" 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