Today’s post is courtesy of Lynda, a Pilates Teacher with 2 decades of teaching experience. In my opinion, she has one of the best jobs in the world. She is the the Resident Pilates and Fitness Teacher at Caribbean Parrot Cay Resort in Turks and Caicos Islands. Which basically means she is listening to the gentle sounds of the ocean while I am shivering to keep warm. Anyway, she knows her stuff and was kind enough to share it with all of us. Please be sure to visit Lynda over at her blog, The Pilates Goddess.
In 20 years of private fitness and Pilates training the biggest complaint I hear from my clients is chronic back and neck pain. For most people it’s not so acute that they really want to do anything about it. They just live with low level pain all the time and avoid activities which make things worse.
The problem is that chronic back pain signals a muscular and postural imbalance that can get worse and that can leave you open to a greater injury and possibly the need for spine surgery. And these imbalances don’t simply affect your back, but can cause imbalance and injury to your other joints leaving you with aching hips, knees, ankles, toes, shoulders, and elbows.
Most of us have heard that we need to strengthen our abs to help our backs, or strengthen our core, but when I ask my clients what that means most of them have no idea. Even the classical abdominal and back strengthening exercises such as crunches and superman extensions will make your pain worse if they are not done correctly.
Did you know that your lower back is not supposed to move a lot? But that your neck, shoulders, and ribcage should have plenty of free motion in many directions? For most of us our necks and shoulders are too tight and our lower backs are too loose, and that is a big part of the pain problem.
Luckily Pilates can help by strengthening the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and increasing mobility in the other areas of the spine and torso. Pilates focuses on breathing and abdominal stabilization as its basis, moving ut to the rest of the body from a strong stable center of gravity.
Part of the pain response is that we tend to stop breathing, which when you have back pain makes everything much worse. Here is a simple breathing exercise that will start the process of getting your ribcage to move more and feeling how you abdominal muscles assist in breathing.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet hip bone width apart, and your arms by your sides. Pay attention to your breathing and to the muscles in your torso. The abdominal muscles are not just in front, they actually wrap around your torso from your spine to the front, around your ribs, waist, & pelvis, forming the round sides of a cylinder.
Feel your ribs move to the front, side, and back as you breathe–the abdominals are helping to move your ribs! Now pay attention to your pelvis. Make sure that you are not pushing your lower back into the floor; your pubic bones should be in the same horizontal line as your hip bones–you may have an arch in your lower back and that’s OK, you are supposed to!
Now as you inhale let your ribcage, abs, and pelvis relax. As you exhale contract your pelvic floor as though you had to stop peeing, feel your abs wrap tighter around your ribs and waist like a corset, and feel your diaphragm under your ribcage pull up and under the ribs. Make sure again that you are not flattening your lower back into the mat. Do this conscious breathing a few times.
Put your hands on your belly and notice that now it pulls in (it may feel soft, but you are going for width and depth, not for tightness!). Repeat 10-15 times.
Try to focus on your breath in this way several times a day. You can do this sitting and standing as well as lying supine. The better you breathe the better you will function on all levels, and that body-mind connection is the basis of Pilates.
photo credit: Kitty ? Rouge