~ Articles About Pilates, Yoga & Wellness ~

Could Your Posture Benefit from Pilates?

Posted by Pam Seelig on Sun, Sep 13, 2015 @ 10:12 PM

Blog by Susan

As we go through our lives, the majority of us are standing, sitting, walking and even sleeping somewhere other than in 100% “neutral spinal alignment.”  In other words, noBODY is perfect!  

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The fact is, most of us, to some degree, exhibit imbalances in our posture due to tight or weak muscles and ligaments, gravity, heredity and maybe even a few extra pounds we’re carrying around.  Imbalances can also be the result of “overcompensating” for a multitude of daily stressors including long commutes, desk jobs, injuries and even dominant-sided activities like golf, where movement is repeated over and over without a “counter” motion in the opposite direction. 

As a rule of thumb, physical imbalances often become more noticeable as we age. You probably know an elderly person who is kyphotic with an exaggerated “hunching” or rounding of the upper back and shoulders.  But many younger people are quite literally “heading” in that direction and already show signs of “head forward” positioning from hovering over computer keyboards and smartphones.  (How many times do we tell our kids to “sit up straight!”)  

Face it, vision plays a critical role in helping us navigate our world.  And with eyes positioned in the front of our heads, and our heads weighing on average 10 pounds (that’s a heavy bowling ball!), nature and gravity seem to be setting us up to have a more rounded posture (or in spinal terms - flexion).  Unfortunately, all of this rounding can lead to increased neck pain, rotator cuff issues and cervical disc herniations down the road.

Add to this the fact that our daily routines often require us to sit for extended periods of time.  [Studies are now showing that a sedentary lifestyle is at the root of many conditions ranging from chronic lower back pain to diabetes.  In fact, some researchers are saying that “your chair could actually be killing you.”  While this sounds alarming, the anecdote could be as simple as just standing up every 15 to 20 minutes!  It so happens that frequent acts of “anti-gravity” really make a profound difference at our cellular level.]  In terms of postural alignment, all this sitting is wreaking havoc with our spinal health, and throwing many of us into a prolonged and exaggerated posterior pelvic tilt (where the tailbone is tucked under and the lower back is rounded).  And it’s particularly harmful when in a seated or standing position because there’s added compression of the lumbar spine from your own body weight.

If we look at studies of the “sitting” positions found in cultures throughout the world, the healthiest is one where the “load” (weight of the body) is spread across the entire pelvic floor and not toward the tailbone.  It requires a slight anterior pelvic tilt - where the natural curve of the lower back remains visible (and possibly even more arched for some of us), and a supportive base is maintained between the pubic bone and ischial tuberosity (sitz bones).  This little “triangular platform” seems to distribute the weight optimally and relieves pressure on the lower back.   It seems the spine doesn’t like to be in the shape of the letter  “C” all the time.  A healthy spine wants to be more like an “S” - as in “S is for Spine!"

So why do some exercise fads like “barre work” encourage participants to hold a prolonged seated or standing pelvic tuck?  Mistakenly, many people believe a deep posterior pelvic tilt (“the tuck”) helps to engage the large, but sometimes underused glute muscles for a tighter bum.  But the experts say the ability to maintain a balanced, neutral pelvis is key to putting your glutes at a better leverage advantage.  And more than likely, a posterior tilt in the pelvis will result in the firing of the quadriceps before actually engaging the glutes.  Over time, this tucked position can exacerbate weak hip flexors and further flatten the spine, adding even more compression to an already stressed out lower back.  Ouch! It’s a recipe for “Disc-aster!”  

The key is to have strong abdominal muscles to stabilize the spine and maintain optimal position of the hips and pelvis while the glutes (and hip flexors) work.  Pilates, a functional exercise method that’s been around for nearly 100 years, helps with this by focusing on the deep stabilizing muscles of the “core.”  When performed correctly, the body is retrained to utilize muscles in a more balanced and productive fashion, and most importantly, to maintain the natural “S” shape of the spine.  By targeting those stabilizing muscles, Pilates can be an effective exercise option for those struggling with spinal alignment issues, and also an integral part of a rehabilitation program for some chronic back conditions.  These carefully performed exercises are designed to restore balance within the overall “biomechanics” of healthy movement.  In other words, when one muscle (or set of muscles) is working, what others must be engaged or released in order to create stability and more authentic movement?  Could it be that certain strong, tight muscles (which are often prone to injury from overuse, like the workhorse hamstrings) need to take a back seat?  What other muscles could be isolated and better utilized to keep us “standing tall?” These are just a few of the many issues addressed within the Pilates Method.

So before you sit down at your computer or are encouraged to hold a deep pelvic tuck in your next exercise class, think again about the natural alignment of the spine.  Remember, “S is for Spine!”  




Tags: Classical Pilates, Spinal Alignment, Anterior Pelvic Tilt, Back Pain, Posterior Pelvic Tilt

Pilates on the Go!

Posted by Pam Seelig on Thu, Jul 11, 2013 @ 09:53 PM

Blog by Susan

With the summer in full gear, the buzz in our Bernardsville, NJ Pilates and yoga studio is all about travel and "get aways."  But while it's great to reconnect with our families and have some much-needed R&R, our Pilates practice can sometimes suffer and fall by the way side during vacation time.  We all know that dreaded feeling when we come back to our mats and can barely make it through The Hundred ("...ugh, was that only 100...it felt like 1,000...)!

