PROPER POSTURE IS PRIMARY IN PILATES
More than simply a fitness regime pilates is about developing the awareness to stand efficiently and the ability to move effortlessly with optimal functional integrity. For this to happen proper posture is essential. Good posture begins with an applied knowledge of dynamic body alignments and the core control to nurture such awareness.
Pilates is instrumental in developing a strong core and the necessary neuromuscular connections needed to cultivate a balance of the body’s musculature that will bolster good posture. Proper alignment and a balance of the antagonistic muscles throughout the body will sustain with minimal effort correct positioning of the many integrated parts needed for proper alignment. Postural awareness is a dynamic that must first be engaged correctly and continually reinforced throughout one’s moving activities otherwise poor habits can lead to poor posture and a diminished efficiency and capacity of body action.
Joseph Pilates advocated focusing movement from what he called the “powerhouse” or the integral core muscles centered within the torso. These include the abdominals, back muscles and deep muscles of the pelvic floor. Engaging correct posture and applying the muscles of the powerhouse to support the spine and upper body incurs less weight on the muscles and joints of the lower body. This relieves some of the potential stress put on the hips, lower back, legs and feet. At the same time a stronger core support system enables the tension often concentrated in the neck and shoulders to relax. With more relaxation and reserve there is greater freedom and efficiency of movement throughout the body.
POWERHOUSE IS PARAMOUNT
Most people know the difference between good posture and bad. When an individual radiates good posture it is fairly evident to the eye. Good posture can be kinesthetically perceived and sensed somatically. Most of us will subconsciously take notice of an individual who elegantly embodies exceptional postural awareness. We will take note that he or she appears quite statuesque even if fairly petite in actual height. We are captivated by the dignity, power and chic style of one who appears so poised and gracefully aligned.
Not only is correct posture aesthetically appealing to the eye it is practical and has a purpose, advantageously serving all other movements of the body making them flow with greater ease, efficiency and functionality. We can all use a little extra energy even if it is just that which we save by moving more efficiently. Taking the time to create our best posture is worth our while since it will come back to us in bigger returns on our energy with less accumulated tension throughout the body, throughout the day, throughout our lives.
The result of practicing good posture has many advantages. A summary of the benefits include the following:
- Eliminate unnecessary tension in muscles and joints
- Experience more ease, less physical stress and discomfort
- Relieve chronic neck, back, hip, knee and ankle pain due to poor posture
- Generate more ease, fluidity and efficiency in everyday movements
- Achieve greater proprioception and heightened kinesthetic performance
- Ensure deeper muscle engagement and functional integrity
- Foster optimal range of movement
- Improve circulation, respiration and energy conservation
- Elongate your physique, engender a slimmer more statuesque appearance
- Improve persona, exude confidence and boost self image
Understanding the many benefits of good posture makes me remember fondly my mother who was always on my case encouraging me to stand up straight. Now that you know how practicing good posture has its holistic rewards you should have less objection to making it a living priority especially when you take the time to exercise and condition the physical vessel that sustains your life. Here is a simple standing exercise to help you achieve better alignment awareness which will help you to precipitate your best posture as soon as possible and embrace it from there on always.
FOCUS ON ALIGNMENT
1. Stand Upright & Tall. Lift the head, lengthen the spine and center your weight on both legs with your feet aligned directly under your hips. Keep your feet and your legs parallel so that your knees and toes are pointing straight forward, not rotated inward or outward. Your legs should be extended fully however your knees should remain at ease so they are not forcefully locked keeping stress to the joints at a minimum.
2. Align the Body Masses, Balance the Bones. Imagine a plum line that travels from your ears down through the tops of your shoulders, the sides of your ribcage, to your hips, knees and ankles. Feel the weight evenly on both feet centered slightly in front of the ankle in the middle of the foot. A popular method to find this centrally aligned place is to gently lean the whole body forward and back rocking onto the toes and then back onto the heels of the feet, tapering the movement in until you feel aligned over the central portion of your foot.
