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Penny Eckert

I have a passion for helping people to age strong. That goal can only go so far if there isn’t follow through by the participant during the hours and days that occur outside of class. Penny (Penelope) Eckert is a distinguished linguistics professor at Stanford where she first took a class with me over a decade ago, then later with private lessons at my Mountain View studio.

What impresses me most about Penny is her commitment to her health and her drive and determination to apply the principles and exercises we work on in class, into her daily routine. She’s one of the clients who I design home programs for who actually follows through and does them. Because of her tenacity, she’s overcome various physical obstacles and I’m proud to say she is a great example of someone who is aging strong.

The following is an interview with Penny.

What’s your line of work?
I’m a professor of Linguistics at Stanford University.

What inspired you to try Pilates? 
I was having back pain and I’d been reading about Pilates. Then I sat next to a woman on a plane who did Pilates and raved about it, so …. I signed up for a Pilates class at Stanford. My back pain was gone by the end of the quarter. Then I signed up for a class with Teresa and it was a revelation. Her classes were an amazing workout and her eagle eye made sure every move was precise. I swear she can see under my clothes. I’ve been addicted to Pilates with Teresa now for fourteen years.

What was an AHA moment you had in Pilates?
I think the biggest AHA moment was when I realized I was in charge of my body, and that I knew what to do at every moment to keep it strong. 

What are the most potent movement principles that you apply to your daily life?
The key to well-being is making sure my core feels strong before I leave the house in the morning, reminding myself to sit and stand tall and relaxed (the key to keeping my shoulders down and released) throughout the day, and striding rather than walking in little steps. 

Which is your most challenging exercise and why?
At the moment my most challenging exercise is your Standing Clocking exercise.  It’s challenging because I seem to have pretty lousy balance but I love it. But then … the Iliotibial band stretch is challenging because It hurts and I HATE it!

Which is your favorite exercise and why?
Since the classic hundreds is not safe for me to do anymore, I enjoy the modified standing hundreds because it warms me up and gets my core firing.  I also love just about anything on the reformer and TRX. 

What is your greatest physical challenge and how have you addressed it?
My back pain came from a messy spine, and I’ve had two spinal fusions since I began Pilates. My surgeon told me that the success of such surgeries depends on the patient’s preceding physical condition, and there’s no question that having a strong core has made all the difference for me. My recovery was fast and once the fusion was complete, I went back to Pilates rather than doing regular physical therapy. I’m six months out from my second surgery and my back feels amazingly strong. 

What improvements and benefits have you noticed during your life outside of class?
I feel much stronger, balanced, and centered. I stand and walk taller. I’m pain free.

I was excited to present my workshop, Aging Strong Pilates® to Pilates instructors from around the world at the annual Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) Conference last week in Las Vegas. This is THE big Pilates event for instructors worldwide. I’ve had the honor of presenting my work at this conference over the last 7 years AND I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to learn from other colleagues in the field and share their insights and knowledge with my clients.

In this short video clip, I’m teaching Dennison Laterality Repatterning, also known as Cross Crawl from Brain Gym® which draws on movement patterns learned in early life. This sequence integrates right and left hemispheres of your brain as it improves neuroplasticity (building new neural connections which we now know occurs across our lifespan), coordination, posture, core strength, hip and leg strength, and balance! Give it a try both fast and slow. Performed slowly it mirrors the qualities of Tai Chi. Peter Wayne, an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School found that “across multiple studies, Tai chi appears to reduce the risk of falling by 20 to 45 percent and is considered one of the best exercises available for ambulatory older adults with balance concerns”.  For that reason,  I integrate this technique into all my Aging Strong Pilates classes.

For those reading this blog that attended my workshop, thank you for being so open, curious and engaged!  One question I received was why I use ½ tennis balls rather than a full round tennis ball, for the initial phase of myofascial release of the feet. Here’s my reasoning.  First, it’s more malleable and has more compressive give, which is helpful for those with sensitive feet or minimal fat pads on the balls of their feet, a common by-product of aging.  The second, and even more critical reason is that you could trip and fall on a round ball!  According to the National Council on Aging, people over 65 have a 25% risk of falling. For that reason, introducing a fall hazard like a round small ball would be a poor choice to have underfoot, particularly in a group class.

