Today I did Pilates at home. I count it as yoga; a lot of the Pilates moves are lesser-known yoga moves you can find in the older texts. And, as much as yoga insists you should engage uddhiyana bandha (navel lock) throughout vinyasa practice, you can go for years without doing it right or at all. It’s supposed to keep your energy turned inward, and it definitely protects the lower back as you’re swinging your legs and torso in all directions. Beth Biegler, my anatomy teacher, said that injury results when the limbs are not supported all the way to the center of the body; we tend to use just the most immediate muscles.
Anyways. I’ve finally started to figure out my lifelong bad posture and my recent (year or two of) back pain. I’m tall, so I tend to slouch, which rests all the weight of my torso onto my lower back. And, because I used to wear saggy pants, I tend to push my belly outwards (to keep my pants up! I hate belts), leaving the spine unsupported in the front. Then, an Iyengar teacher finally told me I was doing all my backbending at just one vertebrae. L4, I believe. My lower back had started to hurt, but Vinyasa teachers told me “You have such a beautiful backbend!” and I ate it up like a sucker. So I went to the Iyengar camp-of-perfect-alignment for a while, and they scared me straight.
Pilates is like an obstacle course where you get points for each exercise you complete — with your core muscles fixed firm. It doesn’t matter if you kick your leg highest, or fastest, or beautifulest — just keep your navel touching your spine. (Like the Operation game, in opposite.) Slowly you build that habit while you’re walking the legs, or bicycling them, or bending over, or twisting. Obviously, that soon transfers into your normal life. After a week of Pilates (when it was too hard to do “real” yoga in the morning), I noticed I was even picking up my toothbrush differently. Joseph Pilates says, “After 10 sessions you will feel a difference. After 20 sessions you will see a difference. After 30 sessions you will have a new body.”
I can’t speak for the machine classes, I’ve never tried them. Supposedly they are very helpful.
This book is a really nice sequence. I did 3/4 of it this morning, and it took 30 minutes. My butt aches from the leg circles. But it’s not really supposed to hurt, one of the big principles here is to detach from “no pain, no gain” and its masochistic tendencies. When you learn correct postural habits, your daily activities are full of gentle exercise. So it’s often much easier to convince yourself towards this book than a sweaty vinyasa class, at least if you’re an expired Type A personality like myself. The illustrations are also cute and helpful: manhole covers resting on your stomach to press it down, or springs stretching the leg up and away.
If you are suffering from acute back pain, I dare to say this book not only assuages symptoms through gentle stretching, but prevents future injury by building core strength.
In addition, I actually prefer this book to studio classes, as it has ALL the directions for each pose, versus the piecemeal delivery forced by any group class. (It is hard to read and move sometimes… podcasts are the future.)
One more practice to add to the infinite list!