Pilates Blog: Balanced Muscle Development

Denise Small  PT, DPT

In today’s Pilates’s blog, we will discuss another of the eight movement principles, Balanced Muscle Development. Using the example of the Pilates swan, we can see how both the front and back of the body are benefitting from the movement.  As we inhale and move our spines into extension, the back of the body, including the spinal muscles, glutes, and hamstrings are lengthening down toward the feet, while the abdominal muscles are lifting in and up towards the breast bone.  Both the back and the front of the body work in opposition to create balance in the body.  We give this exercise often in our practice at Beyond Basics to counter the shortening of the abdominal muscles that occurs with prolonged sitting. When the abdominal muscles shorten, they pull on the fascia of the external genitalia and pelvic floor muscles, contributing to their tightness. Have your PT take you through this exercise on your next visit to feel the full effects of the exercise. Or make an appointment with me for a one-on-one Pilates session.  Your body will thank you!

 

Swan
Jessica Babich PT, DPT demonstrating the swan

Pilates Blog – Concentration

DeniseDenise Small, DPT

Every Wednesday the PTs at Beyond Basics are fortunate enough to listen to lectures from medical professionals who specialize in pelvic pain.  One of my favorite lectures was given by Melissa Farmer, PhD,  a clinical psychologist who specializes in how the brain changes overtime in response to chronic pain.  Melissa spoke about a lot of wonderful things that are being found through research; however the thing that was most interesting to me, was not only that the brain can change in response to persistent pain, but, that the brain can change back to its pre-pain functional self! One of the ways that this can be done is through focused movement.  That is, thoughtful, pain- free movement focused around the area that normally causes pain.  This revelation was very meaningful to me, as one of the basic Pilates movement principles is Concentration.  Pilates believed that if your mind was fully focused on performing the given exercise, you would only need to perform a few repetitions to feel the benefit.  This is very important for patients suffering from chronic pain, as they do not need to exercise to the point of pain to see the benefits. One of the exercises that exemplifies this belief is the Pelvic Clock. The pelvic clock both mobilizes and lengthens the pelvic floor muscles while simultaneously bringing tone to the abdomen. In addition, the movement is very small and specific and requires one’s full concentration. So, it is a great way to directly address the potential causes of pelvic pain, without causing pain in the process!

To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent. See, in your mind’s eye, the pelvis as the face of a clock with the top of your sacrum being 12 o’clock and your tailbone being 6 o’clock. Slowly move from each number as smoothly as possible, while seeing your sitz bones widen as your tailbone drops to 6 o’clock and your sitz bones narrow as you move to 12 o’clock. You can also combine the movement and breath as we have in our other Pilates blogs by inhaling as you move to 6 o’clock and exhaling as you move to 12 o’clock.  If you have any questions, have your PT take you through this exercise on your next visit, or come see me for a private Pilates session. Your Body and Brain will thank you.

Pilates Blog: Centering

Denise Small, PT, DPT

In today’s Pilates blog, we are going to discuss the basic principle of Centering.  Pilates used the word centering to refer to the “core” musculature.  He believed that all movements should radiate out of the core for maximum stability.  There is a lot of use of the word “core” in exercise literature. However, no one ever discusses what that actual means. In the Pilates method, the “core” refers to the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the deep spinal muscles, and the transverse abdominus.  The transverse abdominus is a deep abdominal muscle that is attached to our pelvic bones in a horizontal fashion, from one hip bone to the other. One way to find these muscles is by breathing, as all the core muscles are attached to the diaphragm and ribs via fascial connections.

Try this exercise to find your “core.”  Lie on your back with your knees bent. If you need, you can have a small pillow under your head for support.  Now, imagine that you have a small, helium filled balloon in your abdomen behind your navel.  As you inhale see the balloon expand. As you exhale, imagine the balloon being hugged by your navel and your spine, simultaneously.  On your next exhale keep that image of hugging the balloon as it floats up into your ribcage.   This image incorporates the three dimensions of our torso, aka the “core” of our body.

ballon

There is no need to think of contracting individual muscles. Just keep this vision in mind and you will have a wonderfully functional core.  Go over this exercise with your PT in your next session, or come see me for a private session at Beyond Basics. Your body, and your core, will thank you!

Pilates Blog- Rhythm- Coordination of Breath and Movement

PilatesDenise Small, PT, DPT

Today’s Pilates blog will focus on another basic movement principle of the Pilates method, Whole Body Movement.

In the last blog, I wrote about the importance of breathing three dimensionally, both expanding and contracting your abdomen and ribcage when breathing. Joseph Pilates wanted to help exaggerate these physiologic functions with movement, to help bring better awareness of these functions to one’s consciousness. He did that by coordinating both whole body movement and breathing. For example, when one inhales, the ribs and sternum move up and out, like a water pump or the handle on a bucket. You can feel this action by placing your hands on the outside of your ribcage, or on your sternum, as you inhale. When the ribs move up and out or the sternum lifts, the spine also extends because of the physical connection of the ribs into the spine. So, when Pilates gave a movement that involved spinal extension, like cow pose, he encouraged his students to inhale.

Conversely, when one exhales the opposite happens, and the ribs move in and down. When the ribs move in and down, this helps facilitate spinal flexion, because of the ribs physical connection to the spine. So, when Pilates gave a movement involving spinal flexion, he encouraged his students to exhale.

The result is inhalation with ribcage expansion and spinal extension, and exhalation with ribcage compression and spinal flexion. By coordinating the ribcage and spinal movement with the breath, you can maximize your air intake and expulsion. In addition, by coordinating your breath and movement, your body can more easily access its natural rhythms, calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation and healing.

Give it a try in your seat at work. Or come to Beyond Basics and visit me for a Pilates private!

The use of Breath in the Pilates Method

Denise Small PT, DPT

The following series of Pilates blog posts will focus on the principles that define the Pilates method.  Joseph Pilates developed his methodology using eight basic movement principles: whole body movement, breathing, balanced muscle development, concentration, control, centering, precision, and rhythm.  Today’s blog will focus on the principle of Breathing.

pilatesBreathing is a natural phenomenon that is performed thousands of times a day. Our daily intake of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide is needed to cleanse our blood, and maintain the functioning of our body systems.  That being said, there are different ways to manipulate one’s breath to help facilitate certain physiological functions. For example, there have been many BBPT blog posts about diaphragmatic breathing, where one breathes into their abdomen to get a stretch of both the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles. Well, Pilates had his own approach to breathing, which was a variation on Diaphragmatic breathing.  Pilates approach to breathing was aimed at getting maximal air intake and release to give the body, what he called, “an internal shower” to rid the body of “toxins”. Pilates focused specifically on lateral expansion of the diaphragm, whereas traditional diaphragmatic breathing focuses on the vertical expansion of the diaphragm. In order to achieve this, Pilates encouraged maintaining the engaged tone of the abdomen, while breathing into the front, sides, and back of the ribcage. See the image below for further explanation.

 

Pilates- Ribcage/ Chest breathing versus Belly/Diaphragmatic breathing

This is an overly simplified view of the actual mechanics. However, both versions are very important. With the ability to differentiate between ribcage and diaphragmatic breathing you can offer your diaphragm a 3-dimensional stretch and the ability to work on abdominal contraction as well as endurance. If you have any questions you can ask them in the comments section. Or come visit me at Beyond Basics for a Pilates Private session!