Thank you for sharing my journey in Pilates. I had several inquiries regarding why I choose Pilates spinal extension exercises as favorites.
The truth is I did not enjoy them at first! I have learned to enjoy spinal extension as my body demanded attention and care outside of what was my normal practice. I first began to experience some back pain on a trip to Singapore. Travel is hard on everyone and I know that maintenance for aircraft, small and large, is determined by time and distance traveled. The jets were probably receiving better maintenance and repair that I was providing for my own body. Standing Saws while waiting in line for the bathroom are not quite an entire mat list.
I returned home and struggled with pain intermitantly. It is very distressing for a movement oriented personality and a professional coach of others to be working with nagging discomfort. It is not fun to teach with chronic pain as a companion. It is erosive in terms of enthusiasm and self-confidence.
Boulder, Colorado is a very unique community that has always been a haven for alternative medicine. Many of these schools of treatment are very Eastern in approach. I tried many different things and they all were palliative and efficacious. However, it was the following year when I returned to Singapore that gave me relief and some very good education. A wonderful student and physiotherapist suggested some Western treatment in his modern and progressive clinic. This seems like such an irony that I needed to return to Asia to receive Western medicine. This man is also a student of Pilates. He offered some obvious suggestions that were sensible and practical. It was his observation, that many teachers, of necessity, are teaching entry level spinal mechanics which translates into forward truck flexion. He reminded me to think of The Hundred, The Roll Up, and The Roll Over with Legs Spread. He said that he noticed that most of our beginners are still trying to do The Roll Up and they are not ready for extension work. As a consequence, my physiotherapist friend suggested that Pilates teachers are just as likely as any other professional to develop repetitive motion injury particular to the activities that they are required to demonstrate often. This happens in other occupations that repeat similar movement patterns for extended periods of time. Professional beauticians, dental technicians, carpenters, painters, athletes, and musicians have all visited Pat Guyton Pilates, Inc and Jonathan Oldham Physical Therapy for pain related to their job descriptions. It was suggested that I focus my personal practice on spinal extension. In other words, do Joe’s Return to Life mat list from top to bottom. Focus on form within the spinal extension.
I began with the Mat work. Then I considered the Spine Corrector. I teach Spine Corrector classes and that has always been a good teaching experience. I noticed that while back bending seems so much a part of what is obvious about the Spine Corrector exercise, that much of the extension can be performed passively. This is not the intension of the Spine Corrector work, but it is easy to demonstrate without full activation of the muscles of extension. This can happen to teachers when we are looking at students and not looking at self. So I worked harder and deeper and took more time to practice on my body and not to assume that a teaching hour was a practice hour.
I also noticed that extension could be performed into gravity and away from gravity. This is another obvious revelation, but the longer we teach the more we need to look at the obvious and forgotten parts of practice. An example of extension on the spine corrector that is into gravity is The Bicycle and The Scissors. The Swan Dive, The Grasshopper, The Rocking and Swimming require that the extensors of the back work away from gravity to create the backbend by lifting instead of relying on the arc to become a template for the back to arc over. Each has opportunity. The spine needs both experiences. A similar comparison is the Roll Up in the Mat work is a different opportunity for trunk flexion than Roll Down with the Trapeze Bar on the Trapeze Table. Gravity is working in a different direction and the resistance in relationship to the gravitation field affects different muscle groups. For our Pilates practice to be more functional, we need to perform the same movement in many functional planes.
Currently I am really having a grand time with Swans on the Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector, High Barrel, and the Reformer. I am having a giggle with variations and experimentation; some useful and some just for fun. I love The Grasshopper! And I do The Grasshopper in as many places and ways that I can. Jonathan thinks that I am beginning to hop more. My back does not complain often. It is rewarding to feel tired at the end of the day from good work. This journey has taught me to be aware that I am a Pilates student and not just a teacher. I do not think that I am in danger of becoming so flexible that I will do standing backbends and pick up handkerchiefs with my teeth! At that point I will need to join a circus.
Jonathan Oldham has also reminded me that osteoporosis and osteopenia demand that we consider minimizing or eliminating forward truck flexion and emphasizing spinal extension exercises in all Pilates programs when students may have the above conditions. I am becoming a better Pilates teacher for all students by working on myself and exploring extension.
I am striving to remember balance and uniform muscle development. I am remembering why I started going to class in the very beginning of this professional life. I wanted to move without pain, to feel better, become stronger, increase flexibility, and live life with “spontaneous zest”!
Keep up your practice!