I’m a Pilates instructor and during my training, it was touched upon that one of the goals of Pilates is to “restore animal movement.” I was intrigued by that phrase. Many Pilates exercises are named for animals: Cat, Elephant, Swan, Monkey, Seal, Grasshopper, Butterfly and many more, but what does that phrase mean exactly?
To me, it means emulating the grace and vitality of movement that animals naturally embody- and that we as humans (who are animals as well) should also embody, but often don’t (unless we’re little kids). Long hours sitting (at desks, on couches, in cars) and the habit of staying still and moving only in certain ways often, over time, cause us to lose the ability to move like an animal. Think of a typical butterfly, how does it move? It flutters with quick, delicate movements, goes with the flow, lands and slowly flaps its wings. How about a typical cat? With agility, grace, and speed. How does a typical human move? Hmm….
Pilates is an excellent mode of exercise for restoring animal movement because Joseph Pilates (creator of Pilates) was a student of animal movement and used it as the basis of his exercise program. In fact, Pilates said, “As a child, I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move […] true rhythm and control is observed both in domestic pets and wild animals – without exception” (from Stacey Redfield’s Biography). If you’re local to the Phoenix area, I teach Pilates private lessons and would be happy to work with you. Here are some other ideas for restoring animal movement, ideas I picked up from observing my dog Maggie. Several of them are extra fun to do with kids or pets.
1. Stretch in bed each morning before you get up. While lying down lengthen and tense up your legs, your arms, your tummy and back. Twist, writhe, contort in whatever ways feel good. Maggie ALWAYS stretches before she gets up, usually doing the two yoga moves named for dogs: Downward Facing Dog and Upward Facing Dog, once she stands.
2. Move for the joy of it! My dog runs around and around at full speed when I take her to the park. You can tell its just because she has the energy, she’s excited and it’s fun. Do some moving in a way that feels fun for you, with no regard for whether you’re doing it “right” or look “good” doing it. Crank some music and dance like a little kid, flailing however you want. Do some favorite stretches. Run for the fun of it- with no distance goal or end destination, and you don’t have to stop to put on the right shoes, outfit, ipod first- just sprint down your hallway if you want to. Jump rope, hula hoop, climb a tree, skip, twirl, shake- whatever feels good this moment- no planning required, for as long as feels good. Then, when you’re tired, rest.
3. Wag your tail. When I get home, or first wake up, my dog is so excited to see me she literally can’t stay still. Her mouth is wide open in a huge smile, her tail wagging, hips wiggling, and all four feet hopping. It’s hilarious, endearing and I can’t help but smile back. Get in front of a mirror. Think of the things you’re grateful for- things that make you feel good, happy, excited, thankful, passionate. And as you think of each one, pretend you’re a dog. Smile the hugest, most exaggerated smile you can- all teeth showing, mouth wide open like you can’t believe your luck. Then start wiggling your torso and hips- like you’re wagging your tail. Whole body shaking, look at yourself and how ridiculously happy you look. Play some happy music while you’re at it. *Bonus- this is actually a pretty good cardio workout too.
4. If you’ve been sitting for a long period of time and get up, do a quick shake of your whole body, like Maggie. Shake it off before moving to the next thing.
5. Drop to all fours and run around the house like that. What’s it like to be viewing the world from so close to the ground? Is it fun to have 2 sets of feet? If you have pets, they’ll get a kick out of you being at their level.
Hope you enjoy these fun ideas- please share any other movement tips you’ve picked up from your pets or animals you’ve observed and today, try moving like the human animal you are.