The art of Contrology proves that the real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life. If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30 you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.
~Joseph H. Pilates
Today some of us are on a quest for the latest anti-aging, age defying products to help us achieve or maintain a youthful appearance. We are exposed to ads and articles for lotions, creams, surgeries, you name it. I spoke in an earlier post about the importance of eating raw, organic food, free from preservatives and toxic pesticides. Eating a diet full of vegetables and fruits is only one way to defy aging. Face it we are all going to grow old one day but I’m on a quest to do it with grace. Along with eating healthy, movement of our bodies especially our spine is another factor to “growing old gracefully”.
Many Pilates exercises focus on the movement of the spine. Flexibility in the spine is very important. The spine should be able to move forward, backward, sideways and twist to the left and right. If it is restricted in any of these movements the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments can become ‘frozen’. At that point functioning normally becomes very difficult. The muscles of the spine become weakened. This happens as a result of injury or inactivity. The end result is poor posture. Joseph Pilates stated in his book Return to Life Through Contrology, “95% of the population has varying degrees of spinal curvature and other ailments”. Wonder why the spine is so important to our health and wellbeing? The spinal column houses the spinal cord and branching off are other nerves. These nerves branch to other parts of the body that control the arms, legs and body structures and organs. When there is an injury or muscle tightness, the nerves could be affected. For example, someone experiencing pain and tightness in their lower back may also be experiencing constipation. This may be a result of tightness between the area referred to as T12 and L1. Meaning the area of the spine were the last vertebra connected to the ribs and the first vertebra for the lower back or lumbar region. Through something as simple as stretching and strengthening the lower back could result in some “relief”.
A major benefit of Pilates is restoring and maintaining strength and flexibility of the spine. The Pilates method works the spine in all ranges of motion. As I train my clients I educate them on the importance of posture. I use the example of babies and toddlers. Notice how they sit, stand and walk. Take note of their posture. Naturally, their spine is straight. Poor posture is a learned behavior for many and a result of injury for others. The physical effects of poor posture are rounded shoulders, a protruding belly and a forward carriage of the head. This misalignment not only causes muscles to become weak but it also causes irritation to the nervous system. Pilates improves posture by restoring balance and symmetry within the muscles of the spine and increase mobility within the vertebrae. As I have watched my clients’ progress through their Pilates study, the first thing they become aware of is their posture and how they transform the way they carry themselves.
If you are feeling tightness in your back or looking for a way to improve your posture, bring balance back into your body, give Pilates a try. Not only will you look and feel stronger and flexible you may just look a bit younger too.
For more information on the spinal column and nerves, I found this interactive chart from Mountaintop Chiropractic. It describes the areas of the body and possible symptoms. It is a great reference for everyone.