I’m in Sequim, Washington this week at Katy Bowman’s Nutritious Movement Center for the third time. Each time I come back I get to spend time on my own movement practice and hang out with an amazing tribe of curious, inventive, creative body nerds. It’s great!
One of the things I have been thinking about for myself the last couple of days ties in beautifully with what I have been thinking about for you guys, so here you go:
Lets talk about bolsters and props. I love them. I think they make it possible to get to the heart of an exercise or position. They make it possible to actually do what you think you are doing instead of bypassing the parts you need to get at because your body is too tight to allow the optimal starting position.
I was thinking about this when I looked through the lovely photos inspired by the “marchmatness” pilates extravaganza on instagram this month. One day the exercise was spine stretch forward, an exercise very similar to a move called the catsuit stretch in restorative exercise. In both disciplines the goal is to create length through the back chain of the body using a stable pelvis as the base for forward flexion.
At no point does anyone say “now, crank into your hip flexors and haul yourself around at whatever cost.”
Depending on how tight you are in your hamstrings, back and neck your starting position might look like this… See how my legs are off the floor, I’m leaning forward and my back is flat with no lumbar curve? I don’t really have the range to start here!
Or like this (yes, different clothes, different day)…
Or like this…
There is no right or wrong in these positions. The best position is the one that lets you achieve the movement from the appropriate starting point. The one that lets you move without compromising your tissues or adding to your issues!
If you are very tight, but sit on the floor because that’s what you see on instagram, or that’s what someone else in the class is doing, you run the risk of not enjoying the exercise, not doing what the exercise is intended to achieve or, worst case scenario, injuring yourself.
To gain the most benefit from this exercise, bolster yourself until you can sit comfortably upright on your sit bones. Allow for a gentle lumbar curve that is created, not by exerting effort with your back extensors and hip flexors, but by allowing your pubic bones to drape forward on yourbolster until your hip bones and pubic bones are lined up in a vertical plane. From there, start to roll your head forward, allowing length through the neck. Follow with the rest of the spine, going only going as far as you can go without your head pulling up.
Once you have reached the end of the available length of your tissues your body will create slack by pulling up your head and lessening the added tension in your neck. Even ifyou don’t feel a stretch, or feel like you can go further, respect your boundaries and stay there! You may find that if you hang out long enough you start to find a stretch that you weren’t originally aware of. If you feel any tingling or buzzing sensations or if you even feel the slightest twinge of a headache, roll yourself up. It isn’t a useful exercise if what you do is over stretch the muscles or the nerves that run along the back of your body. Stay in your range and work there. That is the place to safely gain long term sustainable change that will give you more pliable, flexible muscles!
Off you go then! Bolsters ahoy!