secondary ways. It’s that simple, really. And it takes your whole body to allow that to happen. All the better!

Taking the buttocks for our primary example, but this relates to all muscles and muscle groups, let’s consider what the buttocks are in the human body. They are gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. And what do these muscles do as their primary actions? (I say “primary” because all muscles work all of the time. Yes…all of the time. Even your resting muscle tone (RMT) is not complete inactivity. [That is what death is…complete inactivity.] However, all muscles work all of the time with primary actions, secondary, terciery and so on. Based on where they are and the desired action they either assist in mobility or stability of a joint in the action. And every single muscle in your body is actually working for that to happen. There is no agonist and antagonist as our old biomechanics has led us to believe.)

So you can’t get great buttocks by squeezing them.  Simply, you must work the entire body and allow the glutes do their actions naturally.  That’s how it works.


If you do squeeze your buttocks constantly in all exercises, it actually causes more harm than good.  This can hurt you.  You see, when you squeeze your seat/sit bones/narrow your sit bones, etc., you are actually causing  a tremendous amount of compression of  hip joint/ball & socket/acetabulofemoral joint, the sacroiliac joint, L5-S1…and it simply does not look good.  As I asked in a seminar a couple of weekends ago:  When you look in the mirror at your bare buttocks and squeeze…does it look good?  I ask this because I know how we all are.  We all look in the mirror and check out what is or is not working.  Tell me, especially the ladies…what does it look like?  Nothing good.  If you have some cellulite and most women and even men do…it accentuates it, doesn’t it?  So, just common sense and the visual tell you that it doesn’t work.

So…why does everyone say to squeeze and worth those glutes?  Because it’s an easy muscle or muscle group to get into in that fashion.  It’s not actually that easy to train, but it’s easy to squeeze.  It must be entirely accessible as “fight or flight” muscles.  If you were crouching in the cave and a saber-toothed tiger/cat came your way, your gluteus maximus will help you leap up, run and climb.  However…it would already be strong because you’d been climbing, walking, running, swimming, squatting in life all of the time.  Sitting on a chair actually aides in deterioration (atrophy) of the gluteals.  So…they are not as easy to access as they once were.

Here is what I just wrote to a colleague who asks for a true understanding of what to do with our glutes.  She says she now understands completely.  I hope you will, too.  Here it is
“Glutes.  It’s not an eternal question to me.  It is quite clear.   Like everything else in the human body, we must seek efficiency.  And muscles ought to work with effort only when needed.  What I mean by this:  
All muscles work all of the time.  Even when you don’t think so.  
That is The Truth.
And all muscles assist in all movements.  Even when you don’t think so.
Also The Truth.
There is no agonist or antagonist no matter what books say that there are.  If people still think this and think this way…they are ready to study more.  Modern biomechanics is well beyond this.  If we worked this way (agonist/antagonist) we would certainly fall apart.
However, there are primary movers.  If you straighten your leg/extend your knee…indeed the quadriceps are the primary movers.  They instigate this motion.
As for the glutes or gluteus maximus in particular…it must work…but it’s primary movement is not to squeeze.  No no no.  Like all muscles, it should have excellent RMT (Resting Muscle Tone).  What are the primary actions of the gluteus maximus?  This anatomists are correct:  “Extension of the femur from the flexed position in the hip joint; lateral stabilization of the hip and knee joints; external rotation of the femur” (a quote from the reliable source of Wikipedia.  No…really…Wikipedia is great for this sort of stuff…straight anatomy.)
Now…gluteus maximus is best for external rotation of the femur when in extension because it’s primary action is really extension.
It is a superficial muscle, true?  Not deep.  Have we a more deep muscle or set of muscles that we must concentrate on?  Yes yes yes yes (I don’t want to type it more, but yes to an infinite degree):  Quadratus Femoris, the Obturators and the Gemelli.  Study them and then it will be clear why our community of Pilates teachers are confused about what the feeling at the “sit bones” is. That everyone says “squeeze your sit bones”.  Do not squeeze your sit bones.  Hug your darned heels together with legs ideally parallel and together (heels and big-toe knuckles/bunion knuckle) so that these muscles can train and eventually you can live your life with true parallel (as normal people should be) with incredible strength from deep muscles.
Now…back to gluteus maximus…it’s best in hip extension.  That doesn’t mean just when your leg is behind you, but it works when you are going up any level…like a stair (going up front) or seeming like it (press down front).  Any time you are trying not to let your hips flex while kneeing or standing…that’s gluteus maximus (kneeling chest expansion, thigh stretch and arm circles) are great examples of this.  Any time you lift your hips/pelvis in an exercise, it’s the action of hip extension even if your legs don’t actually go behind you like Shoulder Bridge Prep or Full, Jackknife, The Roll Over, Short Spine, Long Spine, Overhead, etc.  Even keeping your legs level with your pelvis when you are lying prone (on  your stomach) in a swan preparation, in Pull Straps in 2nd Long Box and so many other things…that is the active resistance of falling into hip flexion…and your gluteals do that.
And do you have to squeeze your buttocks to do this?  No no no no no no  (to the infinite degree)…they are the only muscles that can do it.  So you just have to unconsciously ask them to do it and they engage only in the degree that is needed.  You just have to send a signal that you want this action of the bones to occur and the correct muscles work.  If it doesn’t happen, the muscles aren’t strong enough.  That doesn’t mean you squeeze them.  That means you have to find an easier exercise to train the action.
NEVER SQUEEZE YOUR SEAT.  Of course, if you want to impinge your sacro-illiac joint, jam your lumbar spine, force your femoral head into your acetabulum or many other things.  Then squeeze all that you want.”
WHAT DOES SHARI DO? So…what do I do for myself?  How have I crafted my own backside?  (This feels silly to even discuss…) Do I do as I say or do I do something else?  The Truth…The Truth…I have not squeezed my buttocks for years and years and years!  I remember feeling like I was the queen of squeezing it!  Boy, oh, boy, could I get people an myself to squeeze!  Ohhhh and I could even refine it to just the sit bones.  Wow!!!  But…now that I have studied and know the down side of it…now that I see the better results on my clients and on myself…I simply do not squeeze.  I allow my gluteals to engage when they need to.  I don’t try to release them if they are doing their job.  I just made sure, by my stable pelvis and action of my lower abdominals and back muscles together that my glutes can extend my femur in the hip or take me out of hip flexion.
I often guide my clients sharing in an exercise like The Half Roll Down on the mat:
“From your lower abdominals, rotate your pubic bone upwards.  Keep that action/connection as you roll your pelvis backwards.  You’ll feel your glutes engage…but recognize how you don’t squeeze them…they just do it on their own?”
or Shoulder Bridge Preparation on the mat:
“From your lower abdominals, rotate your pubic bone upwards.  Keep that action/connection as you roll your pelvis upwards.  You’ll feel your glutes engage…but recognize how you don’t squeeze them…they just do it on their own?”
We don’t want to relax our buttocks.  (Yes, I know I used to teach that well before I knew better.  I should hope we all learn even more over time.)  That was in the back-lash of wanting to not squeeze the glutes, etc.   Now…I know…you want them to engage when they’re supposed to.  They do it on their own.  Our bodies are extremely efficient and work when given the correct environment.
Can I go on and on about this?  Yes and I shall…in another article.  However, this is enough for you to chew on now.  Please comment on this.  Ask questions and read the comments.  And join me in face to face (even via computer) discussions.  I do promise to share more!
Would you like a session in NYC or via Skype/Video Conference?  Email me at
Upcoming Workshops:Full info listed under “Workshop Calendar” at

