**Adapted from a featured article in Appleton Monthly Magazine April 2018 “Healthy You” Edition.
Joseph Pilates, creator of the Pilates Method of fitness once said, “a man is as young as his spinal column. If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.” We spend most of our days sitting, slouching forward, and rarely moving our spines at all, and it’s taking a toll on our bodies—and our posture.
Pilates helps to move the spine in all directions which creates resiliency and flexibility that will keep your body feeling young through your years.
Try these four Pilates exercises to increase your spinal mobility and eliminate stiffness after a long period of sitting. Each one of these exercises moves the spine in a different direction: flexion, roation, side bending, and extension.
As always, make sure you consult your doctor or primary care provider before starting a new exercise program to ensure you are cleared for movement.
Spine Stretch Forward
Set-up: Sit up tall on your hips with the legs straight and shoulder-width apart. Flex your ankles and reach your arms forward at shoulder height.
Exercise: Inhale, and pull your abs in as you slide the shoulder blades forward. Reach and round through the spine as if you were bending over a fitness ball. Exhale, draw the shoulder blades back down your back as you roll to sit up tall on your hips. Repeat 6-8 times. In order to feel the stretch through your back, you must engage your core through the front. Really feel the abdominal wall pulling in and back to maximize the stretch through the backline of your body.
*Pro Tips: Think about elongating the spine forward, rather than “crunching” it forward. How much reach can you feel through the crown of your head? This exercise stretches the mid and upper back, so keep your hips anchored throughout the exercise (the pressure on the base of the pelvis should not change at all as you perform the movement).
Modification: If you are unable to sit-up all on your hips, place a soft bend in the knees so you can sit perpendicular to the ground, or prop yourself up on a pillow or book.
Set-up: Lay on your back with arms at your side, and extend your legs up to the ceiling at hip-height. Point through your ankles and actively hold your legs together.
Exercise: Inhale, swing both legs to the right, allowing the left hip to lift up and off the mat. Continue circling the legs down towards the ground while stabilizing both sides of the pelvic. Exhale, lift the legs back up towards the ceiling allowing the right hip to leave the mat, and return the legs to the starting position. Reverse the exercise by beginning to the left. Repeat 3-6 times each direction.
*Pro tips: Only let the legs lower toward the ground as much as you can without arching the low back. Feel for the subtle rotation of the low back as the hip lifts off the mat, keeping the hips level, the hip is lifting, but not hiking towards the ribcage.
Modification: For more support, allow the arms to be out in a “T” with the palms facing down, or keep the legs bent at a 90 degree angle while performing the exercise.
Side Leg Bananas
Set-up: Lay on your side with your head, shoulders, hips, and heels all in one straight line. Rest your head on your bicep with your palm facing towards the ceiling. Place your opposite hand palm facing down in front of your chest.
Exercise: Take an inhale to prepare for the movement. On the exhale, engage your core and lift both legs up and off of the mat. Feel your top hip move towards your ribcage. Inhale to lower back down, and on the next exhale, keep your legs down and lift your upper body off the mat all the way to the bottom of the shoulder blade using your waistline. Lower back down and try lifting both upper and lower together on your next exhale. Repeat the whole sequence (lower, upper, both) 2-3 times, then switch to lie on the other side and repeat.
*Pro tips: Keep the body in one long line from fingers to toes. Think about pressing your waistline down into the mat to help you stabilize as you lift.
Modification: Turn the palm of the arm overhead to face the ground and press into it while lifting just the head and legs off of the mat.
Set-up: Lay on your stomach with the palms facing down right below your shoulders, elbows pointing up. Legs long behind you in parallel as close together as is comfortable for your low back, kneecaps facing the ground.
Exercise: Inhale and engage the abs and press into your palms. Exhale, and slowly begin peeling the spine up and off the mat one vertebra at a time. Keep the shoulders gliding down your back, and lift only as high as you comfortably can. Try to feel for even extension through the spine, head is in line with the spine. Inhale at the top, and exhale to slowly lower the spine back down to the mat with control. Repeat 4-6 times.
*Pro tips: Keep the low back long and feel for a stretch through the front of your hips. As you lower back down to the mat, imagine the spine is pressing through the chest to stretch it longer as you lower down. Try to maintain the shoulders neutral and wide across your back throughout the exercise.
Modification: Place your hands level with your ears, and only rise as up to your elbows. Focus on anchoring the pubic bone into the mat the keep the pressure off of your low back.
Are you looking for an ab series that is quick and effective? Time to try the Pilates Series of Five. This popular Pilates sequence is sure to get you feeling your abdominals and working the core! Best part? It only takes 2 minutes to complete from start to finish.
The basic series includes these five exercises:
1) Single Leg Stretch
2) Double Leg Stretch
3) Single Straight Leg Stretch
4) Double Straight Leg Stretch
This series helps build the support structure that keeps us standing upright with our best posture and presenting our best selves forward. The core, also often referred to as “the powerhouse”, is always a great place to access inner strength to aid our extremities (arms and legs) which helps us preserve energy for things like a long walk, hike, or a day out running errands.
Parts of the Core
The core is comprised of four key components, the most famous or often spoken of, the rectus abdominis, is our most superficial layer. It’s often referred to as “the 6-pack muscle”, and its main job is forward flexion of the spine. But this is not the only part of our core. The external obliques and internal obliques are the next deepest layers that aid in rotation and flexion. But the final and most powerful layer that assists with our strength and posture is the deepest layer, the transverse abdominis. This muscle is our key core stabilizing muscle that wraps around us like an inner tube and helps hug the core inward, helps with upright posture, and most importantly stablizes the thoracic cavity and pelvis. Without using this muscle well it’s difficult for the body to perform efficient movement patterns. And without efficiency we have unnecessary energy expenditure. And I don’t know about you, but time and energy are precious to me…so if there are ways for me to be more efficient, I am all for it. The beauty of the “Series of Five” is that together these five exercises target all of the various components that make up our full core.
