Anatomy Moment:  What is the core, really?

“Engage your core!”  You’ve probably heard this over maxim over the course of your life, whether in a group fitness class, at your Pilates studio, or maybe from your doctor advising you on how to safely lift those heavy items.  Even in the Pilates studio, where we’re known for core strengthening, what exactly we’re strengthening can be misunderstood, which brings me to today’s Anatomy Moment.  What is this elusive core?

The Intrinsic Core.   The intrinsic core, AKA intrinsic stabilization system, is most often what is meant when fitness instructors yell out “use your core!”  While “core” most often brings to mind images of abs, the intrinsic core is actually a group of four muscles, and only one of those is part of the abdominals.

The intrinsic core is:
1) Your transversus abdominis.  The deepest layer of the abdominal wall.  These muscle fibers run horizontally, like a cummerbund around your waist.  Although they are an abdominal muscle, they don’t perform the typical sit up motion.  Instead, when they fire, they draw the abdominal contents closer to your spine, creating support and stability.  In your Pilates class, you’ve probably heard mention of “scoop your belly,” “bring your belly button towards your spine,” or “narrow your waistband.”  All of these are cues used to help you engage your transversus abdominis.2) Your multifidus muscles.  I love the multifidus muscles.  The are tiny muscles which run up your spinal column like stitching, connecting one vertebrae to the next (or in some cases to the second one above).  Like the transversus absominis, the multifidus are deep – they are very close to the vertebrae.  While the job of most back muscles is to create a back-bend, or extend the spine, when the multifidus fire they actually create support, holding space between the vertebrae.  This is a great thing for our spinal discs and nerves – space between the vertebrae allows for the nerves to exit the spinal column without impingement, and for the discs to remain healthy and plump, avoiding things like herniation or degeneration.  In simpler terms, multifidus are great for preserving a happy, healthy back over the long term, and I often see weak or inactive multifidus muslces when a client has back pain.  When you hear “lengthen your spine,” “sit tall,” or “elongate” in your Pilates class, these are cues to help the multifidus muscles fire.

3) The diaphragm.  The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration, contracting with every inhale to pull air into the lungs, and relaxing with every exhale.  In your Pilates class, you are told when and how to breathe, and here’s why: the diaphragm is an integral part of your core.  The diaphragm sits at the base of your ribcage.  In relationship to the instrinsic core, I think of the diaphragm as the ceiling, the transvursis abdominus as the front and side walls, and the multifidus muscles as the stitching up the back.  All we need now to complete this cylindrical support system is the floor, which brings us to:

4) The pelvic floor.  While I’m listing the pelvic floor last, it is by no means the least important muscle of our intrinsic support system.  While most of us are relatively unaware of our pelvic floors in day-to-day life, we use them every day.  Excuse the crude example, but if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic and really had to go to the bathroom, your pelvic floor was contracted and working hard until you finally made it to the safety of a restroom. In daily, less-dire situations, the pelvic floor works with the diaphragm, which is contracting and relaxing with every breath, to maintain a  healthy amount (not too much or too little) of intra-abdominal pressure.  Ideally, this pelvic floor acts as a “pilot light” for the transversus abdominis and multifidus muscles.  As the pelvic floor fires, the transvursis abdominus contracts as well.  In a healthy core, the multifidi will fire at this time as well, and again, I’m emphasizing in a healthy, functional system, all of this will happen and our intrinsic core will be engaged before any arm or leg movements begin.  Ideally, this happens unconsciously.  It is also important to keep in mind that the intrinsic core is a dynamic system.  The core doesn’t bear down, brace, and hold.  Instead it maintains an appropriate amount of muscle tone based on what you are doing.  Less tone should be present if you are sitting on the couch, more if you are hauling rocks out of the yard.
If you have had back pain, had an injury, or tend to sit a lot, chances are this may not be happening optimally for you.  This is why we spend a lot of time in Pilates with very explicit directions for very simple movements.  You might hear,  ” Inhale to prepare.  As you exhale, narrow your waist, engage your core, then float your leg to table top.”  All that just to lift a leg!  The reason being is that we are retraining the core to fire before movement happens.  That muscular anticipation is magical.  It protects our spinal nerves and our discs from injury.  It creates support through the pelvis and lower pack so that we can do big, powerful movements with our arms and upper body.  The core is a big deal.

Tips & Tricks: Keep moving as the Holidays approach.

