Axial Elongation and Core Control
Core Control is the optimal recruitment of the trunk musculature required to perform a task in relation to the anticipated load. In other words, Core Control refers to activating the muscles of the inner unit "as much as necessary, as little as possible."
Axial Elongation is the proper alignment of the head, spine and pelvis that provides optimal spacing of the joints during movement, and prevents compressive and shear forces that may cause spinal disease. By optimizing joint spacing the soft tissue surrounding the joint can move freely which minimizes the risk of injury.
Now that we understand what Principle 2 is, how do we accomplish it? To create axial elongation, imagine you have a bungee cord attached to the crown of the head (see posture A below). This bungee has a very slight pull on your head causing you to lengthen up and out of your feet. In fact, you may feel like your feet are barely touching the floor. Upon creating this lifting affect, the head, spine and pelvis start to find their 'neutral' position. The position where the forces on them are even from all sides. You are creating optimal space between your joints. Then we need to hold this 'neutral alignment' with our musculature. Remember Principle 1, Breathing? Core activation is a given when using the Pilates Breath as Joseph Pilates taught it: "SQUEEZE EVERY ATOM OF AIR FROM YOUR LUNGS UNTIL THEY ARE ALMOST AS FREE OF AIR AS IS A VACUUM. Stand erect (lengthen the spine) again and observe how your lungs will automatically completely refill themselves with fresh air." (page 13, Return to Life Through Contrology). Once you have created the engagement of the core musculature through your breath, you will have a stabilizing effect on the spine.
Remember, ALL movement initiates from our core. From the core, movement then extends up the spine (resulting in axial elongation or spine lengthening) and out into our activity through our extremities, at our discretion, rather than in an unaware manner. Move with intent and you will have a strong, well balanced body.
Axial Elongation places the body in its optimal position to increase available degrees of freedom and increase efficiency of movement. - Polestar Pilates™ Manual - Principles of Movement 2008
Breathing - We breathe more than 20,000 times every day. It is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do before we die. While this vital input of oxygen into our bodies occurs most of our day on autopilot, conscious breathing can have a significant impact on virtually all bodily functions. In his book, Return to Life through Contrology, Joseph Pilates discusses the importance of learning how to breathe fully and completely through active inhalation and exhalation and the resulting wide-ranging benefits for your overall health and energy; "To breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to “squeeze” every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth." - Joseph Pilates from Return to Life Through Contrology
Getting a little technical, your diaphragm is attached to your lower ribcage, thoracic wall, and lumbar vertebrae. When breathing is executed properly the diaphragm expands into the abdominal cavity on the inhale. This movement causes a pressure change which pulls air into the lungs. As a result of the diaphragmatic movement, intra-abdominal pressure increases and lumbar spine stiffness, better known as stability, also increases. The diaphragm acts in coordination with the abdominal muscles, spinal muscles, and pelvic floor to create lumbar stability in all directions. This is what some in the Pilates community refers to as “360 degree of stiffness.” The contraction of the diaphragm creates core stability from the inside-out.
Focusing on inhale and exhale during movement helps your body move in a more efficient way. As your mind focuses on the breathing, your awareness naturally spreads to the parts of the body in motion and you feel the connection taking place. You’ll find this meeting of mind and body becomes instinctive, to the point that the next time you’re practicing Pilates, or lifting your baby, or running, walking, even laughing, your breath will fall in line and you’ll feel more coordinated and in command of your activity.
Joseph was not an educated man in the traditional sense but intuitively knew and by careful observation, learned the importance of breath. "To properly deflate the lungs is an art in itself and this final step in correct breathing is least understood. ...It is seldom, if ever, taught unless the individual is privately coached by one who understands what it really is all about." - Joseph Pilates from Your Health
Are you creating the connection between your breathe and your practice of Pilates? If not, work with you instructor on the most basic of the Pilates Principles.
To learn more on the origin of Pilates visit: https://www.pilates.com/BBAPP/V/pilates/origins-of-pilates.html
" What is balance of body and mind? It is the conscious control of all muscular movements of the body.”