The Series of Five
Ultimately we want to work up to being able to perform each exercise for ten repetitions before moving to the next. And from start to finish, trying to make it through each set without stopping or lowering the head. But with all things in life, it’s best to work your way up to that level of strength and endurance. Start with trying to do each exercise just four times, and work up from there until you find yourself performing ten of each with ease.
The videos below will show two repetitions of each exercise.
1) Single Leg Stretch
Keep the pelvis stable and lift the head and shoulders off the mat. Left hand to your right shin, right hand to your right ankle. Inhale as you hug the right shin in with wide elbows. The opposite leg shoots out long at a high diagonal. Inhale again to change legs. Then exhale twice as you exchange from right to left again. Right and left counts as one rep.
Then draw both legs into the chest to transition into…
2) Double Leg Stretch
Begin with both shins hugged into the chest. Inhale as you extend and reach the arms high overhead (without lowering the shoulders) and send the legs out long to the high diagonal. Exhale as you brace the core in deeper and circle the arms to gather the shins back into center.
Extend the right leg long towards the ceiling and grab behind the thigh or calf. Lower the left leg towards the mat…
3) Single Straight Leg Stretch
Tug the right leg towards you as the left leg moves down. Take two quick breaths in through the nose as you “tug” the leg. Pulse twice in this position. Hold the crunch in your upper body as you switch legs and exhale through the mouth. Keep the knees straight and work for a smooth transition from side to side. Right and left counts as one rep.
Draw both legs together and press them into one another. Support your hands behind your head and extend the legs up towards the ceiling…
4) Double Straight Leg Stretch
Inhale to lower both legs down to hover above the mat as you point through you ankles. Try for as low as you can without arching the low back. Exhale flex your feet to reach energy long through your heels and hug the abdominal muscles in towards the spine as you lift the legs back up to the ceiling. Maintain the shoulder blades hovering off the mat throughout.
To transition, draw the right knee in and extend the left leg out to the low diagonal…
Upper body is lifted with hands behind your head, then rotate to bring the left shoulder towards the right knee with an inhale. Inhale again to bring the right shoulder blade towards the left knee, maintaining the lift of the torso through center as you change sides and legs. Then exhale for two actions (right and left). Right and left is one rep.
To finish, draw both legs into your chest and lower the head, neck, and shoulders to the mat. Turn your head to the right and let both knees fall left, then switch head to the left knees fall right.
Tips for Good Technique
Keep the torso and hips stable throughout the whole series
Pelvis maintains neutral throughout meaning that your front hip bones and pubic bone remain parallel to the ground
Legs should only lower towards the mat as much as you can without arching the low back
Don’t rush it! Enjoy slow, fluid movements to get the most impact
Pull the abdominal muscles in towards the spine instead of letting them press out
Each exhale allows you to pull the stomach muscles in deeper
Keep shoulders wide throughout the exercises, and all arm pulling actions are assisted from your lats
When hands are behind your head, they are supporting the weight of your skull, not pulling on the neck. Let your head rest heavy in the basket of your hands, and your spine flexing forward is what produces your forward flexion and abdominal curve
Start with just a few repetitions of each exercise and work up to the full series
Take breaks between each exercise as needed until you build up strength and endurance
I hope you enjoy this sequence and find it as a helpful tool for your movement practice. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’re interested in doing one-on-one training to practice, I train students virtually and sessions can be booked on my booking site.
If you had to describe the current pace of your life using one word what would it be? Frenzied? Peaceful? Panicked? Joyful? Never-ending? Mindful? Is pace something that is just happening to you? When is the last time you made a conscious choice about your pace?
Fast, slow, sprint, sneak, are just a few of the ways that kid play. Exploring the world around them and the various paces of being they can implement. Our pace is a choice we make. But do you find yourself falling into the same pace without giving it much thought or consideration? I have found that noticing and playing with pace has been one of the most powerful remedies for my anxiety.
Childhood Exploration of Pace
When we were kids we played with pace all the time. It was part of exploring our own physical body within the environment around us. It was part of interacting with others in the spaces around us. Curiosity and possibility at the forefront of our young minds. But when did the playing stop and at what cost?
Growing up, I used to play this game with my siblings. When watching a TV show during the commercial breaks (this was before the time of Netflix and DVR) we would run to our bedrooms and try to clean up as many things as we could and then try to sneak back and arrive the closest to the end of the commercial break without going over (think Price is Right). We’d experience the contrast and rush from sitting and watching TV, running and picking things up, and then sneaking quietly down the stairs to the TV without being noticed, all the while having friendly competition with one another. This also provided a way for us to feeling like cleaning our rooms was fun…imagine that? And playing with contrasting speeds made this feel all the more exciting.
Then we had the game “Red light, Green light” we would play with friends during recess. In this game a group of people stand in a line far away from one person, a caller, who is facing away. The caller exclaims “green light” and the group of people try to race forward and be the first person to tag the caller. At any moment, the caller can exclaim “red light” and then turn around to look at the group. The group then has to “freeze” in place, if the caller detect anyone still moving that person is out. The caller then turns around and says “green light” and the travel forward continues until they yell “red light” again and try to catch someone still moving.
