You may have heard Chris say in the studio: “Hail Goddess Martha!” and wondered who he was talking about. This week’s blog is going to give you an overview of who Martha Graham was, and why she is so renowned as an American artist of the 20th century and in the world of Pilates so that next time Chris exclaims this in the studio you know what he means.

As many of you will know, Pilates was started by Joseph Pilates. However, what most don’t realise that the modern day Pilates is largely shaped by Ron Fletcher, a Martha Graham dancer. Fletcher took much of what he learnt from Martha, and another mentor (Yeich Imura), and put it into Pilates. Fletcher went to Martha Graham’s dance company to evade a potentially career-ending surgery on an injured knee. Later, Fletcher would return to the dance company to aid his recovery from an addiction to alcohol that was negatively impacting his career.

What did Fletcher learn from Martha then? Martha was known for her ability to cross artistic boundaries with her creativity and her ability to embrace every artistic genre. Graham’s style was groundbreaking to the art world as she experimented with the movements of contraction and release. In this video below, Fletcher discusses the similarities between Martha and Joe in their views towards short spine and the contraction and release method.

Throughout her career, Martha received many awards and symbols of recognition in her time. Including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Kennedy Center of Honors, List of recipients of the National Medal of Arts, the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, US & Canada, and being the first dancer to perform at The White House. She was renowned around the world for the impact she was having in the world of dance. Martha was invited to be a cultural ambassador and was welcomed from Paris to Japan, and further. This attracted many dancers that would later go onto Broadway and dance companies like the Noemi Lafrance Dance Company, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and more. Martha also influenced generations of choreographers, such as Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham. She also taught Bette Davis, Madonna, Liza Minelli, Tony Randall and many more actors to use their bodies as expressive instruments.

At the age of 96 years old, Martha died in her Manhattan home leaving a legacy that impacts dance and Pilates to this day through the people that she taught and the methods of expression she explored. For those that want to get to learn more about Martha Graham, this documentary is a fantastic exploration of her impact to the world of dance and using the body as an expressive art. 

If you’re interested in exploring Pilates, then please give us a ring at 0131 652 1904 or get in touch through our contact page.

Sitting at a Desk is the eighth post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about the first class. 

sitting at a desk

In between the 7th and 8th class, there was a break between the two for a holiday. We’ve all been in the position where we have returned to emails and work that means you are tied to your desk for longer than usual to catch up. When you are sitting at your desk for long periods of time, it is natural to start to hunch over. This has a negative impact on your posture, which can lead to other issues, and reduces the space that the lungs have to breathe. As you can’t breathe as deeply, your energy levels deplete and can increase your anxiety levels. Studies have shown that being sedentary for this long has a negative impact on your physical also. It has been linked with health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems.

The good news is that there are things that you can do to combat these health problems head on. Pilates is an excellent example and I found myself very eager for the 8th session. To begin with, principles of Pilates such as breathing and centering allows you to inhale and exhale fully, reducing stress and creating more energy. The exercises themselves strengthen and help to correct your posture so that the impact of sitting at your desk all day is significantly reduced. For myself, through Pilates, I’ve become more aware of how I hold my body. When I am at my desk, this means that I am able to adjust my positioning so that it doesn’t cause creaks and cracks later on in the day.

For those that struggle with pains from sitting at their desk all day, working with a Pilates instructor like Chris who can give advice and tailor your session to you will help you more than a mat Pilates class. Chris is able to give great advice about how to combat pains in the day in accordance with your daily schedule.

The exercise of the week:

Starting lying on your back with your feet tucked into something to hold them, put your arms above your head with a wooden pole.

Step 1: Inhale, exhale, tighten your abdominals and bring the pole up in line with your vision.

Step 2: Engage your latissimus dorsi and rise up slowly towards your feet.

Step 3: Exhale and push the pole forwards with your legs straight to stretch your hamstrings. Inhale and return to the seating position with your legs straight. Exhale and push forwards again.

Step 4: Inhale and take yourself back to the starting position slowly.

Pack your bags, Chris!

From the 2nd of 26th September 2017, the studio will be closed as Chris is off on a well-deserved break! If you have any questions, perhaps about how best to work with an injury during that time, please do ask Chris in your next class. Whilst Chris is away, our marketing team will do our best to answer any questions you have in the meantime. You’ll understand that if they are specific to an injury or condition then we will have to wait until Chris returns.

Here is to Chris having a could break!  

Strengthening is the seventh post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about the first class. 

