Pilates and Posture

This is a picture of the great strongman SAMPSON , strong in body and straight in posture an example to us all. Ever been told to stand up straight or pull your shoulders back? afterwards you’re then left with a sudden feeling of postural insecurity. Well if that has happened to you at the Osteopaths Office then take heart,it has recently happened to ‘yours truly’ the Blogging Osteopath . Just before Christmas 2013 I was invited to a night out with the Pilates Teachers at Equilibrium Studio at Bassets Pole in Birmingham. It was wonderful night of food and drink at a resturant set within a garden centre. Linda Rhodes the owner was very very kind to invite me along as spinalsolutions we have worked with some of her clients . I really believe that Osteopaths need to make local relationships with training establishments that provide quality and professionalism. You can’t help noticing the trained postures and evident core support of Linda and her teachers (8 in all I believe ). As I sat at table my shoulders were protracted and my back rounded , sticking my neck out . This flexed posture and forward head position is the very thing we advise to avoid ,and there I was crouched over the table portraying the posture of a professional Calligrapher rather than an Osteopath ( Calligraphy involves hours flexed over a desk) . I was duly corrected by Sarah one of the teachers. Pull yourself up !! come on France you should know better . She was right !! I realised then that even I teach it every day it couldnt as yet be fully established or it had not reached unconscious competence :

Aquisition of skill or creating change is meant to have 4 stages :

The four stages
1.Unconscious incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.[he length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

2.Conscious incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

3.Conscious competence
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

4.Unconscious competence
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

These stages are important to consider when reflecting on progress of a new skill. I think the evidence is out that I just haven’t reached there yet; my personal practice is not from the Pilates tradition but is related to my martial arts interest . The same process of learning is evident in Alexander Technique lessons, you may find yourself repeatedly completing very simple actions of sitting, lying and standing, and just like working through the gear stick of your car whilst driving , you reach unconscious incompetence . In Karate it’s called ‘basics’. Well back to Sarah and may thanks for professional input it’s even accurate after a few glasses of wine and that’s because it’s become such a part of her world -that’s what you’ve got to achieve on the ‘BODY JOURNEY’ . Pattabi Joyce the famous Yoga Teacher of Ashtanga Yoga when asked about how to achieve more stretch or better form would always answer confidently :

‘ Practice and all is coming ‘

I’ve used my own example here to illustrate the level of capability required in practice. However just what is Pilates and how does it achieve good posture and balanced function . The answer I think , lies in the core strength and expression it achieves in combination with correct recruitment of muscle groups for movement or task completion.

Pilates uses specific exercises completed in awareness , which is a kind of ‘Mindfulness’ – see previous blog. Perhaps more the popular face of Pilates is reflected by flat stomachs , the ‘holy grail’ of any fitness enthusiastic
Or dieter . Pilates has application way beyond this limited view , because of the influence of the art of dance, muscle recruitment plays a major part . I once treated a dancer who was appalled at my demonstration of stomach strengthening exercises which comprised of sit-ups and crunches from my military days . I strained , whilst she demonstrated a beautiful observable contraction of the abdominal groups that involved no facial grimacing.

Joseph Pilates:

Where did this Pilates come from ??? I wrongly explained to one of my clients just recently that it originated around the time of the Second World War created by a German POW . – Wrong !!!! It was in fact during the 1st World War . Pilates was the creation of a physical trainer called Joseph Pilates, I read he had various jobs before the war ,one of which was to teach self defence moves to Scotland Yard Detectives,, after a time fame blurs the edges between truth and myth. However he was arreseted as an ‘alien’ imprisoned on the Isle of Man where it was reported that he prevented his fellow inmates contracting flu by teaching them his physical techniques . It was after the war that he started his ‘Pilates Studio’ in New York teaching dancers and performers . Although Pilates was called ‘controllology ‘ at that time , it wasnt until ater his death that it was termed ‘Pilates’. His training and rehabilitation techniques were developed from an early interest in , yoga, martial arts, and the physical culture of the Greeks and Romans . Jospeh Pilates was reported to have been a frail child and been fascinated by the idea of developing himself. I had thought he died after trying to save his equipment from a fire where after he developed smoke inhalation – Wrong !! apparently he died of advanced emphysema in 1967 aged 83 the effects of smoking too many cigars , even then I believe he is given a saintly excuse by his supporters

‘he took up out of disapointment that he was’nt taken more seriously by the powers that be, especially physicians , during his lifetime’

There is no doubt however that he was a very determined man and physically achieved an amazing level of physical fitness.

‘ a white – maned lion with steel blue eyes , and mahogany skin, and as limber in his 80 s as his teenage years’

My opinion – like ME and my doubled over posture he was just human – probably quite enjoyed a cigar at times – like Pilates YOU are human too AND so CAN ACHIEVE the best possible achievement in POSTURE and recovery if necessary ,from BACK PAIN , ME CFS, NECK PAIN , – or whatever – BUT LIKE ME, LIKE PILATES – YOU ARE HUMAN

My advice would always be TO CONTINUE TO BE SO

Pilates instruction is divided into a series of ‘Matwork’ lessons ,which involve set movements completed with the mindful focus of core stability, relaxation and correct recruitment . The initial skill is to get used to ‘zipping up ‘ the core and expressing abdominal breathing in a lateral fashion (allowing expansion of the abdomen almost sideways in inhalation) . Once that is mastered then movements are encouraged in ‘chains’ , eg to bend forwards one would develop the sense of rolling through each vertebrae. Advanced students complete more elaborate movements and are also encouraged to,use the ‘reformer ‘ . This is a flat bed-like device that allows the core to,be fixed whilst exercising the arms and legs . All lessons are taught carefully, a focus and a personal experience/relationship with ones body is encouraged .

Back to Birmingham Uk and Linda of Equilibrium and the wonderful night out with the ‘straightest ‘ women in Birmingham . Well there I am with my postural embarrassment , listening to wonderful stories ( I love stories ) about Linda’s experiences as a teacher of Pilates . She has great insights into shoulder function , postural control and general movement all developed through years of experience . She describes her meeting with Alan Herdman, Britains first and foremost Pilates teacher . She met him at his studio and describes seeing lines of ‘patients ‘ working through various movements under his scrutinous eye , encouraging them to ‘RECRUIT’ the correct muscles for the movement being dictated . So much of the movement we do includes poorly learned coordination especially where the natural learning has been interrupted by bad habits , driving , desk work or maybe emotional and social influneces .

Coaching for postural change requires many skills . Ok eduction and enthusiasm are the first requirements however a depth of anatomy and physiology needs to be taught . There is no replacement for experience and this is one of the requirements of training . Without experience of your own process it’s difficult to coach a client to the ‘threshold’, that illusive place in any skill where it ‘ CLICKS’ ,probably the stage before unconscious competence as described previously . I would definitely advise taking up some movement techniques and skills . Pilates. Tai Chi, Yoga, Fendlekrais are all mow considered mainstream concepts to help with posture and movement . The added benefit always seems to added self,confidence and relaxation .