Though these may be games from childhood, they offer me some insight. The contrast in these games is what created the challenge. We had to wield control over the pace in which we were doing things. How can I both quicken and then immediately slow or stop? How can I take control of my own pace within my body, my environment, and the world? We learned that we were capable of doing so…and then we grew up.
Play Outsourced for Productivity
Work, life, home maintenance, social schedule, responsibilities, relationships, all started vying for our attention. Making their demands of our energy, our resources, our time, and we default. The pace of life began to snowball, collecting more and more speed as it raced down hill. Making its demands bigger, louder, and faster and faster until inevitable, we get sick, depressed, anxious, overworked, on auto-pilot, and are forced to slow down. Benjamin Franklin said “There will be plenty of time to sleep once you are dead”,but let me tell you Ben, your body is not a machine. It is not designed to perpetually work on overdrive, overworked, overwhelmed, and over-committed. We shouldn’t need a health crisis in order to grant ourselves permission to slow down. And we don’t have to live as a slave to the frenetic pace of life that the modern Western world touts as necessary to “keep up with the Jones”.
There is a lot of space in between sprinting and stopping? There is a lot of bandwidth available. Do you operate in more than one bandwidth? Do you exercise the option to choose your pace throughout the day?
Anxiety and Speed
I often find that when I’m anxious, I begin moving at a faster pace, physically quickening the speed at which I’m performing my tasks. Sometimes I’m not even aware of my anxiety because I’m moving so quickly there isn’t time to acknowledge it. But the moment I stop to take an exhale, I can feel the rising panic: the dissonance, the dissatisfaction, the doubt, the fear. The fastness feels frantic. The frenzy leads to fury. And the fact that I’m “getting things done” doesn’t even matter because I feel so disconnected from myself and the world around me.
I believe we often move quickly because we feel overwhelmed with the amount that we believe we have to do each day. With a massive lists of tasks, chores, correspondence, responsibilities, we see speed as the only viable solution. Quickening as our only option. But what if I told you that slowing might be the solution? How would your day feel if you tried that?
Slowing as Solution
I like to use the physical act of slowing down to bring me back to myself. When my anxiety is high, my pace is typically fast. Just the act of noticing this and slowing down my body immediately makes me feel more at ease. Do I have to be moving that fast? Is hurry even helpful?
Author Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God reflects “I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all that rushing. Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” What lies in the wake of your rushing? What are you missing out on for the sake of getting that “just one more thing done”?
The physical act of slowing and yielding brings me into the present awareness of what I am doing. It makes sure that I’m not missing each moment of life that passes by. My life experience is more valuable than my output. Slowing my pace allows me to be an insider in my own life, versus an outsider looking in seeing my life pass before me as a line of outputs on a conveyor belt. Slowing helps me enjoy the moment and really notice the nuances and joy in even the most mundane and common tasks. I keeps me in the present and helps me to connect deeper to myself, my immediate environment, and the world around me.
Speed as Selection
Playing with speed and cadence of movement can be fun when we become aware of it. We are not a slave to the pace of life that we live. We have choice in how we move through the world. We can run, sprint, meander, crawl, leap, skip, or just be. We have more control over our physical experience than we often think. We are not fully slave to the feelings and sensations that we experience, and finding ways to manage them can be super empowering. Maybe pace is just one of the tools we can wield.
When we are anxious, we do not have to move fast or quicken our pace. When we feel tired or lethargic, we do not have to move slowly. When we are bored, we do not have to sit and sulk. Each of these options are a choice. And in order to change our choice, we have to first become aware that we can choose! It all starts with noticing.
Never Too Old for Play
Once we grow out of school aged, it seems our environment doesn’t build in as many opportunities to play. The memories of these games linger on as nostalgia, but we often do not recapture the essence of these games in our adult lives.
When we open our eyes to see pace not as something happening to us, but as a conscious choice we can use it as a super power. A way to play with our experience in the world around us. And I believe all of our lives could use a little more play!
Here are three games that I love to implement to explore pace in my adult life as choice:
1) A Snail’s Pace
I used to have a plastic molded early 1970s sign in my bedroom. I found it a local thrift shop, and it had a large cartoon graphic of a snail and in bubble letters the words “Slow is Beautiful.” A small visual reminder to slow, exhale, and see beauty. I started practicing A Snail’s Pace exercise when I caught myself becoming anxious from the pace I was demanding of myself. I also like to use it when I notice that I’m moving super quickly as a means to just “get something done”.
In “A Snail’s Pace”, make the conscious choice to move super-slow and see how your nervous system shifts. See how your awareness shifts. See how your presence in the moment shifts. Start by moving at 50% of the rate. Try that for about a minute. Then, see if you can again cut in half your pace, and decrease by another 50%. Sit with that pace for a while. How does that feel? What nuances do you become aware of? Can you decrease by another 50%? This may even feel like slow motion.
The slower we move, the more intentional we must become. Really sensing and feeling, how does my arm move? What are the micro-shifts happening in my body to maintain balance while I’m moving more slowly? This is a great one to implement when doing the dishes or folding laundry. It’s helps to bring interest to the often mundane. How does this fabric feel? What sound does the sponge make? Where is my body in space at this exact moment?
This exercise I often find myself performing out of need. When I catch myself in the pattern of moving too quickly, getting stressed and overwhelmed, or completely not feeling present in the activity I’m doing. I do this exercise as a personal prescription. It’s time for Snail’s Pace…exercise ensue.