At the Edinburgh Pilates Centre, Chris’ ethos is that building strength should be done to make sure that your daily activities become easier. Whether that be carrying the shopping or having the physical strength necessary to avoid injury and to recuperate quickly. From what I’ve experienced so far, Pilates helps to build strength in two ways. Firstly, through the movements themselves. Each exercise strengthens and loosens the muscles. Secondly, by increasing your awareness of how you use your body it is easier to recruit more muscle groups to complete a daily activity, thus sharing the load.

strengthening

As Pilates works from centering at your core, it will significantly improve your abdominal endurance and, for those with back problems, help to strengthen your back from further injury. This is one of the reasons why Pilates is such a great accompaniment to daily life and to accompany your other workouts.

If you are thinking about starting Pilates to build your strength, then going to a traditional Pilates studio, like the Edinburgh Pilates Centre, is more beneficial for developing strength than studios that focus on mat work. Having the full range of Pilates equipment is crucial to developing strength in a balanced way.

As I’ve continued along this journey, I have found that my level of physical strength has changed. As an example, the way that I carry shopping bags has changed so that I am now using the latissimus dorsi muscles instead of holding the weight all in my shoulders. A small change but one that has meant that there isn’t a mad rush from the car. I’d recommend Pilates to anyone that is looking to increase their physical strength safely.

Exercise of the week

Step 1: Lying down on your back, hugging your knees to your chest with your chin to your chest and inhale.

Step 2: Exhale, tighten your abdominals, then with control reach your legs forward and arms forwards.

Step 3: Inhale, keep your legs forward and bring your arms above your head.

Step 4: Exhale, and swing your arms from above your head round to by your side again.

Step 5: Inhale, and return to starting position.

Repeat this 10 times.

– Mary

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.

 

Rebuilding is the sixth post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about the first class. 

The stages of the Pilates sessions so far have been first to loosen up the problem areas that I had, and then to rearrange them into a more beneficial posture. The sessions I have done have targeted my lats (latissimus dorsi), lower back, abdominals, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and calves to help shift how the body holds itself. Then it is about rebuilding and strengthening the muscles to the new, more beneficial position, to retrain how the body is positioned into when in it’s natural state.

My previous experience, perhaps similarly to many of you, of building up strength was in a gym and usually included weight machines, free weights, and bars. Chris explained that this method of building strength used short muscles rather than long muscles. What he means by this is that the machines that you use in the gym usually encourage you to bring the weight towards your centre. This shortens the muscle and gives you the ‘bulk’ that is often attributed with bodybuilders – as an extreme example. Whereas in Pilates, you push away from your centre. This lengthens the muscles as you strengthen them resulting in a leaner physique.

This has started to happen to myself. Throughout this process so far, I have lost weight and become a bit leaner. I don’t want anyone to read this and think that Pilates is a weight loss exercise and give anyone false information rather to share my experience and that it’s more of an added bonus to the process rather than the main goal. For those that want to know more about Pilates and weight loss, Chris spoke about the two in this blog here.

Rebuilding

Exercise of the week:

This is an exercise you could do at home if you could find similarly shaped pieces of equipment and a strap to hold your foot in place. This movement works your obliques.

  1. Ensure that you are firmly on the block and put your inner arm across your chest while resting your collarbone and the outer arm out straight with your lats pulled down.
  2. With your abdominals tightened, from your starting position, exhale and lift your torso up until you feel a pinch in your obliques, inhale and go back to your starting position.
  3. Repeat this ten times and then swap sides.

– Mary

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.

“Working at Your 80%” is the fifth post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about the first class. 

As you can have probably tell by now, there are quite a lot of things I like about Pilates and about how Chris teaches Pilates at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Something that I haven’t fully spoken about yet is the acceptance in the studio that you aren’t always going to be on top form. Whether that be physical, emotional or mentally, there are always going to be hiccoughs that can make it harder to relax or will inhibit the desire to exercise.

For my 5th session, this was just the case. At the weekend I had done the EMF 10k in the blistering heat. Perhaps some of you did it too – if so, how did you find it? Personally, I was still feeling the ache of that initial incline up Arthur’s Seat in the morning sun. Walking into the Edinburgh Pilates Centre, I was a little worried about how much the session was going to hurt, as after the 10K I sidestepped stretching and went straight for lunch, but I shouldn’t have been. Chris’ teaching is focused on getting the maximum gain with the effort that your body can put in. Don’t get me wrong, there are no shortcuts! Rather, an awareness that it’s your body and you know what’s going on with it more than he does, but that he is there to guide you to the best result.

