30 May 2012

Pilates and the Mind Body Connection

Pilates is often sought after for its benefits to core strength, specifically pelvic, spine and abdominal. While these areas are certainly focused on, what is sometimes overlooked is the invaluable conscious connection of mind to body. Exploration of the integration of intended use of the body with breath may result in purity of movement.

Originally called Contrology by its founder Joseph Pilates, the practice was designed as intellectual control of the physical self. The carefully designed sequence of Pilates exercises follows natural human development, moving the spine from flexion to extension to twisting just as a baby does, and later integrating arms and legs.

As adults, after a lifetime of habits formed without any education on best practices of physical use, many of us are not aware of our bodies and how they move. For example, we may walk around with one shoulder higher than the other or one eyebrow raised higher than the other and not realize that we are doing so. We cannot accurately ‘feel’ from the inside what our bodies are doing on the outside. This lack of proprioception means that we are often not able to accurately evaluate our bodies and consciously make educated choices about how we use ourselves. This is why it is useful to have a trained observer evaluate one’s movement from the outside. Once physical landmarks related to posture, breathing, alignment, and tension patterns are externally identified practitioners can then use these to check in with themselves and make changes to their use by deliberately bringing attention to actions such as how we sit at a computer, breathe under stress, etc.

The Pilates method affords us tools to straighten out impediments in our movements by becoming more aware of how we use ourselves. Have you ever gone inside yourself to see if you are holding tension in the roof of your mouth? Try it now. See if you can release the roof of your mouth and let it spread out or float upward into your head. How might the release of tension in the roof of the mouth affect the rest of the body? Might it be related to tension held in the jaw? Tight muscles in the tops of the shoulders and neck? Headaches? What about creating a clear pathway to send messages from the brain to the body?

The repeated reinforcing of proper movement patterns and release of unnecessary tension, both of which are fundamental to Pilates exercises, literally works to bond or separate neurons in the brain. Neurons that fire together, wire together. And, neurons that fire apart, wire apart. While some areas of the body are activated to accomplish a specific task or movement, other parts of the body intentionally do not need to be used. So, efficiency of movement is as much about release as it is about engagement. This control over what is being used, rather than having to use or activate everything to do a simple task, means greater overall freedom and ease of movement.

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