January 31, February 1-2, 2014 – NYC, NY, USA (NYC Intensive Weekend #1 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)
February 21, 2014 – Hamburg, GERMANY
February 22-23, 2014 – Vienna (Baden), AUSTRIA
March 7-9, 2014 – Vicenza, ITALY
March 21-23, 2014 – Boston, MA, USA (Boston Intensive Weekend #2 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)
April 24-28, 2014 – London, ENGLAND (awaiting confirmation)
May 3-4, 2014 – Miami (Coconut Grove), FL, USA
May 16-18, 2014 – NYC, NY, USA (NYC Intensive Weekend #2 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)
June 1, 2014 – Rhinebeck, NY, USA
June 7-8, 2014 – Austin, TX, USA
June 20-22, 2014 – Zurich, SWITZERLAND
July 18-20, 2014 – Boston, MA, USA (Boston Intensive Weekend #3 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)
Mid – August, 2014 – Long Beach, CA (Long Beach Intensive Weekend #1) – (awaiting confirmation)
September 19-21, 2014 – NYC, NY, USA (NYC Intensive Weekend #3 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)
October 24-26, 2014 – Rhinebeck, NY, USA (Rhinebeck Intensive Weekend #1 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)
November 21-23, 2014 – Boston, MA, USA (Boston Intensive Weekend #4 – Please join in for this one seminar or all)

The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives:
Boston begins: November 15-17, 2013
NYC begins: January 31, February 1-2, 2014
Long Beach, CA likely begins in mid-August 2014
Rhinebeck, NY likely begins at the mid-October 2014

email for information!

Workshops at your studio?

Sure…just ask: and I’ll be glad to discuss the details!

If you have any questions about Pilates, injuries, biomechanics…just email me at I will always work to get you answers.
Thanks for taking the time to read!
– Shari Berkowitz
The Vertical Workshop
Pilates Teacher Blog:

December 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm 25 comments

3 PMA CECs for “The Music of Pilates”!!!

The Music of Pilates

The Music of Pilates – 3 PMA CECs

I have wonderful news!!! The PMA has accepted “The Music of Pilates” for the full 3 PMA CECs!

It was a special process for this one because they have never accepted an aural workshop before. However, this one is special…extremely special. They have fully accepted it and I’m thrilled!

With that…please check it out at
1 – Read the full information on “The Music of Pilates” and listen to the FREE Introduction track.
2 – Listen to a FREE track of “The Saw”.
3 – Order it for Mat and Reformer for 3 PMA CECs or Mat Only (no PMA CECs.)
How will you receive the PMA CECs? Simply email me requesting the evaluation:
I’ll send it to you.  You fill it out and send it back to me.  If your evaluations shows that you did, indeed, listen and absorb this workshop…I’ll send you your PMA CE certificate.

“The Music of Pilates” Information:

The Music of Pilates is a continuing education workshop that you listen to and both speak and workout to to practice.

It comes with 3 PMA CE credits if you take the evaluation.

Mr. Pilates created a rhythm for each exercise. These rhythms are different for each exercise. They highlight the action of the exercise to direct the specific purpose. When you work with Mr. Pilates actual rhythms…the exercises come to life!

This is a sincere workshop with learning and practice modules. You will certainly come away from this at-home/at-studio workshop with a new set of tools making your and your clients’ experiences easier.

Teaching should be fun and effective…
The keener your tools are…the stronger your teaching and the more your clients change for the better!

How does it work?

1 – You download it to your computer from (go to “The Music of Pilates” tab).

2 – If you want, transfer it to your Smartphone, iPod, iPad/Tablet, etc.

2 – Play it on your computer, Smartphone, iPod, iPad/Tablet, etc. Just like you would music.

3 – Module 1 – Introduction
Module 2 – Learning –
You learn the purpose of each exercise in the mat and reformer order in the typical “Advanced” list of exercises.

You learn the rhythm and accents that Mr. Pilates created for each exercise.

You learn how to count each exercise and teach them in rhythm
You listen and can do the exercises in rhythm.

Module 3 – Practice –
Separated into 2 sections, Mat and Reformer, you can physically do each exercise to the rhythm, listen to or speak out loud each rhythm through the Advanced order. You can pause the workshop at any time to change springs on the reformer and then keep going.

This helps embody the rhythms.
Of course…not every exercise is for every person, so feel no pressure to do it all. However, learn the rhythms so you can teach them.

4 – Request an evaluation and receive 3 PMA CECs. Email

If you have any questions…drop me a comment here!  Or email me at however…comments are helpful to all…so drop a comment!  Thank you!


Now…here’s what else is going on:
The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives…
The Pilates Teacher Intensives begin in Boston: November 15-17 and New York City: January 31, February 1-2!

Please read all about them at under “Teacher Intensives” tab.
Or check out the information packet here: The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives Information Packet (Boston and NYC)
The first seminar weekend (those dates listed) will be open to all and everyone.  If you are not able to do the full Intensives…come do the first 3-day seminar weekend.  It is 18 PMA CECs!  

Full Body Integration: Functional Anatomy and Pilates Applications Intensive with Shari Berkowitz
3-days:  $720 (Included in your tuition for participants of The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives)

You’ve had a lot of continuing education, but none of it…none of it is comprehensive.  I mean…you get a lot of information, but it’s all bits and pieces.  Are you able to apply it all?  Really?  While the entire Pilates Teacher Intensives is to rectify this missing an essential element in Pilates continuing education, this first 3-day seminar “Full Body Integration” must be the basis for all that we do.  What is your perspective on the human body?  How much does it align with how the human body really works?  How do you tie it all together with a true education and apply it to your actual teaching of Pilates?  How do you take your education and make it all make sense?