For anyone that is nervous about going to Pilates because they are struggling to motivate themselves after a busy week or feel that they aren’t flexible or strong enough, I understand that worry. However, Chris’ classes have taught me that there’s no starting benchmark that you have to be meet before you enter the class. All Chris asks in the studio is that you go in and do the best that you and your body can do on that day – and that’s enough.

Exercise of the week:

This exercise is one that can be easily be done at home.

Your 80

  1. Lie on your side with your the arm that is underneath you straight out and your other hand supporting at your hip. You’ll want to grip here if like me you have tight hip flexors. This is so that the hip flexors don’t do all the work in this movement as you are working your inner and outer thighs.
  2. Breath in, pull your abdominal muscles in as far as you can. Then, with the leg underneath you bent at a right angle, straighten your other leg, tighten the knee and do your best to elongate the leg.
  3. Start with your leg stretched out just off the ground, exhale, and then lift it up until you reach the point where your muscles are working their hardest with your hand gripping your hip.
  4. Then inhale and lower your leg back to the starting position.

In our session, I repeated this 10 times on each side, see how you feel and go from there.

– Mary

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.

“Precise and Controlled Movements” is the fourth post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about the first class. 

Every week I feel like I am writing that there is a genuine difference and each time I really mean it. I suppose it’s easy to think that I am writing this blog for the Edinburgh Pilates Centre and that I have got to say that. And the cynical part of myself at the beginning did think, “It would be great if it did work, but what can really be done in 10 sessions?” The answer is a lot more than I could have expected. I had made the terrible mistake of underestimating how literal Chris had been in his videos about how precise and controlled movements can have an impact.

An example of the difference that I have felt was on a recent weekend trip away with some school friends to Berlin. We walked around the city, enjoying the sights (as well as the beer) and normally at the end of the day my lower back would be sore from standing all the time because my hip flexors take most of the weight and pull my back to bend inwards. Thanks to the work that Chris has guided me through on my hip flexors, the pain was minimal – you can imagine the delight at this revelation!

Pilates is ideal for those who feel back pain at the end of the day or for those who pull their neck when they turn too fast. This is because by practicing the precise and controlled movements in Pilates will help align the spine and improve your posture.

precise and controlled movements

Exercise of the week:

This week’s movement does need to be done in the Pilates studio rather than at home due to the equipment needed.

  1. Lying on your back, with a triangle cushion for your head and shoulders, feed one foot through the straps that are attached to the spring with your other leg bent with the knee to the sky.
  2. Inhale, exhale, tighten and lower your abdomen, with your foot turned outwards and your knee tight, lengthen and stretch your leg out as far as you can, then inhale will drawing the leg back to centre.
  3. Repeat this on either side, if you come into the studio, Chris will be able to advise you on how many times to it on each side for your own body. Doing this movement, you should feel a sensation in your hip flexors.

– Mary

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.

“Using the Machines” is the third post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about the first class. 

Using the machines

One of the best things about how Chris runs the Edinburgh Pilates Centre is the specificity of each session. As you walk in Chris will ask you how you have been that week and if you had been aware of any changes or niggles in your body that week. This allows for him to tailor that day’s session not only to your own requirements but also how you are feeling at that time. This is one of the aspects that makes me prefer the studio to Pilates mat classes where everyone is doing the same thing. It is also a much more relaxing environment to be able to work on your own body rather than to try and keep up with everyone else.

Going into the session, I could feel that my back, in particular, was unsure of which way to hold itself. It was going to the way that I had always done before with my back arching forward and an actual straight back. To say this felt odd is an understatement, but it was interesting to see how quickly my body was adapting to the movements that I had been practicing in the studio under Chris’ guidance.

After the third session, what struck me is how different I felt from when I walked in. I was feeling stressed and I could tell that I was holding this in my body. By focusing on my breath and doing the various exercises my body felt loose and relaxed. The addition of using the machines in the session helped the feeling that we had targeted the exact areas that I wanted to get to but didn’t know how to stretch. The perfect way to get rid of the Monday blues!

Exercise of the week

An area that Chris pinpointed that I needed to build strength was my hamstrings. To do this, we used a plié machine. This machine looks like it could be potentially scary before you go on it, however, when you are on it is a lot easier to use than machines at the gym. To see an explanation of the movements, you can watch this video here of Chris’ explaining it:

After I got off the machine, my hamstrings were shaking a little even though there had only been ten repetitions. This is what I have enjoyed so far from the Pilates sessions with Chris – he chooses exercises for you that work the areas needed for the maximum result in a short space of time.

