Did you know you move your head minutely approx 600 times per hour?!
Your skull is heavy (about 5kg) and ideally should balance directly above the shoulders with a natural curve of the cervical spine. This is the case whether you are:
- standing up
- lying on your back (either flat on the mat OR with head + shoulders lifted off (in, say, Ab Prep)
- lying on your tummy (with head down or with head + shoulders lifted off (in, say, Breast Stroke 1)
In fact, most of us have our heads slightly forward in everyday life (bet you do as you’re reading this on your screen!!).
Pilates attempts to make you notice your posture, to get you to use the right muscles to move your head with integrity in order to achieve dynamic stability and neutral alignment.
The two photos (courtesy www.merrithew.com) here show the ideal (and incorrect!!) head placement in both Ab Prep and in Breast Stroke 1 – two moves we do regularly in class. These exercises are the blueprint for so many others; if you get your head placement right in these, you’ll be set up for many other moves.
NOTE: Lifting the head and shoulders off the mat is very hard for some people. This may be because they have a very forward head position AND/OR very weak neck flexors. Supporting the head with the hands is the best option.
The other important thing is not to over-use the big muscles of the neck, the sternocleidomastoid or scalenes. The ‘head nod’ exercise is basic to recruiting the deep segmental neck flexor muscles before you lift your head and shoulders off the mat. The head nod is what I often refer to as ‘lengthening the back of your neck’ or ‘bringing your chin a bit closer to your chest’.
REMEMBER: if you feel neck strain, your position needs adjustment. Never work through bad pain. Bring the head down, relax and try again! And sometimes, it’s better to leave the head down altogether! Your best is good enough.
One of the best things about doing pilates regularly is that you develop awareness of your posture – and you improve it steadily and surely. As a pilates teacher, I am always proud when I see my clients stand tall and connected with their bodies.
Poor posture makes your back vulnerable to fatigue, strain, and injuries. Good posture makes you stronger, less prone to back ache; good posture also makes you look taller!
Changing your postural habits is a decision; you need to retrain your muscles, you need to tune in.
The first step is to become aware of the position of your body. Start to notice the position of your head. The head should sit over the torso, not in front it. The chin should be parallel with the floor. The chest should be lifted slightly but not jutting forward, the shoulders should be down and back but soft and relaxed. The ears, shoulders and pelvis should line up (when viewed from the side).
The pelvis should be in neutral. [What ‘neutral’ means deserves another post, but, briefly, tilting the top of the pelvis forward increases the curve in the lower back; tilting the pelvis backward flattens or decreases the curve in the lower back.]
Keep the shoulder blades back and down but don’t overdo it. The shoulders should be relaxed.
Check your own posture several times a day, take note of your posture. Is your head centred over your torso? Is your chest slightly elevated? Are your shoulders down and relaxed? Is the curve in the lower back supported while you are sitting?
Do this simple posture exercise several times a day! Release your shoulders away from your ears, lengthen your neck by feeling the crown of your head lift upwards, squeeze your shoulder blades together – hold for 10 seconds. This will strengthen the upper back muscles that keep your shoulder blades in a good position.
Remember that good shoulder position does not mean rigid posture. Soften those shoulders!