In “Full Body Integration” you will learn the modern biomechanics:  Biodynamics and Biotensegrity.  Biodynamics is my theory of human physical movement and dysfunction.  I am a biomechanics scientist and theorist in addition to being a Pilates teacher.  I spend the majority of my time, in fact, developing ways for people to really understand how the body works at it’s best and help people return to their most able states why dysfunction occurs.  Pilates is an exceptional method to return a body to health…but only if we understand how the body works and make sure what we’re doing in Pilates coordinates with that.

We will explore and study:
Biodynamics (by Shari Berkowitz) and Biotensegrity (by Dr. Stephen Levin)
Functional Anatomy of The Human Body with specific detail on:
The Spine
The Pelvis
The Shoulder Girdle
The Legs
we tie it all together…because we’re not just bits and pieces…we are organisms
Apply this  knowledge and actions to Pilates Teaching…no matter what style you teach.

Your perspective is everything.  Please let me guide your education and understanding with “Full Body Integration”.

Again…if you can’t do the entire Intensives…come do “Full Body Integration”!

Register for Boston and/or NYC  by emailing me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop

More Continuing Education Workshops:

Full info listed under “Workshop Calendar” at

Fair Haven, NJ: October 20
Purchase (Westchester), NY: November 3
Birkerød (Near Copenhagen), DENMARK: November 8-10
Boston, MA:  November 15-17

Keep your eyes open for 2014 dates coming very soon!
January in NYC – January 31 and February 1-2
February in Austria near Vienna/Wien and Hamburg, Germany
March in Italy near Venice
May in Miami, FL, USA
and so much more!

The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives:
Boston begins: November 15-17, 2013
NYC begins: January 31, February 1-2, 2014
email for information or here’s the info packet: \The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives Information Packet (Boston and NYC)

All the very best,

– Shari Berkowitz

October 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm 10 comments

Pilates Disagreements

Well, I suppose it’s time for me to write this. I thought I was going to write about the buttocks or knee stretches today, but…when I saw the number of searches for “Pilates Disagreements” that led people to this blog…I knew that I had to write this first. The buttocks and knee stretches will have to wait.

This is an opinion piece. You certainly don’t need to think the way that I do or agree, but please do remember to be kind if you wish to comment your disagreement. Be an adult. Be a teacher, healer, human. Yes…be human. And do read…digest…think.

When I first started teaching Pilates, I was so excited! (Those who know me know that I am still extremely excited!) Specifically, I was excited to be with other people who just want to help! Help people feel better, stronger and able. There were many options for how I could do this. Before choosing Pilates, I was considering being an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist…but Pilates seemed a way to help people in a day to day organic way. It is. And I was thrilled with my choice. Until…

Until I realized how much horrendous in-fighting there was. I was shocked. Disappointed. Horrified, even? What had I entered into? I was disgusted. How could people under the guise of teacher be so petty? Fighting over differences of how to do The Tree or what the name of an exercise is or who has the right to call themselves a Pilates teacher? I saw such disreputable behavior that I became embarrassed to be in this community.

At the time, I had also recognized my own elitist Pilates upbringing. I was taught to believe that the only Pilates was the style that I was doing and that the rest was horrific and should not even be called “Pilates. I was taught to believe that the only apparatus to work on was the one I was working on and the rest was a waste. I was taught to believe that the people who would teach these other styles and work on these other apparatus were bad people. I was taught these things.

Being the good little girl that I was, I listened to my teacher who held herself above all others. I believed what she believed. Until…

Until I spent time with these horrible people…and found they are nothing close to horrible.
And saw the supposedly horrible things these horrible people were doing…and found out that they were also nothing close to horrible.
And worked on this supposedly horrible apparatus…and found out that they, too, were nothing close to horrible.
They were different…
Is different horrible?

Could it be possible…could it be possible that there might be good people doing good work on good apparatus that is different than what you do? And…could it even be possible that maybe some of them might be doing great work…maybe even somethings that I could learn from? Is it possible that I’ve been taught to be close-minded?

You see, there was this time I was partially paralyzed. I would lie in my physical therapy office with electro-stim on or ice or any number of things…there for a long time outside of the owner’s office where I would hear him on the phone talking about some intense lawsuit he was part of. It was early in this lawsuit that I later learned was “The Lawsuit”. The conversations were supremely heated. I could do nothing but lay there (paralyzed) and listen. Why wouldn’t I listen? It was all that I could do. And wonder what the heck was going on.

Sure enough, I learned, when I was training to teach that this lawsuit was still going on and it had to do with that particular man I had heard believing that he should have the rights to the name “Pilates” and that Pilates was just one thing. People moan and moan that this man or, rather, they say “We”…”We lost the lawsuit!”

What was lost? Something that didn’t belong to anyone at all anyway. What is “Pilates” but a made up name. Mr. Pilates himself didn’t even call his work “Pilates”. He did “Contrology”. That is what ought to have been solidified as something that Mr. Pilates created. And what people who say “we lost the lawsuit” are doing and teaching is rather different than what Mr. Pilates did anyway. (It is…take a look at archival footage and you will see how different it is from what you do.) So…what’s the big deal? And look how it’s divided everyone…a bunch of people who promise to help are all fighting over stupidity.

Yes…I did just judge and call it stupidity. Because you see…I have given myself the gift that most people who still squabble about this stuff have not…I have taken sessions and workshops and had tea, drinks, lunch, dinner with so many teachers who teach differently than I do. Who have had different training experiences. Who were on the “opposite side” of “The Lawsuit” and you know what? They are all fantastic people. (Of course, there are lousy people, too, don’t get me wrong.) Do I have to agree with their version of The Short Spine? No. Do I have to agree with anything? No. But maybe I will see that they are helping other people. Maybe I will see that they are smart and thoughtful. Maybe…

And maybe those people from “the other side of The Lawsuit” will find value in me. Maybe we all can find value in each other.

I guess what I’m getting at…is what are people disagreeing about? Why can’t you just go do your thing and do it well. Didn’t the Pilates world actually expand into super-popularity during this time of “The Lawsuit”? Doesn’t our diversity help the public at large because not everyone reacts positively to the same thing. We’re all needing different styles of personalities to “connect to”…maybe even different personalities of exercise. Why is your way the only way? Really? Really. Why do you think your way is the only way. Narcissistic, don’t you think?