The holidays are right around the corner!  Stores have already been serving everything pumpkin-flavored for well over a month, Halloween ushers in the sugar-craze this Saturday, and in November the march of parties, get-togethers, travel, and many good meals begins.  Keeping yourself moving and healthy is a commitment at any time of the year, but when our schedules change, keeping the commitment becomes harder – even if the disruption is a wonderful one, such as time off for family and celebration.

I’ve collected a few of my favorite strategies which keep me moving on Holidays and vacations, and if you have any of your own, we’d love to hear them!  Join the conversation on our Facebook page.  We’re all in this together!

  • Embrace the disruption.  Your usual group class may be on hiatus during the holidays, or you may be in a different city.  Expect for things to be different, and you can better plan to take care of your body.
  • Try something different.  If your routine is thrown off, why not take the opportunity to try something you haven’t done before?  Try a new class or go for a hike, jog, or bike ride in a new environment.  Getting a new perspective, be it from a different instructor, trying a new movement form, or getting outdoors in a new location, can give you insight into your loved routine!
  • Bring the family.  During my last visit home, my Mom, boyfriend and I booked a private session from my mom’s Pilates instructor.  It was a fun way to share what I do with a couple people I love, while working out the travel-kinks from my muscles!
  • Take ten.  If your schedule is packed and getting to a class or out on a long walk won’t happen, commit to taking ten minutes for your body.  Either at the start or end of your day, find a spot to lay on the floor and do your favorite exercises.  Traveling and don’t have a mat?  A rug or towel can give you some padding on the floor.
  • Treat yourself.  As essential as exercise is for health and well-being, so is rest and rejuvenation.  Book a massage during the holidays – chances are you’ll feel so good afterward, you’ll be inspired to keep making time for your body!

Client Spotlight: Meet Dave!

image1I first met Dave – entrepreneur, dad, and avid biker – almost two years ago when he started Pilates sessions.  This weekend, Dave will be biking from San Francisco to Sonoma as part of the Bike MS: Waves to Wine ride to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Way to go, Dave!

Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating disease for which there is no cure.  Dave’s ride will help raise money both for research and to provide services to those living with MS.  Read more about the ride and donate to the cause here.

Like many of my clients, Pilates is a key component to Dave’s active lifestyle and keeping his body healthy and moving well.  Here’s Dave:

Why did you originally start Pilates lessons?  “I started because I had pain in my shoulder and was worried I had an injury. I saw a bodyworker who told me I just needed to retrain the deep muscles to stabilize my shoulder, and referred me to see Julia. He said, ‘Come back if it doesn’t work, but I expect you won’t be coming back,’ and he was right.”

Have you improved since then?  How?  “I’ve improved quite a bit! I understand my shoulder much more now, and I know how to keep from getting it out of joint, and how to lift or carry things etc. My balance is better, my posture is better, my body is more flexible. Since I’m over 40, I wanted to start strength training, something I’ve never done well or consistently, but I was worried that I’d hurt myself in the process.  Julia has provided really good analysis and advice whenever I’ve been concerned about my knees, back, just my alignment in general.  Pilates has helped me avoid injury in weight training –  even though my strength trainer is probably not too careful regarding proper form – he’s a self-professed old-school meathead!”

What is your favorite exercise or technique that you’ve done?  “My favorite moments are when the instructions make no sense to me the first time because the point of the exercise is to activate a muscle I am not aware of. Julia will say, ‘Now do X without moving Y.’ Initially it doesn’t seem likely, but gradually it becomes intuitive as the body learns how it is supposed to move.”

Joe Pilates famously thought that if the members of the UN could just do his first 10 exercises, we would finally have world peace.  What challenges – big or small, physical or mental – do you feel Pilates has helped you overcome?  “Pilates has reversed bad habits, improved my balance and posture, and helped me avoid injury.”


pilates in oakland, east bay pilates studio

Summer Open House

Summer is here, and Corpo Kinetic has been officially in business for over a year!  We’re planning a Pilates-style celebration and invite you to join us for:

  • Pilates-themed games
  • Prizes, discounts, and give-aways
  • Demos throughout the evening
  • Healthy snacks and treats, including the “Pilate Pale” (a beer designed to be enjoyed after your Pilates session)

Sunday, June 28th, 4-7pm
Corpo Kinetic Pilates & Wellness Studio
6355 Telegraph #208, Oakland

Come celebrate with us!  Bring that friend you’ve always wanted to introduce to Pilates, your partner to whom you’d like to explain why you love your workouts so much, or just bring yourself and meet some of your fellow Pilates aficionados.

