Breath

Mmkay, so maybe not a bony landmark or anatomy-specific bit, but it’s part of a building a strong Pilates foundation, so it’s at home here.

antique+lungs+plate

Breathe with me: in through the nose/out through the mouth.

Quick note on breath - it's the life of this work. I know that sounds cliché, but it's incredibly true. Breath should be the first thing you warm up and the first thing you check if something feels a little too easy or a little too hard. Coming back to your breath means letting the work you’re doing fully inhabit your body and that means a healthier body (meaning a body moving with greater ease), and THAT is for sure something we can all agree on.

I’m of the “in through the nose, out through the mouth” camp of lateral breathing. Work to isolate breath into the ribcage as you inhale through the nose, filling the ribs to the lowest lobes of the lungs. On the exhale, lightly purse the lips like blowing out birthday candles (and not blowing the cake across the table) to activate the abdominals and exhale every bit of air from the inhale.

This breath pattern relaxes the body and is a most efficient use of breath for the work.

Keep coming back to your breath and get down with your ribs and your breath.

 
AABreath (1).png
 

Pelvis

pelvis+antique+plate

pel•vis: the large bony structure near the base of the spine to which the hind limbs or legs are attached in humans and many other vertebrates

Regardless of your sex, your pelvis is a pretty chunk of bone. Sometimes referred to as the pelvic bowl, it’s so important to know what your pelvis is doing! Where are you holding some tension? You tooching your booty ala Tyra Banks (love me some ANTM…)? Tucking your bum? Got mommy/nanny hips from carrying around littles on a hip? These are the things to start getting in touch with.

Let’s also make note of some bony landmarks: ASIS and your sacrum. SO - the ASIS are the hip bones that protrude from the FRONT of the pelvis meaning they are on the front of your body, not the sides. So if I ever tell you to find your hip bones or your ASIS, go to the front of the body, not the classic hands on hips. The sacrum is the wide, flatter bit of the pelvis that you feel when lying on your back - in-between the base of the spine and your tailbone. When relaxing in neutral in semi-supine, really focus on relaxing this bit of the pelvis into the mat, imagining things getting heavy and wide (here it’s ALL about a wide pelvis).

Neutral

Term-wise, two biggies to know: neutral and imprint.

A neutral pelvis refers to neutral alignment - when in semi-supine the sacrum is flat and heavy on the mat, ASIS (hip bones) and pubic bone form a triangular plane that is level/paralell to the floor, with a small space in the small of the back (part of the natural curves of a neutral spine).

Imprint


In imprint the pelvis is tilted by a contraction of the abdominals (and no glutes!). In semi-supine the abs pull the ASIS toward the rib cage, closing any gap between the low-back and the mat - think of squish a grape with your low back, using your abs to do the work of tilting.

Give it some extra attention tomorrow morning, enjoying some stretching centered around this incredibly powerful center of the body.

 
AAPelvis (1).png
 

Ribs

dreamstime_xxl_47283260.jpg

rib•cage: the bony frame formed by the ribs around the chest.

Ok, but for real, your ribs are ABSOLUTELY HUGE.

Check it out on our friend rockin' out to Thriller:

See how big that ribcage is? It’s huge! And that’s AWESOME. So much air.

Which brings me to my next point - when was the last time you really *breathed* with your ribcage? Like used the entirety of that space to fill with air.

In Pilates breathing (check that out here for a deeper dive), the ribs are are the bedrock of your breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth, and all about the ribs working for that breath.

ribs+antique+plate

Now let’s take a look at structure and why the ribs are so integral to ab work: your abs connect from your pubic bone all the way to the sternum. Again, that’s SO MUCH SPACE that the abs take up. It follows that to keep the abs stable and neutral, the ribs must be stabilized.

Popped ribs means a disconnect with the neutrality of the spine and ALSO breaks the ab connection.

Bottom line:

Breathe deeply WITH THE RIBS.

Stabilize the ribcage and the spine (and abs!) will follow.

 
AARibs.png
 

Shoulder Girdle

tumblr_lhxwg9rqDK1qfo7c6o1_500.jpg

scap•u•la: anatomical term for the shoulder blade
clav•i•cle: anatomical term for the collarbone

We need to get 360º with this part of the body.

Along with any excuse to say “girdle” in context, the shoulder girdle is an INCREDIBLE part of the body. In a nutshell, just think about the INSANE MOBILITY of your arms. The only bony attachment for your shoulders is at the clavicle - this means incredible mobility! That's awesome for things like rock climbing and fencing and cartwheels. It’s also why shoulders are injured so frequently...

Collectively, it’s all your shoulder girdle.