And…I know some get really upset that some teachers don’t know the difference between what Mr. Pilates created and what someone else did. Well…is that really your problem? It’s so very not your problem. Why are you spending energy on something that doesn’t actually matter?

And some get upset that there are others who don’t believe that what they do has value. Is that really your problem either?

Why not just stick to what you’re doing, explore your education, be a critical thinker and remember why you came to Pilates in the first place?

I recall that I came to Pilates because I wanted to help people feel better and stronger. It just so happens I was in a particular studio and learned a particular style that was available to me. I make decisions every day that inform how I will teach. I continue my education in many different ways…outside of Pilates itself…and use that education to inform my Pilates teaching. I try to meet as many different people as I can and explore their different thought processes…in and out of Pilates. I encourage you to do something of the sort for yourself.

You can’t really teach anything of consequence if your experience is limited.

Yes…that is an educated judgement. You simply have nothing to share if you have not explored outside of your small box. Indoctrination does not a teacher make.

A little kumbayah, my friends, in the sense of “can’t we all just be friends?” What’s the big deal anyway? It’s time to stop demonizing “the other”, see our similarities and appreciate differences. Picking “the other” apart is simply ridiculous at this point. Grow up. It’s just a sign of lack of confidence. The people who do that in the on-line forums…I know them well…as charlatans (great word for “Faker”). They don’t know what they’re doing in the first place. They attack out of fear.

People of all styles of Pilates all around the world…just practice, study, learn, accept and grow.


***As always…if you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you and share with our colleagues! and…

Below is info on:
The Music of Pilates downloadable workshop
Pilates Teacher Intensives in Boston and NYC!

Workshops – Sessions – Downloadable Products…

Download Workshop:
Please take a look at THE MUSIC OF PILATES. It’s an aural workshop and manual of Joseph Pilates’ actual rhythms for the mat and reformer exercises. These rhythms and accents will make your teaching more effective and your clients’ experience much easier.

Though this is using Joseph Pilates’ rhythms…this work applies to all styles of Pilates. It’s universal.

In this workshop, you will learn…
1 – the value and purpose of each of the Mat and Reformer exercises at what is commonly referred to as the “Advanced” exercises
2 – the rhythm and accents that Mr. Pilates coordinated with these exercises
3 – the purpose of those rhythms and accents
4 – how to count the rhythm of each exercise
5 – how to coordinate the counts with each movement of each exercise
6 – how to teach in rhythm and create a successful workout

We all need tools to make teaching and learning easier…this is a great one!

More information:

Want a free sample?

(And…you will see a link to it all in the sidebar of this blog)


Upcoming Workshops:

Full info listed under “Workshop Calendar” at

Fair Haven, NJ: October 20
Birkerød (Near Copenhagen), DENMARK: November 8-10

And more to come in 2014 including Austria (near Vienna) in February, Italy (near Venice) in March, Miami, FL in May and so so so much more!.

The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives:
Boston begins: November 15-17, 2013
NYC begins: January 31, February 1-2, 2014
email for information!


Workshops at your studio?

Sure…Just ask: and I’ll be glad to discuss the details!


If you have any questions about Pilates, injuries, biomechanics…just email me at I will always work to get you answers.
Thanks for taking the time to read!
– Shari Berkowitz
The Vertical Workshop
Pilates Teacher Blog:

September 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm 52 comments

The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensive Program (TVWPTI)

As I’m about to post my latest article on Pelvic Floor and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction…here’s something to think about:

TVW Intensives

The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensive Program (TVWPTI)

It’s coming up soon…a true announcement of dates, locations, rates and program details are on the way. But here is a really good introduction:
A general overview:  So many teachers with to have a considerably deeper understanding of Pilates (no matter what style), human bodies, human movement, how to teach (teaching tools, understanding how to really progress a client and how to enjoy doing it...with efficiency. Dear teachers spin their wheels trying to figure out what needs to be done and when. They take the long way around to it when it is more direct…  It’s far simpler than you’d think. And far simpler than most training programs [all training programs] make it out to be.) how clients actually learn, how apparatus really works and so much more…so very much more.

Some teachers are so beautiful about getting continuing education. They want a  focused and true way of deepening their knowledge and abilities that actually makes sense and works!

Basically, I wish to teach you how to do what I do.  I love every moment and don’t find a single moment of teaching difficult.  If you’ve worked with me already…you know I giggle with excitement nearly every second.  Teaching is fun when you feel utterly at ease and truly educated!  What’s innate in me (or what I’ve taught myself) is learnable by you…and I’ve created a program to teach it to you rather simply.  Simplicity is the key.  It’s not dumbed down…it’s just honest.

The (proposed) Layout:
1.5 year program
1 3-day seminar every 4 months
Weekly homework projects
1 2-hour meeting each month
projects, discussion groups and more…

It is a real intensive. Rather than a “bridge” that just takes you through the information without actually getting a deeper understanding or time and appropriate measures to practice this stuff and develop thoughts…this is solid and thorough work together. Most “bridge” programs are info thrown at you and then you fend for yourself. This is different. It will be my responsibility to do the work to make it really effective for all!

So, you can teach your current schedule, take care of children, do what you need in life…and get the intensive extras you desire…truly incorporating it all into your work and life by taking the time it needs rather than a rush-job. Really learn…so that you never need to take another program again. Not Ever. You’ll enjoy more continuing education, but you will no longer feel like you are hopelessly seeking something to make you a more confident teacher with a real understanding. You will have it! Everything is easier then: learning, getting clients, maintaining clients, your own workouts will have more value, you will see great positive changes in all aspects.


Locations appear to be in Boston, NYC and a central location in Europe…to begin. I believe that there will be one program in each location each year…the programs will overlap. (Just one in each location simply because I only have so much time and I will still have my continuing education schedule all over the world, teaching in NYC, blog, book, products, upcoming webinars…and personal life…)

Interested? Email me:

June 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm 27 comments

At Long Last…The Pelvic Floor Article

iSC pelvic floor

The Pelvic Floor musculature (illustration credits unknown)

Though I’ve researched the heck out of it, taught workshops about it, referred to it in previous articles/posts and commented about on other peoples’ blogs and/or social media posts…I even have one of my own (a pelvic floor that is….and I’m absolutely certain that you have one, too)…until now, I haven’t written a full article here on it. At long last…The Pelvic Floor Article.

