Today is all about Pilates exercises that take us upside down. Tune in to hear some of the benefits of inversions, the mental and physical challenges they can entail, how to rise to those challenges, and my favorite ways to make inversions more accessible.
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:46] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're going to be talking about inversions in Pilates and a little bit about what they are, what [00:01:00] challenges they may pose for you, and then also some tips and tricks for navigating those inversions as they may come up in your Pilates practice.
[00:01:10] I'm defining an inversion exercise, or an exercise as an inversion if during the exercise, your hips end up higher than your heart and your head. This can be everything from Jack knife on the mat, roll over, boomerang, corkscrew, high scissors, bicycle, shoulder bridge. There's more of them, but those are the ones that are coming to mind right now. On the reformer, it's things like overhead or short spine massage along spine massage. Anytime your legs, hips, heart are going higher than your head we're going to call that an inversion.
[00:01:55] Inversions can be really challenging, both physically in terms of strength and [00:02:00] endurance, but also mentally. So I want to chat about that as well. Today, we're going to be looking at the value of adding in versions to your practice or the value that they're adding to your practice already, some of the challenges, both mental and physical that you might be confronted with as you work on those exercises, as well as some tips and tricks for navigating them.
[00:02:24] Joseph Pilates definitely saw the benefits to inversions as there are many inverted exercises in his repertoire. And the third exercise of both classic mat and classic reformer are both inversions. And there are many more after that, but he definitely jumps right into them.
[00:02:44] A big cliche about benefits of inversions that often comes up is that it's a new perspective and, you know, things look different when you're upside down. Yes they do. But I also think they give you a new perspective in another way. [00:03:00] And that's just the fact that we're in a different relationship to gravity. And this is something that happens a lot in our Pilates exercises that we'll be lying on our side, lying on our front, lying on our back. All of those body positions, including upside down are really valuable because we spend a lot of our life vertical, both sitting and standing. And anything that forces our brain to think about movement a little bit differently that forces our muscles to work a little bit differently in a different relation to gravity can be really valuable.
[00:03:36] There's also a real sense of fun that comes from being upside down. And I think it's similar to the fun that we feel when we're doing the rolling exercises. Rolling back, open leg rocker, crab, seal, any of the things where we're rolling into a shape, it's just kind of fun and it's kind of playful and there's something a little bit silly about being upside down. I always think about kids, you know, throwing their legs [00:04:00] up the wall, doing headstands and handstands when they're really little, like there's something really fun about being upside down as well.
[00:04:07] It also adds new challenges in the strength game because our muscles are having to work against gravity in a way that they don't usually work. There's a lot of opportunity to get stronger through those inversions, which is pretty awesome as well. Inversions present real physical challenges in terms of strength and coordination and flexibility, in a lot of ways. For things like rollover or corkscrew or control balance, there's definitely some strength required to get your legs, which are very long levers up over your head towards the ground behind. As I've mentioned, we're often working against gravity, asking our muscles to work in ways they don't often work for us.
[00:04:52] And we also have to use our arms in a lot of those exercises in a way that we don't usually use them. And that they're [00:05:00] usually the ones holding us up in an inversion. Whereas most of the time our legs do the job of holding us up. So it's a nice reversal. And there's just like, sometimes it just doesn't work. Some days you throw your legs over and they're just not interested in going over your head.
[00:05:18] It can be really frustrating, especially like the third exercise in both Matt and reformer is like, all right, now, get your legs overhead. Like that's a big ask. And sometimes they're not interested in doing that for. And that can be really frustrating and it can be really intimidating whether you're just getting started or you've been doing Pilates for a long time to see some of these inverted shapes and be like, how the heck am I going to get into that?
[00:05:42] Another challenge is mental. And I think that this is just as important, and I'm going to share my story about this because I don't think I'm alone, but there is a shape in yoga called plow pose that is very similar to the shape of the [00:06:00] rollover where your legs are overhead, toes reaching towards the ground.
[00:06:04] The first time I did that pose or found that shape, I felt a lot of fear. I was really sure that I was going to suffocate. Um, I felt like I was not in control of my body. I didn't know where I was in space and it was really scary. And I also think of people who have a different body shape than me, that if they have more padding in places, shapes like the rollover can feel very suffocating in a physical way as well. If your chest is in your face, or if your belly is like uncomfortably compressed with your legs overhead, like that's also a reality.
[00:06:43] I also think that when we're upside down, because we're not there very often, it can be difficult to feel where we are in space. We really challenge our proprioception to be able to know where our legs and our arms and our head are. [00:07:00] And that can also be very disorienting and very disconcerting when you're upside down.
[00:07:05] So we know that inversions are presenting us with real physical and real mental challenges, but I'm not just going to leave you there. Coming up after the break. I'll talk about ways to address these challenges, to get stronger, to practice for inversions, to overcome some of those mental blocks that you may be having around inversion. And just some tips and tricks for tackling inversions. That's coming up next.
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[00:08:34] Excellent. I've got some pretty awesome tips and tricks for you as you're working on your inversions, uh, ways to make them more accessible, more doable. And also some tips on if inversions are not in your practice, other ways that you can still work on those shapes and Pilates, Pilates is actually really great for that. So definitely stay tuned for that little tip.
[00:08:59] In [00:09:00] terms of making those inversions more accessible, there's lots of things we can do. I talked about this in an earlier episode about progressions in Pilates and how exercises get more challenging and less challenging.
