Breathing and Abdominal Strength!

During my Friday night pilates class, it occurred to me that several pilates exercises would also make fabulous breathing exercises for singers!  Even better, while improving my breath support for singing, I can also help get my abs bathing suit ready!  Wahoo!  Two for one!  I would like to share a few pilates breathing exercises with you.

If you are feeling particularly creative, you can incorporate more of your singing exercises into the breathing exercises.  For example, on the exhales sing notes, trill your lips, do an “open mouth hum” (also known as singing “hungggggg”) or practice a section of an aria.  Have fun!  
The first exercise is the Double Leg Stretch.  To make it easier, extend your legs straight up to the sky.  To make it more challenging, extend your legs to 70 degrees, 30 degrees, or even two inches above the ground!  
The second exercise is the Roll Up.  No not the fruit roll up!  The abdominal roll up!  Make sure if the full roll up is too challenging that you watch the second video for the HALF roll up!:)

The last breathing exercise is called (morbidly) The Saw.  If you need to make it a little easier, you can bend your knees OR sit on a slightly elevated object such as a pillow, block, or folded mat.  If you are feeling extremely bendy and flexible, try increasing the distance between your legs a little, but make sure you always keep BOTH HIPS anchored to the floor!

Enjoy breathing and increasing your abdominal strength!

GET EXERCISED!

Once upon a time, when I was directing shows not performing in them, I met a wonderful girl named Dina.  She played a magical talking orangutan in a very interesting (interesting can be taken many ways) outdoor one act play I directed.  Dina is a yogi and fully utilized all of her yogi moves to embody the physicality of an orangutan.  The physicality she was able to incorporate is what made the show.  Without her daily exercise routines, she wouldn’t have had such a wealth of movements to tap into.  (She was doing handstand, it was amazing.)

At any rate, she has since moved to California, lucky state, and decided to help share her love of exercise with others.  She has a website called Get Exercised  where she posts yoga poses other other fitness tips you can do at home in a fun and interesting way!  Her goal is: 

Get Exercised began with my desire to teach anyone around the world with web access the most beneficial exercises I know while making it fun and entertaining to watch.

Until I am able to get my camera up and running and post new exercises and choreography ideas, I highly suggest checking out her website.  It’s amazing!  If you are IN California, check out one of her classes!

The Pilates Hundred

Hello lovely people out in blog world.

If you are stuck inside due to the great New York blizzard (or any of your local snowy weather – since there is now snow in 49 of the 50 states!)  you now have the PERFECT opportunity to sit in front of the television and work on your core muscles! But how?  And why?

If you are a singer, you of course know how important your diaphragm and core are since they support your breath and sound.  In dance, your core does exactly the same thing – it gives you support.  A strong center gives you the freedom to move your limbs about freely and effortlessly, just as a it gives you the freedom to hit long sustained high notes!  A strong core will also protect you from injury.

I am personally a huge fan of pilates to increase understanding of core strength, as well as your strength itself.  I recently was certified to teach beginning and intermediate mat through Power Pilates.    They have studios all over the U.S. and their system is incredibly effective and easy for a beginning students to understand and follow.  If you belong to a gym or dance studio, they usually offer fabulous classes as well.  At Steps on Broadway, I highly recommend Robin Powell’s class, or Annie Russ and Danielle Pierce when they teach as subs.

I am going to attach a video of me doing a basic pilates “hundred” which is the exercise that most pilates classes use to warm up the body, get the blood circulation moving, and oxygen moving to the muscles.  It is also a really wonderful ab strengthening exercise.  It is freezing outside now, but just you wait until bathing suit season!  You’ll be happy you did it!

A modification is to lower the legs anywhere from 70 degrees to 2 inches above the mat.  The lower your legs the more challenging the exercise.  Make sure that as you do this you always engage your abdominals.  I think that I am “scooping” through the abdominals.  The imagine in my head is that my belly is a very large tub of ice cream (which knowing my love of ice cream may be accurate) and a giant ice cream scoop  is coming down making my abdominals create a “scooped out” shape.  
Well – that was a lovely insight into my overactive imagination.
Now – go get some abdominals!  

STRETCHING!

As you are probably aware, stretching is a very important part of physical fitness.  If you saw BLACK SWAN, you saw Natalie Portman’s character  (Nina Sayers) stretching to warm up before she went to class and rehearsal.  You also see professional athletes stretching before they take the field, the court, run a marathon, etc…  So what’s so magical about a stretch?

Stretching warms up the muscles so they are safely able to perform and complete an exercise routine.   Over time stretching increases flexibility and range of motion.  Having access to your maximum range of motion helps with coordination and posture!  (Posture also helps makes you appear more confident – which can help you book a job or just make you more attractive to the cute guy/girl sitting across the bar.)  Stretching also helps your blood flow!  Waking up those muscles and getting them moving helps/increases circulation and flushes out waste byproducts and toxins in your muscle tissue!  No one likes waste byproducts and toxins!  So – stretching is awesome.  You should do it.

A few things to remember about stretching.  You always want to start out gentle and slow.  You never want to “force” a position.  You wouldn’t run a marathon 30 seconds after your morning alarm goes off.  Unless you are extremely hyper mobile, your muscles probably don’t want to be doing full splits as your first physical activity of the day.  Ease into positions and hold the positions for approximately 30 seconds, return to neutral, then repeat.  Despite what you see in crazy 80’s work out videos, you don’t want to “bounce” in a stretch position.   It looks weird and does nothing for your muscles except potentially hurt them.  Instead, try to hold a position for 30 to 90 seconds and reach a little bit further with every repetition of the stretch.

About.com has a wonderful article on easy “morning stretches,” which you can check out here. 

I would like to now share three of my favorite stretches to do in front of the television.  I always find my late night t.v. time to be the best time to really stretch myself out well.  Ideally you would do a full stretch session both before and after your work out, but if you are extremely busy (as most musicians are) – t.v. time works really most marvelously!

Here is a video of the delightful Colleen O’Brien (who I managed to bribe into being my stretch model) doing the “diamond stretch.”  It is a wonderful stretch with which to start, and is excellent for stretching out your hamstrings, quads, and glutes.

Two other stretch ideas for the day:

THE SITTING DOWN TOE TOUCH:

Sit down with your legs zipped together straight out in front of you.  Start by sitting up as tall as you possibly can with your hands by your waist.  Slowly, walk your hands forward as you bend your torso forward.

The goal is to touch your toes with your torso as flat as a pancake on top of your legs.  If you aren’t that flexible, don’t worry.  Go as far as you can comfortably.  A modification to make the stretch easier is to bend your knees slightly.

STRADDLES:
While you are touching your toes, you can work our your straddles.    Again, sit up as straight as you can with your legs zipped together in front of you.  Move your legs to hip width apart.   Gently bend your torso forward to try and touch your toes.  As you continue practicing this stretch, you can put your legs further and further apart until your are a full straddle.  
ENJOY LENGTHENING YOUR MUSCLES!:)

Interesting way to exercise.

Sorry to have been gone for a few days.  It’s been a strange week.  A friend recently shared this video with me and I thought I’d share.  It’s an at home exercise video designed to help you learn English. 

The phrases and exercises are quite comical in this context, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss multitasking whilst exercises.  If you are at the gym going to town on the elliptical, why not take a book?  I used to study French on the elliptical, and I’ve certainly seen people doing their biology homework!

If you’re watching t.v., why not take a moment to stretch?  Do some lunches, a split (or as much of a split as you can do), try and touch your toes, or do some sit ups.  (I like to do reps of 25 or 50 sit-ups, but you can set your own pace.  If you aren’t used to sit ups, start with reps at 10.)