Dynamic Posture

Often posture reflects back to childhood cues – sit up / stand up straight – and in trying to correct ourselves, we can push our rib cage forward and send the chin up to the ceiling. This has the effect of shortening the back line of the body in the neck and spine.

It is more helpful to think of looking to the horizon, since the head helps to organise the rest of the body. A frequent cue in Pilates is to imagine that the crown of the head is attached to a thread, suspended from the ceiling. This encourages length out through the top of the head, as opposed to a jutting chin. It is also useful to think of lengthening the waist when addressing the ribcage. How much taller can you feel by lifting the base of the ribcage away from the bowl of the pelvis? Creating space between the two will lengthen the spine if you can also keep the front of the ribs soft, or connected towards the hips.

Static posture when standing and sitting is important if you tend to get stuck in one position for long periods of time. You don’t want to spend the day with one hip hitched, or your pelvis thrust forward or backwards, as it can result in shortened tight muscles that will tether your joints out of their natural alignment. However posture must also be considered dynamically if we are to gain complete freedom of movement.

We can walk and run tall, rotate the body with length, and create space within the body to offload joints and structures. There is therefore a lot of ‘setting up’ both within Pilates’ movement and with each change of position. This is also coupled with precise cues on how to perform the exercise.

In order to achieve efficient movement, both within and outside of Pilates practice, it is important to retrain muscle memory into good behavioural patterns. This will affect our dynamic posture subconsciously. It can also heighten our conscious body awareness, so that we can notice when we have been stuck in a static posture for too long.

A good habit to get into is to pause throughout your daily activities and think – how do I feel? What can I change to feel better? Perhaps you are unnecessarily holding tension in one part of the body or compressing the spine instead of lengthening.

Being aware of postural habits will help to create new ones, whilst moving mindfully will train your body to move efficiently and freely.

The Pilates Principle of Focus

Joseph Pilates observed the easy movement and posture of children, remarking that this freedom was something we lost as adults. Watching my young daughter roll a stone in and out of a hole in the pavement, again and again (and again) and with complete absorption, I think we can also lose their ability to focus on the present moment.

There is a self-test of trying to empty your mind of thoughts for one minute – but which is usually seconds in my case. Have a go if you’ve never tried it – how long can you last? Do thoughts and outside pressures crowd in easily? There are estimates that we each have at least 12,000 thoughts everyday (some people up to 60,000) and apparently of these thoughts around 98% are the same as the previous day. Maybe it’s time to cross off some things from that ever revolving “To do”list!

How often do you exercise without being mindful of your movement? Perhaps having sat all day, before fitting in an hour of high impact exercise – moving your body but with your mind engaged on outside thoughts and plans, until perhaps you have an injury? Then you can think of nothing but how to move.

That is what is so important about the Pilates principle of focus. If you’re concentrating on your breathing pattern, moving in a certain way, engaging muscle ‘X’ whilst releasing ‘Y,’ there is no room for outside thoughts to creep in. It is possible to sustain this level of concentration for an entire class – an hour of complete you time. Often clients comment on how quickly a Pilates class has gone, or how relaxed they feel at the end, partly because they have been in the here and now without distraction.

Being in the present moment is important, as wise men say; the present moment is all we have. So learn from the very young and focus on the moment at hand.