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All classes at Shamata Pilates incorporate six fundamental aspects of Pilates to ensure that each exercise is safe and effective.
The fundamental aspects, detailed below, form an integrated system, which guides awareness and movement through each Pilates exercise in order to maximise effectiveness and biomechanic efficiency.
Throughout every Pilates workout, it is important that you pay attention to these and try to apply each of them in every exercise.
The fundamental aspects of Pilates help you form greater awareness and a greater sense of control in each exercise; ensuring faster progress and better results.
The benefits of breathing exercises have been known for centuries and shared by many cultures and disciplines.
Such disciplines include yoga, tai chi, karate, dance, swimming, weight lifting and so on.
Benefits of controlled breathing include enhanced relaxation, decreased stress, lowered blood pressure, improved focus, activation of specific muscles, better circulation and respiration and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
When breathing during Pilates, you are encouraged to breathe deeply into your lungs, expanding the rib cage in all directions
Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth through slightly pursed lips.
The three-dimensional breath allows you to sustain the connection of the abdominal muscles throughout an exercise, allowing increased core strength and stabilisation.
The breath pattern also enhances concentration and a sense of connection with the body and can enable you to focus more effectively on the exercises during class.
how to breathe in the pilates style:
Lying on your back with your knees bent, place your hands on your lowest ribs at the sides of your torso, and breathe in through your nose, expanding your ribs outwards and sideways into your hands.
Feel your hands move outwards as you breathe in. Try not to lift your chest too much as you inhale, instead direct the air into the sides and back of your lungs (this is called Three-Dimensional Breathing).
Your exhalation should be through pursed lips, and moderately forceful (relative to the difficulty of the exercise you are performing): as if you are blowing out a candle which is two feet in front of you.
the pelvic floor
In every Pilates exercise, you are encouraged to activate your pelvic floor muscles for the duration of the exercise.
The slightly forced exhalation encourages engagement of the deep stabiliser muscles of the lower back and pelvis, specifically the pelvic floor group of muscles, and via co-contraction, the transverse abdominis (TA).
Correct activation of these muscles provides optimum foundation for stability of the lower spine and pelvis.
These deep stabiliser muscles will function optimally at between 20-30% of maximum voluntary contraction, which means that it is important to gently engage these muscles, rather than forcefully activating them.
how to activate you pelvic floor with TA:
As you breathe out, have a sense of lifting your pelvic floor gently (a feeling of sucking up gently, as if lightly drawing your sitz bones, your pubic bone and your tailbone all together, and up behind your belly button) and of allowing your belly button to flatten towards your spine to push the air out.
Imagine an elastic girdle is around your lower abdomen, gently compressing and bracing you there.
You can place your fingers on your lower abdominals and feel them work and draw in, as you exhale.
To help you with pelvic floor activation, imagine your internal pelvic muscles squeezing and pulling on a piece of string and lifting it towards your belly button.
There are two alternative positions for your pelvis in Pilates exercises, neutral pelvis, and imprinted pelvis.
Neutral pelvis maintains the normal gentle curve in your lower back.
Imprinted pelvis involves a gentle flattening of your lower spine.
We encourage you to work in neutral pelvic alignment whenever you can safely do so, and to use imprint whenever you need greater stability around your lower back or pelvis, or if your posture dictates that imprint is more appropriate for you.
Neutral alignment is the strongest alignment of the spine for shock absorption and weight bearing.
The shear forces on the spine are minimised, and the core muscles are more easily engaged.
If you are not able to stabilise your lumbar spine or pelvis in neutral, or if you experience gripping (a sensation of excessive work) in your lower back muscles, we encourage you to work with an imprinted pelvis.
find your neutral and imprinted pelvis by complete the following exercise:
Lying on your back with your knees bent, place your hands in a diamond shape with the heels of your hands on the forward most point of your hipbones and your fingertips on your pubic bone.
When your hands are on the same flat horizontal plane your pelvis in is neutral alignment. Imagine a dish full to the brim of water is resting on those three points, without spilling a drop.
Gently arch your spine to increase the curve in your lower back, where the heels of your hands (on your hip bones) are higher than your fingertips on your pubic bone).
Now, gently activate your abdominals to draw your hips towards your ribs and slightly flatten your lower back on the mat. Your fingertips are higher than the heels of your hands; you are in an imprint position or slight posterior pelvic tilt.
