Wendy Jardine Pilates
Pilates - West Dulwich

Wendy Jardine

Balance with Pilates for Ballet Teachers and Influencers

For Delegates of CPD at the RAD

We met over Zoom on Saturday 22nd July 2023 for developing our understanding of balance. This was a Continual Professional Development Course for The Royal Academy of Dance. It was for their dance teachers and influencers. The RAD provided a weekend of various CPD courses for "Finding Balance Physically and Emotionally".

Pilates is a good place to start, and is a deep way of finding balance throughout the body. I was delighted to present this course.  I asked delegates to feel the course, in order to connect and receive the knowledge in a practical way throughout the presentation, rather than take notes.  I said I would write the content of the course here, as an article for reference.  If there is anything I haven't covered here, or there is something you had hoped to find, please let me know and I will continue to update the article.  

The most important part of this course, the theme throughout the course, is to find balance throughout.  So this is what we did, from top to toe.  It is about becoming conscious of the body - recognising, feeling and becoming aware of imbalances.  By tuning into the imbalance, rebalancing can be actioned and achieved. 

Standing - We took a full body stretch to find every fibre of our core, we opened our mouths and breathed into the back of our throats to yawn and oxygenise, as we stretched throughout our bodies.  We then released our arms down beside us, without losing the sense of the full body stretch running through our bodies.  

Breathing - We felt our lungs and breathed deeply.  Inhaling through the nose and exhaling completely through the mouth.  We covered our right nostril to breathe in through the left only, while holding our left hand over our left lung.  We then did the other one.  We did this to feel the response of each lung.  We are looking for balance in everything we feel.

Connection - We continued to breathe deeply and completely and took our attention to the deep connection and support systems in our bodies when we completely exhaled.  Becoming aware of the core support and stability.  We then found the same stabilisers, as we connected to our pelvic floor, we consciously connected to the posterior fibres. The AFA, as I call it.  The Anti-Fart Area.  Impossible to "over recruit" and easy to find!  We took our awareness to what we feel in our core, how balanced is the core connection?  We feel the connection, the support in our back, sides, tummy, ribs, pelvis. We were in our tall, full body stretch mode, as we considered this. 

Feet - We felt the floor hugging each ball of the foot, each metatarsal, and our heels, we wriggled our toes and lifted them away from the floor so the metatarsals and heels took ownership of the floor in a balanced way, so that the feet hold the load of our body in a centred balanced way.  

Legs - We lengthened through each leg until we could feel we had activated both evenly, we could feel the muscles activating through the inside of the leg from foot to body, and the outside leg, front and back of the legs, too.  Giving strong balanced support throughout each leg. We noticed when we started our moves that we needed to consciously remember to lengthen through the legs. 

Shoulders - With all the above, we added balanced stability of the shoulders. We shrugged and released the shoulders becoming aware of the activation of the stabilisers under the shoulder blades, the serratus anterior,  when the shoulders were completely relaxed.  We became aware of the rhomboids too, as we thought about retracting our shoulder blades without actually moving the shoulder blades, just letting them relax but feeling the stabilisers under and between our scapula playing supporting roles, not mover roles!  

Neck - With all the above, we then enjoyed stretching our neck, with the chest open and the shoulders relaxed and held evenly by their stabilisers, as above.  We took small neck moves - gradually increased the range of movement, to be aware of any imbalances in our neck. Our aim, to only move the neck, not the shoulders, chest or spine, and to stretch evenly from our scalp into our neck and feeling the stretches in our chest, upper back, neck and scalp.

Balance Lying Supine - Lying on our backs.  Firstly noticing how even we feel.  Is our head balanced, do we need a cushion? Is our neck free of tension - do we need a cushion today?  We then did heel slides feeling our spines lengthening and our body balancing.  Noticing the shape of our neutral, our natural spine.  The shape of the pelvis, lumbar, upper, and neck. Noticing these curves - are they balanced? Once achieved we can then run our fingertips over bony parts to be aware of balance.  Our legs can relax with gentle hip rotation.  Our glutes relax and the back of our ribs are breathed in by the floor.  The shoulders are released, the bony parts of the front of the pelvis, the ASIS, the two sacroiliac spines that you feel at the front of your pelvis and the rib cage balanced.

Balance Lying on Sides - We did both sides.  It is a good idea to use a pillow, or a block, or to fold your arm under your head, to have an aligned neck and body.  You want to use the CCTV I talk about, your Complete Conscious Training Vision, let your mind's eye ping pong over your body, really notice your alignment, and let your body lengthen, as if in a full body stretch, only on your side! We found our muscles from top to toe, feeling support throughout the body and maintaining AFA and deeply breathing, feeling the shoulders relaxed yet strong and placed - and held by their stabilisers. The bony parts, even when we are on our side, are aligned as with supine position. The glutes are relaxed, we lengthen our legs finding every muscle through them and around them, by simply lengthening them and they lift of their own volition - the movers have been prepared from the inside out by lengthening them completely. 

