According to the STOTT PILATES method, there are 5 basic principles a person must follow when practicing Pilates:
2. Pelvic Placement
3. Ribcage Placement
4. Scapular Stability/Mobility
5. Cervical Spine and Head Placement
Breathing Principle Explained
Breathing deeply in through the nose, maintain shoulders relaxed and feel air travel in to the lower lobes of the lungs, expanding the ribs in a 3-dimensional manner. Visualize the ribcage as an accordeon, expanding to the sides as you inhale.
Breathing audibly and forcefully out through pursed lips, soften the ribcage and lift the pelvic floor, drawing the navel in toward the spine, without moving the spine. Imagine your abdominal muscles as a corset being pulled tighter around the spine.
This purposeful breath pattern ensures the deepest layer of muscles in the abdomen are engaged to stabilize the pelvis and the lower back.
Use the breath in to prepare for or hold a movement, and the breath out to move into the portion of the exercise where effort is required. With time, as you progress, breath patterns can change to challenge stability and to accommodate more complex choreography. As a general rule of thumb, we exhale to round the spine, and inhale to extend or arch the back.
Pelvic Placement Principle Explained
The STOTT PILATES method encourages a neutral pelvis and spine whenever possible; however when there is loss of stability, or when legs are raised while lying on the back, an imprinted pelvis is used to stabilize the pelvis and protect the lower back. In the early stages of practicing Pilates, you should imprint the pelvis whenever legs are raised in the air; however, as you grow stronger, you should aim to perform the same exercises while maintaining a neutral pelvis.
A neutral pelvis is one in which your pubic bone and your pelvic bones (hip bones) are level while on the same plane, and your lower back retains its natural curve. This position allows the discs between the vertebrae of your spine to do their job of cushioning the vertebrae and not allowing bone to grate on bone.
An imprinted pelvis is one in which by shortening the oblique muscles (envision drawing your lower ribs down toward your hip bones) the abdominal muscles are contracted and the lower back is flattened. This position prevents you from arching your back or overworking the back muscles, and ensures engagement of the core muscles to bear a load.
Ribcage Placement Principle Explained
Since a neutral spine is ideal, it is imperative the ribcage remain neutral while exercising the arms. Quite often when arms are being raised overhead, ribs tend to “pop forward”, causing mid and upper back muscles to grip, and the spine to extend, or arch.
Focus on maintaining a flattened stomach appearance when reaching arms overhead; do not allow your ribs to protrude. If you tend to be a “rib popper” (as I was), visualize folding the ribcage slightly down while reaching arms overhead, this will keep your ribcage, and your spine, neutral.
Scapular Stability/Mobility Principle Explained
Shoulder girdle stability is key to preventing and treating neural impingement syndromes in the shoulder and arm regions. Shoulder blades, or scapulae, should rest flat on the back of the ribcage when arms are hanging down. However, faulty posture, poor biomechanics and over-development of the anterior deltoids, upper triceps and pectoral muscles can all lead to rounded, elevated, or imbalanced shoulders.
Scapular stabilization is of utmost importance as it releases tension from the neck and shoulders and ensures proper firing of the deeper layer of muscles acting as stabilizers (rotator cuff muscles).
Gently square your shoulders, widening the front and back of your chest. When doing any arm exercises, keep your shoulders from shrugging up toward your ears. When stabilizing your shoulders, you should feel a gentle muscle contraction between and beneath the shoulders.
Cervical Spine and Head Placement Principle Explained
Your head should sit centered over your shoulders, not forward of them. When moving your spine, allow your neck and head to go with the flow of your upper spine. For example, if your are rounding your spine forward, gently bring the chin toward the chest; if your are arching your upper back, allow the tip of your nose to point up on a diagonal, avoiding over-extending the neck to point the nose straight up. When rotating the spine, avoid over-rotating the neck to look over your shoulder, rather keep the tip of your nose and your breastbone or sternum pointing in the same direction.
Before lifting your head off the floor to engage in core exercises, do a little head nod: gently drop the chin to the chest and then lift the head and neck off the floor. This will prevent tension in the neck and shoulders.