– Mary

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.

 

This is the second post in a series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre. Click here to read about last week’s class. 

Taking Responsibility For Your Body

On the second session out of ten, the overarching theme was to take responsibility for your own body. Chris’ teaching is very unassuming and he is frequently saying throughout the sessions that although he is the one that is able to guide your body, it is your own. You know your body better than he does and you should be working on it for yourself not because someone is telling you to.

Taking Responsibility       Taking Responsibility

Instead of doing 10 of each movement on each side, Chris told me to listen to my body and to switch it up if need be. On one move, for example, my left leg was stronger than my right. I was, therefore, advised to do 7 movements on the left leg and 10 on the right to help build strength on the side of the body that needed it the most. We progressed from the previous week with some new exercises and also the introduction of moving into the sensation of the movements rather than to pull away from any perceived discomfort. A small mental tweak to working with your body instead of fighting a movement, but one that made the process a lot easier and more enjoyable.

What I noticed that was different from the first session was that I felt more comfortable with the processes within each movement. I wasn’t worried that I had skipped a bit or that I was doing it wrong as I was starting to remember the movements and knew that Chris would be able to point my in the direction if need be. This made it easier to focus on getting the maximum out of each movement. At the same time, I could start to feel a difference from the previous session in the areas that were tight. After having a cold the previous week, this was the perfect way to boost my energy.

Exercise of the week

Each week, I will share an exercise that we did in the class so that you can get a taster from the comfort of your own home. This week, it is one of the final stretches we did in the cool down that has been making my upper and middle back feel incredible this week.

Step 1: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, breath in and out.

Step 2: Whilst exhaling, pull your tummy into your spine as much as you can.

Step 3: Put your arms behind your back and wrap your right hand around your left hand’s wrist.

Step 4: Lift both arms up as high as possible and then pull your shoulder blades down. Hold for a couple of seconds, breath out, relax and then do it again. When ready swap over with the left hand holding the right hand’s wrist.

– Mary

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.

My Pilates JourneyWelcome to the first post in a new series called “My Pilates Journey” where Mary writes about her experience as she begins Pilates sessions with Chris Blagdon at the Edinburgh Pilates Centre.

Making my way to the Edinburgh Pilates Centre, I was nervous about what to expect from the assessment class. The word assessment can come off a little scary, especially when it is your own body someone is looking at. Although I have done yoga in the past, Pilates has always remained a mystery that, in my mind, was made for flexible people – a quality I have never attributed to myself. Upon entering the studio, all of my nerves dissipated. The room was warm and calming, with a class of three were already working on different areas of their body with Chris Blagdon, the owner and head of the Pilates Centre, moving expertly between them.

After filling out a medical history from, Chris asked me to stand in front of the mirror. Here he walked around and examined how I held my body when relaxed. Chris’ professional and warm nature was non-judgemental. After a minute or so, he pinpointed areas that we were going to work on in that session and for future ones – pelvis tilted forwards, left shoulder raised (my bag carrying arm), feet pointing slightly outwards, and shoulders rounded forward.

Listening to Chris explain how each of these issues was impacting my body and explaining the lower back pain I was having, I was struck by how much knowledge he has and how each person in that class was doing different exercises to benefit them rather than for sake of it.

If you’ve read a previous blog on here about the six principles of Pilates, then you will know that breathing is a key pillar of the practice. Our first exercise was to work on my breathing to completely fill up my rib cage, release and squeeze the abs whilst lying on my back with the knees bent. From here, in the same position, I did the same breathing but after squeezing the abs as far down as possible I pushed on my feet to lift my lower back of the couch and exhaled down. This was then built up to oblique, shoulder and hip flexor stretches. In between showing the exercises, Chris would walk between us and either encourage or correct a movement. Even if Chris was not next to you, he was still keeping an eye on each of us to make sure that we were doing the movements correctly. At the end of the session, we did a cool down where Chris took the time to demonstrate the best way to stretch by using your breath.  

After the first session, I could already feel the difference. My hip flexors and obliques, in particular, felt lighter. As I was walking back to my car, laughing comically at myself for how my legs were kicking out more the usual as my hip flexors were relaxed, I was already looking forward to the next session. For those that are nervous about starting the Edinburgh Pilates Centre is warm, inviting, and a safe environment that I, already, cannot recommend enough.

– Mary

 

Please get in touch if you have any questions about Pilates or are interested in beginning your own Pilates journey.