BASIC PRINCIPLES EXPLAINED
The STOTTPILATES® method, teaches 5 basic principles to follow when practicing Pilates:
2. Pelvic Placement
3. Ribcage Placement
4. Scapular Stability/Mobility
5. Cervical Spine and Head Placement
Breathing deeply in through the nose, keeping your shoulders level, send your breath to the base of the lungs so they expand to the sides like an accordion opens up, avoiding breathing into your tummy. Thinks of your ribcage opening in a 3 dimensional way. At the base of the ribcage there is a better gaseous exchange leading to improved oxygen flow through your body as you breath.
On the exhale, breathe through a pursed lip, forcing all the air out of the ribs, and at the same time lifting the pelvic floor. Imagine you are blowing out a row of candles on a cake. As you breathe, you should be able to hear your own breath - don’t be embarrassed!
The breath function is to engage your deepest core abdominal muscle, which stabilises your pelvis and lumbar spine.
You will use an inhale breath in to prepare for, or hold an exercise and you go through the full choreography of an exercise. The exhale is the ‘work’ part of the exercise. Breath patterns can change to challenge stability and will change as we advance into more difficult exercises. Generally, think of inhaling and opening the ribs to extend the spine (lean backwards), and exhale to contract and flex the spine (lean forwards).
The STOTTPILATES® method encourages a neutral pelvis and spine whenever possible; however when you begin Pilates or are less stable through your core muscles, or when legs are raised while lying on the back, an imprinted pelvis is used. This protects your lumbar spine and prevents injury. In the early stages of practicing Pilates, you should imprint the pelvis whenever legs are in the air; as you strengthen your core, you will work towards Pilates with a neutral pelvis.
A neutral pelvis is where your pubic bone and your pelvic bones (hip bones) are level while on the same plane, and your lower back has its natural curve. It will look like a flat surface.
An imprinted pelvis is achieved by exhaling, lifting the pelvic floor and contracting your abdominal muscles which shortens the oblique muscles (the muscle that connects your hip to your rib cage), you will feel your lower back lengthen against the floor - you shouldn’t be naming your back down into the floor.
This imprint prevents you from arching your back unstably off the floor, and ensures engagement of the core muscles to allow you to safely exercise with moving arms and legs, off the floor, while maintaining support for your lower back.
As we are working towards always using a Neutral spine, it is important the ribcage also remain neutral while exercising and moving your arms. Naturally when arms are being raised overhead, ribs tend to open forward and upwards, the upper spine extends, causing mid and upper back muscles to contract.
When laying on the floor, as you lift your arms, breath into the floor underneath you and to the sides of the base of your lungs to prevent the ribcage from popping up in front of you.
Shoulder blades, or scapulae, ideally would rest flat on the back of the ribcage when arms are hanging down - imagine they are stuck to the back of your ribcage like suction pads. Habitual tendencies and jobs can lead to longer muscles in the upper back and shoulder giving a rounded effect of shoulders and a stooped look. This can lead of sore shoulders, shortened upper chest muscles and aching neck muscles.
Re-balancing shoulder girdle muscles (all upper posterior muscles including shoulders and upper arms) restore the scapula to their correct positioning and can alleviate aching symptoms and improve your posture.
When exercising you want to pull your shoulder blades into a deep V, gently down and towards your spine. Try to avoid shrugging shoulders up towards ears as you raise arms, and keep the ribcage ‘tucked in’ at the same time, avoiding extension through your spine.
Cervical Spine and Head Placement
As you look side on at your body, your head should sit centered over your shoulders, and should not tilt to one side as you look at yourself straight on.
Think of your cervical spine (your neck) as an extension to your whole spine, so don’t over extend or flex your neck when exercising. Imagine you have an orange sized ball at all times between your chin and chest, this will help you avoid tucking your chin or over lifting your head.
Similarly with rotation, if you cross your arms in front of you and rotate, your nose should be roughly above where your arms cross, or technically, in line with your sternum. It is very easy to end up with your nose over your shoulder!
At the beginning of each exercise where we ‘inhale to prepare’ we will head nod, which is a lengthening of the back of the next to begin the spinal flexion.