Pilates. You’ve seen the word, you’ve heard it and perhaps wondered how to pronounce it. You know a lot of people do it, recommend you do it, look great after they’ve been doing it a while, and you hear that people feel better when they do it regularly. Many doctors recommend patients with back pain do Pilates. Physiotherapists and other practitioners give you exercises to do, and lo and behold, you find out they’ve given you Pilates exercises.
Pilates is about your core. Your core supports your posture – and your posture is the result of habits, strengths, weaknesses, illness, injury, emotions, job and daily demands. Posture is also the starting point of movement and adapts every time it needs to do so. Your postural habits feel natural and normal to you, even when they cause tension and pain. Your complaints about tight hamstrings, inflexibility and tension all have to do with your habitual posture.
So what does your posture look like and is it serving you well now and for the future? I like to use the image of an ‘X’ in a profile view to understand pelvic position, core muscles and posture. Your core includes abs, back muscles, hip flexors (quadriceps) and hip extensors (gluteals and hamstrings).
The X line from your low back to your quads can be tight which may cause back pain. The line from your abs down towards your gluts and hamstrings may be weak or long and hamstrings may be tight. Ideally, these two lines should be balanced: long on one means short on the other, and vice versa. You want to be even or as close as possible to what we call ‘neutral’ so all muscles contribute equally to the supportof your centre-most point (a neutral pelvis) and ultimately good posture.
Pilates aims to help you balance out the X by helping you understand where you are starting from and what it feels like to be neutral. It gets you breathing, releasing, moving, and ultimately strengthening muscles to maintain that balance.
Breath, release and movement come before strengthening. This is why some people are surprised by the pace of a Pilates class. They come looking for a workout and get instructions on how to breathe.
Did you realize that breathing solves a lot of issues? Breath brings intelligence to the body, releases tension, helps us find our energy and strength, and most importantly, helps us to activate the core muscles that support our spine and pelvis.
Go ahead, try it! Just breathe. See where your breath goes and how you feel. Do you feel a little more connected to your body now? Perfect, this is where we begin a Pilates class.
Pilates can be done on a mat, on your feet, on equipment such as the Reformer, Springboard, Stability Chair or Cadillac. These elements just give us a different space within which to experience our body, our movement and our kinesthetic awareness (where we are in space).
You can experience articulated movement by tuning in to your structure or bones (spine, ribcage, feet). You can experience stability, then mobility by tuning in to your muscles. And you can experience and integrate an overall holistic feel for your new posture, body and movement, through – you guessed it – your breath!
Pilates instructors are trained to observe to ensure their clients maintain a neutral position and core stability throughout movement. This is called keeping your core muscles engaged, stabilizing the centre of your body, all the while moving your extremities and your spine.
That’s what we want for our clients. Hundreds of exercises create opportunities to build awareness and core strength, then challenge that strength as you advance and progress with more complex exercises and movement patterns.
The body has a good memory for three to five days after your Pilates practice, so if you are considering Pilates, observe how your body responds over the week and you’ll find your perfect, unique schedule.
Lynne Stewart, B.Sc., MBA is Studio Owner/Instructor of Sol Pilates & Yoga/SOL Wellness/SOL SUP. www.solpilatesyoga.com.