Practically Pilates

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Trying to master a challenging exercise discipline like Pilates is one thing. But what happens during the time you're away from the mat? What's the point in concentrating on body alignment maybe one hour a day when you slump and slouch your way through the other waking 16 or 17?

The answer, for Pilates instructor and author Brooke Siler, is an idea she calls the "invisible workout." What it amounts to is applying Pilates principles -- and a little imagination -- to the most mundane daily activities, everything from hoisting your squirming toddler to standing at the office photocopier. If you can, at the same time, envision yourself balancing on a teeter board or being pulled upward by puppet strings or preparing to execute a ballet move in a tutu (!) and toe shoes, that may help with the posture, she'd have you believe.

Siler demonstrates several applications of the concept in her new book, "Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge" (Broadway, $19.95).

For all the activities, the common principle is activating the core abdominal muscles that Pilates devotees refer to as "the powerhouse." Your stomach should be pulled in and up, your chest lifted, your spine straight and your weight evenly distributed. Increase your awareness of how you sit, stand, lift and carry throughout the day, Siler says, and you'll start to think of fitness not as a once-a-day chore but a way to move through the world.

While Watching TV

DO Move around, do floor exercises, sit on a stability ball. When you have to sit, sit erect -- stomach p ulled in, chest high, thighs parallel to the floor -- on the edge of your seat. Imagine you're a Greek sculpture, aiming for immortality and universal admiration.

DON'T forget yourself and become too friendly with the seat cushion, or let your spine become rounded.

At the photocopy machine

DO Draw up and elongate your waist until it feels higher than the top of the copier. Lift your neck. Tuck in your tailbone and tighten your buttocks. Imagine you're about to have your posture judged or are in position to do a plié.

DON'T Lean on the machine, slouch on one foot or let your head's weight pull you over the copier.

While lifting baby

DO Squat face to face with baby, buttocks out and weight centered on your heels, before you lift. Imagine there's a coiled spring behind you, helping you to bounce back up.

DON'T do a one-arm scoop or lift while your torso is twisted or your weight is on one leg.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company