[00:09:16] So ways to take an inversion and make it a little bit more accessible for your body could be something like making the range of movement smaller. So if we look at the roll over and just in case you're not familiar with the rollover, that's the one where you start lying on your back arms, alongside your torso, you lift your straight legs up towards the ceiling and then take your legs up overhead, toes maybe touch the ground behind you. And then we separate the legs, roll back down hips to mat, draw big circle with the legs and take them back up to the ceiling up overhead, split, roll down, [00:10:00] draw a circle. And we do that until we feel sad, and mostly so that's the rollover.
[00:10:06] And if we think about the range of movement in the roll over kind of taking the legs out of it. We're trying to get our hips over our shoulders. Right? That's the action that we're doing. So we can make that range of movement a bit smaller by putting a prop underneath your hips. So instead of going from the ground to the ceiling, your hips could go from a block or a rather firm cushion or maybe a rolled up mat something can elevate your hips a bit off of the mat so that when you're lifting your hips towards the ceiling, you have less far to go.
[00:10:41] And if you've tried the rollover and been struggling with that, you'll know that the hardest part is like the first six inches off the ground. Once you get that little bit of lift, you can usually get up the rest of the way. But sometimes getting started is really hard so we can change the starting point, kind of decrease that range of movement.
[00:10:58] Also, if [00:11:00] it's difficult to bring your legs overhead, when they're straight, you can play with bending the knees. So it becomes more like almost like rolling back. And then maybe straighten your legs once you get your hips lifted, right. Rolling into it can actually help in a lot of ways.
[00:11:16] Depending on the exercise, maybe not in roll over, because rollover is on the mat, but you can use the springs to assist you on things like short spine massage. Changing the spring resistance can give you more spring to press into which can help you in terms of lifting your hips because you have something to work against. The springs are pulling your legs overhead. That can be quite helpful as well.
[00:11:41] We can also make the choreography a little bit less complex. And I touched on this when I said you can roll into it, but that really can help if you're thinking of rollover as being nearly impossible, but something like rocker with open legs where you can kind [00:12:00] of use momentum and kind of roll yourself. It's the same shape when your legs are overhead, it's the exact same shape as the rollover. So you can kind of play with getting into it. Could I roll back and then finish it like the rollover? Could I go into it like rocker and then come out like rollover, right? And you build, you kind of create your own little exercise there.
[00:12:20] In terms of getting more comfortable being upside down and kind of dealing with the fear that might come up or the worry, or just not knowing where your body is in space. This is definitely something where repeated exposure can be helpful. So if you keep practicing at it, it's almost like, you know, if you had a fear of spiders and you slowly build up your tolerance of spiders, right? The more you're upside down, the more you can convince your nervous system that you're okay when you're upside down. Everything's okay.
[00:12:55] Something that helps me a lot as well is if I take a [00:13:00] video of myself trying to do some upside down exercise, because it can be really difficult to know where your hips are, know where your legs are, know where your arms are when you're upside down. So taking a video of yourself and then watching it back, not to post it on the 'gram or anything, but just to see for yourself. Oh, I didn't know my hips are there.
[00:13:20] I can say I'd been working on a headstand and the goal was in the headstand to go from toes pointing to the ceiling, to legs parallel to the floor, like lower your legs halfway down. And I was absolutely sure my legs were halfway down. I took a video and my legs were not halfway down. They were like way higher than I thought they were. But you really don't know. And being able to take a video of yourself really gives you that outside perspective. Also working with a teacher, of course, they can tell you, Hey, your hips were here. Your legs were here. But it sometimes can help to see for yourself where you're at.
[00:13:53] If, for whatever reason inversions are not part of your practice, maybe they're contra-indicated for [00:14:00] you for some injury or some condition that you've got going on your body. That's really not a problem because Pilates is really unique in a way that the same shapes appear in the Pilates repertoire multiple times. So if we think of the roll over and you're like, yeah, that's not happening for whatever reason. The rollover is just spine stretch. In the rollover you happen to be sitting on your shoulders and spine stretch you happen to be sitting on your tush, but it's the same shape.
[00:14:32] If you think of from the ab series of five, the single straight leg stretch. Okay. We're thinking of that straight legs, we're doing that kind of scissor kick with our legs, two pulses towards our face. That is the same as high scissors, which Joe just called regular scissors. And they're the same shape you just happen to have your hips lifted and high scissors and your hips are on the ground [00:15:00] in a single straight leg stretch or what's colloquially called scissors as well. And Hey, guess what? That's control balance. You just happen to be on your shoulders when you're doing control balance instead of holding your hips in your hands in high scissors, instead of having your hips on the ground in single straight leg stretch, but they're all the same.
[00:15:22] So if you're feeling kind of bummed like, oh my gosh, control balance is not happening. Well, guess what? You can get that exact same movement with a different relation to gravity. I would also say for exercises like corkscrew that saw is a really great kind of partner exercise or like flip side exercise to that. The same way in the roll up you're rolling your upper body up to meet your legs and in the roll over, you're bringing your legs overhead to meet your upper body. In corkscrew, you're bringing your legs up and overhead like rollover, but you're doing a little twisty circley [00:16:00] thing. In saw the twisty circley things happening in the upper body. So you can still get all the ways that your spine moves into your exercise and you can still play with those same shapes. But you're doing them seated or you're doing them lying on your back in ways that are not contra-indicated for you.
[00:16:19] And I think that that's super neat and something kind of unique to Pilates that you can really play with in your practice. So I love inversions, but if you're not doing inversions, you're really not missing out on too much because all of those shapes are still there.
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[00:17:28] Thanks for tuning into this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:17:51] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.[00:18:00]