Body Alignment Problems
Good body alignment is one of the 8 principles of Pilates. We need good alignment to help maintain a healthy back and stay pain-free but unfortunately, our bodies often have other ideas and we get into bad habits.
Gravity pulls our bodies forward whether we like it or not, itʼs amazing how we actually manage to stand up and move around day to day. Our heads are heavy (5kg on average) balancing on our neck, itʼs a bit like having a large ball (the skull) balanced on a thin stick (the spine). No wonder then we get into trouble with our heavy jaw naturally drawing us forward and our rib cage projecting over the lower spine like holding a rucksack, and often a very heavy rucksack if we are carrying excess weight. This natural imbalance of weight anteriorly means gravity is working against us all day long and with bad posture and repetitive poor movement, weʼll increase the risk of long term weakness and pain in areas such as our neck, shoulders, middle back and lower back.
Bad postural habits repeated every day, and for many times during the day, like the ones below can cause injuries and strain to our joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Do you identify with any of them?
- Hunching the upper body round and drawing your head forward for prolonged periods often while reading and texting on your phone. The new term “Text neck” is used to describe this.
- Sitting at a desk for long periods of time, twisting round to one side repeatedly if your computer is off to the side and not at the correct height.
- Sitting on one side of the body dropping into one sitting bone and repeatedly crossing your legs.
- Putting more weight into one leg when standing, easy to do if youʼre standing for long periods of time.
All of these scenarios create muscle imbalance and skeletal misalignment and in turn, this can lead to pain in our muscles and joints.
However, there is hope!
How To Correct Posture
Doing Pilates regularly, checking in with our bodies, retraining and reminding our body through awareness of correct positioning in space (proprioception) will help. How to stand, sit and move correctly will lead naturally to muscle balance and skeletal alignment over time. With good alignment and free, easy movement performed from a position of strength and stability means that consciously and subconsciously after a while the good habits begin to take over the bad and we wonʼt feel the discomfort and pain like we used to.
Good alignment can be assessed from all sides, in profile by dropping a plumb line through the centreline of the body. The line should fall from the middle of the ear down through the shoulder and should fall slightly behind the hip joint before landing just in front of the ankle joint. We are also looking for muscular symmetry between the two sides of our bodies. We need even weight between our legs and on our feet, level shoulders, and head directly in the centre not off to one side. Have a look side and front on in a mirror or take a photograph of yourself and see if you are in line.
Neutral Spine & Pelvis
In Pilates, most of the basics principles for good alignment are generally the same whether we perform the moves standing, sitting, lying on our back (supine), on our front (prone), and lying on our side. A neutral spine and pelvis are essential in all of these positions. We have natural curves to our spines – an elongated S-shape, but often forces conspire to compress our spine, such as gravity, poor posture and old age. We want to reverse these effects by creating more space between the vertebrae and elongating the spine. This strengthens the spine because itʼs those parts of the spine where one curve meets the next that the spine is most vulnerable. A lengthened spine is able to articulate freely. A pelvis in neutral should eventually feel natural and comfortable during Pilates classes exercises and day to day standing, sitting and lying down.
If you tilt your pelvis forwards moving the pubic bone backwards, you increase the hollow of your lumbar spine. If you tilt your pelvis backwards moving the pubic bone forward and tucking the tailbone under youʼll lose the hollow curve of your lumbar spine. You can try this with your hands on your hips standing or lying down (see video). What we are looking for is a mid-position between the two extremes. This is the most evenly balanced position and encourages the surrounding joints and muscles to be balanced and provides us with a stable base from which to move. Think of a car safely in neutral before going into gear to move off.
Some checkpoints and cues used in Pilates for aligning our bodies correctly are…..legs hip-distance apart, heels in line with toes, slight softness at your knees, checking your pelvis is level (neutral spine), elbows open, shoulders soft drawing gently down your back, elongating the spine.
Through time we become used to our set-up and alignment and we will safely perform the Pilates moves. It becomes second nature to set up in whichever body position we are in to do the exercises. We will then take good body alignment naturally into our day going forward whether standing, sitting or moving.
How To Find Good Body Alignment Video
Check out the video on alignment and how to find neutral alignment around the pelvis and spine.