Circular Pilates by Joan Breibart

Perhaps because the Pilates Method encompasses so much material and is ancient relative to traditional fitness, some individuals feel that nothing in the Method needs to change. Maybe that’s why we framed Standing Pilates® as “What Joe would have done if he were alive,” when we launched a few years ago. When Joe was teaching, osteoporosis was not epidemic; today weight bearing exercise is critical. Standing is a natural evolution of the Pilates mat work but now we have gone even further with the development of Circular Pilates.

What is Circular Pilates?

Circular Pilates teaches a continuous 25-minute routine of moving through rotational exercises in sitting, kneeling, supine, prone and standing configurations. Some of this sequence incorporates standard Pilates exercises such as Saw, others are new movements. But this is not just choreography; the process of repeated rotation helps individuals to feel the sequencing in their own bodies. As teachers we know that people often injure themselves when they twist doing everyday tasks such as parallel parking or reaching high or low to pick up something. Most people are weak in rotation. They don’t know how to move the upper body off the lower parts. Circular Pilates addresses these issues while building strength and improving coordination and balance. And at the end, you feel and look taller! And there is more . . .

Although we do have isolated rotational exercises in Pilates, it is liberating and informative to move non-stop within these spirals. In our original testing of the exercises, our student testers experienced two other results. One good and one not so good! The first result was an unexpected increase in extension which led us to measure each student’s “before and after” in extension. The working “half” of the upper body allows one to go deeper so that afterwards extension is facilitated. The second and undesired result was a little spaciness! We asked Clinical Advisor, Marika Molnar, PT what to do and she solved the problem.

The Brain Connector Fundamental

Marika determined that we needed an exercise to connect the right and left sides of the brain and soon we had a new Fundamental which we call the Brain Connector Fundamental. It uses specific eye movements to increase connection. This in turn led us to incorporate “eye tracking” into the workout. Then we realized that we could intensify the experience by s-l-o-w-i-n-g down the routine. Now we teach it at regular speed and also in half time, but always moving.

Angela Sundberg, Certified Pilates Teacher and owner of Bodyscapes, explains:

“Circular Pilates makes the body feel alive. The flowing, spiraling movements, fueled by breath, frees the body and the soul. But, most of all, Circular Pilates provides opportunities of movement to many of my students who were restrained by the linear precision of conventional Pilates.”

If this sounds like a lot of material for a one-day workshop, it is. But we are known for not being stingy with information. And in the case of Circular, I felt that a second day would be a brain – not body – overload.

The Process

The well-known saying, “By your students you’ll be taught,” is intensified when you attempt to create a new exercise or sequence or product. Any Pilates teacher can experiment and who knows where it will lead. With Standing Pilates, we began with the need to make the mat work more weight bearing and ultimately we found that our technique needed to evolve too. The result was greater emphasis on the breath and attention to more real estate, from the arch of the feet moving up through the pelvic floor, the diaphragm and then the dome inside our mouths. With the Pilates Chair, now called the MVe, I started with the goal of making the spring changes easier and the box lighter but more stable. I never thought that my thinking “outside of the box” would lead to a new Chair that has twice the range of motion; allows one to position the body closer to the apparatus; a fluid ride since the springs move as a unit; and more exercise variations resulting from the open frame.

Getting Started

In our field, most innovations start with observing clients and determining what they need. Once you have an idea to explore, find yourself a partner or two! Working alone is lonely and harder. For Circular, in addition to Marika Molnar, I worked with Kristin Hapke, a very creative person, also certified in Pilates and Bartenieff, a dancer and a choreographer. Her point of view and experience greatly amplified my ideas. Innovating is fun, but whatever your motivation, know that you personally will benefit from the exploration.

For more information about course registrations see The Physical Mind Institute.

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