For the past few weeks, I have been writing specifically about the 5 Basic Principles of Pilates. These Basic Principles teach alignment and neutral position. My other articles have been about how to accomplish each Principle and different exercises to challenge the strength of the body to hold or return to a neutral position. Today, I’m discussing the actual position and why it’s important to your Pilates exercises.
5 Basic Principles
The first of the 5 Basic Princliples, when we practice breathing, it is an excellent way to prepare for the exercises to come. We inhale to expand the rib cage (particularly in the sides and back, which can be quite closed off), and we exhale to help engage the intercostal muscles of the ribs. The intercostals connect the ribs to each other and are muscles with the specific purpose of letting the ribs move away from and closer to each other. This means that the rib cage, as a structure, is supposed to change shape.
As you inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips, think about the benefits you are receiving just from breathing. You are oxygenating your blood. Focused breathing helps you relax. The concentration on your breath helps deepen your body/mind connection. The exhale helps to activate the transversus abdominis, your deepest abdominal muscle that is responsible for holding your internal organs in your body cavity.
Imprint (Neutral Pelvis)
For me, Imprint is an exercise to help establish the neutral pelvis and also to help activate the internal and external obliques. When I went through certification, it was taught that if you lacked abdominal strength to lift the legs in an exercise (like The Hundred) that you should go in to Imprint then lift the legs. Myself, I do not believe this to be a good idea. Why on Earth would you want to strengthen your abdominals to hold you in a position that can cause SI pain and instability around over-stressed lumbar vertebrae?
However, when done correctly, Imprint can help you find your obliques (which have sometimes quit working correctly), and it can teach you how to find your neutral pelvis. Imprint can also show you if your glutes have started trying to take the place of your abdominals. You will know because when you go to tilt the pelvis, the glutes will kick in, pushing your low back closer to the floor. If this happens, release your glutes and try again.
Neutral Rib Cage Placement
To find neutral rib cage placement, place your hands on your rib cage with your fingers in the front and thumbs on the back. Now, slide your hands down your rib cage to trace the angle of your rib cage. Your rib cage should be pointing straight down to your pelvis. If it is not, activate the abdominal muscles along your bottom rib to help re-engage and draw the rib cage in to a neutral position.
The neutral rib cage is important because the ribs align over the hips to form a container of sorts for your internal organs. The container consists of bony structure and abdominal muscles, with your organs stored safely inside. If your rib cage is angled out, the abdominals will not be able to hold your organs in your body cavity. This will not lead to disembowelment, but it will leave you looking pudgy and squishy around the waist.
Neutral Scapula Placement
The best way to find neutral scapula placement is to reach your arms up to the sky letting your shoulder blades slide off the sides of your rib cage. Now, use the muscles around the shoulder blade to bring it to neutral. Let the shoulder blades slide toward the spine then, return the shoulder blades to neutral. For some reason, even if you didn’t start in a neutral position, you will probably return to a neutral position. My guess is that mindfulness and the mind/body connection help get the shoulder blades where they’re supposed to be.
In some other people’s videos or writing, you might find that they also discuss scapular elevation (raising your shoulders to your ears) and depression (sliding the scapula past neutral and down your back). Personally, I don’t because I don’t find that going from one extreme to the other helps illustrate neutral placement. Instead, I find that the muscles around the scapulas can get kind of grippy and lock down. This could cause an impingement in the shoulder, so I don’t do elevation and depression of the scapulas.
Neutral Head and Cervical Placement
To find neutral head and cervical placement, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip width apart. With all of the other areas of the body in neutral, make sure that your chin is not up higher than your forehead. Think about holding an orange under your chin. You don’t want to juice the orange, but you don’t want to drop it either.
Frequently, the alignment of the head and pelvis are tied to each other. Like Jenga, if there is going to be a shift one direction, there had better be a shift the opposite way to stabilize. The head and the pelvis compliment each other this way.
If you would like more information on assessing your own alignment, I suggest my article, “Assess and Improve Your Posture.”
Here is a video to go over the 5 Basic Principles. Check out my videos on my YouTube channel or the videos from my other articles if you’re wanting exercises to help your with each individual Principle.
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Which of these 5 Basic Principles is the most difficult for you? Let me know in the comments below.