What is it and why is it so important?
“You’re only as young as your spine” is a popular quote from Joseph Pilates and is really what the whole Pilates repertoire is based upon. He states that if you’re 30 but your spine is that of a 60 year old, then you are old. Conversely, a 60 year old with the spine of a 30 year old could be considered young.
So, where do we start and how do we increase the flexibility and mobility (movement) of the spine. Of course, doing Pilates on a regular (consistent) basis is your best bet but you also want to include some exercises which specifically focus on mobility, ideally every day.
Here are three simple exercises and three simple stretches to add into your routine, to help improve your movement and keep your spine young!
Three Pilates exercises to increase mobility:
Supine Bridge Rolls
Lying on the mat on your back, start by finding your neutral position by rocking your pelvis forward and back a few times and landing somewhere in between those two positions, this will place your spine into its natural curve, you should have a slight arch under the lower back. Take an inhale breath and on the exhale, gently lift your pelvic floor and activate your deeper core muscles. See Flow Pilates Australia further instruction on how to find your neutral position and activating your core muscles.
Start by flattening the spine to the mat and rolling up through the lower back, middle back, then upper back so that just your head and shoulders remain on the mat, rolling vertebra by vertebra (imagine the spine is like a bike chain and you are peeling each little segment off one at a time). Hold at the top as you take a breath in and then slowly start to reverse the action as you breathe out again, starting by lowering the ribs down, then the mid-back, lower back and eventually taking the pelvis back into its neutral starting position. Repeat 3-5 times slowly.
Side Knee Drops
Again starting on your back, find neutral and then lift each leg one at a time into table top (as seen in picture, legs at 90 degrees, knees in line with the hips). Take your arms out wide like an aeroplane and anchor your shoulders to the ground. Take a breath in and lower both knees over to one side, but only so far that the opposite shoulder stays anchored down. As you breathe out, imagine the abdominals are what is drawing your legs back to the centre, rather than just using your legs to pull back. Imagine your legs are like a dead weight and the abdominals need to work hard to pull them back in. Repeat side to side 8-10 times to loosen through the lower back and open across the chest.
Sitting on your bottom, extend your legs long and separate to each edge of the mat. Flex your feet and make sure you are placing equal weight on both sit bones. Extend your arms out wide, in line with your shoulders. Take a breath in and as you breathe out slowly rotate from the ribs to one side as in picture. When you turn, think about spiralling upwards and make sure your hands remain back in line with your shoulders (i.e. turn from the ribs, using the waist (obliques) rather than just twisting the shoulders). Unwind back to centre as you breathe in again and repeat side to side. Perhaps slow it down and hold for an extra breath and see if you can turn a little further before returning back to centre. Repeat 8-10 times.
Three stretches to lengthen the spine:
Kneeling on the mat, touch your big toes together and take your knees wide. Tip forward from the hips and place your hands on the mat in front of you. Continue to walk your hands out along the mat while lowering your upper body in between the arms at the same time. Ensure as best you can to keep your bottom on your heels. Hold for 30-60 seconds as you continue to sink a little more into the stretch.
Standing roll down
Start by standing with your mat in front of you. Take a breath in and as you breathe out get the abdominal connection (pelvic floor and TVA) and scoop your belly button towards your spine. Drop your chin to your chest and slowly continue to peel and roll down to a hanging position as seen in the picture. When rolling down, imagine you are standing against a wall and peeling yourself off it, one vertebra at a time. Hold it at the bottom, take a breath in and as you breathe out slowly start to peel and roll back up, stacking each vertebra one at a time until your shoulders and head come up last. Repeat 3-5 times.
Hugging knees to chest
A nice and simple stretch for your lower back. Lie on your back and gently pull (or hug) both knees in to your chest. Try and keep your tailbone heavy on the mat and gently sway from side to side to further release. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
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