Think Michael Jordan in flight as he dribbles across the basketball court, or as he attempts a reverse dunk—feet lifted two feet off the ground. Think Nadia Comaneci airborne between the uneven bars, or David Beckham suspended mid air on the soccer field. What you are witnessing is a complete release; an inherent “knowingness” of how to let go of what one doesn’t need while engaging just what is necessary. This is what I call Freedom to Fly, and once an athlete can achieve it, there are no limits to his or her sport.
It was almost a decade ago that I started my Pilates practice. Like anything else in life, before you are good at it, you are awkward and unsure of yourself. The beauty of Pilates though is that you can become efficient rather quickly as the core strength builds. A year after starting Pilates, I decided to try yoga, and although I was not flexible starting out, I amazed my Yogi Master with an ability to balance on my hands and lift my own body weight enabling me to do many of the advanced yoga poses. We decided it was my Pilates training that gave my core the integrity it needed to do what we call in the yoga world: the float.
It was only two years later that I began to teach and by combining the core building Pilates exercises with the balance and float of yoga, I saw my students excel quickly into advanced moves as well. I also noticed that the sports I engaged in become easier. From tennis to golf, swimming to hiking, there was a definitive fluidity in my movements and lightness to my step I had not experienced before. When student athletes were telling me they were noticing the same for themselves, I decided to really put some intention into the process. FTF was born.
With just a few key abdominal exercises that isolate and then engage the transverse and rectus abdominis along with the obliques, the core is allowed to segregate itself from the other muscles of the body. Once there is core integrity, we can begin to do the float or balance poses of yoga. I make every one of my athletes do head stands. Sounds crazy, but it is a powerful tool I use to help people understand their FTF (Freedom to Fly). Most people, especially men, try to muscle a headstand by forcing their back muscles, shoulders, neck and even legs to engage. This makes the body heavy, clumsy and unable to float up. (Think buoyancy in water.) In order to float in a pool you need to let go and disengage all muscles. If you don’t, you sink. By following the same principals, and aligning perfectly from head to shoulders to hips to feet, a person can stay in headstand for quite some time before tiring. From there we go to more advanced moves in headstand like pike or toe tip…every step of the way gaining a new understanding our own ability to find balance and flight without using muscle.
When Joseph Pilates created his genre of exercise, he called it Controlology. He knew that the body could isolate muscle groups to gain more endurance, strength and balance, becoming stronger than when engaging all muscles at the same time. The less energy you use, the less you fight gravity, making your moves seem as effortless as the pros. So the next time you see a baseball player reach for an overhead fly, or a football tight-end leap over a three-man pile up to intercept a ball, remember the release. Notice what they are not using as they fly through the air. It’s all about letting go of what you don’t need. Freedom…it’s a beautiful thing, in sports and in life.
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(Please be advised: Never do headstands without supervision unless you are an advanced student of yoga. Do not try this without first being instructed as it can cause neck or back injury. Be safe.) Here is a A headstand you might enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b56SoHMpLQg&context=C3395837ADOEgsToPDskI112N87lQ32toHoxRLLa4-