For example, a person who job suffers back problems due to the nature of their job will usually have postural problems too. This can then lead to joint problems and muscle imbalances, causing flexibility, strength and mobility issues.
Pilates works to aid the correction of these problems and to promote and teach neutral spine, alignment and core control. When these skills are utilised and postural habits are adapted, that person no longer suffers from these chronic problems or deficiencies, or at the very least they may lessen. This in turn can improve their quality of life, their mental focus and happiness and their ability to function in a more bio-mechanically correct manner.
How often do we think about how we stand or how we walk? If we asked people in the street what neutral spine or the plumb line is would they know? Generally speaking, they probably would not. Pilates teaches these skills to retrain our bodies to stand and move in the most bio-mechanically correct, balanced and physically safe manner.
However, when we first practice this technique it can appear strange to our labour damaged, genetically prompted or habitually adapted bodies. If we look at some of the Pilates set-up we can assess our own bad habits and the unnatural feeling it may cause to now stand corrected.
- Stand feet hip-width apart - this is sometimes difficult for someone who isn't body aware, or has tightness in the groin and hips
- Body weight back on the heels - can give the sensation of 'tipping' and feel unnatural. If core control or balance is bad it may also throw their equilibrium off
- Soften the knees avoiding lockout - the temptation is for people to squat and thrust their hips backwards or to lock-out the knees and thrust the hips forwards
- Lift up tall through the crown of the head, lengthening the neck - if a client has kyphosis or swayback for example, this correction is needed, but it can be challenging as these posture types typically extend the neck forward
- Chin tucked slightly down, eyes on the horizon - can feel unnatural so it is important to educate the participant in the postural gains this will encourage
- Shoulder stabilisation - clients who are body conscious have certain posture types, for example scoliosis, or tall clients can often hunch their shoulders up. This can cause tension and instability in the shoulders and cervical and thoracic areas
- Neutral spine - we imagine a plumb line from a side view through the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. It is rare that an adult can stand perfectly in this position in their natural habitual stance. It is here that we can assess and work on correcting postural defects
Participants should then start to become aware of how the corrections feel and start to correct themselves daily. Over time their bad habits can then be changed.
Common causes of these defects are body positioning needed for certain jobs, activities and habits in everyday life such as driving, sitting at a computer, walking in heels or even carrying a handbag. Using these fundamentals and being aware of the corrections needed each day during such activities can educate the mind and body and grow our appreciation of Pilates as a rehabilitation programme.
Participation in sports is also a common cause for joint, muscle and postural issues. However, through the practice of Pilates, particularly exercises that are specific to certain sports, the participant can strengthen, stretch and mobilise the areas of their body that have been affected. This can lead to them being more efficient, mobile and dynamic in their sports and in their everyday lives. They can extract elements of the exercises such as shoulder stabilisation and core engagement alongside principles such as control, precision and body awareness. Lateral thoracic breathing is also highly beneficial here. In all sports the ability to maintain core control and engagement and optimise oxygen intake is priceless.
Clients who inherently have physical conditions can also benefit. In classes they are given adaptations and modifications to aid their practice and comfort, such as the use of blocks. This equipment can be used each day to continue their rehabilitation and progress their competence in the fundamentals of Pilates.
Adaptations in classes are also made for pre-natal and post-natal clients, with emphasis on the training of the pelvic floor muscles. Training the body to engage at 30% is not only effective in itself but also seen as a maintainable percentage to engage at. Therefore these clients can adapt to this training and use it daily.
This goes hand in hand with TVA engagement. One generally contracts with the other which is also beneficial for these clients in the late post natal stages where they are recovering from diastasis recti. It can help them become functional a lot quicker and with minimal strain to a body that is still in recovery.
Indeed, TVA engagement can benefit any client and provide support and strength for the body in our everyday movements. Learning and utilising the art of core control and engagement in everyday activities can therefore not only increase your strength but also decrease your risk of injury and suffering from chronic pain in areas such as the back.
Overall it is important that we connect the principles with the fundamentals. The mind and body connection is imperative to your focus, concentration and precision of these fundamentals. Without body awareness we cannot learn from what we are being trained to do. When we adapt our bodies either ourselves or are physically manipulated into positions, our bodies and minds subconsciously and consciously remember and adapt over time. This can then be transferred to any activity we perform, allowing us to be more aware of and connected to ourselves.
Written by Katie Farnden