3. Activate the Muscles of the Pelvic Floor. To begin imagine the pelvis as a bowl that remains upright centered below the ribcage. The ribcage can be imagined as a box or large cylinder aligned directly over the pelvic bowl. Without disturbing the correct alignment of the bones, being careful not to lose the contents of the bowl by tilting the pelvis forward (anterior tile) or backward (posterior tilt), tighten the underneath muscles that support the pelvic bowl. As you squeeze in this will begin to engage all the muscles of the core.
4. Engage your Powerhouse. As you engage the pelvic floor activate the abdominal by lifting the ribcage upward and flatten across your hip bones firing up the transverse pulling it taught across the hip bones like a piece of leather pulled taught across the top of a drum. This initiates activation of all the core abdominals. As you do this have a sense of lengthening upward in the front of the torso, scooping out the belly, hollowing the abdominal wall pulling it in and up under the ribcage.
5. Drop the Tailbone. While lifting up in front of the body have a sense of lengthening down the small of the back elongating the lower spine so that the tailbone drops toward the floor. Maintain the pelvic bowl upright so that the contents remain intact. The pelvis remains upright aligned under the ribcage with a sense of the spine elongating both upward while also hanging downward into a neutrally aligned central position. The neutrally aligned position of the spine should be maintained, which means the curves naturally present remain. There is no tucking of the pelvis (posterior tilt) or flexing of the spine nor is there the opposite which would entail an anterior tilt of the pelvis while arching the back or excessively extending the spine as occurs in hyper-extension seen in a sway back posture. The best posture is one where the spine is elongated reinforcing neutrality.
6. Lengthen the Neck, Relax the Shoulders. As you lift the ribcage the head too lifts directly upward extending the neck without tilting the skull. There should be a lightness to the lift of the head without forcing it. As you lengthen the spine and head upward feel width in the collar bone and weight in the shoulder girdle so that there is a sense of the shoulders widening and dropping downward again without force but ease allowing gravity to pull gently on the shoulders and arms hanging by your side similar to the way clothing drapes downward off a hanger.
7. Broaden the Chest, Open the Breast Bone. Lift the sternum and collar bone upward and open the chest again keeping the bottom rib in line with the top of the pelvic. The chest is neither sunken nor protruding outward. The whole thoracic cavity is aligned upright with the pelvis and the ribcage floats easily about the spine. The spine is extended long while the chest and thoracic cavity is aligned and relaxed able to expand open and move easily with the breathe.
8. Taper the Waist, Broaden the Back. Strengthen your torso engagement and support the spine by lifting the chest and engaging the muscles of the back. Have a sense of lifting up from under neath the shoulder blades flattening them out evenly so they are neither protracted nor retracted. Keeping the gaze forward, throat open and chin centered, sense the base of the skull behind the jaw lifting upward away from the shoulder blades as they slide down in opposition. The head is lifted as if hanging from a string attached at the top of the skull and the neck is extended elongated without excess tension. With the skull lifted from above, have a sense that the spine and shoulder girdle are hanging freely. The shoulders and arms are relaxed supported from underneath by a strong back and core connection. Your shoulders and arms have enough to do without having to hold up you head and neck too so let that tension go.
9. Stand with Ease, Listen and Believe. Sense the proper alignment and breathe naturally.
BORN TO BE UPSTANDING
Good posture is not necessarily something you were born with. The potential is present but you must make it happen through conscious effort, imagination and reinforcement. Everyday is a good day to take the time to focus on improving your posture. Anywhere you can stand you can do this simple practice to improve your alignment and posture. Standing in line or sitting at your desk you can do the same. The only difference when sitting will be in the leg position which will be folded over the edges of the chair. Instead of standing on your feet the base of support will be centered at your hips.
CONCENTRATE AND CONTEMPLATE
Pilates practice places a high value on form and performance done with precise posture and alignment parameters. Practicing pilates is a wonderful way to focus on your natural movement proclivities and to contemplate your less than mindful habits. Pilates methods are designed to build the core strength and awareness needed to make the necessary changes that will improve your everyday alignment and posture which will in turn serve all of your daily activities better both those related to work and or play.