No fancy equipment or gym necessary—just you and a wall.
Inhale like you are smelling something wonderful. Feel how your lungs are expanding. Continue to inhale until you cannot inhale anymore. The exhale through the mouth will naturally arrive. Imagine your mouth as a window and the exhale as a breeze escaping through the window of the mouth. As you exhale, apply a slight “Shhh …” sound to help aid in the complete closing of the ribs. While you are making the sound make sure to not stress the lips or jaw. Now that the air has been expelled the inhale will arrive again. While you are using this “Pilates breath” make sure that the abdominal wall is engaged toward the spine as well as lifting up infinitely. It may feel contradictory to engage your belly toward your spine while you are breathing, but with this breath you are training the body to pull the air solely into the lungs, which is why the belly has the freedom to reach toward the spine. Continue to breathe as you learn and perform the following exercises:
For the “Standing Roll Down,” stand with your spine and head against a wall. Place your feet and legs forward, away from the wall in a small turnout. Make sure your pelvis, and specifically your sacrum, is against the wall, and strive to let your shoulders and shoulder blades glide down your back. Let your arms reach forward in line with your shoulders. Feel your belly reaching toward your spine as well as lifting up infinitely. Visualize your spine. Beginning from the top, roll down one vertebra at a time. Melt the belly back even farther in order to articulate the roll down. Only roll down as far as your legs stay lengthened.
From the point where your legs begin to bend, initiate the roll up from the bottom of the spine one vertebra at a time. Imagine that your tailbone is tied to an anchor and has plummeted down to the bottom of the ocean. This weighted pull and reach of the tailbone will drag and articulate your spine back up to the wall at your starting position. As an added stretch, perform the standing roll down with your arms over your head. Keep your arms in line with the head as you roll down and up.
Another excellent full-body stretch is the Pilates mat piece called “Spine Stretch.” Sit with your spine against a wall and, like the “Standing Roll Down,” strive to stamp your sacrum into the wall with your legs lengthened in front of you, separating them slightly past hip width with your feet flexed. This leg and foot position encourages a deep hamstring stretch. If your sacrum comes away from the wall in this position, make a diamond shape with your legs so that the feet are touching and the knees are opened to the side. Your arms will reach forward in line with the shoulders and, just like the “Standing Roll Down,” visualize your spine and feel the belly reaching toward the spine and up, infinitely. Beginning from the top of the spine roll down one vertebra at a time. When you roll up lead from the bottom of the spine, articulating one vertebra at a time back up to the wall. Again, for an added stretch you can perform the “Spine Stretch” with your arms over your head.
It is vital to make time to breathe and stretch your body. We fling ourselves around the world every day; each step we take makes our bodies tighter. We take shallow breaths, harboring stale air, never fully utilizing our lungs’ grand potential. The “Pilates breath” has many benefits, including helping to increase the volume of fresh oxygen to the lungs as well as expelling the stale air that usually resides in our bodies. The “Standing Roll Down” and the “Spine Stretch” are approachable and are realistic choices for a regular daily practice because they are full-body stretches that can be done at home. No fancy equipment or gym necessary—just you and a wall.