Body in balance

Anya Hayes doing yoga with her son Maurice

One thing I am grateful for every day is that I really love my job…teaching Pilates is such a brilliant thing to be able to do, partly because it’s something that is a continuous learning curve, not only for learning about the clients that I have in my classes, where literally every body (as opposed to everybody) is different, but also for me and the various different challenges and pulls on my body that I have had since I began my Pilates journey over 10 years ago, and how Pilates can always be adapted brilliantly to your specific needs to remedy any ill that you might be feeling.

So many of my clients are referred to me from osteopaths or physiotherapists, suffering from back or neck pain. When the body is hurting, people tend to notice. But I would argue that too many people just don’t really notice their body otherwise, despite it being such a brilliantly miraculous work of engineering which carries us and our physical (not to mention emotional) baggage around daily. Much of this back and neck pain may be caused by muscle imbalances, which are slowly but surely compounded over years of repetitive habitual movements, those little things that you do every day without even thinking about it, that gradually lead to muscles becoming too strong in some areas and too weak in others, pulling your skeleton out of perfect alignment and causing aches and pains which you only do something about when they really, really hurt and cause you distraction in your daily life.

Think about it…getting dressed: do you always step into your trousers with a particular leg first? Brushing your teeth: always with your right (or left) hand? We reinforce movement patterns every day until they become intrinsic, and then don’t understand why when we’re told that our own posture is causing our pain. Natural flowing movement, where the skeleton, muscles and organs are held in balance and harmony, is replaced by habitual and often dysfunctional movement where some areas are tight, and some are soft and slightly lazy and ineffectual, and the organs can be squished…particularly the lungs which need room to open and close widely in the act of bringing oxygen to your muscles and blood.

Try an experiment now. If you’re sitting, gently look to one side, and then the other. Allow your torso to follow the movement as much as feels comfortable, lifting your spine tall as you move. Consider whether twisting to one side feels more natural, easy and familiar than the other. Stand up, then sit down. Put your left leg in front and your right leg back, and stand up and sit down again. Repeat, taking your right leg in front, left leg back. Did one feel easier? Catch yourself during the day to see your regular habits in terms of favouring one side of your body over the other. Whenever we use a cross-legged position in my classes I always tell my clients to cross their legs the opposite way from the one they instinctively go towards. It feels very odd, try it. But once you get used to encouraging even movement through both sides of your body, you retrain your muscles into balance.

That’s why Pilates is so brilliant. The body is trained evenly, and so there is no way that muscular imbalances can be reinforced within your Pilates class, if you are disciplined and notice the way you are moving, and this can eventually be taken into your everyday movement where you’ll begin to notice you’re walking taller and standing straighter, catching yourself when you find you always tilt your head to one side when you concentrate, or lean slightly to the left at your computer and sink into your lower back. This way we enhance our proprioception, the awareness of our body in space, training your mind as well as your muscles. No part of your body is ignored in Pilates, we should have purpose and energy from the toes through to the fingertips.

If you want to read a bit more about the beauty of Pilates and why it’s just so great and simply makes sense for everyday movement, please check out one of my books, available now.

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