Pilates Basic Posture Check
Our posture forms the basis of all our actions, movement patterns and even our bodily functions. The way you stand, sit and walk has implications on the way you move, breathe and digest – and that's not even mentioning the correlation to development of muscular imbalances, pain and even avoidable injury.
In Pilates, posture is king (or queen!) and how we set up our basic Pilates posture is crucial in any variation of the method. However, sometimes when you enter a group Pilates class, or are following along to an at-home workout, the basics get skipped over in favour of getting straight into the "work".
To help, this guide will assist you in figuring out the basic principles of posture and alignment, crucial to the progression of all Pilates repertoire and referred on to all kinds of postural correct bodyweight movements.
pilates basic posture check
We start with the pelvis and lumbar spine as this is the foundation region to find neutral alignment and often, take the longest to correct! Many of our postural deviations stem from the misalignment of the pelvis and lumbar spine, which can be a result of multiple variations – tight hip flexors, lengthened and weak abdominals, compressed lower back – however it is possible to consciously work on regaining a neutral position, where the spine will be balanced in its healthiest and most shock-absorpant state.
To find neutral: create a triangle with the hands, connecting the thumbs and the index fingers together. Placing this triangle across the two hip bones (palms connect) and pubic bone (fingers connect) you want to find a position for the lumbar spine and pelvis where the triangle sits horizontally flat – meaning the thumbs and fingers are on the same plane. You may find the fingers (pubic bone) are higher than the thumbs (hip bones) or reverse, so take some time to move gently through this area until you locate a nice, flat triangle shape.
imprint and release
Pelvic tilts are one of the most basic, but IMO, crucial exercises to mobilise and strengthen the lumbar spine, pelvis and lower abdominals. Once you found have neutral – as above – you want to establish an "imprint" position. Imprint, is a safe position for the body to work from when one, or both, of the legs are lifted away from the ground as it provides more stability and support for the lumbar spine, while simultaneously engages the lower abdominals.
NB: Remember however, it is always the intention to build strength in imprint and then return to neutral – as our end goal is to have controlled neutral alignment!
To find imprint, start in the neutral position with the hands still on the pelvis. As you exhale, you want to focus on hip bones gently sliding towards the rib cage – switching on the internal obliques – so that the lower back gently kisses the ground. As a result, the pubic bone (fingers) will shift to be higher than the hip bones (thumbs). This connection of the spine and posterior tilt of the pelvis, is your imprint position. Gently press the tailbone back down and away, recovering the space behind the lower back to return to neutral.
Rib cage placement
Our ribcage placement has a direct relationship to the positioning and subsequent tension of the thoracic spine – AKA your mid back region. Finding a neutral alignment of the ribcage, is commonly (remember every body is different) found by a gentle contact of the back ribs onto the ground below you. This creates a sense of "softening" the front of the rib cage and gently knits the rib cage together, finding a light engagement of the external obliques.
Throughout most of the day, chances are you are breathing with a shallow, chest breath, or if you practice Yoga, you are probably familiar with the deep, full belly breath. In Pilates however, we want to breathe "laterally" into the ribcage. Lateral, or three dimensional breathing, means we draw the breath deep into where it is important (the lungs), but do not lose engagement or control of the abdominal wall. The action, is that of one of an accordion, opening and closing sideways with each inhale and exhale.
As you do so, this pattern of breathing limits any "vertical" breathing, whereby you see the ribcage expanding towards the ceiling (releasing control of the abdominals) on the inhale, before decompressing on the inhale.
The scapula (otherwise known as your shoulder blades) play an important role in the positioning of your shoulder girdle and relative alignment of the spinal column. As the scapula sit, and glide, across the ribcage, there is an inextricable link between the two. Ideally, you want the scapula to sit flat and relaxed across the back of the ribs, without "winging". Due to our common forward rounded posture, and general tightness of the front of the chest, it is common for many to have weakness in the scapula stabilisers. This requires detailed attention and focus to activate the intrinsic muscles, to not only develop proud standing posture, but true strength through the shoulders and arms. Particularly for any movements that involve weight-bearing on the wrists.
Protraction and retraction
A key action to help find neutral in the scapula, is the action of protraction and retraction. Protraction, is the action of increasing the distance between the medial border (closest to the spine) of the scapula, where retraction is the action of decreasing the distance between the two medial borders. Maintaining the neutral alignment of the ribcage, with a gentle connection of the back ribs to the ground, reach the arms to the sky and feel the shoulder blades heavy and relaxed. As you protract, the finger tips will reach up towards the sky and the shoulder blades will glide apart. On the retraction, the shoulders will draw back into their sockets and move closer towards one another. Whilst moving through this action, watch out to maintain ribcage placement – the ribs will likely want to pop forward!
NB: The balanced space between protraction and retraction is the neutral alignment of the scapula!
Lastly, we reach the head. Balancing right on top of the entire spinal column, the weight of head can drastically influence our alignment, with neck strain a common occurrence. We want to find a comfortable, balanced and relaxed position for the head to be in, whilst understanding how to place the skull in further Pilates repertoire, such as abdominal curls!
To find a neutral position of the head, we first want to release the weight of the head down into the ground. A sense of "dropping" the weight will help release excess tension. From here, we want to find a simple chin nod. This allows a lengthening up the back of the neck, mobilisation of the cervical spine and a release of strain from the throat, which is necessary as we move into any flexion of the upper thoracic spine. To do so, you want to gently draw the chin towards the chest – like you are emphasising a double chin! – but without jamming it all the way in. A safe measure, is to keep an "apple space" between the chin and the chest. Then gently slide the chin back up to its natural position.
perfect pilates posture
And there you have it, your full basic Pilates posture checklist. Remember to check in with this series before any of the subsequent Pilates series or flows and use it as a warm up to realign.
Title: Cold Sun