Balance Lying Prone - Lying on your front.  CCTV it all!  Letting the floor breathe in the pelvis, the forehead relaxed on the floor or a towel, find the balance in your neck, there should be no stress in it, the neck is full length, no creases in the back or the front. In it's natural curve by lengthening it. Deep breaths and AFA connection, noticing the pelvis and playing with breath and connection to stabilise and balance the pelvis evenly. The shoulders, arms, legs and glutes relaxed. 

Balance in Four Point Kneeling - Feeling the hands and knees on the floor, lengthening the arms evenly, long through the elbows, releasing the shoulders into their stabilisers and feeling the tail being pulled and the top of the ears, offering your body resistance and thorough connection. 

Balance in High Kneeling - Knees parallel and feet relaxed, lengthening from knee to the top of the head, the body in full body stretch mode, core active, pelvis wide and stable. 

Balance sitting - Neutral spine while sitting on the floor, is achievable if the body is balanced and not tight in the spinal muscles or the hamstrings.  If neutral spine is not achievable then sit on blocks until you are sitting with your spine in that full body stretch mode.  Remember spines are long, always think lengthening, the spine has natural curves, the pelvis, lordosis, kyphosis, neck. Lengthen and strengthen so none of the curves exaggerate when practising good posture. Feel evenly balanced over the sit bones, the ischium. 

Balance Rolling - Flexing through the spine comes from abdominal muscle activation, so we rolled into a C curve of the spine by engaging our abs, knees bent and we rolled backwards and forwards, exhaling forwards and inhaling backwards. Keeping the chin tucked to the chest, back of neck remaining open like this throughout. With AFA and breath we found balance on our ischium and balance on our ribs and shoulder blades. Hovering and balancing evenly. 

Relaxation - in supine as above. Relaxation is as vital to our well being and balance, as all the above and even more so.  A chance to notice how you feel, a chance for your body to adapt after all the muscles you've used, and a chance to think only of your breathing. Let the breath back into your tummy and let the breath look after itself, and then when you want to, exaggerate it, breathe in and in and in noticing your tummy rise - and exhale, exhale, exhale noticing your tummy flattening and the core firing and the support you feel in your back.  Close your eyes lightly and let your body unfold and relax. 

All the Above is about setting up the Pilates positions for complete balance and the moves then followed.  We added moves to all the above. We added demands for the mover muscles while maintaining core connection. 

The vestibular and visual systems - Do google vestibular system if you would like an in depth knowledge. In a nutshell, the body's balance system works through a constant unconscious process.  A system that detects, feeds back, adjusts to maintain our balance.  The system is communication between the inner ear, eyes, muscles, joints and the brain making postural adjustments required to maintain balance.  The inner ear enables hearing and is also the vestibular system. It informs the position of the head to the brain's control centre, the cerebellum, a small part of the brain at the back of the head, where the head meets the spine.  The cerebellum is the internal clock, the air traffic controller of the body's safe soft landing of all movement and balance. The cerebellum receives messages from the inner ear, eyes, muscles and joints and sends those messages to the muscles to make any required adjustments to maintain balance. It also coordinates the timing and force of muscle movements initiated by other parts of the brain.  For instance, the frontal lobes, primary motor cortex and precentral gyrus.

Understanding balance and alignment - When we are standing and aligned we can take a leg away, bend the knee so the foot is no longer on the floor, we are still in postural alignment - so visually no one would notice we were standing on one leg, unless they were looking at our leg!  We still have our spines in full body stretch mode, our shoulders relaxed, our core consciously engaged and we are still breathing deeply and we're not wobbling.  We are balancing on one leg rather than two. Try it on the other leg, too. Remember our body always takes us to the stronger side first.  So if your body knows it'll be easier to get rid of the left leg and balance on the right, that's what it will do first, unless you take conscious control!

Golgi Tendon Organs - guide our bodies and keep us safe.  We became conscious of respecting our body's natural safety organs!  The Golgi Tendon Organs are sense organs that tell us how much tension the muscle is exerting.  If there is too much muscle tension the GTO will inhibit the muscle from creating any force (via a reflex arc) thus protecting from injury.  Static stretching is one example of how muscle tension signals a GTO response. So when we held a low force stretch and breathed deeply a few times, the increase in muscle tension activated the GTO which temporarily inhibits the muscle spindle activity (thus reducing tension in the muscle) and allowed us to further stretch.  We demonstrated this to ourselves during side bends standing, and roll downs.  

