Foam Roller Heaven!

photo 2Announcing new intro packages at Julia Hollas PILATES.

If you have ever taken a Pilates class from me, chances are you are familiar with the foam roller. One of my favorite Pilates props, the foam roller is a great tool for releasing tight muscles and connective tissue, and for activating the core by adding a balance challenge.  My second-favorite (and more portable) prop is the pinky ball – versitle enough to be used to release tension in the feet, hips, upper back, and more.

With the start of Fall, I have added Introductory Packages with a special perk – sign up for one by November 5th and get one of my favorite props for free. 

The Neutral Pelvis Manifesto

TorsoShot4What is a neutral pelvis? Often when talking about posture, you’ll hear the following words applied to your spine, “elongate,” “lengthen,” “suspend,” and possibly, “float.”  What you won’t hear too much of are words like “flatten” or “straighten.” The reason is that the spine is not built straight, it has three curves in it – similar to an “S.”  Therefor, our healthiest spine is never straight:  it is neutral, with the natural curves of the neck, the upper back, and the low back aligned.

At the bottom of that snakey spine is our pelvis, and its positioning both relates to the neutral curve of our low back and the ability of the muscles around the pelvis to fire.  When laying on your back in Pilates class, if your lumbar spine (low back) and pelvis are in neutral, the vertebrae come away from the mat.  (The flesh may or may not, and this doesn’t always relate to our perceived “extra flesh” – if you’re laying on your back gravity will pull the fleshy tissues and organs down towards that mat, and some spines are less curvy than others and will thus have less of a window.)

In this neutral position, your body is able to fire a 360 degree support system for your low back and pelvis – consisting of your pelvic floor and your deepest layers of abdominal and back extensors (transverse abdominus and multifidi).  It is this 360 support that we need to protect our backs when standing, lifting heavy objects, and doing vigorous movements.  Back in Pilates class –  if you take your pelvis out of neutral by flattening your low back into the mat, your back extensors are now in an elongated position and are unable to fire.

Here is where we enter into the debate of neutral vs. tucked pelvis (with the low back flattened into the mat).  If you are doing your abdominal exercises with your low back pressed into the mat, you WILL be deeply strengthening your low abs.  Because of the tactile sense of the mat, you will also have a good idea of where your back is, and so it will be easier for you to avoid injury to the low back by overworking the large back extensors.  These are both good things, and that is why in large mat classes instructors will often tell everyone to press their backs into the mat and keep them there.

What everyone is missing in these classes, Quadriped2however, is the strengthening of the multifidi – the smallest and deepest back extensors.  (Remember that if you flatten your back into the mat they are elongated and unable to fire.)  I have seen multiple clients with SI joint instability, lumbar disc issues, and general low back discomfort that NEED additional multifidi strengthening in order to overcome their discomfort.  And even if we’re not in pain, developing uneven strength can set us up for it down the road.  What we need is to be able to safely work the multifidi by keeping the pelvis in neutral, and be able to sense where our pelvis and backs are as we’re moving so that we don’t go into a position that will overwork the larger back extensors (overworking these guys is an injury waiting to happen).  This is a delicate balance, and one I feel is critically important to practice.

I’m a neutral pelvis gal because I want my clients to develop their 360 degrees of strength, and not walk out of my classes with only 180 degrees turned on and ready to meet the challenges of the day. I keep my classes small so that I can coach everyone to find their neutral pelvis and move with it safely.  A supported neutral pelvis is harder to sense that pressing your back into the mat, and in a small class I can give individual attention to ensure we’re all working correctly, safely, and getting the most out of our hour-long class.

IMG_1646With that said, it’s never a “never.”  I have taught large classes to corporate groups and pre-professional dancers, and in these classes I have instructed everyone to press their backs into the mat so that, even if I didn’t have my eyes on them, I knew they would be safe.  I’ve also worked with clients who would benefit more from the additional abdominal work of pressing their backs down, and so I may have them work there.  My passion is always working to understand each client’s individual body and help him or her also understand it and live in it better.  Thus, I’d like to send a big THANKS out to all my clients.  Only for people like you do I get so concerned and adamant about such a peculiar issue as the position of a pelvis.

summer happenings

Julia at Title Nine
Since mid-April, I have been teaching twice weekly mat classes for the employees at the corporate offices of Title Nine, a women’s athletic clothing company. Through chats with my Pilates-istas and -istos at Title Nine, I can report that thus far: we’ve found our cores and been able to do ab exercises in ways we hadn’t previously, eliminating concerns of hurting achy backs; renamed the Pilates “magic circle” the “torture circle”; and figured out, through a subtle adjustment, how to correct an old exercise to stretch our glutes properly and deeply. Looking forward to the rest of the challenge!

Pilates for Ballet Dancers
I was asked to respond to a question a young dancer had sent to the blog “Ballet To The People” – what Pilates exercises are best for ballet dancers? A hard question to answer over the internet as, of course, just as every body is different so is every dancer’s body. But I loved expounding on my beliefs of how Pilates in general can improve ballet technique. Read my thoughts on Ballet To The People’s blog.

New Saturday Class!

You asked, and I’m pleased to deliver: a Saturday morning Pilates class!  By popular request, I’ll be adding this additional Equipment Circuit Training class beginning June 8th.
The Pilates Equipment will give you a new appreciation for the Pilates fundamentals and will challenge your stability, range of motion, strength, and flexibility.

In this Saturday morning hour, we will use the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunder Chair, and various props to mix-up our routine in this “Pilates playground.”

Come join us!  Be sure to contact me at 415-490-7371 or to sign up in advance.

4 for 2 Special for New Clients
Do you know someone who might like to try Pilates, or are you new to Julia Hollas PILATES?  I’m offering a 4-for-2 special over the summer.  New clients can try four group classes of their choice for the price of two!