Hope to see you there!

Anatomy Moment: Fascia Matters – but what is it?

roll-release4I have the pleasure of working with several clients whose work lives are in marketing.  One of them told me recently that “fascia is trending!”  I was secretly thrilled by this news, because anything trending that has to do with anatomy is just right up my alley.

If you’re like many of us, you may have heard of fascia, but you may be somewhat confused about what exactly it is, or why rolling on a foam roller or pinky ball helps your body. On that note, I give you Corpo Kinetic’s most recent Anatomy Moment: Fascia Matters.

Fascia’s family.  Fascia is classified as a “connective tissue.”  Connective tissue is a large, somewhat convoluted category which includes: bone, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, blood, lymph, fat, and fascia.  One of the main roles of connective tissue is to provide physical support for the body, and the network of fascia is no exception.

What is fascia? Fascia surrounds all structures in our body.  It is a slippery material which reduces friction and permits easy movement.

For example, as you bend your arm, your bicep contracts, and as the muscle shortens it must glide easily across the underlying arm bone and the overlying skin.  If we didn’t have fascia, as we moved our muscles would rub on bone, nerves, skin, and blood vessels.  Think of an old track of carpet in the main passageway of the house which, after years and years of being walked on, has worn down to the threads.  Fascia prevents friction from causing a similar phenomenon in our bodies.
What is an adhesion?  If there is a problem in the fascial layers and they aren’t gliding properly, the fascia layers will adhere.  While this does prevent friction, it can create problems down the line.  Imagine pushing a shopping cart easily down the aisles – all four wheels spinning equally.  Now imagine that one of the wheels is sticky and no longer gliding right.  Instead of an effortless stroll, you’d be contorted and working unevenly to get that cart to roll in a straight line.

An adhesion is kind of like a “sticky wheel” inside the body.  If one part isn’t moving due to an adhesion, other parts will be moving or working too much, and pain can develop.  Some people feel pain around the adhesion or stuck area, and others feel pain around the part which is overworking.

roll-release2What is myofascial release? “Myo” stands for muscle, “fascial” is for fascia.  A myofascial release addresses fascial adhesions and tight muscles, working to release areas of tension.  Massage therapists perform myfascial release, and Pilates instructors will often use foam rollers and massage balls to show you how to perform releases on your own.

Ok, I have a foam roller and a pinky ball… Now: How often should I use it? For how long? When will I feel better?  

Rolling doesn’t have to take long, and is actually more effective if you do it more frequently for shorter periods of time than less frequently for longer periods of time – aim for 5-10 minutes a day.  While the length of recovery depends on many factors, I’ve seen significant improvement with rolling every day for only two weeks.

roll-releaseWhat should I roll?  How do I roll _______? You’re in luck!  Starting June 6, Corpo Kinetic will be offering monthly Roll & Release workshops.  Each workshop will include a brief anatomy discussion – what are we rolling and why? – before diving into 45 minutes of pure rolling bliss.  You’ll leave feeling better, and will have tools for self-care at home.

Corpo Kinetic Turns One!

As of today, Corpo Kinetic Pilates & Wellness Studio has officially been open for a year!  To our clients, friends, and family:  thank you for making it a great one.  We love what we do, and look forward to spending many years to come helping you move better & feel better.

In the past year:

  • We’ve extended the hours we offer Private Sessions.  Whether you’re a weekend warrior or want a mid-week retreat, Corpo Kinetic’s trainers are here 7 days a week for you.
  • We’ve expanded our Small Group Class Schedule.  Not only are our classes practically a private, with a full array of props and creative, intelligent instructors, they are also varied enough to keep things interesting. (See schedule.)
  • This Spring, we debuted workshops: focused time on areas of particular interest.  Janet Das just led her Low Back Care workshop in April, and Jenna Anjali will be teaching Fabulous Feet in just 8 days!  (Sign up here.)
  • We’ve hosted many talented body workers who can help ease persistent aches and pains through massage and other forms of manual therapy.

… and we’re still at it.  Read below for upcoming workshops, events, and special offers from us to you.

Thank you!