I welcome any questions you still might have that we didn’t get to. I’d also love to hear what components of the workshop resonated for you as a teacher and also what didn’t work. Please share below or email me.

For my dedicated clients/students at Stanford Univ, El Camino Hospital, private clients and BoneSmart Pilates® DVD users, I shared with the delegates the results of what you told me was important for you as an active ager in a Pilates class. The essential elements you shared included:

  • Safety (both physical and emotional)
  • Avoiding pain (use modifications, remain within pain-free ranges)
  • Humor
  • Music for the standing portion of class and for our closing meditation
  • Alignment corrections (it was important to you that you are seen and matter)
  • The use of vivid imagery
  • Branding: don’t ever call it a class for “seniors” or the “elderly” as that’s definitely an attendance deterrent.

Upon reading this, if there are other factors that you feel are important to be included in the survey results that are missing above, please comment below or email me. I’d love to know so I can include your input in future presentations.

Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to really explore for myself, what is at the core of my Aging Strong Pilates class, what makes it unique and why do I love teaching it so much? It hit me like a brick. Having a special needs daughter with autism has opened my eyes in wonderful ways, to the necessity of inclusion and connection and to the pure joy that comes with unselfconscious movement. I realize that my relationship with her is what informs really everything I do and who I am. It is at the core of my instructional focus on connection, acceptance, my integration of techniques that promote neuroplasticity, my use of inclusive circle formations for much of our standing work and at times, if I happen to have a small class, I even configure our mats like spokes on a wheel so we can all see and be connected with one another.

I’m blessed with my 19 y/o daughter who experiences life with unbounded childlike energy and joy. She is kind, does not understand the meaning of evil or a lie and is the essence of total innocence and love. Her existence makes the world a brighter place and the people she meets, kinder, better people. So I wanted to end with deep gratitude during this season of gratitude, for my special daughter Katelyn, my Thanksgiving gift, born on Thanksgiving Day, 1998.

Get rid of flabby upper arms with this toning exercise that also includes core strengthening, balance and a stretch for your pecs/front of shoulders! Presented by Teresa Maldonado Marchok, licensed physical therapist, PMA certified Pilates teacher and creator of the BoneSmart Pilates® method and DVD series. You can purchase the door anchor and resistance bands on our site www.BoneSmartPilates.com under the pull-down menu “Shop”, then select “PROPS”. Subscribe to our channel for more free videos and the latest updates!

 

In response to requests for streaming of my DVD’s, I am so excited to share that we have just launched our streaming offering of all 3 BoneSmart Pilates DVD’s!

 

This is when your butt muscles basically forget how to fire correctly.  How does this happen?

It’s actually a common problem today. People are spending inordinate amounts of time sitting behind their computers, driving their cars, sitting on couches etc.  Sedentary, lifestyles often driven by work environments, tend to be more the norm than the exception these days. 

With all this sitting, the muscles around the hip joint experience something called “reciprocal inhibition”. That’s when the muscles in front of the hip, your hip flexors, become short and tight from being in that shortened position of sitting and the opposite muscles, the butt muscles, are neurologically inhibited and become overstretched, weak and inactive.

Why does this matter to you?

Well besides developing a saggy weak butt that’s beginning to head south, there’s another concern.

Your Gluteus maximus, your largest butt muscle, is your strongest hip extensor and external rotator muscle. If it’s inhibited from doing it’s job, the Piriformis muscle-a smaller external rotator, may have to jump in to take up the slack.

If the Piriformis muscle does more than it’s designed to do and over fires you can get something called “Piriformis syndrome”. This is when the Piriformis muscle becomes irritated and inflamed and may press on the sciatic nerve. This can result in sciatica which is pain, numbness and tingling down your leg.

In general you want to avoid gluteal amnesia because you don’t want other muscles jumping in to take up the slack, as that can result in injuries.

How do you fix it?

First you need to stretch those muscles in front of the hip that are short, tight and inhibiting gluteal action. Then you want to strengthen those gluts!

Watch the video for the exercises that combat gluteal amnesia, normalize the relationship of the muscles in front of and behind the hips and get your glutes firing!  You can fast forward to the 2 min mark to see just the exercises or watch from the beginning and see the explanation with visuals.