The pilates mermaid stretch is one of my all time favourites for a stiff low back and because there is also a kind of inner flow to it. You can use the pilates mermaid as a gentle warmup or as more intense cool down stretch or, if like me, you do a lot of sitting.
It is an exercise that works to lengthen and open the side body. Keeping the sit bones grounded as the arm extends in long reach up to the side of your head and over, it will connect the stretch through the center of the body. Mermaid is also a good lesson in keeping the scapula settled in the back as the arm moves. There is a special dynamic between breath and stretch as you ground down and reach skyward, which is what gives it the special inner flow feel.
This exercise is great for improving your overall flexibility by working to stretch your obliques, shoulders, and inner thighs. It opens your side body, lengthening the muscles between the ribs and pelvis. This can aid in being able to fully expand your chest in breathing. It prepares you for moves that call for twisting and bending and keeps your low back supple too!
How to do the pilates mermaid stretch:
Sit on the floor with both legs folded to the right side in an 90/90 position – one shin is parallel to your front, one parallel to your side, in line with your hip. Make sure the back foot is flat to the floor to protect your knee. Make a connection between your pelvis and your ribs so that you are flat as if your torso was between two sheets of glass. Both arms are lengthened by your side providing some light support as you sit upright. Like most pilates exercises, the real support for the move comes from the abdominals.
Follow along in the video:
Extend your left arm straight up above your head. Keep your left shoulder down, away from your ear. Bring the inside of the arm as close to your ear as you can without hiking up the shoulder.
Keep your left hip grounded as you lengthen your spine and the stretch moves up through the center of your body. Grow tall through the crown of your head as your spine lengthens and extends up and when you have nowhere left to go with the stretch, take it over to the side. Keep both sides of your waist long.
Do not let your ribs pop forward as you curve to the side – connect them to the pelvis.
Your support hand moves further away from your body to increase the stretch.
Keep your shoulders down and your scapula settled in your back, even at the farthest point of your reach.
To initiate your return, send your left sit bone down toward the mat. Then use your abs to begin to bring your torso up.
Now begin the reach to the other side, again lengthening up through the crown of your head and side bending to your right. You can walk your supporting arm (left arm), out and bend at the elbow to take your forearm to the floor to increase the stretch. Continue to focus on keeping the right side bone grounded now as your stretch extends up and over toward the left.
Aim to keep your left shoulder down and the scapula settled in the back.
Repeat two to three times each side.
How to tell if you’re doing it wrong:
Work to not let your back arch, your ribs pop out, or your shoulder twist inward.
Keep your shoulders down and your scapula engaged in your back.
Keep your head in line with your spine as you move (i.e. try not to tilt it in any direction).
Need a Modification?
If you can't sit in the Z leg position without discomfort, you can do this stretch in standing or cross your legs in front of you if that’s more comfortable.
Take your time with this and be sure to breath fully into the side of your body when you’re in the stretch to really open it up. Stretch only as far as you can with good form and no discomfort. The more and more you do this stretch, the further you’ll be able to go. It's a great beginners exercise.
And don't forget to smile :-)
Leave me a comment to let me know if i should start calling you Arial :-)
P.S. Be sure to read my blog post on pilates breathing tips to make sure you get the most of that side opening! I've linked it above for you.