Pilates Party
Save the Date
Corpo Kinetic’s “First Birthday” Open House
Sun, June 28th, 4-7pm

Stop on by for a glass of “Pilate Pale” (a beer brewed specifically to be enjoyed after a Pilates session), enjoy some healthy snacks, and play some Pilates-themed games.  Short demos of our favorite moves and techniques throughout the evening.

joe-windoSummer Deals

treat your body well this summer
Remember when summer was a care-free wonderland full of camping trips, lazy days by the pool, Popsicles, and other cool treats?

Adults deserve treats too, and this summer we recommend you give yourself one by taking advantage of some excellent deals on Bodywork and Pilates combo packages.  These “Treat Yourself Packages” are available for purchase through the end of July and won’t expire until the end of the year, so even if you have a current package, you can take advantage of this offer.  Simply ask at the studio, and we can set you up.

Intro Treat: $195
1 Body Work Session
1 Private Pilates Session
2 Group Classes
Super Treat: $535
3 Bodywork Sessions
3 Private Pilates Sessions
6 Group Classes
Group Class Treat: $265
6 Group Classes
2 Bodywork Sessions
Just Me Treat: $395
3 Bodywork Sessions
3 Private Pilates Sessions

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”
 -Joseph Pilates

Anatomy Moment: Your Spine and Pilates

Happy, healthy spines start here

Our spines do important jobs for us – they allow for a wide range of movement, they support our upright posture, they transfer the weight of our upper body to our pelvis and lower body, and they house and protect our spinal cord, the neural pathway for sensation and motor control to the rest of our bodies.
Our spines are composed of 24 vertebrae, and while the individual vertebrae have regionally specific features, they also have basic components in common.  Each vertebrae has a large, rounded body, an open vertebral foramen, and several protrudingprocesses.

Body: The body of the vertebrae is designed to support weight and transmit load to the pelvis and legs.  When your Pilates instructor cues you to stack your spine, you are aligning the bodies of your vertebrae to best transmit force.  In between the bodies of the vertebrae lie our intervetrebal discs.  A slipped or herniated disc is one which has been pushed from its spot between the vertebrae, and is (most often) protruding partially into the vertebral foramen.

Vertebral foramen: The vertebral foramen is the passageway for the spinal cord and spinal nerves.  When the vertebrae are stacked, the vertebral foramen line up, forming an open canal for the spinal cord to pass.  A slipped or herniated disc which is protruding into the vertebral foramen may press on and irritate our spinal nerves – not a happy scenario.  Most back problems occur in the low back, which bears the load for the rest of the body.  As Pilates instructors, we spend a lot of time discussing how to utilize your core to stabilize your lower back.  When we load our spine, we want a stable, neutral lower back to protect that nice, open passageway for our spinal nerves.

Processes: Each vertebrae has three processes, or bumpy protrusions.  The spinal processes can be felt through our backs, and each vertebrae also has two transverse processes which project to the sides.  Processes provide a site for the complex network of our spinal muscles to attach: from our deepest three layers of intrinsic muscles, to the intermediate muscles of respiration, and finally to the superficial muscles whose contours we can readily see through the surface of the skin.

janet-lowbackOur spines are complex and fascinating, and the Pilates method has evolved as an ingenious way to keep your spine happy and healthy.  A healthy spine is mobile, and in your Pilates class, you work on spinal articulation – promoting mobility of each segment and activation of our deepest spinal musculature.  A happy spine is supported – all your core work in Pilates helps maintain that neutral, supported alignment as you cart groceries, sit at your desk, or pick up a child.

I have helped many people with unhappy lower backs strengthen and mobilize to get out of pain and back to life, and I believe that Pilates is unique in its comprehensive treatment of the spine.  Thank you for allowing me to share what I love!

Spring Workshops are here!

Low Back Care
create and support a healthy lumbar spine
Sun, April 12, 11-noon

Fabulous Feet
find your foundation: strong, flexible feet
Sat, May 9, 11-noon

I am happy to present a new offering at Corpo Kinetic – specialized workshops.  Designed to give you an hour of focused attention on ares of particular interest, these workshops will enhance your Pilates practice and help you feel more at home in your body.
Sign up.


low back careLow Back Care
Sun, April 12, 11-noon
with Janet Das

Discover and strengthen the “inner corset” which supports your back, learn what a neutral pelvis is and how improving your posture can help your low back, and learn simple strategies for building a happy, healthy lower back.
Sign up.