There has been a lot of talk of the Pelvic Floor in recent years. An obsession. It’s faded away a bit as the new obsession has been fascia. The next obsession…? It’s probably happening already and I am not even aware…because I don’t care. I care about the body as a whole. I encourage you to do the same. Please know the seeming individual aspects of the body and then recognize that everything…everything workds together. Nothing is separate in your body. nothing. Even the darling obsession of fascia as an interwoven mesh of connective tissue is a misunderstanding. A little quickie: all soft tissue is collagen based, even fascia, and all related. There is no one or the other…they are all one. It’s so honest that people can’t really wrap their heads around it and like to separate as though muscle and fascia could live without each other. Muscle is fascia is tendon is ligament is bone…clearly a topic for another day.

So…The Pelvic Floor. The current or passing obsession is that we must teach people how to use their pelvic floor by doing a “Kegel” a purposeful and strong engagement of the muscles of the sphincter of the urethra that leads to the bladder and the vagina that leads to the cervix and uterus. And to some to also do an anal squeeze engaging the anal sphincter that ends the colon.

What’s so odd about cueing this and utterly inappropriate is that these muscles work just fine…unless you actually have some sort of pelvic floor dysfunction where either you or your client is losing urine from the bladder, feces from the anus or air from the vagina or organs from any of these openings (don’t be that concerned with anal air/farting).

Before I move, might I note that I referred to these natural parts of the body in their natural names. I did not reduce our human bodies to childlike silliness. Please call a vagina a vagina. You are adults. Speak as adults in the teacher forum. To our clients, you can call a vagina a vagina or a penis a penis, too. If you are uncomfortable, then there are issues to be dealt with there. Teaching Pilates may very well be your hobby and not your profession, that is all good! Yet, when you are teaching or writing, I encourage you to be professional and help our very young business actually be a business of professionals (even when darling hobbyists).

Moving on…

So…as long as all is going relatively well, the sphincters of the pelvic floor work just great!
However…these days it does seem that a lot of people develop issues there. Mostly the loss of urine when under physical strain, a lot of air coming into and then out of a vagina and, in later years, for women, the prolapse of the uterus. That can be with our without any natural or unnatural trauma to the pelvic floor. Why are so many people having issues?

You see, the health of the pelvic floor is utterly reliant on the balance of muscles in the torso. Utterly. You see, there is a balance and coordination of the muscles that create and maintain intra-abdominal pressure. They include: the pelvic floor muscles (PF), transversus abdominis (TA), multifidi (M) and the diaphragm (D). If these 4 muscle groups work in good coordination with each other, barring any surgeries or traumas to the PF (including the natural trauma of the labor of childbirth and unnatural episiotomy {cutting of the perineum}) then there is no problem. However, if there is imbalance…and then misfiring…problems occur.

No single muscle or muscle group works on its own. We are organisms…not mechanisms. Every part of your body is working all of the time. Literally. You are absolutely not ever in zero-work in any muscle group or system ever. So…the PF is not on its own and must not be treated as such.

If you sneeze with a moderately full bladder, do you lose some urine? I should hope not. If you do…then there is a weakness and lack of coordination of muscles…not just of your PF muscles…of PF, TA, M and D.

Now, how could a PF dysfunction occur if you didn’t bear a child? How is it even possible? What about excessive air entering and leaving the vagina? What is going on?


TA and M have to be strong.
D has to be strong.
All have to coordinate.
Then PF will work well.


(illustrator credit unknown)

Intra-abdominal Pressure Coordination

Intra-abdominal Pressure Coordination from Rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscles utilizing trunk stabilization by Ruth Sapsford – See article link below for higher resolution image.

This is not supposition. This becomes intuitive…but only through education. Here is a great paper on the subject:

Pelvic Floor – Rehabilitation of Pelvic Floor Muscles…Trunk Stabilization

So, you teach all clients and practice for yourself to lift your abdominals in and up and and and “lift” your lower back bones. Eventually, all back bones. (I put “lift” in quotes because we recall that no muscles actually separate bones. Muscles and all soft tissue manipulate bones through a continuous webbing of tension. We work to manipulate into the most optimal positions…in the spine that means maintaining space whilst moving.) A deep exhale works your deepest abdominals…Transverse Abdominis (TA)! That maintains intra-abdominal pressure while air is leaving allowing the Multifidi (M) to remain efficiently active. Not to mention, then TA pulls on the Thoracolumbar Fascia…also adding the appropriate tension for M to work efficiently.


So…cue abdominals and and and back muscles. Start with lower back/lumbar.  You must work your back muscles, no matter what lovely teacher has told you not to.  Without actively engaging your back muscles…you have a weak back.  You just have to have good coordination and order-of-operations:  abdominals first (lower fibers of all abdominals), back muscles second (multifidi and erectors).  Efficient.

And this means…not just during spinal extension.  Your back muscles work all of the time.  They do whether you cue them or don’t cue them…as all muscles work all of the time (get used to that notion…it’s not only The Truth…it’s vital to your understanding).  And cue them when you and your clients are in forward or lateral flexion, spinal rotation, lifting tall and in spinal extension.  Back muscles must work efficiently to angle the vertebrae into optimal positions.  Optimal positions make the shape that you desire with the most space possible on all sides of the joints (vertebra to disc to vertebra) so that there is appropriate space for nerves to leave the spinal column.

Now…the use of the Diaphragm is essential. So…let’s make sure that you’re teaching and using the diaphragm. Did you know that the diaphragm contract on an inhale dropping down in the abdomen. That way air can come rushing into the lungs. The intercostals work to lightly stiffen the ribcage so that the air does actually go down…

Wait a minute. Did I just say that the air has to go down? That would mean belly-breathing. Don’t we back breathe and rib breathe in Pilates? And hold our abdominals tightly so that we don’t belly-breathe?
Don’t we “knit our ribs”, “close our ribs”…?
No.  No we don’t.
Indeed, you have been taught that, but it is not what your body is meant to do.  I say this very often: Well-meaning teachers who didn’t/don’t understand how the human body really works taught you to do this.  They were not trying to hurt you, but their lack of knowledge will ultimately hurt you.