Joseph H. Pilates
Ultimately, there are five principles of movement that define Pilates work. Each concept is unique and separate, yet they all are complementary and are intended to work in harmony together in our practice of Pilates…
Pilates Principles of Movement - Overview
Pilates is based on a few “core” ideas which are called basic principles. Different instructors or Pilates schools might teach slightly different variations, but application of the principles should always be present. The five that are common to most are:
His spine is elongated, no big lumbar curve (low back), thoracic curve (upper back) or cervical curve (neck). When in motion, his body will create a long arc, maintaining the elongation of the spine.
He is stabilizing his pelvis by engaging his core, if he wasn’t, his low back would be arching and his legs would be hanging down from his pelvis and ultimately, his low back.
You can see the organization of Joe’s head, neck and shoulders. His chest is open and wide, there is space between his ears and his shoulders, his cervical spine is curved in an extension of the thoracic spine, holding his head in a position that keeps stress out of the neck and keeps work in the core.
By applying the principles of movement to this exercise, Joe has organized all the ‘units’ of his body into a beautiful, fully integrated whole.
Why Have Pilates Principles?
The idea is that we have five different areas of focus that do not work separately, but together. This is in sync with how our body naturally acts. No movement is done in isolation. When we bend at the elbow, we’re not just using the muscles of the forearm but also the muscles of the upper arm and maybe the torso (depending on position and if we have resistance). Other parts of our body help out, whether it is in a stabilizing action or an assisting action. So… we pay attention to all areas enabling them to assist, one way or another, in each exercise. Assist in this context can mean support, stabilize, counter-act, or aid.
Often you will hear a Pilates instructor talk about maintaining the principle area in neutral.
What is Neutral Position - Why do we need it in Pilates?
Within these principle areas we often talk about a neutral alignment. A neutral alignment is what is anatomically best for our bodies, whether it be neutral spine, neutral pelvis, neutral leg, etc. That means the muscles and fascia in the neutrally held area, are working as a dynamic whole, front, side and back. For instance, the neutral position for the pelvic area in standing is one that is the most shock absorbing for the large weight load that is carried there.
In our daily lives we often do certain motions that steer our bodies away from neutral. It may be schlepping the kids from school to soccer practice, carrying a purse or bag on the same shoulder, doing repetitive single sided motions (like golf), or sitting at a computer like I am right now! Our bodies can also create certain patterns due to stress, shoulders in the ears anyone?
In Pilates we try to restore these neutral positions to maintain or regain strength and mobility in the most efficient way, that will free us from pain and protect us from injury. The goal is a healthy, pain-free, mobile, and strong body that works in the most efficient way possible.
The Pilates Method… More for your Money
The major difference I see between gym exercises and Pilates movement, is the application of the basic principles. Every movement that is practiced in Pilates, is done with the basic principles in mind, which heightens our focus and yields greater results. I believe Joseph put The Hundreds as the first movement in The Pilates Repertoire because it is the most basic way to apply all the Principles from the start. When is the hundred not The Hundred? When the neck is tense, the shoulders are in the ears, the low back rests on the mat and the quads are quivering from exertion. There is no ‘balance’ in that movement. Focus on finding the most length you can get out of the spine by reaching the back ribs out from under and feeling the front ribs move in and slightly down, like you’re trying to move the front ribs to the back ribs spot, with the neck reaching long out of the upper back without tension. Hold the pelvis in neutral where you have a small space at the top back of the pelvis and you feel the transversus abdominis (TA) AND the low back muscles working equally. The legs reach long out of the pelvis, with the weight of the legs being held with assistance from the TA not just the quads (no quivering legs here!). If you find your legs quivering, bend your knees. Reach the arms long out of the shoulder girdle feeling the energy moving through the body from the top of the head out the fingers and toes, as the arms move freely in the shoulder joint with little beats up and down. The breath is used to deepen the core connection, with an inhale into the back ribs while maintaining core control and an exhale that deepens core control. Very simple but not so easy, it requires attention to the details.