Don't despair.  You can have your vacation AND Pilates!  Here's a 10-minute workout with 5 core fitness exercises that can be done anywhere.  You don't need equipment or even much space, so the hotel room is fine.  Just 8-10 reps of each exercise will be very effective.  Remember, Pilates is all about quality of movement (proper form and precision), not quantity.  Your body will thank you, and most likely, your mind too.  Vacations are great, but they sometimes mess with our routines and healthy habits.  So we end up overindulging, missing exercise and feeling sluggish.  Practicing a few minutes of mind/body fitness like Pilates or yoga can do wonders to rebalance your state of being.  (Your travel companions will thank you too!)

 

The Hundred

The first exercise in most classical Pilates classes, The Hundred will get your heart rate going with intense breathwork to increase circulation throughout the body for a healthy glow to your skin.  It also fires up the deep stabilizing muscles of your torso for a strong and flatter tummy, while toning your upper arms.

Lying on your back, bend your knees and bring your legs to "tabletop." Lift your head, neck and shoulders (be sure to look at your navel) and lift your arms 6" off the floor, reaching past your hips.  If your back permits, deepen your abdominals and extend your legs out to a 45 degree angle, and then start to pump your arms up and down just above your abdominal wall.  Inhale through your nose for 5 counts, and then exhale through your mouth for 5 counts, while vigorously pumping your arms.  10 breathing reps (for a total of "100" pumps!)

Roll Up

Designed to increase flexibility in the spine as well as strengthen abdominal muscles, this essential core fitness exercise will help you stand up taller to give you a long, lean Pilates body!

Lying on your back with legs straight (or softly bent if your lower back is sensitive), inner thighs pressed together and feet flexed, raise your arms above your chest toward the ceiling.  To prepare, take a big inhale and lift your head while lowering your arms toward your waist.  As you exhale, peel your spine off the mat one vertebra at a time.  Reach for your toes while pulling your waistline back toward your spine.  Inhale again, and then exhale through your mouth as you roll back down onto the mat with control. 8-10 reps

Criss Cross

This exercise is part of the infamous "Pilates Ab 5" and is sure to whittle away your waist as it focuses on strengthening and toning the Oblique muscles.  Be sure to work slowly and with proper form, focusing on the rotation of the mid-spine.

Lying on your back, bring your legs to "tabletop."  Place your hands behind the nape of your neck and lift your head, neck and shoulders (look at your navel).  Deepening your abdominals, lift your chest higher toward your knees and then rotate to the right as you bend in your right leg in and extend your left leg on a high diagonal.  Hold to the right for 3 counts, trying to get your right elbow to the back of your mat.  Come back to center with both knees bent and try to curl higher toward your thighs.  Now twist to the left, bending your left knee in further and extending your right leg to a 45 degree angle and reaching your left elbow to the back of your mat.  Again, hold for 3 counts and then come back to center.  Repeat right/left sequence 8 times without lowering your head, neck and shoulders between reps.

Bridge

A familiar yoga posture, this exercise strengthens and tones the buttocks, hips and thighs making it an ideal bathing suit shape up!

Lying on your back with arms down at your sides, bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart on the floor.  Heels should be about 12" from your sitting bones.  Make sure your collarbone is "wide and open" with your shoulders away from your ears, and your gaze is at the ceiling.  On an inhale, press the small of your back into the mat.  Deepen your abdominal muscles as you curl your pubic bone up to the ceiling and start to articulate your spine off the mat one bone at a time.  Come into a long straight line from the tips of your shoulders to your knees.  Hold this position for 3 counts, and then on your exhale, roll back down your spine with control.  Engage your inner thighs and press into the arches of your feet to ensure your knees don't flop open.  5-8 reps

Plank

An ultimate full-body workout, this exercise combines core stabilization with upper body challenge to quickly tone biceps, triceps, shoulders and back muscles.

Kneeling on all fours, make sure your knees are hip-distance apart and wrists are directly under shoulders.  Deepen your abdominals and lengthen your right leg behind you, placing your toes onto the mat.  Stabilize your torso by drawing your navel into your spine, and then extend your left leg back so you are in a "push up" position.  Hold this position for 3-5 long, strong breaths, making sure your lower back doesn't "sag" and your gaze is just beyond your fingertips on the floor.  Carefully lower one knee and then the other to the mat, and press back into a rest pose (child's pose in yoga).  To further challenge this exercise, come back into plank position with your elbows close to your body.  Lower lift your chest toward your thumbs, completing 5-8 tricep push ups (also called Pilates Push Ups). 3 reps

Be sure to finish each session standing tall, with your shoulder blades on your back and crown of the head lifted.  Take a deep inhale as you reach your arms overhead, and then exhale as you lower them back to your sides.  Fill yourself with a sense of accomplishment, as well as gratitude for your health and wellbeing.  Then head out and enjoy your vacation!

Tags: Classical Pilates, The Hundred, Pilates Ab 5, Yoga Posture, Mind/Body Fitness, Core Fitness Exercises, Pilates Classes, Pilates Body, Core Stabilization, Pilates Roll Up, Pilates and Yoga in Bernardsville