The Elephant Series was so named such by Joseph Pilates because when you are standing on the platform with your hands on the foot bar and your head is relaxed, the line of your spine looks like an elephant's trunk!
Because there is a natural flow from the Knee Stretch Series into the Elephant Series and then into the Downstretch Series I am going to write about all of these exercises as best I can, to share their benefits and their common missing links.
The goal of all these exercises is to isolate or stabilize the upper body while learning to employ your core to initiate and complete the lower body movements. When you get into the Down Stretch Series you switch from stabilizing your upper body to stabilizing your lower body and moving your upper body; but with complete control of your shoulder girdle.
Also there is a wonderful extension and flexion of the spine that occurs throughout these exercises to stretch your back muscles and add spine suppleness and flexibility.
Each of these series begins with your back in a forward flexed (bent forward) position. We call this curved back. "In the Knee Stretch" series you are using your knees and upper legs to push the platform away but always using your pelvic floor and lower abdominals to pull the platform in. More cords with strengthen your knees and quadriceps and fewer cords will engage your lower abdominal muscles. The most important benefit comes from being in the right position when you begin the exercise.
Kneel on the platform. Place your feet against the shoulder pads but more importantly your legs need to be shoulder width apart. Lean back slightly so your bottom is raised but over your feet. Your hands are on the foot bar, again shoulder width apart. Your spine is curved forward and your head is relaxed and in between your arms. The important thing here is then to lift your rib cage up towards the ceiling as if someone is pulling a string attached to the middle of your back. As you do this you will feel the middle part of your back stretch and your abdominal muscles will hollow up and in.
Now you begin to move but the movement is only of the lower body. Your arms are straight and do not move. Your shoulders stay exactly where they are and your entire upper body is stable and unbending. Only the lower body moves. You inhale and push with your knees and heels to make the platform go back a few inches. Exhale and using your pelvic floor pull the platform forward drawing your knees in and under you but forward towards the foot bar. Inhale and push back, exhale and pull forward. The movements are brisk and the emphasis is on the inward pulling of the platform.
After the forward flexion of the spine we try to extend it with an "arched back". Lift your head, look up and forward. Arch your back and stick your butt in the air. Arms arte still straight and upper body is stable and unmoving. Inhale and push the platform back exhale and draw it in.
For Elephant, you simply go from kneeling to standing. Your heels are against the shoulder pads with the weight back. Your arms are straight and your head is relaxed and in between your arms. The same lifting of your middle back occurs as if someone is pulling on a string in the center of your back to lift it drawing your abs up and in.
Inhale and push the platform back with your heels and hamstrings, exhale and using your abs and pelvic floor draw it in. You will of course feel a tremendous stretch in your claves and hamstrings, your back and Achilles tendon.
When you move into the Down Stretch Series you simply transfer the stabilization from your upper body to the lower body. Lower your hips so that your spine is slightly extended. Inhale and push the platform away using your arms, exhale and pull the platform in using your arms. Your abdominals and pelvic floor are engaged to stabilize your spine and back as you move your upper body. As you move into Up stretch there is even more emphasis on abdominal stabilization to maintain the plank position of your spine as your arms move your body back and forth.
These exercises progress from one to the other and as your body begins to relearn which muscles to use to stabilize and which to mobilize you will become very adept at moving through real life with ease and grace.
Learn more: Common Mistakes in AeroPilates: Arms in Straps