If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old.
If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.
– Joseph H. Pilates
Our spine connects to our entire body. This includes our nervous system, the brain, our limbs, the intrinsic core and our organs. Our spines need balance, stability with fluid, and easy mobility. As anyone with back pain or injuries will tell you, the spine is a source of our vitality.
Joseph Pilates knew this. The movements in Pilates were designed to work with the spine in movements that are not only beneficial but essential. The exercises give us circulation, build support, roll us up and down, lengthen us out into our healthy curves, bend and stretch us in all wonderful ways, and bring us upright onto our feet in order to send us out into the world. Feels good just reading that, doesn’t it?!
Pilates as a movement practice honors the spine by giving it what it needs. Let’s explore more.
We have our skull which has the important job of housing your brain. The skull attaches to the spine through a high atlas or axis joint.
Underneath this axis joint, the length of your spine from skull to hips is curved as you can see in the image. It serves as a structure to house your crucial spinal cord and the embedded nervous system. The spine with it’s natural curves provides mobility for balanced movement and offers shock absorption to our bodies during movement.
The whole gorgeous design of our spine offers:
- balanced movements of flexion or curving,
- extension which looks like lifting upwards,
- hyper extension we can access in back bends, and
- side bending and rotation such as twisting along various axis of the spine.
Your spine allows you to move while supporting your head. The curved design distributes weight evenly into your hips and legs.
Now let’s talk about restoring the curves of our spine.
To restore is a transitive verb (love that!) meaning to bring back or put back into existence or use.
So in truth, when we talk about restoring the curves of our spine, we are putting them back into use. Use them so you don’t lose them!
Our spines, just like other areas of our bodies, take the consequences of our habits be it physical, mental, or emotional, and in fact our spines can absorb a lot. In our incredible human capacity for survival, our spines sometimes pay the price. This looks and feels like poor movement, pain and immobility or inflexibility. Ever tell someone they are being inflexible? I’ll bet their spine can tell that story as well!
Pilates works to bring back your natural curves and put them to use.
So next time you are practicing, check out which movements you need more of. The trigger is often the exercises you dislike! Do you dislike curling/rolling movements or long extension? Is side-bending or rotating even or difficult?
The most challenging exercises to us are the ones we need the most. Ask your instructor- he/ or she will observe and can give you exercises to restore, bringing back those healthy curves for better mobility and strength in your body.