Up And Down A Mountain With Pilates And GYROTONIC® Fundamentals


About a month ago, I attended a family wedding out West and after all the fun and festivities of the weekend, I was lucky enough to head to Yosemite National Park for a few days. Yosemite Valley is absolutely stunning and overwhelming to take in. I was awestruck by the majesty of its dramatic granite formations, lush evergreens and humbled by the harsh terrain. Yes, I do realize that I sound like I am about to break into song with America the Beautiful followed by This Land Is Your Land and don’t think it didn’t occur to me to belt those out as we wound our way down into the Valley.

Why am I going on about what I did on my vacation? Because while I was there I was reminded how much I use the fundamentals of Gyrotonic and Pilates in my life, both in my daily routine, and during my out-of-the box adventures, which is why I love them both so much.

Back to Yosemite. We decided to hike up to one of the famous waterfalls and to some views that can’t be seen from the road. As we set out, I noted how long it had been since I hiked in the mountains especially at altitude. I was plodding along, lifting my legs to step up, using only my hip flexors, hunching my upper body over, with everything hanging from my neck. Pretty quickly I realized that I was uncomfortable and gripping in just about every way I could from the “fun” hike. I stopped for some water and had to laugh at myself because my poor form was making it impossible to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

I started thinking about the best way to unravel the stress in my body and as I hiked upward, I started experimenting with the narrowing we practice in Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis. I began by pulling my hips together both from the outside and internally while elevating and elongating my spine using the “tube of toothpaste” visual we often refer to. Then I was able to reach my neck long, roll my clavicles back to widen my chest and engage my shoulder girdle to support my upper body. Next, I focused on softening my ribcage so it too could draw in toward the middle of my body, and aid in the deep abdominal and pelvic girdle connections. And the BREATH. I really inhaled and exhaled, and started feeling the gripping leave my body. All of that didn’t happen instantly or all at once, but pretty soon, I felt lighter as I ascended and I started to look at the incredible scenery around me instead of down at my feet that were muscling through every step. I was using my whole body to get up the hill and it made an enormous difference.

I also thought of the Pilates co-contraction and imagined zipping up a really tight pair of jeans as I climbed what was basically a very steep and scenic flight of natural stairs. I was “pulling myself together,” and it became so natural I was able enjoy the journey and not just think about the destination.


After spending some time at the top soaking all of that beauty in, it came time to head down. For some unknown reason, I let go of all of that good work and connection and started plodding along again, jamming into my knees, hips and lower back, letting gravity drag me down the slope (see, even instructors revert to bad habits quickly if we aren’t being mindful). So, I went back to the narrowing and co-contracting and I was able to descend more easily, using those internal connections to keep my spine elongated, and engage my quads properly to take pressure off my knees, hips and low back. In other words, to provide a shock-absorber effect. Again, everything was working together.

I couldn’t help but focus on just how much the fundamental things that we teach here at Core helped me get both up and down the mountain with much more ease than I recalled experiencing before.

That got me thinking about how much I employ the core stabilization, spine lengthening and alignment principles we focus on at Core every day as I go about my typical activities. I realized how much easier it is to be on my feet for long stretches while cooking or doing dishes when I balance on both feet and reach through them to connect all the way up through the crown of my head. It is so much better for my body when I stabilize my pelvis and engage my deep abs before I reach or twist for things. And even walking the dog around the neighborhood, when I narrow my pelvis and lengthen my spine, my whole body benefits.

Integrating the Pilates and Gyrotonic fundamentals during my hike in Yosemite helped me achieve something I really wanted to do and enjoy it. And now I’m thinking about my next, longer, hiking trip– a new goal.

Take a minute to think about the things you want Core to help you achieve and let Stephen and your instructors know what they are. It can be as simple as enjoying a walk or bike ride without pain, or as lofty as hiking in the Alps or running a half-marathon. Do you want to get ready to ski this winter or do a Triathlon? Do you want to be able to get on the floor and play with your kids or grandkids? We will do whatever we can to help that happen.

Don’t be afraid to reach high.



Brandi Nelson
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