When it comes to chronic imbalance, pain, immobility, or stiffness in the body, even people who are in tune with their health can have blindspots. They know their lower back often hurts or they have a tendency to roll their ankle. They tell themselves, “I’m just getting old” or “My doctor messed up my operation and I’ve never been the same since.” But, there is no curiosity or drive to find out how this imbalance may be affecting their entire physical system as they move into middle or old age. No one told them to ask the proper questions.
In this article, we will attempt to explore these tough questions:
- “Does my body work correctly?”
- “Is it functional?”
- “Do I support it?”
- “Is it able to do what it was designed to do?”
What makes a skilled Pilates teacher such an asset in answering these questions is their ability to find imbalance that may be the result of repetitive physical habits, poor posture, or old injuries. They immediately zero in on how the whole body is working, or not working, as a unit. They see things we are not keen enough to observe on our own. One hip may be hitched up higher than the other. The bulk of your weight, when you walk, may be on the outer edge of your foot.
Pilates teachers know that the quality of the breath is paramount when it comes to movement and that correcting poor posture increases happiness and self-esteem. They know how a body in harmony looks and moves. Pilates seeks to integrate our bigger, outer muscles with the mesh of finer, smaller muscles underneath that are critical for stability. Many forms of exercise only focus on the outer muscles, which is why people can appear physically fit yet lack and flexibility and become easily injured due to imbalance. Pilates promotes more efficient movement with less effort. Adding it to your weekly health regimen will improve your stability in everyday life and boost your performance in every sport you play.
Moving From Imbalance to Stability
Experiment with how your mind can signal your body. The next time you go hiking, tell your glutes to fire as you walk and they will. Stand up straight, especially on steep inclines, and breathe into your armpits. See your rib cage expand all the way around and notice the influx of energy this enhanced breathing affords you. When walking downhill, use your mind to actively engage your pelvis and make sure all five metatarsals (bones of the forefoot attached to the toes) are connecting with the ground. Your stability will improve and you will begin to understand the types of supportive connections Pilates can foster in the body.
It is important to identify imbalance in your body because continuing to strength train or engage in sports without doing so will exacerbate all sorts of physical issues over time. You may think you have learned to live with imbalance but, when you get to a certain age, you may witness a rapid decline in your stability and quality of movement if you fail to address them.
Kim Armington, a Pilates teacher and physical therapist based in Jackson, Wyoming, says the imbalance she sees most consistently in new students is an unstable pelvis. Joseph Pilates referred to the region encompassed by the abdominals, lower back, buttocks and hips as “the Powerhouse” because all movement is generated from this area of the body. If this area is weak or out of alignment (due to an old injury, years of carrying children or even one leg being longer than the other), then every single movement this person attempts will be compromised.
Armington gives an example of an imbalance: “If you’ve injured your right ankle and don’t want to put all your weight on it because it hurts, you may end up with a muscle on the front of your body, your psoas, for example, that becomes too short, as a result of being overworked. You compromise your movement for a couple of weeks and your body settles into a pattern you may not even be aware of.” If she has a student who is short and overworked on one side of their body and long and underworked on the other side, she will design an exercise to find more length on one side and one to find more strength on the other, thereby bringing the body back into alignment.
The first exercise Armington has new Pilates students do is a pelvic tilt. She explains what a neutral spine is and emphasizes that every movement starts from this area of the body. Most new students have rarely considered the importance of their pelvis but, when instructed to perform increasingly challenging Pilates exercises over time, they come to see it as the body’s foundational platform. Armington demonstrates the importance of coordinating each specific movement with the breath. You cannot muscle your way through a new Pilates exercise. It is the breath that initiates and assists the movement, often making the motion feel effortless.
Learning to support our body’s movement has far-reaching benefits that extend beyond the physical. Per an article in Self, “A 2018 meta-analysis of eight Pilates studies found that those who practiced Pilates reported a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, as well as an increase in energy.”
At first, learning Pilates feels like learning a new language but, as the instructor’s cues become familiar, you are rewarded with a feeling of grace and strength that you have never experienced before. This elegant connection with your body will follow you off the mat, out of the studio and throughout the rest of your life.
It is never too late to begin. Pilates will lengthen and strengthen your fine, interior muscles. By teaching you to use your breath as a tool, Pilates creates a harmony between your body and mind. Life will feel smoother, lighter and more stable. People will notice a physical change in you but, most importantly, you will feel an interior change.