Your scapula are huge and take up a decent portion of your back. Mobility must be matched with stability in order to get the most out of your workout (and stay safe!). Before beginning any Pilates exercise (or any exercise, for that matter…), take a moment to check in with the shoulder girdle:

 Shoulder stability in seated twist

Shoulder stability in seated twist

  • Are the scapula set flat and active on the back?

  • Are you opening through the clavicle (part of keeping the scapula set) and relaxing through the chest?

  • Are you letting your arms rotate in and your chest collapse?

  • Are your shoulders hunching up toward your ears? (the cold-weather-creep)

  • Are you pinching your shoulder blades together to pop your chest out? (and subsequently pop your RIBS)

  • In an effort to combat any hunch, are you actively pulling your shoulders down?

  • Do you have one shoulder higher than the other?

If you answer yes to any of these THAT'S OK.

It’s all about awareness.

Remind yourself that you don't necessarily have to be working those muscles right now.

And if that hunch/roll/collapse stays, that's ok. We hold tension in our muscles, it's a fact, and part of the work of Pilates is to strengthen the opposing muscle group to combat that extra tightness or weakness that has resulted in an imbalanced body. My job is to see those imbalances and know just what to program. Your job is to turn up the awareness.

And that’s it.

Sorta.

More than anything - it’s one of those things that you just have to keep coming back to in order to build your body awareness. Maybe set a timer on your phone, maybe pair it with every trip the bathroom, whatever - find a way to ask yourself multiple times daily: what’re my shoulders up to and do they need to be doing x/y/z?

 
AAScapula.png
 

Head/Neck

mdpilates.jpg

cer•vi•cal: relating to the neck
spine: a series of vertebrae extending from the skull to the small of the back, enclosing the spinal cord and providing support for the thorax and abdomen; the backbone.

One rule of thumb for your head/neck: follow the curve of the upper-back.

The cervical spine is the completion of the thoracic.

Your head and cervical spine (neck) should always follow the line of the rest of your spine, specifically the thoracic spine.

  • If your spine is in neutral, so should your head and neck follow
  • If your pelvis and lumbar spine is imprinted but your upper back is still neutral, head and neck stay neutral.

  • If your pelvis is neutral but your upper body is curved, your head and neck should complete the curve of the thoracic spine.

  • If your pelvis is imprinted and the rest of your upper body is flexed to follow that curve, your head and neck complete the curve.

When moving into flexion throughout the upper body, a “head nod” is often used to initiate that curvature - just remember not to jam your chin to your chest! Think of testing an avocado between your chin and chest or gently holding an orange in that space. It's not harsh, it's not tense, it's not heavy - it's just a gentle nod of the head. This initiates the curve of the thoracic spine and up up and away you go!

This stands for working in extension of the thoracic - in which case, a reverse head-nod initiates the extension of the spine: think of nudging a marble with your nose. Just a nudge!

 
AAHeadNeck.png
 

Neutral Spine

neu•tral spine: all 3 curves of the spine - (cervical, thoracic, lumbar) are present and in good alignment; the strongest alignment of the spine

As discussed in THIS POST on alignment, we’ve come a ways since Joseph Pilates well-intentioned but erroneous understanding of the spine. As opposed to the long, flat line of the spine of a young child, an adult spine should *actually* have some curves. If we want to get all technical, let's break down the sections of the spine:

Spine Outline.png
  • cervical: the neck or cervical spine is made up of 7 vertebrae - for all the work we may do in flexion, here’s where it all originates. Similar to the lumbar, the cervical spine has a concave curve.
  • thoracic: 12 vertebrae make up the thoracic spine, curving convexly toward the back (the curve swoops away from your chest). An exaggerated curve is often referred to as “kyphosis.”

  • lumbar: the lumbar spine is composed of 5 vertebrae that provide mobility to the low-back and stability to your person. The precise curvature can vary somewhat person to person, but no matter what a neutral lumbar is concave toward the back (the curve swoops in, toward your belly).

 

Whether or not you remember the anatomical terms, having awareness of the different parts of your spine and where they are in space is key to proper form in Pilates. Sometimes everything is one continuous line, as with Rolling like a Ball, sometimes there are varying degrees of flexion or extension, as with Swan Dive Prep.

 Rolling like a ball; full flexion from tail to head

Rolling like a ball; full flexion from tail to head

 Swan Dive Prep; minor Lumbar Extension, Thoracic extension, Minor Cervical Extension

Swan Dive Prep; minor Lumbar Extension, Thoracic extension, Minor Cervical Extension

Ultimately, working towards a strong, neutral spine means working towards greater ease of movement in your body, and that should be something we can all get behind.

 
AANeutralSpine.png