20 Aug Online Pilates Foundations Course: Series 1 Episode 5
Online Pilates Course: Series 1 Episode 5
foundation #10: alignment
& extras: Pilates in standing & transitions…
What is “Alignment”?
In a sense, we’ve already looked at alignment in Day 2: Foundations – “The Spine & Pelvis: Alignment & Control” (click here). The position of the pelvis has a massive influence on the curvature of the lower spine:
- if it’s rotated forwards then we will have excessive curvature in the lower spine (lordosis) and
- if the pelvis is rotated backwards, then we’ll have a lower spine that is flatter that it should be.
Both these conditions will decrease the efficiency the spine. Pain and injury can result.
When I mention alignment and posture to people in the studio, their almost immediate reaction is universally the same: they sit up taller: the shoulder blades are pulled together, bringing the heart forward, the pelvis comes into a more neutral position and the head is pulled back. It seems that nearly everyone instinctively knows how our bodies should be aligned. Few people look back with question marks for eyes!
And that is why I’ve not given a detailed list of what and how we should be aligned – that’s something we can do at the studio. There’s lots of resources on the internet!
Model a Positive Body Image
I remember being told to sit up straight when I was a child. How much more inspiring might it have been if it were modelled to me through the posture of of my parent? Here is a great take on that by my friend, colleague and collaborator Brigid Pearce from Move to Nurture Pilates: link to “How to Model Positive Body Image” – click here.
The enemy of us all: gravity!
Alignment is understanding the relationship of different parts of the body to each other under the effect of gravity. As we age _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (I’ll let you fill in the blank!).
Proper alignment is essential for efficient movement patterns. And in our Pilates practice we need to think about alignment in every body position because the efffect of gravity is different on our body and so the relationship changes. So if you run with that idea, alignment is not a static thing as we are dealing with it here, but something that is constantly changing as we shift through space!
To understand alignment we look at landmarks in the body and see how they line up with each other. These landmarks are often times parts of the skeleton.
It’s possible to become fixated on whether something is correct or not at the expense of doing the exercises. Think of the exercises as explorations or as “Body Learning” as you try out these few alignment exercises.
Before each repetition and before each exercise, always take a second to “centre” yourself. Bring your mind into your body and set yourself up with as good alignment as you can manage before moving. That way, proper alignment is something that will start to become second nature through your Pilates practice.
What are “Transitions”
Simply put, transitions are the little things that we do between exercises to link them together in a flowing sequence. This is one of the things that makes Pilates so wonderful. And These transitions can become exercises in themselves!
Links to other Episodes:
If you’ve missed previous lessons, or just want to skip around, here are handy links:
How it all works and how to use it! click here
Foundations of Pilates
Series 1 Episode 1: Foundations: “#1 Breathing, #2 Deep Core Activation and #3 Abdominal Strengthening” click here
Series 1 Episode 2: “The Spine & Pelvis: #4 Position & #5 Control” click here
Series 1 Episode 3: “Spinal #6 Mobility & #7 Strengthening” click here
Series 1 Episode 4: “Shoulder #8 Mobility and #9 Stabilisation” click here
Series 1 Episode 5: “#10 Alignment & Standing” click here
Principles of Pilates
Series 2 Episode 6: “Breathing & Concentration” click here
Series 2 Episode 7: “Centering and Control” click here
Series 2 Episode 8: “Precision & Flow” click here
Series 3 Episode 9: Starting the Traditional Series
Series 3 Episode 10: Starting the Traditional Series
The Workout: Pilates in Flow #5
Download: click here (PDF)
What you need
Just your amazing self. You still don’t even need a mat!
About 40 minutes for the standing and the matwork together.
This is the Standing Work:
This is the Workout:
The Exercises: Foundation #10: Alignment in Standing
You can do these exercises in sitting or standing. But do sit on a hard seat rather than a plush sofa 🙂
The head and neck
Many people understand that their head is forwards of their shoulders. The only real way to avoid neck problems is by correcting overall posture and building stability into both the pelvic region and shoulders. This is because any misalignment or imbalance farther down the body will invariably have a knock on effect on the neck. The head is very heavy relative to the body and the neck is potentially very fragile.
If your knees, pelvis, lower back or shoulders are misaligned and your abdominals or spinals are weak, sooner or later,your neck will be affected.
When supported correctly, the head should be in line with the torso and supported on the spine. Imagine a string running through the spine and coming out through the crown of your head. If the string were to be pulled into tension, your pelvis, spine, shoulders, neck and head will be in perfect alignment.
If you hold your head forward habitually, the muscles at the front of your neck shorten and the ones at the back of your neck lengthen and weaken. Similarly, if you hold your head to one side habitually (orif your pillows don’t support your hair properly at night) the muscles on one side will shorten and lengthen on the other.
This exercise helps you to explore how your head rotates. Typically as we rotate the head, the chin moves further than the rest of the head – this indicates tightness in the neck.
If your neck starts to feel tight in the middle of the working day, this is a simple way to release the muscles.
Do these awareness raising exercises very gently and very slowly. Turn your thoughts inward and notice he sensations as you make these small movements. Never force, pull or jerk on your neck!
Rotate your head from one side to another. Keep the imaginary vertical line that runs from the centre of your forehead, nose to the cleft of your chin perfectly vertical as you rotate from side to side. Notice the stretch on the opposite side that you are rotating your head towards.
Push your head forwards and bring it back so that your earlobe come to just above the centre of your shoulder.
Chin Pull Backs (Chin to Chest)
As part of your regular Pilates practice, you should not pull your chin in towards your head. ths stretching and alignment awareness exercise is an exception. Move slowly, carefully and mindfully. Keep your shoulders relaxed and don’t clench your teeth or allow any tension to appear in your face as your try to pull farther than your normal range of movement.
