Health And Fitness Tips: Using Pilates For Spinal Alignment

For individuals seeking a healthy straignt spine, back posture and strength, Pilates is a great exercise option.

Pilates is a series of exercise movements based on a program developed by Joseph Pilates during World War I. What he found was that his program not only created fitness and strength, it actually helped wounded veterans rehabilitate.Over the years, Pilates has gained popularity because of its low impact, concentrated system of movements which can be safely done by individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

Since Pilates stresses core strength, it is an excellent way to achieve and maintain proper spinal alignment. The goal of Pilates is to keep the integrity of the spine and torso intact while engaging in a variety of balancing postures. Like ballet and yoga, Pilates movements require concentrated breathing, isometric strength, and an awareness of the body in space. Because Pilates actually addresses proper posture with every exercise, the deeper muscles which affect back support habituate to maintain spinal alignment at all times, even while sitting or lying down. Often exercise programs do not adequately develop the muscles critical to maintaining healthy lumbar alignment. Abdominal crunches, for example, do not strengthen the lower abdominal muscles needed to protect the lower back. Likewise, many exercise programs do not create the stronger, more flexible torso Pilates creates.

There are a variety of approaches to Pilates. Pilates can be done on a mat without equipment, or with the use of a machine which utilizes a sliding platform, straps, pulleys, and boxes to add resistance by increasing the angle of height. Before deciding on a specific Pilates program, try the following simple mat Pilates exercises at home. These basic Pilates moves give a general idea of how Pilates works. However, a physician should be consulted before attempting this or any type of exercise.

To protect the neck, always do these exercises with chin tucked into chest. Inhale before a movement, then exhale slowly as the movement is completed. At any sign of pain or discomfort, stop immediately and return to a neutral position.

Warm Up:

1. Spinal stretch:Sit on floor, legs slightly apart, torso straight. Pointing toes upward, very slowly try to touch toes with outstretched hands. Head should be down, chin tucked into chest. Inhale in this position, then exhale, attempting to stretch further. Slowly raise torso. Repeat 10 times.

2. The Bow stretch: Lie on stomach with feet slightly apart, hands clasped behind lower back. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out, while drawing abdomen in and pulling head, chest and legs off the floor slightly. Hold the stretch for count of 10. Repeat 5 times.

Core Movements:

1. The Hundred: Lie flat on back. Keeping legs straight, lift them slightly off the floor. Next, lift head and shoulders off the floor with arms straight, palms down. Begin to pump arms up and down, keeping body in position. Inhale and exhale to the count of five pumps each. Maintain movement for 100 arm pumps.

2. Hip Rotation:Sit up and lean back, with arms behind torso, hands flat on floor. Lift legs off floor. Inhale deeply, then exhale while swinging legs gently toward the right and center, in a rotating motion, ten times. Inhale and repeat while swinging legs gently toward the left in the same manner. Legs should be kept off floor; bend knees if holding legs straight is too difficult.

3. Swimming: Lie face down. Pull in lower stomach and hold this position. Inhale. Raise right arm and left leg at the same time, as high as possible, while exhaling. Repeat motion with left arm and right leg. Do for a count of 10 movements for each side.

4. Scissors: Lie with back flat on floor. Slowly bend knees toward chest while lifting shoulders off floor, chin tucked towards neck. Straighten legs until toes point at ceiling. Grasp right ankle and pulse it toward the chest, keeping leg straight, as left leg moves toward floor. Repeat with left ankle. This should be done as a continuous, fluid motion, legs moving like scissors cutting. Do 10 times each leg.

Cool down:

1. Lie on back, arms held sideways and straight from body. Bend and raise knees toward chest. Very slowly drop knees to the right side, holding torso and arms straight. Hold stretch 30 seconds. Bring knees back to center and repeat with the left side.

2. Kneel on floor. Sit back, stretching arms forward, palms flat, as far as possible, dropping head gently toward floor, until stretch is felt in the torso. Hold for 30 seconds.

Although it takes a while before muscles are strong and supple enough to achieve full flexibility, the effect on posture will be felt immediately after completing these moves. The abdomen will feel tighter, the torso, longer. For spinal alignment, balance, and a strong back, Pilates is perfectly suited.

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