Zellig Building

Online Pilates Foundations Course: Day 5 of 10

Online Pilates Course: on the Mat part 5

… alignment & Pilates in standing



Alignment is another word for posture, but alignment goes a little deeper.  When we think of posture, we tend to think of how we look, and while that is important, alignment is understanding the relationship of different parts of the body to each other under the effect of gravity.  Proper alignment is essential for efficient movement patterns.  And in our Pilates practice we need to think about alignment in every body position.


To understand alignment we look at landmarks in the body and see how they line up with each other.  We’ve already touched on this when we looked at lumbo-pelvic position and shoulder mobilisation.  But an in depth exploration of that deserves a whole post to itself!


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.


Previous Lessons:

If you’ve missed previous lessons,  or just want to check back for reference, here are handy links:

Day 1: Foundations – “Breathing, Deep Core Activation and Abdominal Strengthening” click here

Day 2: Foundations – “The Spine & Pelvis: position & control” click here

Day 3: Foundations – “Spinal Mobility & Strengthening” click here

Day 4: Foundations – “Shoulder Mobility and Stabilisation” click here


Pilates in “Flow”

A “playlist” of the exercises arranged in a logical order for you to print off and practice as a work out.

The exercise sheet includes all the exercises already studied and those in this lesson: click here (PDF)


Exercise of the week

 Short Box Abdominals…


For more info: click here

Lateral flexion and rotation are important in everyday life and in athletic activities.  Sadly, they are all but forgotten in many fitness programmes.  The Short Box Abdominal Series combines all of these and requires significant awareness of alignment to keep the different spinal movements discrete form each other…

It also features “standing in the legs” – look at the thumbnail (in the video below) to see how the legs support the rest of the body in this “Advanced Abdominals” exercise.



Matwork Part 5 – Standing Pilates

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.


Head Rotations

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.



Shoulder Mobilisations (Magic Circle)

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.



Feel 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

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.




Transitions in Pilates

… 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 bilong exercises 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!



Flow Pilates – Putting it all together!

This section in standing is the first part of our Foundations of Movement workout.


Here you can find: Head Rotations, Shoulder Mobilisations (protraction & retraction), Shoulder Circles, Shoulder (elevation & depression), multifidus activation, Standing Footwork (a primer), Roll Downs, and Transition to All Fours.




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!




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