Complementary Therapists > Pilates > Alignment
Pilates Principles - Alignment
To restore and maintain muscle balance it is vital the body is correctly aligned. Good alignment means that the muscles will maintain the body's joints in their neutral zone. Joints are where two, or more, bones meet and articulate. There are different types of joints however Pilates is most interested in synovial joints. Usually these have two ends that are covered with cartilage and are freely moveable.
Synovial fluid is a lubricant for cartilage and it provides nutrition and health as cartilage does not have any blood supply. Joint movement flushes fresh fluid over the cartilage providing nutrients.
Without this lubrication osteoarthritis can follow and for cartilage to remain healthy it must receive regular use. This is the reason that exercise is vital to the maintenance of healthy joints. Joints that are not used regularly may develop undernourished cartilage that may become thinner and holes may appear.
If a joint is in an unnatural alignment and if you exercise without due attention to its' correct position, then the biomechanics of the joint changed and it is probable there will harmful stress on them.
Poor Alignment Example
Using the knee joint as an example we can see the consequences of poor alignment. When you bend your knee so that your kneecap moves directly over second toe then the natural alignment of the leg is maintained. If the kneecap is allowed to bend out or inward the knee will be under stress and the muscle balance will be upset. This can cause problems for the foot, ankle, hip, pelvis, back, shoulders, neck and the head. Your body will attempt to keep your eyeline level which will cause difficulties for your knee and other parts of the body.
A balanced relationship amongst the head, the neck, and the shoulders is of vital importance. In order to engage the deep stabilising neck muscles - the anterior sub-occipitals - it is necessary to release the superficial muscles of the neck. This is achieved by relaxing the jaw and envisage lengthen up through the top of the head to keep the back of the neck long. The position of the shoulders will affect the balance of the upper body. The shoulder blades must be stabilised and set down into the back, using the lower trapezius.
For safety and for correcting imbalances in muscles good alignment of all parts of the body is very important while exercising. Correct positioning is is a must to get the right muscles working. In Pilates the correct alignment of the spine and the pelvis is the launching point. The spine is an 'S' shape with natural curves.
Curves of the Spine
The apparently simple act of standing involves the postural muscles constantly working to keep us in an upright position. Those muscles at the back and at the front work in a delicate balance and whatever way that we regularly stand affects that balance. The ligaments of the spine are also affected. Frequent and regular bending forwards or backwards will lengthen the ligaments thereby upsetting the balance. In addition there will be a build up of pressure on the vertebrae in the spine. The slightest deviations from the neutral position while exercising may cause difficulties so it is vital to keep your spine in its' natural neutral position.
The same goes for the pelvis in that a natural position is required to ensure that tissues remain at their normal length. A normal posture ensures that the correct muscles are used in the correct way for body movement. When doing Pilates exercises it is important check your spine-pelvis angle at all times.
Finding the Neutral Spine and Pelvis Position
To find the correct neutral position recline on your back with your knees bent and your feet apart to the width of your hips, and parallel. Visualise a directional compass on your lower abdomen. Your navel is north, the pubic bone is south, and your hips are the east-west axis. To find neutral you must investigate two incorrect positions first.
Incorrect Spine and Pelvis Position #1
Tilt your pelvis towards the north flattening the waist. The muscles around your hips and the base of your spine (coccyx) has raised off the floor. The natural curve of your spine is gone.
Incorrect Spine and Pelvis Position #2
Do not try this is you suffer from back problems. Now gently bring the pelvis so that it is inclined towards the south. Notice what has happened. The lower back is arched and feels vulnerable, your ribs have flared and your stomach is protruding.
Correct Neutral Spine and Pelvis Position
The target neutral position is somewhere between the two incorrect positions above. It is not to the north or south, nor is it tucked or arched. Using our imaginary compass again, the pointer should be completely level. The coccyx should stay on the floor and lengthens away. The pelvis is in no way scrunched up however the there is a slight natural arch in your back. This is the neutral position and most Pilates exercises should be performed when in this position.
When performing lower abdominal exercises it is vital to engage 'neutral' and avoid the temptation to tilt or tuck the pelvis. As a way of checking if you are pushing your spine into the floor slide your hand under your waist to ensure the natural arch has been maintained. It is also important to ensure that the pelvis (east-west) is level Many people have a twisted pelvis so be vigilant and keep the pelvis in neutral.
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