You must belly and back breathe.  You must allow space in your thorax/torso for air to enter.  Your diaphragm (D) drops down when air comes in.  That is the engagement…effort of your D.  That is how it gets strong.  That “dropping down” is lower than the level of your ribs…that is into your abdomen.  That means you have to let go of the “death grip” on your abdominals and allow yourself to breathe…take in air…allow your D to work.  A weak D is bad news.
(P.S. – Stay tuned for the next article/post…it will be on releasing the death grip of abdominals.  You must!!!  For this reason and more…)

So…what happens with a weak D?
1 – You don’t take in enough Oxygen.  Oxygen is the food of your body.  So…you starve yourself.
2 – Your nervous system goes into crisis mode.  You breathe from  your upper chest, can’t get good enough breathe and this is the signal of distress.  You exist in crisis.
3 – Your intra-abdominal pressure is off…which is bad for your back…and…your PF!

And then you have to allow your D to “relax”.  That is what a strong exhale is for.  And what aides in the exhalation?  TA!  D and TA interdigitate.  They literally weave into each other where they insert in the thorax.  They are responsive to each other…as long as we exercise them both!

Barring any trauma to the PF…D + TA + M helps PF remain healthy.


Now…when does dysfunction come into play?

Again…barring any trauma, if D, TA or M are not functioning well…are not fit, then PF can suffer.  As you can see from the earlier information, the intra-abdominal pressure is going to be “off”.

Pelvic Misalignment and Loss of Urine

However, the real issue from this is that especially if TA and M are weak…then the pelvis can tip in all sorts of interesting directions…and that causes major problems for the PF.

The PF muscles ought to work quite well no matter what the gravitational situation.  However, they are called upon to work most efficiently when gravity pulls the contents of the abdomen firmly down against the PF.  If you’ve got gravity pulling and the floor is tipped at an awkward position and then challenged say by running or jumping, then the PF muscles are going to be challenged beyond their means/abilities.  The typical first sign is the inability to hold your urine during these activities.  Feces, air or organs releasing?  Not likely.  Urine.

I know a woman in the fitness world.  She came to me with concern over her inability to contain her urine while running.  When we met and I saw her walking pattern and pelvis…I could see right away that the issue is likely the strength of the muscles that help moderate her pelvis.  Or the lack of strengthening.  Not that she is not strong or good looking. She is.  But not strong in the right places and not in balance.  Focusing on the correct actions in a proper order of operations is vital.

What is the order of operations?  Always….Always lower abdominal fibers first to assist in effective lower back muscle engagement.  Eventually, all back muscles.  Breath will eventually be an inhale before engaging these lower abdominals, exhale adding the abdominal connection into deeper abdominals (TA) and maintaining back engagement.

So, you can do all the exercise in the world (including Pilates) and it might not help you be healthy and functional.  It’s about what you’re doing and how.

Loss of Feces

If you or your client is not able to contain feces…it is not a muscular issue.  You can work your external anal sphincter all that you want and it won’t help you hold in your feces if you have an issue.  (Please keep reading even if you’re uncomfortable or think you don’t need to know this stuff…)  You have an external and internal anal sphincter.  Your external one is limited in its ability to hold in your bowels.  It is not in high activity most of the time.  If it is…issues.  Emotional issues.  So, just like gripping your diaphragm…gripping your anal sphincter gives your nervous system signals of flight or flight…danger…distress.  “Anal retentive” is not a good label.  Please don’t encourage your clients to “hold your fart”, squeeze your anus”, squeeze your sit bones”, etc.  (I’ll do a full article on why you must not teach or do: squeezing sit bones, narrowing pelvis, squeeze your seat/butt/buttocks, etc.)

It’s your internal anal sphincter that is key to keeping your bowels inside.  And do you know how they work?  By a chemical reaction.  So…if you or your client can’t hold your bowels/feces…go to the doctor.  A major bit of chemistry is off in your body.  Time for the doctor..not for squeezing your external anus.

Anal Air

Alright adults.  Your client farts.  It’s not a big deal.  Ignore it or together share a moment’s comment.  Then…move on, adults.  If you can’t get past a fart…you’ve got some maturing to do.

If your clients anal expulsion of air is fetid (horrid smelling) and consistently so…then your client has a digestive issue that is worth sending your client to a qualified nutritionist or gastroenterologist. If it’s just air…then know that your client bears down more than lifts up…is pushing and gripping.  Teach your client to only use the amount of abdominal engagement as necessary for the exercises’ choice of stability or mobility of the pelvis and spine.  As stated earlier…lock down is no good.

Vaginal Air

Barring any trauma to the PF…if there is a considerable expulsion of air from your or your client’s vagina, then too much air is getting in and this is a PF dysfunction likely from the imbalances stated above in intra-abdominal pressure and the coordination of muscles and strength that assists in PF’s health.

Prolapsed Organs – Organs exiting the PF

OK, now…if you’ve got some organs exiting the PF…we’re talking major PF malfunction.  Barring any trauma…it’s years upon years of imbalance.  However…this is too far gone to consider just TA and M.  If it’s a woman, encourage your client to seek a doctor and Pelvic Floor Specialist.  Once trained, there are ways she can assist by putting her uterus back into her vagina, then “kegel”, maintain the kegel whilst engaging lower abdominals, TA, M and back extensors.  However…let’s not mess with anything like that until she’s seen doctors to make sure that she isn’t beyond that and needing any sort of surgical procedure to restabilize her organs.  And you must be educated in this sort of exercise.  If it is a man or woman who is losing some of his/her colon out the anus.  Also…not work for you.  Work for a doctor.  Please have your client seek a specialist.  No amount of squeezing the external anal sphincter is going to help your client.


Now, let’s get to the trauma.

Childbirth – Vaginal Delivery

The most common sort of trauma to the PF we see in Pilates is vaginal deliveries.

Is this “trauma”.  Yes.  While it’s as natural as natural can be…it’s still a trauma.  It takes a while for the uterus, vagina and PF to heal after childbirth.  How long?  Different for different people.  Some women find they have trouble holding their urine for a few hours or days and then it’s no problem.  Systems return to normal.  However, the stretching of the connective tissues does cause a weakening.  And especially if there is a genetic collagen weakness, then this is even more of an issue.  The actions of TA + M + D for healthy PF activity are even more essential.

Now, there can be nerve damage that causes PF dysfunction.  A prolonged  second stage of labour (over an hour in second stage) or extremely heavy babies can cause the nerves to stretch well past their typical abilities.  You see, the muscles and other soft tissue can stretch a lot, but nerves can only stretch a little.  When the other soft tissue stretches, nerve are forced to follow, but this over-stretching can cause nerve damage.