If you don’t have a Magic Circle, use a short pole or a broom handle. If even tried this with a computer keyboard! This variation can be done on all fours just like the Sternum Drop exercise. Keep the palms of your hands facing each other because this has an impact on the orientation of your shoulder blades.
Feeling alignment through your feet
This is an awareness raising exercise. Rock slightly backwards and forwards from the ankles and feel how the weight shifts forwards and backwards in your feet.
Also the movement from side to side helps us to become aware of how our weight is distributed in our feet as we stand still and move from side to side.
Roll Downs: the start of a transition!
This is a Roll Down, the next exercise (below) is a Roll Down with a transition to the Mat.
Your shoulders should be relaxed throughout: it’s very common for them to tense up as we roll back up into the starting position! Pull your navel in towards your spine so that the abdominal muscles are doing the work and there is no strain on your back.
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Imagine that your spine is stuck to a wall (or even better, try the exercise from against a wall).
- Pull your navel in to support your spine and begin to exhale.
- Start to lower your chin slightly forward towards you breastbone by lengthening the back part of your neck so lifting the crown of your head upwards and forwards …
- similarly, reach your spine up ad over your abdominals so that and your ribs lower towards your hips (still keeping your back against the [imaginary] wall).
- Allow your arms to hang loosely. Relax your upper body as far as it will go, feel the connection in your abdominals holding your pelvis still in its original starting position.
- Allow your pelvis hip bones to tilt forward and if necessary, bend your knees slightly – don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes!
At the bottom of the Roll Down take in another sip of breath and and reverse the movement:
- tuck in your tailbone first and peel slowly upward and imprinting your spine back onto the imaginary wall. Lengthen the ribs away from the hips and move back into standing with a straight spine.
- Scan your body for tension and misalignment (especially the shoulders) before embarking on the next Roll Down.
The Exercises: Transitions
… transitions create “flow”
For many practitioners of Pilates, every movement we make during our practice is an exercise. One way to grasp this is concept is understanding what an exercise actually is. At least, this is how I grasped the concept of “Flow – which is a Principle of Pilates.
I wanted to know what an exercise was. So take the Pelvic Curls, Pelvic Tilts, Typewriter and Rotations and Marching as an example. Are these variations of one exercise or are they exercises in their own right?
I asked my mentor, Lesley Logan this question though I used a different example. Here was the answer: “how many exercises are there in the traditional matwork series? She immediately provided the answer: it’s just one big long exercise that flows from one movement to another!”…
And there it is, the best definition of Flow I have ever heard: it’s what connects each exercise together to create a seamless whole.
One of the amazing things about Pilates is how everything feeds into everything else. It’s so three dimensional – you start to learn one thing and tem you see how that one thing can benefit other things that we’re learning… these transitions are good examples of that!
From standing to the mat and from the mat to standing
These transitions are shoulder exercises in disguise. When you practice them, really focus on pushing your weight into you hands to develop the shoulder strength that allows you to perform exercises like the Plank and later on, the Push Ups. In fact these transitions are a part of the exercise called Push Ups from the traditional series.
1. From standing to all fours
You might not believe it yet, but this is a preparation for the Pilates Push Up! There’s a Roll Down (don’t stick your butt our as you roll down) and then we walk forwards on our hands into a Plank to perform our Push Up(s). Here I stop half way to to a “downward dog” – it’s a good stretch for the calves and hamstrings and I’m still wanting to get my back straighter – that will benefit me in exercises like the Elephant and Stomach Massage on the Reformer and every single exercise that has us sitting with outstretched legs but on our sit bones!
2. From all fours to standing
You can tie these two little transitions together and put in something in between. So, in the traditional repertiore, we do Push Ups, but why not Sternum Drops, or Opposite arm and Leg Reaches, or Knees Off? If you can’t decide… then super! Do three repetitions with on of those exercises in between each repetition! We’re really on our way!
Q. When I hold my chin slightly back to correct my posture, I get strain in my neck. What should I do?
Your head should be held in such a way so that your earlobes are over the centre of your shoulder joint. If you have been used to holding your head forward over a long time it will feel strange to hold it in the correct position. Work on your back muscles to get your shoulders in the correct position then you can start to work on your head position. There are exercises that help with this, but I’ve not covered them here. Get in touch if you need help with this.
Q. I strain my neck when I do abdominal work. Should I work on strengthening my neck?
First you need support for your neck. Start the abdominal Curls with a towel, as you get more connected to your abdominals, you can do without it. There are neck strengthening exercises that you can do. Get in touch and I’ll help you out.
Q. I sometimes wake up with a stiff neck. Should I do neck mobilisation exercises in bed?
Your pillow may be the wrong size, s check that first. A bed is never a good place to do any kind of exercise because as the mattress may not be firm enough. If you do wake up and have stiffness, some gentle stretching before you leap out of bed can be very beneficial.
Q. I suffer from osteoporosis, should I be doing Roll downs?
Deep spinal flexion is contraindicated for people that suffer from osteoporosis. You should skip this exercise and any other that calls for deep spinal flexion. For more information on osteoporosis and Pilates: click here.
Q. When I do the Roll Down, there are oud clicks and cracking noises from my back. Should I be worried?
If there is no pain, no, you needn’t be worried.
Q. Isn’t Pilates for dancers? No. Pilates is for everybody and everybody has a body. In fact Joseph Pilates, a boxer, self-defence expert, strong man and circus acrobat actually created Pilates for men. He reportedly often complained that dancers ruined his method!