Category Archives: tips & tricks

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!

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.

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!

Holiday Wellness Tips

Fall is here!  The air is crisp, evening are long, and we’re using the space heaters to warm things up for morning classes at Corpo Kinetic.I personally love the coziness of Fall.  As the year winds down, we gather with others, give gifts, and give thinks. Fall is a time of travel and celebration, and while I am all for both of these, I am also here with some tips on how to continue your self-care during the festivities.

The Pinky Ball

The pinky is my go-to travel tool for self care. If you are packing your bags this holiday season, throw a pinky ball in your luggage.  If the airplane leaves you with sore feet, the road gives you a kink in the neck, or the relatives give you a pain in the butt, you’ll be glad the have the pinky ball available to work out the knots.  Lay on the floor or lean against a wall with the ball under the tender spot, and let the pinky melt those tight muscles away.

New! Tuesday Night Group Class with Jenna

If you’ve been traveling and feasting, fitting in a group class is a great way to restore balance by getting some extra movement in as well. Jenna does a great job at creating workouts which both challenge and restore – exactly what you need after a feast!  Book two classes with Jenna between now and the end of the year, and the second will be free!  

Integrated Pilates Springboard
Tuesdays, 7:30-8:25pm

online.

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving

I am always thankful for my wonderful clients – for inspiring me, challenging me, and trusting me with that hour or two a week to devote to their health and well-being.

IMG_1630As a token of my appreciation, I am offering a discount on gift certificates for the holidays. From now through the end of the year enjoy 5% off any package (including my “Welcome Packages” for new clients). Give one as a gift, or treat yourself!

I’d also like to strongly recommend a few talented body workers who have helped me tremendously and to whom I gladly refer my clients. If you’d like more information on which modality might work best for you, please feel free to ask me – I can’t talk enough about these lovely people:

Dr. Richard Burg
( is a licensed Chiropractor serving patients from Berkeley, Oakland and the greater East Bay.

He is an active athlete and particularly enjoys working with patients who have had to limit their sports or musical passions due to pain. He loves to help these patients get back to active wellness!

Of course, Dr. Burg works with a range of other patients as well including those suffering from personal injuries from accidents. As a Chiropractor with a background in nutrition as well, Dr. Burg is committed to promoting the health and well being of his patients using both chiropractic and supplemental approaches.

Rosie Liebe ( is a certified massage therapist and fantastic human. She says:

I use NeuroMuscular Reprogramming (NMR) ( and its technique of resisted movement to find muscular imbalances and compensation patterns that cause your tension and pain.

Whether you have…
* stiffness or pain in your back, hip, knees, or ankles
* repetitive strain injuries in your shoulders, elbows, or wrists
* sports injuries
* neck pain, whiplash, TMJ syndrome, headaches
* chronic tension and limited range of motion

… my goal is to release the tension, relieve the pain, and retrain your body to move as it did before. You will experience more ease in your body and move more freely.

Mindie Dodson ( is a Certified Advanced Rolfer, CMT with an office in Berkeley who offers:
* Advanced Rolfing® Structural Integration
* Neural & Visceral Mobilization
* Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy
* ?Orthopedic Massage
* Rolfing® for Children

She says:
We can all stand? to widen our capacity for strength as the result of ease over effort, which is a fundamental principle of Rolfing®. I discovered Rolfing at a time when I was not injured but felt progressive tightness and shortening in my lower back. I had no idea an injury I had forgotten, which I sustained when I was cold-cocked in the neck and ribs during a high school basketball game, remained in how I held my head. I didn’t realize what the long-term effects of my injuries were or understand the connection between scar tissue and restricted mobility; I just kept going.

The 10-series I signed up for reorganized the flat feet I’d dealt with from childhood when I was very active in band and basketball, giving me a more balanced foundation. For the first time I could rotate my body without feeling older than I am. The experience was profound, so much so that I decided to make Rolfing® my career path. In 2006 I became certified in Rolfing® Structural Integration.

I am trained to analyze posture and movement to address clients’ specific imbalances, and to help establish grace, posture and fluidity of movement. I use my hands, forearms and elbows to carefully stretch and recondition soft tissue, to release adhesions between layers of soft tissue and to move one layer on another.

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.

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!