Episiotomies can factor into PF dysfunction.  An incision from the vagina along the perineum to help widen the end of the canal is very common.  There is healing time from this as the incision is then stitched up and the soft tissue takes time to heal.  However, sometimes the depth of the incision is such that it takes longer; sometimes the muscles don’t heal well…this is the PF…and it is being cut.  Sometimes there is nerve damage.  Sometimes the incision is so long from the vagina all the way the the anus that there complications from this as well.  A challenging episiotomy can cause PF dysfunction.

Other contributors to PF dysfunction include (but there are more): the use of forceps, shoulder dystocia, posterior presentation (when the babies back is to the mother’s back), induced labour…

What do these women do?  Well, they need to see a PF specialist.  Their OB/GYN should be able to recommend one or several.  Unless you’re trained in this and understand all of the implications, then you are not qualified to do this.  Just teach Pilates, please.  Help your client strengthen her abdominals, back muscles and diaphragm…along with the rest of her body!

The Wrap Up:

No Trauma:
-Strengthen abdominals (lower abdominal fibers and TA)
-Strengthen back extensors…not just by doing spinal extension…but by engaging back muscles at all time to organize bones in their most spacious positions (space for nerves to leave the spinal column
-Strengthen the diaphragm…breathe!!!  Allow the ribcage to move and the abdominals to allow the diaphragm to work!
If they are strong enough and you allow…they will all work in beautiful coordination.

Do all of the above…and…
strongly encourage client to seek a specialist.

Work on this all…with everyone.  A healthy pelvic floor comes from a healthy body.  Order of operations is important.  (Don’t forget great nutrition, great sleep and great mental health, too!)

****Thank you for taking the time to continue your education in this way!  I really value you who do this!  It is a small population that really wants to know The Truth of the human body and apply it to Pilates.  We can make up answers with our intuition and suppositions…but that’s not good enough.  We’re in a service industry.  Serve with truth.  If you’re just guessing, you’re doing a disservice.  There’s plenty of information “out there”.  Go get it!  If you need assistance…get it, too.  Email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.  I will always attempt to help you by giving you information or leading you to discovering it for yourself.

****Thank you for taking the time to read and continue your education in this way!
Here are upcoming workshops and session information:
Full details are on my website under “Workshop Calendar”:
Denver, CO, USA: July 12-14, 2013 (Pilates on Tour)
New York, NY, USA: July 16, 2013
New York, NY, USA: August 4, 2013
Austin, TX, USA:  August 24 & 25, 2013
New York, NY, USA: September 17, 2013
Warren, Vermont, USA:  September 28 & 29, 2013
Fair Haven, NJ, USA: October 20, 2013
Birkerod (Near Copenhagen), DENMARK:  November 8-10, 2013
Again, full information on all of these workshops is on my website:
Would you like to host a workshop at your studio or suggest a host studio?  Email me at or comment below and we’ll discuss.
Please keep your eyes peeled for upcoming products I will be introducing to continuing your education from your own home with the aural rhythm manuals, webinars, videos, manuals and more!
Thanks for taking the time to read!
– Shari Berkowitz
The Vertical Workshop
Pilates Teacher Blog:

June 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm 36 comments

The Challenging Clients…

Wouldn’t it be great if each client you work with is shows up on time, is kind, agreeable, works hard and says “thank you”?  That would be great.  But…not all of your clients are like this.  True?
How you deal with the difficult client is as important if not more important than how you deal with your ideal clients.
While you may wish that all of your clients are perfectly wonderful, the truth is that you meet up with all kinds of people when you teach.  Once, a new teacher said to me that she will just have a little studio and never teach people that she doesn’t like.  I thought “That is spectacular!  What a luxury!”  However, whether you are an independent contractor, employee or studio owner…you’re going to find yourself with a difficult client…even just for one session…but likely for many more.  You are not always in that luxurious position to be able to choose your clientele.
The issues between client and teacher that cause friction are multifold.  They range from:
Habitually late
Doesn’t pay on time
Late cancel and doesn’t want to pay
Gets frustrated at your cueing
Fights you on your cues and tries to control the session
Rushes you in the session
Doesn’t listen to your cueing
Treats you like a servant
Fights you on all areas from cleaning apparatus to paying for the sessions
Talks on the phone during the session
and so many more…
Let’s tackle two of them:
The client who fights you on your cues and tries to control the session
The client who doesn’t seem to listen to you
The first one used to really bother me
The second one used to really bother a friend and colleague of mine.
You, too?
The most important thing to recall when dealing with any client, difficult or incredible, is that you are in a service industry and while you do not need to serve all of your clients’ idiosyncrasies, you are meant to focus on one thing:  Giving your client the appropriate workout.  You are getting paid to teach Pilates (or whichever other modality you teach).  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  With that, you must behave accordingly on all accounts whether you love or hate your client.
The client who fights you on your cues and tries to control the session.
This client behaves as though she knows better than you on all points.  She knows which apparatus to begin on; which version of the exercise is right for her; which session time would be better even though you cannot accommodate with your schedule.  She thinks there is always something wrong with the apparatus, certainly not her.  Nothing you seem to say satisfies her…yet she still comes back for more and even wishes you had more sessions available. Oh, why won’t you open up time for her?  You arrive dreading the session, grit your teeth through it and then breathe a sigh of relief when she’s gone…depleted for the rest of the day.
Yes…we’ve all had or have this client.
Well, some people are like this.  Do they not need you too?  Of course they do.  Maybe even more than the seemingly perfect client.  Maybe <em>you</em> need this client, too.
You see, this person is quite insecure.  (We are all insecure, of course.)  She feels out of control.  She shows her insecurity here by trying to control the session and that means attempting to control you, too.  Of course.  In the rest of her life, she is the “top dog”.  She is the expert.  Everyone always bows down to her.  But now, in the studio, she is in a position of student, not teacher.  She feels like she is in a weakened position.  Of course, we know that she is not in a weakened position, but she can’t feel that, yet.  She doesn’t believe that being a student is strong.  However, we know that learning is everything.
Of course, there are times that you’d like to say “Hey, Lady…you’ve come to me to take a session…to learn from me.  I’m the expert in this scenario and you are the novice…so just do as I say and zip it!”  But…you can’t say that.  You lose the client, destroy your reputation and,<em> if you’re any sort of human being, you feel incredibly guilty that you just treated an insecure person like this!</em>
We have to make a plan, then, of how to address this client and how to address your own natural feelings of frustration..
First is how you behave.
You must not react to your clients’ behavior (in all instances)…unless they are being truly abusive of you.  You must always take the “high road”.  You have to take a deep breath, assess the situation, recognize this is an insecure person who feels out of control…and see her as a human.  She’s not a monster.  She’s just a human being.
Once you see this controlling client as the human that she is.  You have multiple options:
1 – You work around her controlling behavior by being kind.  You attempt a short explanation of why you are giving her the cues that you are, but if she fights you over and over again…you know what? Just skip it.  Move on or do the version that she wants to do as long as it’s not dangerous.  It’s not a big deal if she does semi-circle with fists against the shoulder blocks like you’d like because she is so petite or palms against them the way she was first taught and the only way that she’ll apparently do it.
Pick your battles wisely.  Because when it comes to the big stuff, then you will have stored up some points and extra leverage.
You can’t give in all of the time.  You must remember that you are ultimately in control of the session…but some things are not worth the fight.  That will be a manner of controlling the session.  She is looking for a fight…don’t give her the fight.
2 – If it is so difficult and you can’t manage a session.  Then there needs to be a discussion.  Whether she is your client or a studio client, you can surely say something like “I understand that you have done this other ways in the past…” or “I realize that you are concerned about this…” or “I know you love the begin on the reformer…” but “I have a plan for you and would like to make sure you get what it is that you’re taking this session for…”  (Then remind her why she is there.)  “Please give me the chance to give you a quality session.”
Most teachers are uncomfortable with a little bit of confrontation.  But…you’ve got to have a direct line of communication with your clients.  You must set up that you are in charge and you set the work in the session.  You have to resist giving the control over to the client.  That doesn’t mean that you are controlling or like a drill sergeant.  It just means that you have to “command the session with kindness”, as I am fond of saying.  Lead with a good and open heart, but do lead.
If this doesn’t work or you feel that it is not appropriate to your culture or the culture of the studio, then have a discussion with the owner or manager about the situation and see if she or he can act as a bridge, of sorts, between the two of you.  A gentle conversation between the three of you can change everything.
This client is not evil…just challenging.  Find a way to feel for her insecurity.  Take a look on line and see what it is that she does for a living.  Perhaps you’ll find yourself impressed by her work and/or efforts in life.  You might be surprised.  Maybe she has had a struggle.  There’s something in there that makes her behave as she does.  Have a heart.  Again…as long as she is not actually abusive…see the human in her.
The client who doesn’t seem to listen to you
Do you have this client, too?!  Of course you do!
This person does not seem particularly present during the entire session.  Perhaps he is the early client before work.  Midday client.  After work client.  Oh…he is the client who has work on his mind all of the time.  Yes…you know this man (or woman).
You give him cues that you know are going to get him in gear!  and…he doesn’t even hear you.  He doesn’t alter his movement to your cueing at all.  You wonder if you’re talking to a brick wall.  Well…you sort of are.  You’ve got to change your normal way.
Did I say that you change?  Yes.  You must change your normal way.
He is thinking of other things because work is on his mind and he is (like the controlling client) uncomfortable being in the position of student when he is usually in the position of lord and king…employer and head-honcho.  Of course, this is a strange position to be in…so he blocks it out, though he is there with you and moving.  Even more problematic…he continues to think about his business, while in the session.  He is still at work while in the session.  He even answers his phone, checks his emails and texts.
First, let’s congratulate this client.  A lot of people work all day and don’t even get any exercise in at all.  This person at least makes it to your session.  That’s special.  Whatever is accomplished in the session is good!
Know that this client is going to go in and out of being present in the session.  You will not be able to predict it.
Here are a couple of options:
1- Perhaps you need to begin by talking less, as a rule.  Perhaps his mind is elsewhere and your cues are white noise to him.  I suggest starting each new exercise with your strong cueing and then hold back from cueing over and over again.  Then…make sure your cues are really necessary.  (I suggest this as a rule all of the time, anyway)
If he still doesn’t respond, which is quite likely, then address him by name.  Of course, let’s call him “John”  (as in “John Doe”).  Perhaps your cue is in footwork and you want him to press the carriage out until his legs are actually straight, but he always stops short of straight.  Say something akin to “John, you must fully extend your legs.”  He might actually respond because you called him by name.  It will take him out of the fog or different place in his brain that he is in.  He has been addressed directly and the white noise is gone.
Call him by name and give a hands-on cue at the same time.  Then he is even more alert…back into present time and place.
2 – With that…varying  your cues is vital to keeping this client present…and all clients, as a matter of fact.  Say the the cue one way, then repeat it, repeat it in a different way and then hands on if you need.  With the same example as above, it might sound like this “Press the carriage away until your legs are straight.  Press the carriage out until your legs are straight.  John, push out until you legs are strong and long…longer”
3- Again, like our controlling client before, you may need to have a brief discussion with him.  Address the situation with kindness rather than harshness.  Perhaps something like “John, I understand that you are a busy man and have work on your mind even when you’re exercising, but I want to give you what you are here for and make sure you get the most out of the session.  Try to stay as present with me as you can.”
It may or may not work…but it’s worth trying.
Just be safe with your client and consider what is the most important aspect of the session you want this client to achieve.  Make sure that happens and it will be a successful session.
The Key
The key is NO REACTION
No matter how frustrated you might be with these two types of clients or any clients (or any other clients)…you must not react.  You must not lash out or show your frustration.  That is not your job and it’s likely the quickest way to lose your job…or at least the client.  It’s not helpful to anyone and it’s certainly not what a true teacher does.
That doesn’t mean you are not human.  Of course you want to react.  You just must not.
Good luck!
****Thank you for taking the time to read and continue your education in this way!
Here are upcoming workshops and session information:
Full details are on my website under “Workshop Calendar”:
New York, NY, USA: May 28, 2013
Chicago, IL, USA: June 1&amp;2, 2013
New York, NY, USA:  June 6-9 (Sessions at Art of Control/Contrology Conference)
Denver, CO, USA: July 12-14, 2013 (Pilates on Tour)
New York, NY, USA: August 4, 2013
Austin, TX, USA:  August 24 &amp; 25, 2013
Vermont, USA:  September 28 &amp; 29 (full information coming soon)
DENMARK:  November 8-10 (full information coming soon)
ITALY:  December 6-8 (full information coming soon)
Again, full information on all of these workshops is on my website:
Please keep your eyes peeled for upcoming products I will be introducing to continuing your education from your own home with the aural rhythm manuals, webinars, videos, manuals and more!
If you have any questions about Pilates, injuries, biomechanics…just email me at I will always work to get you answers.
Thanks for taking the time to read!
– Shari Berkowitz
The Vertical Workshop
Pilates Teacher Blog:

May 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm 15 comments

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