Janet-Das-headshotJanet Das is a Bay Area native who grew up dancing, acting and singing from a very young age.  Janet was introduced to the Pilates method from Jillian Hessel and Clare Duncan, and she became mat certified in April 2012 through Ellie Herman studios. She loves sharing her knowledge of the body with others and helping people to feel better and more whole in their bodies.

feetFabulous Feet
Sat, May 9, 11-noon
with Jenna Anjali

Our feet are our foundation. If you have achey arches, tight calves, or tired tootsies, this workshop is for you. Learn about the impressive architecture of your feet and discover tips and tricks to keep them strong and flexible.
Sign up.

Jenna-AnjaliJenna Anjali is certified as a Pilates Educator through Polestar Pilates. Additionally, she is a Master Level Massage Therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Polarity Practitioner, Yoga instructor and is working towards a certification in the Hendrickson Method.  Jenna finds joy in assisting her clients in rediscovering their body’s optimal form and maintaining it through bodywork and corrective exercise. 


$35 – single
$60 – both

Current group class package can be used for workshops.
Sign up.

Got an idea for a workshop you’d like to see us offer?  Let us know!

New Group Classes

IMG_1626New Year, new resolutions — and new group Pilates classes. Group classes have been filling up at Corpo Kinetic, and I am pleased to announce: we’ve added two great classes to accommodate your schedule.

Core and More!  taught by Janet Das
10am Sundays
8:30am Tuesdays

There’s nothing like Pilates mat to work your core & nothing like the resistance training of the Springboard to tone your whole body. Join Janet as she puts them together for an hour which will leave you feeling centered, taller & stronger.

Tone & Stretch Springboard Circuit taught by Jenna Anjali
6:30pm Tuesdays
Ever wanted a workout which targeted your weak spots, made you stronger, and also left you feeling like you just had a great massage? Look no further! Jenna Anjali, Pilates instructor & massage therapist, will lead you in a class designed to strengthen and restore.Get your spot now  – sign in online.

Full Group Class Schedule

9:30am Basic Mat and Springboard  with Jenna

8:30am Core and More! (mat and Springboard) with Janet
6:30pm Tone & Stretch Springboard Circuit with Jenna
8:30am Mixed Level Mat with Julia
9:30am Basic Mat and Springboard with Julia
6:30pm Springboard Circuit with Julia
9:00am Springboard Circuit with Julia
10:00am Core and More! (mat and Springboard) with Janet
for group classes is available online.

4 for 2 Deal on Group Classes4for2-2015b

Now through the end of March, we are offering a 4-for-2 deal for new clients.  If you know someone whom you’d like to introduce to Pilates, this is the perfect chance.  For only $60, they’ll get a four-pack of classes (a $120 value).

And because we adore our current clients:
If you haven’t been back to the studio yet this year…
Or if you’re interested in giving one of the new classes a try….

Mention the 4-for-2 deal and we’ll gladly extend it to you.  Try a new class or get back into the swing of things at half price!

Holiday Pilates Schedule

_MG_7299 copyFrom December 22nd – January 4th, regularly scheduled group classes at Corpo Kinetic will be cancelled.  However, we have a special Holiday Schedule planned for you.With a limited schedule of classes, spots are scarce – sign in online to secure your mat!

  • Tues Dec 23
    8:30-9:25am:  Pre-Holiday Mat with Janet
    7:30-8:25pm:  Long & Lean Springboard with Jenna
  • Sat Dec 27
    9:00-9:55am:  Springboard Circuit with Janet
  • Mon Dec 29
    8:30-9:25am: Last Mat of the Year with Jenna
  • Tues Dec 30
    7:30-8:25pm:  Long & Lean Springboard with Jenna
  • Sat Jan 3
    9:00-9:55am:  Springboard Circuit with Jenna

Get your spot now  – sign in online.

Private Sessions Available with Janet and Jenna

Julia is out of town December 22-January 4th.  If you’d like to take a private Pilates session during that time, Janet and Jenna have made themselves available to you! Please check their schedules and book your appointment online.

Save the Date!  New Year’s Open House:  Jan 10th, 3-7pm

photo 1Celebrate the New Year at Corpo Kinetic Pilates Studio!  Come on by to see some Pilates demonstrations, enjoy some healthy treats, and enter to win a chance to win a few prizes which may help you with those New Year’s resolutions.A more formal invitation to come.

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season.