2) Race the Clock
If you’re anything like me, tidying up the house is not a favorite past time of mine. But I find play, games, and friendly-competition (even if it’s with myself) super enjoyable. So, take a look at your time window. You have 15 minutes until you have to be out the door…set a timer for 10 minutes, and Race the Clock. How much can you tidy up and put away before the timer goes off? I love this exercise because it physically gets me moving faster with awareness. And after all, variety is the spice of life! We need movement variety and variance to keep us on our toes, and since I’m making the conscious choice about my pace and speed, it’s enjoyable to race around and chase the clock.
You will find yourself bending, jogging, reaching, lifting, ducking, and speeding around from space to space. Who knew you could accomplish so much in such a small time window by just challenging yourself with a timer. Maybe, you’ll even break a small sweat! And don’t worry, it will still leave you with 5 minutes before you have to be out the door and on to what’s next. When you’re done racing the clock, upon stopping, the world around you will feel slower paced. The richness of the contrast will stick with you for hours to come. And when you’re done being out and about, you’ll be able to come home to a more inviting space with less visual clutter and mess. Happy mind, happy body.
3) Interval Training
You’re likely familiar with the phrase interval training ever since H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) became popular within the last decade. But intervals don’t have to just be for high intensity. The magic of interval training lies in the contrast between one state and another. For H.I.I.T. it’s the high intensity exercises and then the period of complete rest. How could intervals be implemented into your daily life? Many runners do this through Fartlek running. The Swedish word “Fartlek”, which literally translates to “speed play”, describes this exact process of running at a quick pace for a period of time and then switching to a slower pace, and then repeating this pattern, quick to slow. But pace is not the only think that Fartlek running varies, it also emphasizes varying terrain. Changing our speed and terrain are both ways to add more interest to our work and our environment.
Next time you are taking a walk with your dog, with your stroller, with a friend, try and incorporate some interval training to bring more interest. Power walk for a few blocks, then meander for a few blocks. Take a new route to change your terrain. Walk on the grass in the median instead of the concrete sidewalk. Hike through a nature preserve on mulch instead of on the paved walking path.
Kids love this too as a means to make walking more interesting. Racing to the light post, romping through the grass, slow motion as you step over the sidewalk cracks, the variety is as expansive as your creative mind.
Power over Pace
Pace can be overpowering, or pace can be play. We must become aware of when we are hurried, worried, racing. Without this awareness we are unable to harness pace for its power. We can use pace as a choice, instead of allowing it to be a dictator. May you invite pace into your life as a playful partner to your day. Slowing and quickening with conscious choice.
I wrote this short poem below after walking alone along the Atlantic ocean shores in Myrtle Beach South Carolina last November. Taking notice of my relationship with speed, pace, urgency, and slowing. It’s a conscious practice, and maybe someday it will take me less conscious effort. But for now, I’m happy that I can acknowledge and note within myself when I’m physically quickening as a response to my mind’s racing. And with this simply acknowledgement I can then make a conscious choice to quiet the anxieties within me, and rest on the helm of slowing.
Two things happened this week that brought me to these realizations. I did a headstand and my dad was approached by a former Pilates student of mine.
Last night I showed my husband a video (see video below) of me doing movement and then going straight up into a headstand on the hardwood floor of our living room. After watching it he asked me “what if you didn’t make it up?” I appreciated his concern and said, “well if I undershot, I would have simply landed back on my foot, and if I overshot, I would have just somersaulted out of it.” I appreciated his concern as he was nervous that I would have hit the wall or our door and injured myself. But when I woke up this morning I was still reflecting upon this dialogue, and I realized the interesting part about it was that I had never considered not making it up in my headstand. I was purely confident that I would be able to, and I did.
I’ve spent my whole life (since age three) in the dance community and movement spaces. And at first, it provided me with a lot of self-belief and physical confidence. And then into my teenage years and beyond it started to diminish both of these things. As more voices came in, more comparison, more doubt, more frustrations, more insecurities, more pushing beyond my physical limits/fatigue, and an almost masochistic like punishment to myself for not being capable of what I wanted. I became rigid, I became tense, and I became fragile physically and mentally. It became easier to be disappointed in myself instead of proud. It was easier to focus on what wasn’t measuring up instead of the small steps and marked improvements I was making. I didn’t want to recognize or honor the process, just wanted the progress, or if I’m being completely honest, I wanted the perfection. I let my mind get in the way of my body. I let my mind control my body. And my mind then shaped my physical capacity. My thoughts became my beliefs.
One of my college dance teachers, Joan Karlen, actually said to me in my early 20s “Courtney, tension isn’t strength, tension is just tension.” This has stuck with me ever since and became a marked beginning of a paradigm shift in my life.
I held my body stiff as an armor. I believed that if I was just “strong enough”, “tough enough”, “held-together enough” that I could physically achieve what I was hoping I could become, and would be seen by others as a certain amount of strong. After hearing that from Joan, I remember a distinct moment a few days later where I released my belly, my stomach muscles, and just let my stomach hang out. And I swear to this day that may have been the first time in my over 20 years old life, that I let my abdomen relax. And back then I wondered why I had digestive issues? “Tension is strength, holding my belly in makes me appear thinner/lean, holding everything in and together makes me appear together.” I needed to move towards dismantling these beliefs. From that point forward in my dancing, I noticed a profound shift. I became stronger, more supple in my movement, more connected, more sensitive, and most importantly, more kind to myself. I made physical improvements in leaps and bounds.
Fast forward over a decade, I am still in the dance and movement space. And I feel incredible, resilient, strong, and capable. And I’ve done a lot of physical and mental work towards dismantling my beliefs about myself in the spaces between. And I know I will be constantly working on these things as long as I’m living in this world because of being surrounded by our culture and environment. It can be difficult to mute the voices, the ads, the dialogues, the comparison. But I talk to myself differently now, I feel different, and I am different, and for this I’m extremely grateful. And turns out, with theses shifts, I have more movement capacity, confidence, and connection that I ever had before with my old beliefs.