Many years ago, before I was a Pilates Instructor, one of my mentors told me this: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” I have kept this idea foremost in my mind as I run my business and especially as I teach. If, as a Pilates Instructor, I (or any Pilates instructor for that matter) were to ‘allow’ you to move in the same way that have you always moved, without attention to the Principles, how could you change your body? So, when you’re ready to scream “stop telling me to get my shoulders down, my core engaged”, etc…… know we do it out of love and with your best health in mind. Knowing that practicing Pilates works, not because of the exercise, because, when we practice, we do it with Control, Precision and a Focus on the movement principles that helps our body find a neutral, natural balance. Otherwise, it’s just exercise. Next month we will ‘dissect’ the principles of movement and how to apply each one to your body.
In health, Terri
It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing
Golf is a game of asymmetry and multidirectional stresses. Pilates spinal rotation exercises de-rotate the spinal imbalance and realign core muscles. Attention to standing alignment and foot placement stabilizes the base of support, and weight-shifting exercises promote better balance.
Lets start with balancing spinal rotation: The Saw
To increase the rotation of the spine
To stretch the mid and upper back
To increase the mobility of the shoulder blades
To teach pelvic stability
Starting Position - Sit up on the sit bones with the legs straight and open, shoulder width apart. Reach the arms out in front of the torso level with the bottom of the sternum. If the hamstrings are too tight to sit up straight, roll the mat up and sit on it or bend the knees.
Inhale – Rotate the torso to the right and reach the left arm toward the right foot.
Exhale – Engage the abdominals and roll the head and torso up and over the right thigh, reaching the left arm toward the little toe on the right foot. Reach the right arm back while rotating the arm so the palm faces the ceiling, keeping the pelvis steady and staying on sit bones.
Inhale – Roll up to the starting position with the weight centered on the sit bones and the arms out to the sides. Rotate the torso to the left and reach the right arm toward the left foot.
Modifications Tight hamstrings: Bend the knees slightly or sit up on a rolled up mat, towel or small pad.
Optimum Form To keep the pelvis in position as you stretch forward in order to stretch the mid and upper back.
Precautions For low back and hip injuries: Use the tight hamstring modification to take stress of the low back and hips
For shoulder problems: If the arms are uncomfortable at shoulder height, slide them along the floor as you roll down
Note: participating in and practicing movement should be discussed with your doctor.
What a month it has been, but the end is near! Our Grand Opening celebration is Saturday September 7, 10-1. Join us for FREE mini chair massages from Brandy Pusateri from Whole Body Benefits, nutrition consultations from Carol Byrum of Inner Beauty Med Spa and more importantly, the introduction of The Pilates Sanctuary's new instructors. You will meet Sonya Myers, who brings a love of Yoga and Pilates to our studio. You will find her teaching Gentle and Hatha Yoga, as well as Intro to Pilates Mat. Val Kandel brings an experienced background in working with the older population as a CNA and recently received her certificate to teach Zumba Gold and Zumba on the chair. Join Val in her Zumba Chair class. Help me in celebrating my dream of bringing mind body fitness to as many people as possible. See you Saturday!
After an insanely busy season here in Englewood, Florida, I have to admit, my personal Pilates practice suffered. I felt I needed to reconnect with why I love this method so much. So I revisited my training manuals, jumped on the various apparatus for a wonderful week of reconnecting with my personal, physical salvation.
Here is some of what I relearned: Pilates is an exercise regimen developed by Joseph Pilates over 100 years ago. Mr. Pilates thought of his method as a way to connect and develop the mind, body and spirit. The key principles derived from his teachings were not handed down from Joseph, but were articulated by his followers from their personal dealings with Joseph and from his books: Your Health and Return to Life Through Contrology.
I was reminded that, instead of going through a set of “mindless exercises” (Joe’s words), we use movement and the application of the following principles to connect the mind, body and spirit.
Breathing – The breath is the essential link between the mind and the body. It draws our wandering mind back into our bodies and back to the task at hand. In Pilates, the breath is integrated into every movement in order to keep our awareness on what we are doing, to improve the flow of oxygen, enhance core control and improve lung capacity.
Concentration - You should pay attention and focus on the movement and the task at hand. Without concentration the exercises lose their form and their purpose.
