17 Jul Posture: Self-Assessment
It’s really easy to do your own postural self assessment. If you want to get on with it immediately without reading the introduction, go ahead, click here.
Pilates and the basics
Although it sounds like it’s stating the obvious, every Pilates exercise starts with a Starting Position, or “set up”. Are your hips level with your hips? Are your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears, creating a lovely long neck? Are you comfortable or does any area feel strained? This is posture.
When you start your Pilates practice, you’ll need to learn about some different breathing patterns (click here) that work with, rather than against the movements of each exercise. And you’ll also need to get some understanding of basic muscle groups so that you can develop a way of finding connections within your body.
… you’ll be able to visualise your spine getting longer and your muscles lengthening
When you put all these basics together, you’ll be able to visualise your spine getting longer and your muscles lengthening as the fibres stretch to, but not beyond their limit. You’ll be able to focus on the oxygen flowing into your body and the carbon dioxide being exhaled out.
Posture is usually something we learn – so we can unlearn it!
One of these basics is Posture. Our bodies are designed to be perfectly balanced. Gravity pulls us down, but our bodies are designed to sit or stand straight in perfect alignment with our head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees all directly over our feet which carry our weight evenly distributed over the two arches. When our bodies are perfectly aligned they use much less energy to maintain themselves upright.
Less than optimal posture can be caused by genes, disease, injury but for the majority of people, the cause is habit. And habits that are repeated over and over again, usually thoughtlessly. Consistently carrying a bag on one shoulder or a child on one hip creates a tendency to favour one side at the cost of the other. Many people are surprised to find that one side of their body works completely differently than the other when they start their Pilates journey!
People who are tall tend to learn to stoop so they don’t tower over others. Women who wear high heels often develop a tendency to lean backwards and arching their lower backs excessively to counteract the forward tilt that their shoes encourage. People who work at desks often develop hunched shoulders and a bent neck from looking at computer screens all day. Cyclists often develop “cyclists’ neck” and runners a tight lower back and pelvis due to chronically tight muscles.
Habits that your body has picked up may take some time to unlearn
It’s the repetition of these actions week after week, month after month and year after year that causes the problem. Bones and joints are pulled out of alignment and then, the dysfunction begins.
Habits that your body has picked up may take some time to unlearn, and to do so, it is vital to get some understanding of any weaknesses or postural problems that you might have. That way, before you begin an exercise, you can consciously correct your position and align your joints properly. And then you can do the exercise. And then, you need to do this often! That’s why I always suggest daily practice! Because Pilates is about learning.
Pilates is about learning where we are now and where we’re going
It may feel “wrong” at first, and that is because it’s new and novel. You’ve become so used to the incorrect alignment of your body that it has become your normal way of holding your body. Even if you are just a few centimetres out of alignment, the exercise will be much less effective.
You may think that your posture is pretty good already, but Pilates has a way of uncovering bad habits. You may find that you can manage an exercise well on one side, but not on the other, or that whilst the exercise is actually quite easy to do, the starting position is quite difficult to achieve.
Standing in front of a full length mirror and try this self-assessment test. Stand barefoot with your feet approximately fist width apart and go through this checklist.
- Are your eyes level?
- Are your shoulders level, or is one slightly higher than the other?
- Are your arms hanging relaxed, by your sides? Are the palms of your hands facing towards each other or are they facing backwards? Are the tips of your fingers at the same height? All of these things can indicate shoulder problems: maybe one is higher than the other, perhaps the shoulder blades are too separated and this causes your chest to be compressed by inwardly rotated shoulders…
- Are your front hip bones level? If no, this could mean that you have one leg longer than the other, or perhaps you have a non-standard curve in your spine (scoliosis).
- Is the space between your lower arms and your hips the same on each side? If not, this could indicate that you tend to sit on one sit bones rather than the other. Do you sit with legs crossed? Is it always the same leg crossed over the other leg?
- What about your knees? Are they facing forwards or is one or the other (or both) kneecaps facing inwards or outwards?
Are you tensing any muscles to stay there balancing your weight perfectly over your feet? Where is your weight landing on the soles of your feet?
- If you were to drop a plumb line from your earlobe, would it pass through the top of your shoulder, the centre of your ribcage, the highest point of your hip bone, the middle of the side of your knee and just slightly in front of your ankle bone?
- Does your chin jut out and upward? If it does, you’re pulling your neck out of alignment. Looking straight ahead, your chin should be level and pulled slightly back.
- Are your shoulders pulled rigindly back or are they hunched forwards? Try raising your shoulders up towards your ears and drop them down naturally – is there any change?
- Does your upper back curve forwards?
- Is the lower arch of your back overly pronounced? Are your hip bones in front of or behind your public bone? Does your bottom or stomach stick out?