Pilates is a beautiful practice that requires strength, flexibility, and grace. But not every Pilates position is ideal for every body type.
That’s why there are countless Pilates modifications that you can practice to help you find strength, flexibility, and grace with ease.
It’s worth taking the time to embody the detail in the foundational positions of Pilates. Then the body will be in a more defined alignment and that will build the foundation for better abdominal recruitment, less tension, a longer spine, healthy joints, and effortless movement patterns.
From this deep connection in the fundamentals, the more complex movements will integrate more easily, and you’ll reduce the risk of injury.
It’s worth taking the time to embody the detail in the foundational positions of Pilates.
The following Pilates exercises are the building blocks from which more strenuous and complex movement is developed and thus it is vital that we understand what these positions aim to achieve and how to modify them to truly harness their transformative power.
Read on for two of the key foundational positions of Pilates, and how you can modify them to find ease.
Foundational Pilates Position #1: Table Top Position
Purpose: To recruit the abdominals to lift the legs, while keeping a stable, tension-free torso.
Most core exercises in Pilates evolve from this position. It’s vital that your abdominal work doesn’t learn to pattern gripping in the neck, lower back, or thighs. This is a much longer re-patterning process, and can lead to major injuries if not corrected early.
In some classes, you may be here a while, so make yourself at home.
So, here are a few Pilates modifications to support the alignment in this shape:
1. Play With Spinal Position
Typically, this position is cued into a 90-degree angle at the knee and hips. Ninety degrees might look perfect, but variations may help to achieve less tension in the neck, hip flexors, and lower back.
Some schools of training require an “imprinted” lower spine. This is often cued as, “Squish an egg in the small of your lower back.” Other schools of thought require a small gap in the lower back to allow for the natural curve of your lower spine.
The truth is, the alignment that will connect you to your deepest core muscles with the least tension is entirely dependent on you as the individual, and can vary from day to day. Explore both options and choose the one that allows your neck, lower back, diaphragm, lower ribs, and hip flexors to soften the most.
2. Prop Your Head
Prop your head with a small towel or fold your yoga mat over a few times to create a small cushion. The goal here is to lengthen the back of your neck.
Very subtly, tuck your chin toward your chest and relax your jaw down toward the floor behind you. Experiment with different heights of the cushion and pick the height that feels the most comfortable. The priority is to reduce tension, not to feel strain.
3. Prop Your Pelvis
Prop your pelvis to create a “hammock” like shape in your lower back. If you tend to have a deep sway in your lower back, it might be helpful to work the opposite curve to rebalance your spine.
You may also try putting the towel in the small of your lower back, and create support that way. The goal here is to reduce the tension in your lower back, so that your abdominals have the opportunity to fire first, with no “gripping” sensation in your back.
Engage your abdominals with the sensation of burying your belly button down toward your lower spine. Choose the position of your pelvis that prevents any “popping out” of the abdominals, any excess gripping around your lower ribs, or any unnatural breath-holding patterns.
4. Adjust Your Legs
Draw your legs closer to your ribs or hold your legs behind the knees. Once we get over the fact that it looks like we are “cheating,” we realize we are actually creating a more authentic connection to the core!
The weight of the legs can draw your lower back into a deeper arch than is safe for your spine. So, it’s preferable to have the weight of your legs over your torso and explore drawing your belly in toward your spine to avoid the “popping” muscles down the center of your belly.
Explore all angles of the legs and choose the option that allows you to feel most of your lower spine grounded on the mat behind you.
Foundational Pilates Position #2: Roll Up
Purpose: To engage the core muscles, targeting mostly the upper abs.
In Pilates, this is sometimes known as a Head Float Position.
Most people work through the strain in the neck in this position, but instead, investigate ways to make this position work for you. Abdominal work that strains the neck is not serving your body!
These Pilates modifications support the spine, to relieve pressure on the neck:
1. Play With Your Position
The key is to draw the weight of your head over your torso by:
- Holding your hands behind your head and gently drawing your head up further
- Subtly tuck your chin in toward your chest
- Exhale fully so that your diaphragm completely deflates
- Imagine folding from the sides of your ribs
- Perhaps widen the position of your feet to create more of a stable base
- Allow your lower back to “imprint” into the mat to promote a deeper curl in your spine
2. Prop Your Pelvis or Mid-Back
Supporting the curl in your lower back is going to allow the weight of your head to pour into the cradle you are creating with your torso. A prop of your pelvis engages your lower abdominals a little more whereas a prop of your mid-back keeps your head stacked over your torso.
Take a small hand towel to your next class, and try it!
Use These Pilates Modifications in Your Next Class!
This is not a complete description by any means of all the functions of the postures and Pilates modifications available to you.
A lot may vary depending on your unique needs, the props available to you, the time spent in each position, and the level of intensity that may be required from these postures.
The important thing is to give yourself permission to explore variations in Pilates that may help to relieve pain in your neck or lower back and help you to discover ways to tailor the positions to your own unique alignment.
Apply What You’ve Learned With Pilates Foundations
Take our Pilates Foundations class on YA Classes with Sarah King.
With Sarah King
23-minutes Class | All Levels