Going up into my headstand yesterday, December 21st, 2022, I was purely confident that I would be able to, and I did. This is a huge mark of improvement. I have spent years rebuilding up my self-belief and physical confidence. Deconstructing decades of thoughts and beliefs I let seep in, and reconstructing my most human instincts of curiosity, play, delight, confidence, and self-belief. And also…practice, a lot of practice, because movement is a life-long practice. But since we are in our physical bodies for the long haul I consider it an extremely important and essential practice.
You see, as infants, toddlers, kids, we tend to have this belief in ourselves and our abilities. We simply try things with a certain curiosity in the world and believe we will be successful. Or even if not successful, with a delight that it was fun trying and will be fun continuing to try. We aren’t afraid of failing or not being good at things. Into our teens and beyond, hesitancy, insecurity, and self-doubt become louder voices. Our physical bodies do not function as well with these thoughts as our primary beliefs. Not only are these the voices from ourselves, but we start to listen more to the voices of others—peers, parents, adults, coaches, dance teachers, media, doctors. And the doubts, they trickle in so slowly that we might not even notice them, but before long there is a chasm from where we started as a baby to where we ended on one side of a deep abyss. Comparison also becomes a primary way that we measure ourselves up to the world around us and in doing so the desire to even be curious and try new things begins to diminish. “It’s too late to start.” “I’ll never be as good at so-and-so at this so why bother.” “My body’s not as young as it used to be so surely I’ll injury myself trying.”
I see this especially happen in students that I’ve worked with that have been diagnosed with certain health conditions and considerations. These labels can become debilitating. “Don’t do this, don’t do that, never do x, y, z” to the point that basic movement of any type seem no longer possible. “Well, if I can’t bend my knee more that 90 degrees, no flexion of the spine, no lifting my arms above my head, then I guess I simply cannot move at all…” So movement becomes something to fear, something to avoid, and something stifling. Even when evidence would point to that any movement is better than no movement at all, these “hard nos” and blanket statements about our capacity cause an operating in the world with fragility and rigidness, which often in and of itself leads to more injury and increased lack of mobility.
Helping dismantle some of these deep rooted beliefs is the most rewarding part about working one-on-one with students. I’m realizing more and more this is what I actually do as a Pilates instructor and movement educator. It’s the primary way in which I can evoke change in people’s bodies. Students over the years have told me that I’m magic, or that I’m a healer, but I am neither of these things. What I actually do is I help people reframe the way they view their bodies and their mindset surrounding their capacity. After almost 12 years of training students one-on-one through the Pilates method and others movement modalities I’ve had the joy to see so many people with varying injuries, insecurities, physical conditions, health concerns, diagnoses, and disabilities have breakthroughs in their physical confidence. I’ve been able to be the trusting and supportive eyes to help them re-discover their true movement potential. To help provide the right conditions in which they could deconstruct their beliefs about their physical capacity. This is my greatest joy and a huge key to our overall wellness. This is why body education, re-education, and mental and physical conditioning is so important. It helps us create a happy body and happy mind.
My father told me earlier this week he was approached by a former Pilates student of mine. I have since moved away so she is not longer a student, but I trained her 1-2x a week for about a year. When she saw my dad, she made sure to track him down and told him that “your daughter Courtney saved my life with Pilates.” After hearing this sentiment I smiled and knew this is exactly what she’s talking about. It’s not me, it’s not Pilates, it’s the support and belief that I could extend to her, to believe in herself and her capacity. Sure, there was movement education along the way, understanding dynamic alignment, exercises to help with imbalances, a specific curated program to help aid in getting back to the activities she loved dearly, but mostly, it was helping her make her own mental shift. To become purely confident that she would be able to have her life back, and she did.
How can we be both sensitive to our own bodies, but also believe in our capacity? The less we believe we are capable, the more we will tip-toe around our physical existence and be hesitant to move at all. And the movement we are doing (or not doing today) affect all of our future movements and movement potential. Movement is a necessity of life! The moment we stop moving, we stop living.
Where do you stand when it comes to your self-belief and physical confidence? What barrier to movement do you perceive and do those perceptions measure up to reality? What conditions would help you feel safe, secure, and supported to challenge your beliefs about what you are capable of?
Courtney Anne Holcomb is a professional dance artist, movement educator, Pilates teacher, choreographer, creative, and nature enthusiast. She currently lives in Sheboygan, WI and teaches various modalities surrounding her passions of movement, nature, creativity, and self reflection through her community “Move and Yield.” Through her work she aims to impart a genuine connection of body-mind-environment, share what a fully embodied existence can feel like, instill personal kindness to one’s body, and evoke genuine expression through movement.
Now, I realize that this is a very millennial thing to say, but I cannot deny the truth of it. And if I’m being transparent, before the RV trip it started with the pandemic, panic attacks, and having pursued and fulfilled a childhood dream of opening a Pilates studio. After graduating college with a degree in Dance and Spanish, and simultaneously pursuing my Pilates education, I moved back to my hometown of Neenah, WI where I swore I’d never live again…I made an original business plan for a Pilates studio in entrepreneurship class back in high school. I saw the need in my hometown local community and felt I would be remiss to not use my skillset to meet the need in my community. Spring of 2016 I opened Waveforms Pilates, specializing in highly-specific one-on-one training with bodies of all abilities. We owned a beautiful 1941 mid-century modern house, I spent years creating beautiful gardens, expanding my business, and building a movement culture throughout the Fox Cities area. On paper everything was amazing, a thriving business, sharing my passion for movement, building community, and a lovely home. But looming in the background, anxiety and panic began to consume larger portions of my days.