Now find a place between the two positions, where your fingertips and the heels of your hands are on the same flat plane.
This is neutral pelvis.
the rib cage
In neutral alignment, your ribcage should be in line with your pelvis.
When lying with your back on the mat, your upper back tends to flatten out to conform to the flatness of the mat.
To maintain a neutral alignment in this instance, we need to actively connect through our abdominals to allow the ribs to sink, or draw down slightly towards the belly button.
Throughout every movement, you need to be aware of the connection between your ribs and pelvis.
Think of gently connecting those two points together to facilitate abdominal activation.
get to know your rib cage placement:
Lying on your back, find your neutral spine and “melt” your ribs down towards your belly button in a V-shape.
Feel the back of your ribcage contacting the mat more firmly as you do this.
Inhale to raise your arms overhead. Now, keeping your ribs in contact with the mat,
exhale to bring your arms past vertical as far only as you can keep your ribs connected to the mat.
Inhale and return your arms to vertical; now exhale and lower them to the mat.
It is important to keep that abdominal engagement at all times otherwise you sacrifice spinal stabilisation.
the shoulder blades
Your shoulder blades should sit flat and flush on the ribcage, and glide freely and smoothly.
The shoulder blades have no direct bony attachment to the axial skeleton (rib cage and spine).
Their single bony attachment is to the collar bone at the acromio clavicular (AC) joint.
Hence your shoulder blades are very mobile, allowing the arm a great range of motion and complex actions,
but somewhat at the expense of stability.
The shoulder blades can elevate, depress, protract, retract, upwardly rotate and downwardly rotate. Because of this complexity and lack of bony attachment, it is important to be aware of stabilising the shoulder blades at all times.
Because of their lack of body attachment to the axial skeleton, the shoulder blades are highly susceptible to misalignment if muscular imbalance is present.
You should not allow your shoulders to either round overly forward or squeeze backwards together excessively towards the spine.
Shoulder blade stabilisation should be a part of the preparation for every exercise, to be established before movement begins.
When lifting your upper body forward off the mat, shoulder blade stabilisation will help to avoid neck tension.
how to understand shoulder blade movement and stabilisation:
Lying on your back with neutral pelvis and neutral spine, reach your arms softly towards the ceiling, level with your shoulders.
Inhale and push your shoulder blades apart by reaching your fingers further towards the ceiling.
Now exhale and squeeze your shoulder blades back to neutral, with your shoulders “beside” you.
Inhale and retract by drawing your shoulder blades further together
Finish with an exhale and push back to neutral.
This exercise can be useful in giving you a sense of two of the key movements of the shoulder girdle (protraction and retraction).
the head and neck
The neutral alignment of the neck is a gentle, even curve.
When sitting or standing in upright posture, the head should be directly above the shoulders.
When exercising the head should be directly in line with the ribcage.
Throughout movement, the neck and head should continue the natural gentle curve of the upper back.
The neutral alignment of the neck is the strongest alignment for load bearing
(supporting the weight of the head) and shock absorption (as in running or walking).
Holding the head in a forward posture can cause unnecessary tension in the muscles of the neck, shoulder girdle and upper back.
Head forward posture also places increased strain on the passive structures of the neck including discs, vertebrae and ligaments.
Correctly placing your head in all exercises will help you to avoid this unnecessary stress and strain.
how to hold your head and neck:
When bending the torso forwards off the mat, first tuck in your chin (head nod) before moving the upper back.
You should have a sense of lengthening the top part of the back of your neck where it articulates with your skull (the suboccipital region), rather than jamming your chin down towards your chest.
Be aware that your eye line will help you to keep your head and neck correctly aligned.
When lying on the mat, your eye line should be just above your knees.
When lying on your stomach, your eye line should be just forward on the mat and when you are sitting or standing, your eye line should be at eye height (look straight ahead).
Every time you lift your upper body when lying on the mat, you should tuck your chin (head nod) before moving.
STOTT Pilates Comprehensive Matwork, Merrithew Corp, 2001
Pilates Anatomy, Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger, Human Kinetics, 2011
The Five Basic Principles of STOTT Pilates, Raphael Bender, Breathe Wellbeing, 2012