In observing classes during my training and teaching classes these past few months, I’ve come to realize that a Pilates class can be totally useless if your teacher does not explain basic Pilates terminology. As with any sport, hobby, or skill, there is a universal vocabulary that makes it easier for Pilates instructors and other folk to communicate.
Don’t worry, no need to take notes. A great instructor will be able to guide a beginner with excellent cueing and will continue to refine the advanced student, but I thought I would outline a few of these basics in layman’s terms for those looking to get the most out of class. See Part 1: The Spine and Part 2: The Pelvis.
I want to take a short amount of time to discuss what happens to the head, neck and shoulders in Pilates. We are aiming for efficiency, stability and safety in all Pilates exercises, so the alignment of the upper body is often different than in other practices, such as yoga.
SCAPULA: Also known as the shoulder blades, these are the flat bones that sit like wings on either side of the upper spine.
- It is important to slide the scapula down the back and keep the shoulders away from the ears during nearly every exercise.
- When in plank or on all fours, the scapula should lie fairly flat on the back, without “winging” or poking out.
CERVICAL SPINE: This section of the spine (top 7 vertebrae) can be very delicate in certain positions, so it’s important to think of the cervical spine as a continuation of the thoracic (mid-spine) motion. It’s also helpful
- In neutral, the ears should fall above the shoulders and you should imagine space between each cervical vertebra.
- In extension, the cervical spine should extend inline with the amount of thoracic extension. Try not to throw your head way back!
- When flexing the spine, gently nod your chin but do not crunch it to your chest to ensure that no strain is put on the cervical spine.
- In inversion (roll over, etc) be careful not to put weight on the cervical spine alone; balance your weight between the scapula instead. Be sure to remove any pillows that were under the head to elevate it during other exercises.
These are some VERY basic terms and alignment ideas. Pilates is about detailed, efficient movement and knowing these basics will help you better communicate with your teacher to get the best workout possible. I will try to come “back to the basics” as I find out what my students struggle with most.