Control – Move with intention. Understand and maintain the proper form, alignment and effort during an entire exercise
Centering - All Pilates movements radiates outward from the center of the body. Developing a strong, stable and flexible center is one of the defining features of this form of exercise.
Precision – Precision is the end product of concentration, control, centering and practice. Make your movement as 'perfect' as possible each and every time.
Rhythm/Flow – Flow creates smooth, graceful and functional movements. It decreases the amount of stress placed on our joints and develops movement patterns that integrate our body into a smoothly flowing whole.
Relaxation – In Pilates we learn to use just the amount of effort needed to complete the exercise correctly, no more, no less. Releasing unnecessary tension in our bodies helps us to find ease and flow in movement, and in the rest of our lives
Applying these principles leads to:
Balanced Muscle Development –Understanding and maintaining correct body alignment and form is essential to Pilates. When the above principles become second nature and are practiced regularly, it leads to improved posture, increased comfort and enhanced physical abilities.
Whole Body Movement – Pilates is fundamentally about integration: integrating movement into a flowing whole body experience, integrating the mind and body to create clarity and purpose, integrating mind, body and spirit to create a life of balance.
If you’re practice does not include the above principles, please read Joseph’s books and get to know the ‘real’ Pilates. May you find Peace and Balance in your own personal practice.
Please note that there are movement principles that are also applied to Pilates exercises; ie. Core control, shoulder stabilization, etc. and that is a subject for another day.
*based on readings from Balanced Body Pilates, Polestar Pilates, and Stott Pilates instructor training manuals.
Joseph Pilates at 57 and 82
It's that time of year when we evaluate our past year. What was our goal when we started and where did we end up? You will not always reach your goal in 12 months. Sometimes you'll reach it in 4 or 5 months and then sometimes you may only make a small dent in the process. As long as you make the dent. That makes me think of the Pilates quote that I've seen over and over on various websites and marketing material: In 10 sessions you'll feel a difference, in 20 sessions you'll see a difference and in 30 sessions you will have a whole new body.” I'm sure many of you have heard or read that quote. What’s it about and how will it help me reach my goal you ask?
You know the more often you do anything, garden, dance, read a map, the quicker you get proficient at it The more you do anything, the more you learn and change. That’s how change happens…through repetition…and not repeating just once a month, but often. When we study anything, if we practice, we learn and reinforce. So when I'm asked the question, "how often should I do this" (Pilates) I have to say every day. Do you need to take a private session every day? A reformer or mat class, every day? No. You DO need to practice your principles EVERY DAY. Joseph's 10, 20, 30 quote was based on practicing with him 3 times a week for 55 minutes each session, doing his mat exercises at home and applying what he taught to daily life! It’s not 30 sessions over 4 months. That's 12 sessions in a month…that’s just over 2 months of sessions with the master of masters…So what about the 10, 20, 30 thing now?
Now, you need to find the most *qualified instructor and work with that individual on a regular basis. Between practice sessions, do you stop working? No, no…you are processing and adjusting consciously and eventually subconsciously, between sessions. Then the next day you practice again. This is how we study a language, a musical instrument, a form of dance, etc…same thing with exercise and Pilates.
It won’t happen with less. 10 sessions with 3 concentrated sessions per week means that in just over 3 weeks you will feel better…and feeling is where it all begins. We feel results before we see them. Then 20 sessions with 3 per week means that in just over 6 weeks you will likely see a difference and look better. That’s a month and a half of sincere commitment. Then we’ve got 30 sessions with 3 per week. That’s 10 weeks. 10 weeks is 2 and a half months. That’s a serious commitment to have a completely new body.
When Mr. Pilates was alive, he was also encouraging his clients to do the mat work on their own at home. He wanted people to do Pilates at least 4 times a week to really make a difference. He wrote the book "Return to Life Through Contrology” as his at home program. The man had a plan for fitness!
Now, does that mean you cannot benefit with less than 3 times a week? Of course not! People can achieve a lot with 1 or 2 times a week if they apply the principles they learn in a Pilates session (not just the exercises, but the actions for stability and opposition) to their other activities, workouts and life!
