- Breathing: We breathe in through our nose like we are smelling flowers, out through our mouth like we are blowing out birthday candles. Breathing laterally and into the back of the rib cage into the lower lobes of our lungs where the best gas exchange occurs. When we inhale, our spine naturally extends slightly, so we often extend our spine on the inhale. On the exhale, our spine naturally flexes slightly, so we use the exhale for flexion exercises. Breathing like this calms the mind, creates a mind-body connection, and releases tension in the neck and shoulders. On the exhale, we contract our pelvic floor, transversus and multifidi, and we hold them at a small (25% total capability) contraction throughout every single exercise.
- Pelvic Placement: We have two pelvic placements in pilates. The first is neutral spine. This is where our spine has all of its natural curves. We use this position in closed chain exercises (when both feet are on the ground) and whenever we are capable to use it for harder, open chain exercises. This is the best position for our spine to be in because it is the most shock absorbing. When we are practicing difficult open chain exercises, we may use an imprinted position which layers on an additional layer of abdominal muscles–the obliques. This position helps stabilize our pelvis so that we are capable of doing more difficult exercises. For some postures (such as the most popular swayback), doing imprinted exercises is helpful because the posture actually stretches out the obliques and we can help shorten them and therefore improve the person’s posture.
- Rib Cage: We keep our ribs “closed” which means that we keep the upper fibers of our obliques firing at all times, even when we lift our arms above our head. This keeps us in our neutral spine position and helps us maintain an abdominal connection. There is one exception: when we extend through our spine, we allow the ribs to open as they naturally must.
- Scapular Stabilization and Movement: our scapula (shoulder blades) are floating bones. They are not attached to any bones, only to muscles. This is why we can move so freely at our shoulder joint. We must learn to work our rotator cuff and surrounding muscles evenly so that our scapula stay in the correct place on our back. Because the scapula are floating bones, everyone’s scapula lay on a different place on their back. Your scapula may be elevated or depressed, they may be protracted or retracted, or downwardly rotated. Although upward rotation is a possible place for your scapula to live, you would probably be standing in line for rotator cuff surgery if that were the case. Scapula can also be winged or tipped. In pilates, we work the right muscles so that your scapula will lay flat on your back in a neutral position.
- Head and Neck Placement: in pilates, we always make sure that our cervical spine–our neck–is in the same line as our thoracic spine. When we do the Ab Prep (our most basic pilates crunch) we start by firing on our longus coli and longus capitis, our deep neck flexors by doing a small head nod, as though someone where tugging a string attached to the top of our head. When we come to the fully crunched position, our eyes should be looking toward our knees, not up to the ceiling or down at our bellies. Similarly, when we extend through our spine, we nod our head in the opposite direction, as though we are rolling a marble away from us with our nose. This way our neck and upper-mid back area always is the same line. This relieves tension and neck pain which a lot of people experience when they work out.
If you are interested in learning more about the Basic Principles of Pilates, Honest Movement Pilates offers a free 30-min. session. Check out their website for more details and a class schedule!