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Align Your Spine

Align Your Spine

Align Your SpineReprinted courtesy of PilatesStyle

a Pilates magazine that helps you “Live Life to the Core”.

By: Jonathan Oldham, MSPT

Edited by: Amanda Altman


As a Pilates teacher and physical therapist, I have observed that the clients who derive the most benefit from Pilates have one thing in common: They are consistent with their practice. But research shows that one of the greatest obstacles to a regular practice is a perceived lack of time and not having access to equipment. As a solution to these issues, I was inspired to follow the model of dental hygiene.

Just as daily dental care prevents cavities and gum disease, a consistent spinal hygiene program can minimize the potential for back injury and dysfunction, while benefiting the joints of the extremities. Of course, the ultimate in spinal hygiene is to practice a comprehensive Pilates program on the equipment and mat, as well as to experience the valuable feedback of a teacher in a private or class setting, but when neither is available, performing this five-to-10-minute spinal hygiene series every day offers infinitely more benefits than doing nothing. Not only are these exercises designed to develop mobility, promote circulation and awaken muscles, they also provide a few moments to pay attention to your body and prepare it for your day (or your Pilates session to come).

The following movements, which work all the segments of the body and explore all planes of motion, were inspired by some wonderful preparatory exercises developed by Ron Fletcher, as well as traditional exercises, such as the Mermaid, Semi-Circle and Long Stretch. While performing them, it is important to be completely focused; this will take a basic fundamental set of movements to the level of a seasoned practitioner. As always, it is essential to incorporate deliberate breath and active deep-abdominal engagement. If you know that a movement is contraindicated for you, make the appropriate modification. For example, if you have been advised to avoid flexion due to low bone density, replace the rounded back components with a flat back, or just perform the extension part. If extension movements provoke symptoms in your lower back or legs, then place a pillow under your abdomen for the exercises performed face down.

I invite you to explore changing the order of the movements if that makes sense for your body’s needs. And feel free to experiment with your own hygiene program, but as Clara Pilates admonished Ron Fletcher about any creative invention in the realm of Pilates, “Just remember your ABCs.” Above all, breathe, explore, pay attention to your body and enjoy. Remember to brush and floss, too!

Get started with this:Align Your Spine

Ron’s Seated Foot Lift with Contraction or Hinge

Purpose: encourages a vertical posture while sitting; activates and strengthens the deep spinal extensors (muscles along the spine); mobilizes the lumbar spine (lower back) in flexion; develops core control.

Setup: Sit tall, with your knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart on the floor and hands under your thighs.

  1. Lengthen your waist. Inhale, lifting your feet and flexing your ankles, keeping your heels on the floor, without collapsing in your spine.
  2. Exhale, pulling your belly in androunding your lower back as you lean back.
  3. Inhale, then exhale, lifting back to the vertical position.
  4. Inhale, then exhale, lowering your feet. Do 6-8 reps.

Tip: Use your biceps to help you sit taller and minimize hip flexor tension. Modification: If trunk flexion is contraindicated, hinge back with a flat back, with your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and palms down. (Try this as an enjoyable variation, too!)

To complete your Spinal Hygiene workout, click on the following link for the entire exercise program:


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