Proprioception offers stability and balance - We possess multiple proprioceptors. They detect kinematic parameters - joint position, movement, and load. The signals are transmitted to the central nervous system and integrate with messages from other sensory systems, such as the visual system and the vestibular system.  So the proprioceptors provide an overall representation of body position, movement, and acceleration.  This sensory feedback is essential for balance and posture, and coordinating movement. We demonstrated this during rises through our feet, we rose on to demi pointe and balanced, we then closed our eyes and recognised how we had to work out how to balance because we had taken away just one of the vital systems, our visual system. A game like Twister when you have to put your right hand on the yellow spot and then your left foot on the green and so on - after a few moves it can confuse our natural proprioception of where we are in space. 

The importance of breath and connection - We demonstrated and practised how breathing in a deep, complete, conscious way, gives us deep stabilisation and core connection when we fully exhale.  It is vital to spend time breathing in an aware way, vital for our wellbeing and balance.  In the process of deep breathing, we are lowering our blood pressure and heart rate, we are reducing (by 70%) levels of stress hormone (cortisol) in the blood, reducing lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue, balancing levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, improving immune system functioning, increasing physical energy - and increasing our feeling of calm and wellbeing. 

Core connection - We practised finding our core connection through complete exhaling, through AFA connection and the process of light load movements and through initiating the process of heavy load movement.  We were supine and found our ASIS and placed our finger tips on the inside of the sacroiliac spines so we would be feeling the transversus abdominus firing up when we tried all three ways.  Firstly a complete exhale. Then AFA connection.  Then lifting our eyebrows.  Then lifting our little fingers.  Then initiating the idea that we might lift both legs off the floor, that would be a heavy load and we feel the TA firing up in anticipation of what would be a loaded move.  We know that our core fires up in time for a move to take place, it looks after us, stabilises and balances us.  If we add too much load the core will not support us, so we use our core connection, our awareness and consciousness about how we feel in a move today, and immediately make the move smaller if we cannot maintain the core connection on that day.  This will keep you and your students in safe practice.

Stabiliser connection - We demonstrated our stabilisers under our shoulder blades, our serratus, we felt them holding our scapula when our shoulders were completely relaxed and our spine and neck in full length mode with our rhomboids on stand-by stabilising our girdle.  We also found the stabilisers of our knees when we lengthened through the legs and the stabilisers of our core, as above.  And the stabilisers of our hips when we initiate a move of our leg.  Lying on our side with our knees bent, aligning our spines and heels and initiating lifting our knee.  Lifting it in a tiny way, less than a thin sheet of paper.  We can give our students training from the stabilisers out to the movers, by working with resistance, a band for example.  

The difference between stabilisers and movers - For example, the transversus abdominis, breathing diaphragm, multifidi, pelvic floor are not movers, they are stabilisers.  The TA muscle inserts into the six pack, the rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is a mover.  A mover brings joints towards each other. So in the example of the RA, when it contracts, it brings the pubic bone towards the ribcage. In order to keep the body balanced, strong and free from injury, we need to practise our Pilates. I say, look after the stabilisers and the movers look after themselves.  I enjoy working with balls, circles, bands, the floor, the wall, the barre, the chair - all of which can add depth to our training.  During barre work, for example, at random moments telling the body you're going to let go of the barre, feel how the deep stabilisers look after you more, own them via your posture and core connection.  It takes a second to find and tease the stabilisers and the training for the body is deeply rewarding, phenomenal.  

Healing - In order to heal, we need to be aware of our balanced bodies.  We need to rest and recover.  Ice, or a cold bottle of water from the fridge, on the injured part brings down inflammation.  When you want to start moving again, think through the moves and notice the muscles responding gently, then add tiny moves for the injured part and do the same tiny moves on the other. So both shoulders, both legs, etc.  So that the injury doesn't take you out of balance. It can feel frustrating to only move in a tiny way on the good side too, but it's in fact the quickest route to balanced healing.  

Questions - We talked about forward head students.  I would suggest you look at the upper back and strengthen through extensions.  Also hamstring stretches with GTO and awareness of all the above.  Also lying down supine, taking little circles with the head, and then little nods, while keeping the shoulders completely relaxed and the chest open. Pilates will balance the body, even if you are living with nerve damage.  The trick is to think through the moves and then to try them in a tiny way.  Starting with the damaged side, finding strengths and always working from the inside out. From the stabilisers to the movers.  Training the stabilisers will allow rejuvenation and neuroplasticity to occur.

You will find sessions galore ONLINE with me and do join me over Zoom.  You will find the links in MY BLOG each Sunday for the following week.  Do email me anytime info@pilates-instructor.net  

Breathe Connect Move

With best wishes, Wendy

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