This weekend I have had a wonderful time and I am excited to be halfway through my 200 hour Hatha Yoga training. We were mostly outdoors and always at a social distance but it was wonderful to connect for the first time face to face after spending our previous 4 weekends online.
What does this have to do with Pilates or Posture? Well everything because in my opinion Pilates is not just an exercise class you go to once a week, although even that can be highly beneficial. I suggest we bring the Pilates fundamental principle of ideal posture and alignment into every movement we make. Ok maybe not every movement...
Where to begin? In my opinion the most important thing we can do for our bodies is to develop our ability to ‘tune in’ and increase our awareness of HOW we HOLD ourselves and HOW we USE our bodies as we go about our day. Whether we sit at a desk, hang washing, use the vacuum, drive to work, feed a baby or hit a golf ball!
The Pilates fundamental principle of alignment begins with the Pelvis. We can consider the pelvis as the foundation with the centre of body mass located within the Pelvis. When the pelvis is Neutral it brings the lumbar spine into neutral, this allows the spine to stack up above it in the most ideal ‘S’ shape; also referred to as the Natural Curves of the spine. This ‘S’ shape arrangement of the bones allows the spine to distribute the load most effectively between all the appropriate load bearing structures; bones, discs, ligaments, muscles etc.
How do we know if the pelvis is Neutral? If you are standing think of the pelvis like a bucket filled with water and in standing if you rock the pelvis forwards so the water would tip out of the front and then backwards so the water would tip out of the back, then come to rest in the mid position with the pubic bone, pointy bone at the front of each side of the pelvis and the navel in the same vertical plane then the pelvis should be Neutral.
If you are sitting, think of the bones you feel in your bottom if you sit on a hard chair for a long time; these are the ischial tuberosities and are at the bottom of the pelvis. Think of these bony points as the feet of the pelvis which ideally should point directly downwards when we sit. At the same time the most pointy part at the front of the pelvis, or ASIS should point directly ahead of you; and now the pelvis is Neutral. Not only that but in consciously correcting your posture you will also have activated muscles in order to move; namely the abdominal muscles and the gluteal muscles.
Stay with me...I recall hearing a friend mention the phenomenon of the ‘menopause pot’ this week and we’re talking about the belly not a piece of crockery! There is no doubt that the menopause has a raft of undesirable consequences and for many women weight gain is one. But it is absolutely the case that a forward tilted pelvis is more likely to give the appearance of a pot belly.
Vladamir Janda described a postural presentation that he called the ‘lower crossed syndrome’. This involves a pattern of muscle weakness and tightness characterised by weak abdominals and weak Gluteus Maximus together with tight hip flexors and tight spinal erectors; and this generally results in a forward tilted pelvis when we stand and lo and behold a ‘pot belly’.
We must remember that our movement habits emanate from our primitive programming which seeks the most energy-efficient way in which to go about our day; just in case we need to run from a tiger at any point. Unfortunately this propensity for energy efficient postures mean muscles are doing the least they possibly can unless we consciously intervene.
So we find ourselves back where we began; going about our days mindfully with a part of our attention focussed on HOW we sit, stand and move. Putting our pelvis in neutral and activating abdominals and glutes will minimise the appearance of the pot belly and if we take this a step further and practice Pilates regularly conditioning the muscles of the core the pot belly may just be a thing of the Past.