Starting around August of 2020, I began having a series of small panic attacks. The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic, balancing the needs of myself, my students, and my family, and my growing anxiety started to make life more debilitating. On top of that, my husband had just received a pretty big diagnosis that gave him more insight into why over the past 2-3 years his health and physicality was deteriorating. I have managed minor anxiety throughout my whole life, but the panic attacks were new territory. Intellectually I could talk myself out of the anxiety, but it was always background noise even in the environments I felt most safe and in control (the Pilates studio and my home). The sensations of a panic attack coming on I felt no control over. This was terrifying for me. I lost weight, I lost sleep, I started to avoid making plans, and I began to feel like a shell of myself. Stress had taken over and my body and mind were fighting a constant state of fight-or-flight, with no sign of thriving even though from the outside view everything looked amazing. Rationally the business had never been busier, our finances were incredible, my husband super supportive, and I had great relationships with friends and family, where was the dissonance?
Fast-forward to January of 2021, my husband and I both came home from work with the same thing in mind. Is this what we want the rest of our lives to look like? A successful business, beautiful home, comfortable life, but our mental and physical health suffering? Sometimes in life we are called to say goodbye to things, even when they are good. Just like the lyrics from The Fray’s song “All at Once”, “sometimes the hardest things and the right thing are the same.” There are seasons to life and a boldness often required. A braveness to look within and continue to ask questions what might be best for oneself? Even if it’s not easy. We didn’t want to be people who stuck with something that was good, even though it no longer felt right. We wanted to step into a life design that could include prioritizing our personal health and wellbeing. We felt confident that there was a new place, a new chapter, and a next iteration of what our future could look like to be explored. My family and I entered into the great unknown with a lot a bit of blind faith and a whole lot of trust.
After our conversations together and a few months of getting some affairs in order, May 2022 we sold our home and most of our possessions, and June 2021 we sold our successful brick-and-mortar Pilates studio to our dear friend who had been an instructor at the studio for over two years. We wanted to hit the road on a year-long sabbatical to take time for pause and re-evaluation. Spending part of our thirties to rest and restore our personal health and wellbeing, and look deeper into what we wanted our future life design to not only look like, but feel like. Cherishing time with one another and re-discovered what makes us come alive. We started by living in community with some dear friends, transitioned to the road traveling full time in an RV, and then bought a condo and settled into the beautiful lakefront of Sheboygan, WI.
Move and Yield Emerges
Move and Yield emerged out of this journey and the self-discovery of what I found provides me with the most fulfillment: movement, yielding, nature, creative expression, and community.
Move and Yield is a community initiative that was born out of my own need to slow down and find joy in all aspects of my life. As an entrepreneur and small business owner I found myself full of purpose, but lacking in fulfillment. The fast-pace of modern society left me feeling worn out, full of anxiety, and with little time and space for listening inward to what my body and mind truly needed. I longed for delight, connection, and expression.
The focus is on encouraging people to move more, connect to the natural world, find creative expression, invest in community, and spend thoughtful time in yield. When we race through life it passes us by, and joy gets lost in the spaces in between. Slowing down the modern pace of life is essential for helping us connect to self, build meaningful relationships, and contribute to the world. Nature provides a perfect backdrop to take us away from the many distractions and stressors of modern life and helps connect us to the vastness of the world. So many of the movement meet-ups and events will exist in outdoor spaces.
Move may seem obvious, in our modern sedentary-laden culture, but what do I mean in terms of yield? In life we must slow and listen in order to know what our bodies and minds truly need. When we stay “busy” we are robbed of the ability to tap into self-awareness and connection. When we are disconnected to self it’s extremely difficult to connect with others, and to sense our connection to the greater world around us. This in turn makes our purpose feel lacking and our lives feeling empty. The feeling of life in a “hamster wheel” is not an enjoyable outcome of our efforts. Yielding is a process of slowing to help us tap into an embodied and full existence, and to help us discover what our true inner desires in life consist of. Slowing down to take notice of all life has to offer. And savoring and prioritizing the experiences that bring us alive.
Move and Yield is a community that provides curated content and classes that balance moving more and yielding to reconnect and slow the modern pace of life. All of these things encompassed and focused on the themes of both moving and yielding more in our day-to-day lives.
Drawing Inspiration from:
Pilates, functional fitness, intuitive movement, dance, and play
Building variety, frequency, and awareness in our movement practice
Connecting to nature and spending time in outdoor spaces
Teaching compassion, capability, and kindness to ones body
Thoughtful introspection and turning inward to discover our inner desires
Moving the spine in all directions and exploring movement possibilities
Beauty that surrounds us in one another, nature, and within ourselves
Simplicity, sustainability, and minimalism
Curiosity and creativity about what our artistic expression is in this world
Daring to play to access joy and delight in life
A holistic approach to wellness that considers mind, body, and spirit
Setting intentions in our movement practices and lives
Online Pilates-informed movement mat classes
Bi-monthly book club meetings on themes surrounding Move and Yield
Small group movement series
Movement Meet-ups and classes in natural settings
Instagram inspirations and content @courtneyannemoves
A newsletter with articles, musings, tips, and upcoming events
Adult modern dance/embodied movement classes
A combination of virtual experiences and in-person experiences for people to join from near and far
We are being called towards movement and yielding.
