Getting the Most Out of Seated Rotation

So, rotation.  Exercises that utilize rotation in a seated position – Mermaid, Spine Twist, Saw – are great exercises to engage not only the waistline, but the entire oblique chain while at the same time increasing spinal mobility and improving posture.  With such desirable and beneficial potential, it’d be nice to know we’re getting the most out of it.

This breathing cue is the KEY to getting maximum rotation.  Begin by having the client take a deep inhale in the starting position.  As they move into the rotation, the client should exhale fully, ending the breath as they reach the furthest rotated state they can manage.  Ask him or her to take a very shallow inhale here and forcefully exhale the air – expelling every last teensy bit of air from the lungs.  This will create the space for just a smidge more rotation.  Then inhale to unwind back to the starting position.

Once the client has nailed the breathing, reinforce the movement with this visual: imagine that the spine, and the entire trunk, is a wet towel.  Now, as you rotate, you are wringing out the last bit of water from the towel.  That last breath out is the last drop of water from the towel.

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Pass the Tray – Adding Rotation to Mermaid

Here’s another one for Mermaid.  Mermaid is a great exercise for lateral flexion as I mentioned in this week’s earlier post, but tagged on to the end of your lateral reps, is the rotational piece.  Like lateral flexion, only a handful of the Pilates repertoire addresses multiple planes and in particular the transverse.  And also like lateral flexion, very few of them can be geared towards all levels of clients.  Mermaid is your go-to for this work.

Adding the rotational piece can be challenging for beginners to get right because it requires changes across many components – thoracic spine, shoulder, eye line – while at the same time maintaining key aspects of positioning – sit bones in contact with the floor, space through the lumbar vertebra.

Once you’ve used the Teapot Cue to set up the lateral part of Mermaid, ask the client to pause on the side towards the front leg with their bottom hand engaged with the floor.  Take a moment here to perfect their positioning before asking them to add in the rotation.  When ready, layer it in.

Ask the client to turn their top hand palm-up like they’re balancing a tray and then “pass the tray” through the arch created by the bottom arm and the side of the body.  Remind the client to follow the movement of the tray with their eyes (although once the hand passes under, be sure the eye line goes over the shoulder to catch a glimpse of the tray on the other side) to be sure the tray hasn’t tipped.

This cue puts the client’s focus on maintaining position during the rotation.  It hones the attention to the full body and helps the client stay steady and aware of all aspects of the exercise just like when you’re carrying a tray, you are aware of not only the tray, but the items on it and anything in the vicinity that could cause you to trip or tip tray.

A note about breath here.  Have the client inhale at the top of the rotation and exhale all the way through to the end.  At the bottom, hold the exhale and squeeze that last, teeny, tiny bit of air out of the lungs and pass the tray just a bit further.  Mermaid is a fabulous way to really challenge the diaphragm and expel all the stale air from the depths of the lungs.


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I’m a Little Teapot – Perfecting Mermaid

Mermaid is one of those go-to exercises we tuck into an hour-long class to transition from one section of work to another and to give students a refresh and a reset.  And it feels SO good!

But it is so much more than a transitional stretch.  Lateral flexion is only addressed in a handful of Pilates exercises, mermaid is one of them.  But, it can also be a struggle to get right and to maximize the benefits.  Done correctly, Mermaid has few parallels in lateral flexion category.

Maximum lateral flexion is achieved when the client can maintain length and height through the lumbar spine and isolate flexion to the thoracic vertebra.  The hard part of that equation is maintaining the height through the lumbar.  The easy way to perform Mermaid is to hinge and lean at the waist to achieve that lateral movement.  A cue to isolate the movement to the thoracic is essential to maximize the benefits on offer with Mermaid.

Try this: imagine your body is a teapot, chock-full of hot, steeped tea.  As you tip to the side, you must imagine the spout of the pot (your grounded hand) must clear the edge of the tea cup in order to pour the tea without spilling.

Creating an image of height that must be achieved (the edge of the cup) as the client moves laterally, sets the client up for success and maximum benefits from Mermaid.


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Sit Up Taller – Axial Elongation is Key

Joseph Pilates said, “Good posture can be successfully acquired when the entire mechanism of the body is under perfect control.  Graceful carriage follows as a matter of course.”  In other words, when axial elongation is achieved, the body’s alignment allows for greater freedom and efficiency of movement.  The problem is, how do we get our clients to that point?  How do you explain that perfect posture isn’t just unhunching your shoulders?

Try this: Imagine someone holding a bunch of balloons on a string that is attached to the crown of your head.  Now imagine that the person lets go.  As the balloons float upwards, the string pulls your crown with it and forces you to sit up very straight – inches taller than you were.  You call upon your cervical, trunk and pelvic floor musculature in order to eek a bit more height out of your spine and pelvic skeletal structures.  This lengthening creates more space between your vertebra, also known as axial elongation, allowing for that increased freedom and efficiency of movement, or “graceful carriage.”

This cue can be used to correct positioning during specific exercises (spine twist, mermaid, standing balance, etc.) where the posture is meant to be maintained throughout, or we can use this to properly set up for other exercises that begin in or pass through this position (rollup, standing roll down, spine stretch, saw, and so many more!).

See if this cue doesn’t help your clients feel just a tad bit taller when they leave class!


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