Contemplating Navels. Is that really Pilates? Shiva Rea Gets the Core

So I just finished Shiva Rea’s Creative Core Abs DVD workout.

Core work is usually hard for most people, and of any of the yogic sets in Kundalini yoga, I find myself resisting or procrastinating doing navel sets the most. They say if your navel center is strong, you’ll never be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gurushabd went as far as to say that the people in the World Trade Center obviously didn’t have strong navel centers or they wouldn’t have been there on 9/11. A wave of irritation flowed through the class after that pronouncement. Despite yogic arrogance, there’s truth to the benefits of a strong navel center. It keeps you on track, gives you the ability to follow-through on your ideas and commitments, and supports your confidence. Navel fire is the spark of commitment, the spiritual corollary to the “fire-in-the-belly” they talk about in the film “Wall Street.” Over-developed, a person can become domineering, over-bearing, and unreasonable.

A strong navel center needs to be supported by a balanced first chakra, sense of self, groundedness. It needs an open heart center to allow the truth to be expressed and heard, and to allow the self to connect the animalistic survival functions with the spiritual dimensions.

The Shiva Rea DVD isn’t a Pilates method, and never claims to be, but I recognized a lot of the exercises as familiar from Pilates. Of course, the Pilates method integrates a variety of yogic exercises along with other techniques, so Shiva Rea very well may have gone directly to the source, and I just found the exercises familiar because I know them from the later Pilates techniques.

Pilates is all about building a strong core or navel center. At least that’s what the trainers always spend their time discussing. In reality the system stretches and opens up all the limbs while building long lean exceptionally strong muscles. But after several years of Pilates, after doing the teacher training for it, I still hated the Pilates mat workout, whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced. The only one I thought was interesting was the mat reformer series, which presents the exercises you do on the reformer on the mat; many exercises are the same, but the sequence is different. The reformer is a modified bed with springs, developed for rehabilitation of hospital patients who couldn’t get out of bed. If you ever see a Pilates “apparatus” you’ll probably see a reformer first, although there are modified chairs and the “cadillac” – another immobile bed with pipes and springs above it. I love the Pilates equipment and the sets on them, but the mat work is dreary, hard, and boring.

Unfortunately a lot of people seem to think Pilates is just for women. Any athlete whose performance relies upon strength and flexibility will see huge benefits from the practice, including football players. Joe Pilates himself was a boxer. Dancers and gymnasts love Pilates because it gives them flexibility and strength, focus and control. The surge in interest in it has been tied more to wealth and vanity than a real understanding of what it offers. Unfortunately, it has been so absurdly modified from studio to studio that you hardly know what you’ll get anymore. That is just what the NYC school was trying to trademark and prevent, and many teachers were angry about that – probably because what they were teaching bears little resemblance to Pilates.

For instance, the Menezes book on the technique bears little if any relation to the system taught by Roman Kryzanoska, Joe Pilates’ protégé.


(A better Pilates Method Book by Romana and Sean)

Sean Gallagher and Romana Kryzanowska

I met someone last weekend that had a herniated disc, a spinal injury that I’ve seen Pilates used to heal frequently, and the person said her Pilates work hadn’t helped it at all. I think there’s also a big difference between rehabilitative Pilates, and general exercise Pilates, and the thoroughly trained teachers can do both. Many people get certification for it without enough supportive work to learn the rehabilitative aspects of it.

I saw a magazine article that said Pilates doesn’t give you an aerobic workout and won’t help you lose weight. That was about as informed as the NY Times obituary that said that Yogi Bhajan’s White Tantric Yoga was a sexual practice. Unfortunately, the way some people teach Pilates, it IS slow and meditative, and doesn’t elevate your heart rate. That wasn’t the way it was intended. I saw a woman who lost 35 pounds in less than 10 sessions (typically 2-3 per week). Core work gets you slim. That fat may be the psychological “protection” we think we need, or ballast that keeps us sinking underwater. I think there’s probably a lot of psychic baggage trapped in it, so it’s hard to shed it.

But back to the DVD: Shiva Rea’s dance background seems to shine through in it, because it incorporates a lot of Pilates mat movements and a whole assortment of other abs routines in a constantly moving, never boring workout. I still associate the word “workout” with ending up tight and sore, but this set centers you and opens you up. I don’t think it was very long either; maybe half an hour. I think I’m going to come back to this DVD, hopefully frequently, because it made doing that core work fun, not dreary or boring. It’s not often I can say that.

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