Emerging from sabbatical with fresh insight
This is my next iteration of life and I’m certain it will not be a final one as I value the importance of continually looking within and reassessing. Does this no longer serve me? And then the bravest part of it all, being willing to exercise boldness when the answer to that question is “no”, but the road to change looks insurmountable. The big steps that each have a hundred little steps required that feel like they’ll never end…but the risk of staying put feels all the more mountainous. What helped was not looking at the situation as loss, but an act of letting go. Loss is something that happens to us and is not within our control. But the act of letting things go is a process that we exercise purposefully. A willingness that we cultivate within ourselves and do with permission and recognition. I’m letting this go because it no longer serves me, and freeing myself to the future possibilies that await me. Move and yield is full of possibitilies, aligns with my values, and I believe has a lot of value to offer to in these modern times. I cannot wait to share more with you in the months and years to come. Stay tuned. <3
-Courtney Anne Holcomb
Follow the instagram account @courtneyannemoves to join the dialogue and find access to classes and offerings here on courtneyanne.org and by signing up for our free newsletter here.
To see adventures from the road on our RV trip, check out my page @moveandyield on Instagram.
I am standing on the road in a moment of yield. Imagining what lies ahead while simultaneously sensing all the residual energy behind me, guiding me. I think of the physical movement forward that lead me to being here, now, in this exact moment of pause at the center of the road. As I turn my head to see where I came from, I recall that in movement is always where I found and felt my sense of belonging. A group of others I felt a connection to, spoke my embodied language, and understood me at my core.
I’ve always felt different and unable to connect with what seemed most valued in our culture— wealth acquisition, competition, consumerism, productivity, climbing corporate ladders. All I wanted was to move, create, contribute, and to be seen. To truly feel seen beyond the surface. I wanted to feel connected and understood. Going through much of life not feeling understood carried a weight with it, a disconnect. It made it hard for me to relate and understand the strivings of others. This went both ways whereas I may not understand things like the desire to upgrade to the newest smartphone, they may not understand my desire to dance barefoot in the forest. Over the years taking a deep dive into movement has been a process of identifying a place for me to belong and somewhere that I felt I could contribute and add value to others. This is where movement revealed its potential as a powerful mediator.
Body and Movement as Common Language
The physical body and the experience of movement hold powerful tools for connecting and belonging. A physical body is something we all share, a common denominator. We exist in it everyday and none of us can escape it until death. We can chose to try and hide our body, neglect it, beat it down, outsource its work, ignore it, but it will always be with us. We need our bodies for expression, to connect with others, to connect with self, and the beauty of the moving body is that no words are required to express oneself.
Movement gives understanding without needing language. Movement is required for every second of every day, and this alone ties us together. This alone helps us relate. It forms a connection. It’s no longer just me, it’s we. Body and movement highlighting our collective humanity. “Hey, I have a body too. I move too. I desire to be seen too.” As soon as a movement is witnessed by someone else, then that moment is shared. Movement provides us with a sense of belonging and relating, not just to our own body, but to a greater sense of connection with others outside ourselves–beyond our kinespheres. Our bodies are just waiting full to the brim with movement possibilities. What if you let your movement be witnessed? Your physical body be witnessed? How would that feel? Is that thought terrifying? Would it be worth it?
Enter the witness
I think movement is richer and more meaningful when we have a witness. Sometimes this witness is a friend, a lover, a teacher, a classmate, and sometimes it’s the trees as they quietly take in CO2 and create oxygen around us.
This level of connection is why I love teaching students one-on-one, to play witness as I curate and facilitate an environment that a student feels safe and seen. The growing trust as session to session the student sees themselves building their movement vocabulary and expanding their capabilities. Challenging their mind to what’s possible with this vessel they’ve been entrusted with for their lifetime. This is why I enjoyed the relationship building element of teaching a deep movement practice that demands mind and body involvement. It’s never just “giving a workout”. It’s a dance in and of itself requiring listening from both parties. The student tuning into themselves. Me, reading the student as they walk into the room, sensing their energy, making a quick assessment on what they may need today, and guiding them as a focused witness ready to pivot at any point when I can sense that may be necessary. Remaining sensitive at all times to the ever-changing landscape of the moving body. Having someone entrust me to bear witness is never something I take lightly. I become the audience, and being seen, feeling seen, is a vulnerable thing for the mover. It takes time, investment, trust, and willingness from all participants.
Movement with Mindfulness
No movement is ever the same, so there cannot be a prescription. You will never be able to recapture the feeling of a movement you’ve had in the past. This ephemeral quality, the movement happens and is fleeting, requires you to be present in the first place or the experience is lost. You’ll never get it back. You’ll never feel it again. It can never be witnessed again. And if you don’t do the movement to begin with you’ll never get the opportunity back. This is what makes the experiences I foster and create feel so important.
How do all of these ideas translate to my personal fitness and movement experiences? What makes one experience feel different from another? How does this influence the way I teach? This is what lacks in “just taking class” or “working out.” This is often why I feel so lonely when I roll out my mat at my house and follow along with a DVD: the level of connection and the shared experience. Though my body may be moving, my sense of belonging is absent. This has been a profound reflection for me as I think of the type of work I want to do going forward, both personally and professionally.
This past year I’ve been traveling with my husband, listening to my own body, bearing witness to my husband’s health conditions, and taking life day by day willing to pivot whenever necessary—even if that means big life changes, again. After having almost a year off from regular teaching, what I miss most is the relationships and togetherness. Helping and guiding others in their self-discovery. To make movement belong in their lives and in their bodies. For them to feel a deep sense of belonging. Competition and comparison have no space in my movement practice or my instruction. I’d rather teach ownership, compassion, capability, curiosity, and kindness to ones body. To help students abandon the fear of feeling seen—just as they are each day.