* Mention the “four for two” deal at your first visit and receive four classes for the price of two. New clients only. Offer expires 9/2/13

Introducing Fresh Start, a Pilates and Detox Program

detox_flyer_front-webimageI recently sat down with Brooke Leverone, a Naturopathic Doctor whose office is practically around the corner from The Body Praxis studio in Oakland. The purpose of our meeting was simple: how to bring together the services we offer in a way that would help our clients kick start their New Year and lay a platform for health and wellness in the months to come.

As we talked, we became more and more excited about the possibilities. Brooke’s experience has lead her to see many benefits of periodic nutritional detoxes in her clients. I love seeing how my Pilates mat class clients get the added boost of support from community as they learn more about their bodies, strengthen, and rebalance. We saw how both Pilates and detox programs are tools to help us reconnect to our bodies and remember what it feels like to function well — from the inside out.

This is why we’re thrilled to introduce our new Pilates and Detox program, Fresh Start. Fresh Start begins January 13th and offers both individual attention tailored to your health and fitness needs as well as group support and community. To fit your schedule, you can choose between a Two-Week Mini Program or a Four-Week Complete Program and one of two class times – either 10:30-11:30am Mon/Fri or 12:30-1:30pm Mon/Fri.

Participants will meet for a kick-off meeting on the 13th, during which we’ll introduce the detox program and Pilates and schedule one-to-one consultations with Brooke. For the next two or four weeks, as we detox, we’ll also meet twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays for Pilates classes. At the end of the four-week program participants will also meet individually with Brooke and as a group with Brooke and I to discuss their progress and make a plan for continued well-being into the new year.

A full outline of the Fresh Start program is available here, along with info for online registration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the upcoming program, and that you might consider joining us! And if you will be joining us, also consider inviting a friend – our success rate at making healthy changes is higher the more we can involve those close to us in the process. May you have a healthy and happy holidays! Hope to see you in the New Year.


How I got hooked on Pilates

teaching_imageHappy Holidays! Giving Thanks: Given the season, I wanted to spend this e-newsletter with a quick story of how I got hooked on Pilates! It is something I am truly thankful for.

I moved to San Francisco a little over five years ago with a single intention: I wanted to join the vibrant dance community and find ways to make dance the guiding force of my life. That decision found me rattling over Donner Pass in a U-Haul the day before I began intensive training at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, from where I hoped to meet local choreographers, audition for dance projects, and set up a life as a professional dancer.

Two weeks after joining the Conservatory, I tore my left ACL. The ACL is a major stabilizing ligament in the knee. You can definitely survive without one, but fast movement that includes quick changes of direction, moving with momentum, deep knee bends — in other words the dancing I had moved out to San Francisco to do — is impossible for most bodies. Dancing was out for the foreseeable future.

My road to recovery included surgery, three weeks of navigating San Francisco in crutches, over a year of physical therapy, and the vast unknown of whether it all would result in the ability to dance again or not. Somewhere along that path I started training in Pilates at the Dance Medicine Clinic at St. Francis Medical Center.

Pilates became a source of inspiration for me. The equipment allowed me to take strain and stress out of my knee as I moved. I was able to both gently rehab my knee and work my body as an integrated whole. My trainer would also take me off the Pilates equipment and over to the ballet barre, where we would apply what I had learned on the Pilates equipment to how I hoped to use my body in my day-to-day life.

Pilates worked. Today, I spend at least half my time in the dance studio, rehearsing with several local companies. Since I started performing professionally, it’s been rare that I’ve had a month go by without a performance. Like the vast majority of dancers, I also have a day job, but I am so thrilled that my day job is something that I love and is deeply connected to my personal story — teaching Pilates!

Because Pilates had such an impact on my life, I am passionate about applying it to help my clients. I’ve seen my clients feel better instantly with movement that is safe, fun, and full-bodied; target specific issues in their bodies; and make them feel better daily as transfer over Pilate’s lessons of body mechanics to their day-to-day lives. It really is a wonderful tool, and I am thankful for each and every one of my clients for allowing me to continue investigating it. THANKS!

Holiday Special

Give the gift of Pilates!

Get your friends and family kick-started on their New Year’s Resolutions with the gift of body-conscious fitness. Whether a beginner at a fitness routine or advanced athlete, a Pilates gift is a great way to show your loved ones you care about their well being. Help someone feel good in their body!

Through 12/31/11, purchase a gift certificate for any package of mat classes, private session, or semi-private session for 20% off.

To inquire or purchase, email Julia at

Semi-Private Fall Special

Welcome to fall! As the days get shorter and we move into the holidays, our natural rhythm is to slow down, seek creature comforts, and rest.

One of my favorite aspects of Pilates is its search for balance. We increase our muscles’ strength and flexibility and make sure we are equally strong and functional in all planes of movement – be it right to left, front to back, or top to bottom, our bodies feel best when they have all options available to them.

As fall deepens to winter, I say we borrow from Pilates’ focus on balance – embrace the need to slow down, but be sure you still give your body the movement it craves to stay strong and feel good. Often all we need to stick to those healthy habits we know make us feel good is the little extra motivation of a friend or loved one doing it with us. With that in mind, I am happy to announce:

Semi-Private Fall Special
Single Semi-Private – $37.50 per person
Package of 5 Semi-Privates – $172.50 per person
Package of 10 Semi-Privates – $337.50 per person
*25% off regular rates. Must purchase by 10/31/11.
** Each semi-private session lasts for one hour and is for two people. Semi-privates are appropriate for beginners, advanced practitioners, and mixed-level partners: each session is designed to appropriately challenge both you and your partner.