“Balance is the point of no effort. Using more force to be able to balance is the opposite of what it feels like when you are balanced. — Eric Franklin, live workshop, July 2010
For the Pilates, Martial Arts, and Yoga Enthusiasts:
A key point of our practice is to be able to ALIGN IN GRAVITY while working with our BREATH. To achieve this ideal balance in gravity, we have to keep improving our every day posture (spine, hips, etc.)
If our posture can truly align in gravity, we would be able to achieve amazing physical feats with speed, precision, strength, and flexibility — with ease. But as we are all less than perfect beings, and many of us spent our formative years and perhaps decades training ourselves to slouch, this is an ongoing process.
My story: As my posture improved, I felt much lighter, and stood taller. I carried much heavier loads without gaining muscle or weight training. My agility and balance improved. And I feel confident that as I get older, I won’t fear falling.
Often in Pilates classes, you’ll hear a cue to “squeeze,” or “contract” muscles to “stabilize.” This doesn’t necessarily produce stability. Here’s a simple experience to show what I mean.
- Stand with your feet about hip width apart, and then just close your eyes. After a few seconds, you’ll start to sway. This is normal.
- Can you prevent yourself from swaying by tensing muscles? Give it a try. Grip your hands into fists, tense up your arms and legs, your abdominals. Are you still swaying after a couple of seconds? Yes you are. Squeeze your muscles more, with all your might if you like. Are you still swaying after waiting a couple of seconds? Of course you are.
So how CAN I balance better on my feet, or on one foot? It’s a bit more complicated, but it has to do with improving overall alignment. Yes, this does involve retraining muscles. That said, we do it gradually. Pilates is a fantastic way of doing that, by the way.
Many of us have spent years sitting at a desk, slouching in cars and comfy couches, and otherwise developing a posterior “tuck” in our tail region and a forward-head. This absolutely affects balance, range of motion in your joints, and overall energy. Time for another quick experience to show you what I mean:
- Stand tall, with your feet about hip distance apart. Now raise an arm. Bring it down again.
- Now slouch. Really slouch. Raise that same arm. Does it not go quite as high with ease?
- Stand up tall again. Raise that same arm. See the difference? Bring it down again.
- Now just really GRIP your abdominal muscles. Pull that belly button in towards your spine. Knit in those ribs. And squeeze your butt muscles too, tuck that tail under. Now raise that arm once more. Notice again, the arm will not go as high as it did before without some effort.
Speaking as Generation-X, we didn’t have so many early back and neck problems as kids as do the tweens and teens today. While we did slouch in our chairs, we didn’t spend hours upon hours as kids hunched over technology. You know what would be a great type of exercise to help undo all that muscle tension? Spine extension. But it does not have to be some super advanced Yoga back-bend. The backstroke in swimming helps to achieve some of that extension. And there are plenty of beginner exercises in Pilates and Yoga. BUT WAIT–
Forcing a back-bend will eventually cause neck and back problems…
Let’s say we’re trying to do something that involves back-bending (spine extension). Some examples: Swan; Cobra; Cat/Cow; spine extension on the Cadillac or with the Long Box (Pilates Equipment).
We don’t get more flexible by pulling muscles in the back — nor by using arms to pull or push. In fact, we might even get a headache from straining neck muscles. Or we might strain the low back.
We get into spine extension from better BREATHING. Truly functional BREATHING. The spine moves if we breathe properly. But it’s more than inhaling and exhaling.
Functional Breathing goes against some of the most popular “Pilates” breathing and cues for your form. Whoops — Did I just say that? Yes, I did.
Connect with and I’ll explain how: www.lahelafit.com
What about spacers and lifts? Hello, Pilates people!
Spacers can potentially create more problems, and often they do not correct the original one.
Squeezing a spacer between the knees when someone presents “knock knee” posture. (If you stand with your legs together, do the knees touch while the feet are still spaced apart? That’s “knock knee” posture in Pilates. We aren’t talking about a medical condition however, just the appearance of the knees). In forcing this new knee position and doing a leg press, did you stop to notice all that dysfunctional movement in the feet below — and in the hips above? The knee joint is worse off. I questioned this practice since teacher training and was convinced after learning Osteopathic Sciences that it the spacer was not a good alignment tool.
Inserting a “lift” when someone presents one leg that seems “longer” than the other: I will NEVER do that. All that does is create a different type of dysfunction for the hips and spine. I would love to suggest a much better way to deal with that. Let’s connect – www.lahelafit.com
Q: “I went to this Pilates class at the gym, and my abs were so sore that I could barely walk out… That’s good , right?” A: No, not really.
Pilates has always been an exercise form that was supposed to help resolve your aches and pains, and prevent injuries — a painful workout is a bad sign! At the very least, you need a modification and more gentle progression. I’d highly recommend going to a specialty Studio instead of the gym or franchise operation with the large class. In a solo session or very small class (say 2-4 people), you will get a lot more attention and something that fits your personal needs. As for teachers — The gold standard is someone who has spent several hundred hours training and a well-recognized certification, with a solid background in Anatomy and Kinesiology. If you need help finding personal lessons in your area, I can suggest some websites and teacher directories. We can also Skype.
Other sport enthusiasts… Running, Paddling, Volleyball, Golf, Tennis, Weight Lifting…
An ideal supplement to your favorite sport will help you prevent injuries — and at the same time, leave you feeling energized, flexible, and standing tall. Some general areas of concern for athletes:
Runners: Knee and foot complaints, Hamstring and IT Band issues.
Outrigger Canoe Paddlers: Shoulder, low back, and elbow complaints.
Volleyball: Knee, Foot, and low back issues. So much compression from jumping.
Tennis and Golf: Shoulder and Elbow injuries. Rotator Cuff issues, low back issues. Also — Have you noticed how so many Golf enthusiasts seem to develop Scoliosis in late adulthood? Yes, there’s a good reason for that — ask me how…
Q: If we’re straining into a stretch, are we getting more flexible? A: No — LESS flexible.
Have you ever done a stretch class, Yoga class, etc. and woke up 1-2 days later feeling tight and sore? Short answer: you went past your normal bounds of flexibility.
By the way, it’s really easy to go past your normal bounds if you are doing it in a steamy, heated room, and this can lead to a serious injury. I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends who are Physical Therapists. Torn labrums, and more.
Would you like a Scientific answer as to why straining into stretch makes you tight? Here it is:
Your muscle fibers and muscles as a whole are surrounded by connective tissue called FASCIA. In the fascia, we have a type of sensor related to the nervous system — called MUSCLE SPINDLES. When we over-stretch, these muscle spindles react by making our muscles CONTRACT. And those contracted muscles will affect our whole body.
Let’s say that we overdid a hamstring stretch and today, they are very tight. Since the hamstrings attach to the bottom of the pelvis, they can pull the pelvis into what we call a “posterior tilt.” Which then affects muscles and connective tissues above the pelvis, such as in your low back. Ahhh, so then you may even experience back pain, when the issue was an overstretched set of hamstrings.
If you ease into a stretch, another part of the nervous system reacts: The Golgi Tendon Organ. Through this sensor, the brain will allow the muscle to release. And that’s a better way of getting more flexible.
if you want to go even further and experience FLEXIBILITY TRAINING WITHOUT STRETCHING, I’d love to show you more. I’ve been working with competitive outrigger canoe paddlers and it’s really catching on at their club. Let’s connect, please send me an email – www.lahelafit.com.
PMA and STOTT PILATES® Certified Pilates Teacher
Franklin Method® Level 3 Certified Movement Educator
LMT (MAT#6286) and Board Certified (NCBTMB#307766-00)
Graston Technique® Provider