Ask Rael Q & A: 7th issue

by Rael Isacowitz

What’s your on-the-go workout routine when you’re traveling the world?

I am very disciplined about doing workouts when I am on the road. It is the most important time to keep a routine going. Workouts help me get over jet-lag, keep me in touch with the work – so when I teach I feel connected – and help keep me in shape, despite the excessive eating (and drinking) I tend to do when being hosted by wonderful and generous people all over the globe.

I will sometimes take a small accessory with me, like a band or a magic circle (I have been stopped at security a few times to explain its uses). But most often it comes down to putting a towel on the floor in a hotel, usually in the early morning, and going through a solid mat routine. There are few routines as potent and immediately beneficial as the mat work. The level and duration will depend on my energy and the time available to me. It could be a 20-minute session or an hour session. I seldom need more than an hour.

I encourage you to listen to your body. Travel can be draining on the body and it often calls for a slow session with a lot of mobility exercises, starting with the Pelvic Rock, Pelvic Curl and Spine Twist Supine, and including Spine Stretch, Saw, Side Bend and always some good back extension exercises. Extension exercises that I love when I am traveling include Single Leg Kick, Double Leg Kick and possibly a supported Swan Dive to give me that full range of motion.

I always like to finish the session with some breathing, focusing and deep relaxation. Followed by a shower and a wonderful breakfast – and I am ready to take on the world!


What are your favorite complementary activities (to Pilates) as of late?

I have always been involved in many activities that co-exist with my Pilates practice. Some have been closely related to Pilates, like dance and yoga, while others, like swimming, running and surfing, have a looser connection. Yet, in my mind (and body) every activity is part of my life and they all feed me in different ways, plus they all use the body as their instrument. All my activities are a mind-body experience and in this way they share a common source.

I have lived in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Hood River, Oregon, in the mighty Columbia River Gorge. This area is a haven for outdoor activities, so I have done a lot of windsurfing, hiking and mountain biking in the spring and summer and a lot of skiing, snowboarding and walking in the winter.

Since starting to practice Pilates some 34 years ago, I have been diligent about doing at least three Pilates sessions a week – usually more, but never less. Pilates has formed the foundation of my physical and mental wellbeing and has allowed me to enjoy all the other activities I love doing in a full and wholesome manner.

Well, please excuse me now, the wind is blowing and I need to get out on the water!


What can I do to improve my foot alignment?

The feet are the foundation of the body and will affect your life profoundly, from standing still to walking, running and most other activities. Imagine a marathon runner whose feet (or one foot) are slightly out of alignment. Over the length of a marathon, in which she goes through the gait cycle thousands of times, she will lose time and energy and possibly cause chronic strain and even injury. This is, of course, an extreme example. But even over the period of a day, we go through the gait cycle many times and any misalignment of the feet can result in inefficient movement and problems all the way up the kinetic chain.

An excellent way to start correcting alignment of the feet is the foot work on the Pilates equipment. I teach the same foot work routine on the Reformer, Cadillac and Wunda chair. Each piece of apparatus has specific advantages when it comes to the foot work. Typically, I would start with the Reformer. The two joints to address in terms of alignment and gait would be the ankle joint, for dorsi- and plantar- flexion, and the subtalar joint, for supination and pronation. At times it may be necessary to place a small cushion or ball between the ankles and possibly the knees to guide the alignment. The Foot Corrector is a wonderful small piece of apparatus, which, as the name implies, is to correct the function of the feet.

Once good foot alignment has been established, you can progress to the many, challenging upright positions that demand good foot, knee and hip alignment. These include Forward Lunge on the Wunda Chair, Full Lunge and Front Split on the Reformer and the “Fuzzie” series on the Cadillac. Pilates lends itself to full body integration and has so many options that involve the entire body, yet it often all boils down to the foundation – the feet!


I sit at a desk all day on most days. Any tips for ergonomic positioning?

You and I and much of the world’s population sit at our desks far too much. But often there is no option. Sitting at desks for hours on end is a curse of modern society. Think about it, 50 years ago, it was not the problem it is today – even 20 years ago probably. But it is the reality we live in and we must deal with it as best we can. So I applaud your question.

Ergonomic positioning undoubtedly plays a big role. Some of the things to look for are: a good and supportive chair, the correct height desk, the correct height computer monitor, easy access to the mouse without having to strain the muscles in your arm and shoulder. Yet with all that said, two things are key and they have little to do with the desk, computer or chair.

  1. Be aware of your posture all the time. Check and recheck that you are not slouching, slumped over, tensing your neck and shoulders – these are all things that happen to everyone. Catch them and bring the body into good alignment (aligned with gravity). Pay particular attention to the head, which tends to drift forward causing tension in the neck.
  2. Get up, walk around and stretch the shoulders and chest often. Although it is difficult to remind ourselves to do so, we must find ways. It is continuous sitting that causes the muscles to tighten up.

The two areas that need to be highlighted are the shoulders, which may droop forward into a “round shoulder” position, and the hip flexors, which become short and tight, due to the hip being in flexion for hours. Remember, we should be practicing Pilates even when we are sitting at our desks. Taking ergonomics into consideration is excellent, but your own body awareness, body correction and movement are vital!


This article first appeared in the May/2012 issue of Pilates Style Magazine. For more great stories about Pilates, check out the latest issue of Pilates Style, on newsstands nationwide, in the app store or at



Leave a Reply