Not everyone's schedule or bank account allows for 3 private sessions a week. Then supplement with group reformer or mat classes and do your homework. Homework will help you get the most out of the time and money you invest in private and group sessions.
I tell my clients at the end of the session on Day 1 that they have homework. Some look shocked until I tell them what it is: during the day, as often as you can remember, pull your abdominals in and up and lengthen your back. Maybe you’ll remember once a day, maybe more…but anything is more than you’ve been doing and it's what you can do for yourself until we meet again. In time, I'll give more and more of the work until you start asking for programs to use while on vacation etc. Pretty soon practicing Pilates outside of the studio becomes the norm.
And that's how we make a dent, or full out reach our fitness goal at the end of the year!
In Peace and Love.
*A qualified instructor being one that has attended a nationally recognized training program, completed their apprenticeship and practice hours and passed a written and practical proficiency exam administered by a board of Pilates master instructors.
It's that time of year here in Englewood, Florida when the snowbirds return. Many of them have driven long distances to get here to Paradise. Absolutely worth the trip but it does take it's toll on the body. In the studio I typically spend our first few sessions helping the body recoup from the long drive because our bodies REQUIRE movement. Movement keeps the blood flowing, the heart pumping and oxygen moving to the brain. Not only do I see the negative effects of a long car ride on the clients I work with, but the effects of a job that keeps them in a chair, or a lifestyle that is less than ideal for a human body. Follow this link to a great article on the effects constant sitting has on our body. www.lifehacker.com/5879536/how-sitting-all-day-is-damaging-your-body-and-how-you-can-counteract-ithen
Movement is so important that when my northern clients leave for the summer or any of my clients go on vacation that includes a long car ride, I send them off with some moves they can use for the long trip. Get out of your vehicle at least every two hours. I know you're anxious to get where you're going, but I want you to get where you're going. The longer you sit, the higher the risk of developing blood clots, the hip flexors get tight and short, creating stress to the low back, the low back has to 'prop' up the weight of the top half of the body further increasing the stress. In short, keep moving! Reduce the amount you sit. When driving long distances, stop every couple of hours and walk briskly for 10 to 15 minutes. Do some lengthening moves that require spinal elongation while proping your hands on the trunk of your car. While in your car, put on some great music and 'dance' in your vehicle, tap your toes, wiggle your shoulders, bob your head, slid your ribcage side to side. Of course, this as the passenger in the vehicle! Always drive safely and keep moving!
I love the way Pilates moves energy through my body. You may know that feeling when you've done the hundred exceptionally well and you feel the rush of heat move through your body, cleansing your blood cells and restoring balance. Even the gentler, more restorative exercises move energy. The feeling of the top of your large leg bone, the femur head, moving freely in the hip joint as if moving through water, or the feeling of a perfect swan lengthening the upper spine. No wonder Joseph Pilates believed everyone should practice Contrology so that we are "capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure." - Joseph H, Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology
One of the more common complaints of new clients is their posture. They are noticing a rounding of the upper back, with their shoulders rolling forward. Sadly, this posture is becoming more common with the increased use of computers, desk work, texting on cell phones and hours spent driving. Known as kyphosis with forward head or in layman's terms, hunchback, this posture, once saved for the older population, is now presenting itself at a younger age.
Not only is this posture unattractive, it creates pain and undermines your ability to live a healthy, happy life as you get older. Simple daily tasks like bathing and washing become more difficult. People with a slumped posture and excessive forward head are far more likely to fall and hurt themselves. The more extreme the posture becomes the more the chest sinks, constricting the rib cage, thus making the simple act of breathing difficult.
A regular Pilates practice helps to correct these postural deviations by strengthening the postural support muscles of the back and neck, re-establishing balance and alignment of the body. In the long run, focusing on correction of posture is one of the best investments you can make in your health. It will impact how much energy you have, how vital and happy you are, and over the long term, how well you age and how much you enjoy the later years of your life.
*Upper body alignment occurs when your ear lines over the shoulder and shoulder over the hip, as if an imaginary plumb line were drawn through the body, as shown in the above image. Notice how the weight of the head increases as it moves forward of the shoulders creating greater strain on the upper back and posterior neck muscles.