What is Pilates
Pilates is a exercise program which was designed originally by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900’s. He took exercises from yoga, tai chi and modern day principles and created a program that would bring strength, tone, flexibility and muscle balance throughout the body, improving posture and a longer leaner body. Therefore by improving body alignment it is also great for rehabilitation and post rehab. Pilates is a mind and body activity - like yoga, tai chi - thus developing body-awareness, control, precision and coordination.
Pilates teaches how to use your body correctly from within and develop a strong corset of muscles in the stomach and back which is referred to as the core or powerhouse. Since he developed the program Pilates’ exercises have been adapted and modified. Sarah is on continual programmes of development and am qualified to teach both classical and modern Pilates.
What is Neutral Spine
The majority of people come to pilates because they want to imnprove their posture, increase muscle tone and strengthen their backs. Many of you will have been refered to pilates through your Osteopath, Chiropractor or Physiotherapist, This is because we don't just do a set of exercises, instead we get into our best possible posture before performing the exercise to ensure that we get the best results from that exercise. this best possible posture is called neutral spine.
Initially neutral spine will be difficult to acheive due to tight postual muscles and other factors. However learning to work in neutral is an exercise in itself so whilst it may not seem like you are doing very much, you will be using your deep core muscles and improving your posture. Gain with very little pain!
As a beginner how can I practice Neutral Spine
So how do we find neutral spine? Neutral or natural spine is the position where the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and pelvis are aligned and maintained with the least amount of stress placed on the supportive tissues (disc, ligaments etc).
Everyone is different but in neutral spine you should be able to imagine a straight line running down your side through your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.
Neutral setup can be practised either standing or lying down with knees bent and feet on the floor.
Let’s start with the spine of the neck. Bring the spine of the neck (cervical spine) into neutral by focusing straight ahead and lightly pressing the chin very slightly back towards the neck. This will lengthen the back of the neck.
Now stabilise the shoulders by sliding your shoulder blades lightly down and together (keep it soft, no squeezing together).
Move down now to the stomach muscles. Imagine you are wearing a belt with ten notches and pull it in to the tenth notch - the tightest contraction that you can manage. Now try to let that belt off to the third notch - that’s a 30% contraction - try to maintain this contraction as much as possible whilst you are exercising.
Next, either standing or lying down visualise your pelvis as a bucket of water. Tip the pelvis forwards water will run over the front rim, then tip it backwards and it will run over the back. Gradually reduce the rocking motion until you reach the central point where the bowl (the pelvis) is level, and the hip bones are level with the lowest ribs.
The pelvic floor is next. These muscles work with the stomach and back muscles to stabilise the spine. For men this is an external lift and internal for women. Visualise this as a lift travelling up to the tenth floor. We need to take that lift back down from the tenth to the third floor and then hold it there (Good luck!). Again this is a 30% contraction.
Make sure that your feet and knees are hip distance apart and that your toes are point straight ahead not pointing inwards or outwards. If standing the palms should be facing into the thighs with the arms relaxed by the side of the body.
Finally, lateral breathing. Place your hands on the ribcage and expand then contract your ribs as you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. We have to do this because if you breathe normally into the abdominal cavity, you won’t be able to maintain the tension in your stomach muscles.