If you’ve ever allowed me to stand in as witness, thank you for entrusting me. Your vulnerability and courage is one of my life’s greatest teachers. I hope you felt seen and encouraged. I hope you left with kindness towards your vessel and increased confidence for the paths ahead of you. I hope you found that along the way you were more capable than you imagined, and that being seen and putting yourself out there in the world did not have to be scary. You as you, just as you wonderfully are each day.
This is just a small glimpse as I look over my shoulder and what I carry with me as I start to look to the road ahead of the types of experiences I want to continue to offer. What movement opportunities I want to curate, how I want to contribute, and the type of world I want to witness and share. What I know for sure is that I will continue to move, create, contribute, and be seen. And I hope to continue to have thousands of opportunities in the future to be entrusted as a witness.
I am so grateful to have been featured in the 920 Feature of the Appleton Monthly Magazine. This feature highlights people in the area that have unique jobs, passions, and interests. Learn more about what brought me to becoming a movement educator and Pilates instructor at the article below!
Over the years I have worked with hundreds of dancers on both technique, choreography, and conditioning. I’ve said a lot of the same corrections over the years, seen a lot of the same injuries, and witnessed the gap in traditional dance training to teach the HOW TO of many corrections. The purpose of a dance class is to keep the class moving, which means there is not always time for teachers to break down body mechanics and explain the corrections they may be giving. That is why I’ve designed the Dance Bright Workshop Series.
is a workshop series that focuses on movement education and intelligent
strength and conditioning specifically for dancers. The purpose of Dance Bright
is to help dancers improve their body awareness, better understand their anatomy
and alignment, and learn about proper muscle recruitment and release techniques. These workshops dig deeper into specific
concepts and corrections that come up often in dance classes, but that a dance
class setting doesn’t always have time to fully explain or explore. Dance Bright will help close the gap between
what dancers are told they should be doing, and how they can do it.
Workshops are 2 hours and 15 minutes in length and combine
an element of lecture, movement exploration, strengthening, and
stretching. The series is designed for
dancers ages 12-adult.
Join us for our first workshop in the Dance Bright series, “Understanding our Hips and Core”, Wednesday, August 21st, 1:15-3:30 PM, located at Waveforms Pilates, 210 S. Commercial Street, Neenah, WI.
This workshop explores pelvic placement/alignment, proper core function and use, strengthening strategies for our hip stabilizers, as well as release techniques for tightness in the hip area. Through a combination of lecture, movement exploration, strengthening, and stretching, students will leave with an understanding of how to align and stabilize their hips to support the dynamic movements required while dancing.
Cost of workshop is $59 and includes a pinky ball and Franklin air ball for dancers to take home with them to incorporate the exercises and stretching strategies they learn at the workshop.
Pre-registration and payment is required by August 12th, 2019. Seats are limited! To reserve your seat or for question, reach out to Courtney Holcomb via phone (920) 740-3085 or e-mail to email@example.com
The Dance Bright Workshop Series was designed by Courtney Anne Holcomb. She is a professional dancer, choreographer, PMA®-Certified Pilates Trainer, and owner of Waveforms Pilates in Neenah, WI. She received a BA in Dance, and brings over 15 years of dance and fitness instruction, 9+ years of Pilates training, and professional performance credentials. She’s worked with dancers ages 2.5-adult to help improve their technique, alignment, confidence, and expression through movement.
I always knew the I was designed for movement. Having been a dancer since age three, I loved the feeling of my body traveling through space. It wasn’t until I was a preteen that I realized that my body was so much tighter that I wanted it to be. Though I moved, I felt stiff, and when I tried to move more, it felt rigid. Being someone who has always dealt with chronic low back pain as well as stiffness/rigidness throughout my whole spine, I operated in the world for years thinking that this was “simply how I was created” and I would have to learn to endure through the pain my whole life, and then, I found Pilates, at age 15.
Through the consistent practice of Pilates I have been able to create more mobility in my spine than I ever though possible. With all of the movement principles of Pilates working together–breathing, core activation, neutral pelvis, abdominal strengthening, lumbo-pelvic stability, spinal strength and mobility, scapular strength and mobility, alignment and posture analysis, release work, and stretching–I have felt more length, mobility, and strength in my body and spine than ever before and I have been able release years of chronic tension from my muscles and skeleton. I now feel I have access to more space in my joints and spine and I continue to work towards opening and accessing more of my body each time I practice Pilates and dance.
Re-patterning the body does not happen overnight, but there is a great reward associated with creating new muscle memory that facilitates optimal anatomical efficiency throughout the body, producing a pathway to operate with a sense of ease and availability to movement. Whether it be in a dance class, performance, or just walking around, or standing for a long period of time, Pilates grants me the ability to move properly from the body’s natural design. Joseph Pilates, who created the system in the early 1920’s stated, “It’s not about what you do, but how you do it.” Or as my dad always says, “Train smarter, not harder.” Yes, we have to work with what we have, but this should not be limiting. We DO have the capacity to change and transform our bodies, with time, patience, and proper practice.
myself personally, now have been practicing Pilates for over 11 years and
remain as engaged in the practice as when I began. I continue to see and feel
changes within my body and make new discoveries with every class I take. Now,
as a fully Certified Pilates Instructor, I get to share my passion for movement
with the world. It’s so exciting to share Pilates with others through
teaching and sharing in the joy that others experience when they make new
discoveries in their own bodies. Transformation is something wonderful to
information on Pilates practice, or to schedule a free consulation, please
e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org