In Pilates we talk a lot about “working from the inside out.” You know – awakening and deepening our core stabilizers so we can stop “holding” and managing our bodies from the outside. Less tension and more deep inner strength. It makes sense that as we age many folks become less mobile, breath more shallow, and that over time our inner strength is neglected and we develop compensatory ways of literally “holding ourselves together.” It’s that outer “muscular armour” of sorts — tight, shortened soft tissue that eventually starts to hurt. Over time the pain results in decreased mobility and suddenly we are feeling tired, “heavy”, and less interested in moving. Today I stood a client upright to look at her standing posture — I wanted to see how she managed standing in what I assumed was her “everyday working posture.” The obvious will often stand out – some forward shoulder tendencies, the ever-familiar anterior tilt of the pelvis and resulting increased lordosis – but what stood out to me today was her “knock-kneed” tendency. Again – not so out of the ordinary; lots of females have this alignment; place them with their feet parallel about 4-5 inches apart and the inner aspect of their knees touch. So I decided to see how she would fare in the classic Pilates stance – the “v” position. I encouraged her to move her heels closer together (but not necessarily touching) and the toes angled slightly outward. She was stunned! She could not stand in this position without holding on to something as her feet automatically lifted off the floor – almost the entire inner aspect of her feet and also her forefeet were lifting off the floor. Wow! I suddenly felt like I could see her “story!” We have been working for over three months as she came to me complaining of a very sore low back and upper trap/neck. We have done the basics – conscious breathing, ribcage mobility and of course deep core awareness. We’ve worked on correct pelvic placement, hamstring length and also learning to move what I call more “economically” ; trying not to give 50 pounds of effort for a five-pound effort movement. As we started working today I felt as if she has progressed (and we are both thrilled about her new deep core awareness) but there was still an innordinate amount of tension and decreased flexibility in her mid back region. Humph. So we did a lot today – flexion, extension, rotation and a combination of the latter – I wanted to get this back moving! Still something seemed missing………….. something isn’t connecting. Something she is doing everyday is not budging! So I get her to stand like I described above and suddenly I “see” it all – those outside forces wreaking havoc on her body – literally the entire outside of her body fighting to keep her from falling over with this small adjustment in alignment – the “v” position. The valgus tendency in her leg alignment literally pulls her inward but at a cost – as the hip muscles weaken due to this skeletal alignment (over time) the body has to compensate for this and is desperately holding on for balance and stability. Those outside forces keep those knees inward and there is automatically an emphasis on weakness in the joint and a coupled tightness in the soft tissues. Putting her in the “v” position made her realize that her inner plumb line/center line of gravity is just not present. I asked her to hold on to my cabinet and think about pulling up and lifting along the inner aspect of the legs. I gently stood on her forefeet to help ground her and for a brief second or two I could see something different. The pelvis relaxed, her tail dropped down, she had more weight in the center of her feet and she seemed “lighter.” As soon as it appeared it disappeared and she lost her balance, looked at me as if I had introduced some “zany” exercise and wondered what the heck that was all about. Wonderful! I suddenly realized this is the path into her work – increasing her central “line” and dissipating those outward forces.
So that’s a very long way of saying – don’t forget the simple stuff – like standing. Alignment is very different in different positions – supine, sidelying, prone, sitting, and of course standing. Also – never underestimate the power of gravity! Over time it can really cause havoc on the body if we don’t stay strong and supple.