Balanced Body COREterly
Teaching and Learning
Mindfulness In Movement: Deconstructing The Importance & Power Of Bridging!
By: Marie-Claire Prettyman
Following an article entitled 'Minding The Pain: Moving With Mindfulness' I was asked to write again on the value of mindfulness within our discipline.
The depth of possibility within this topic initially stumped me until I taught a 75-year-old lady (Juliet) with chronic back pain, caused by years of job-related physical stresses and a scoliosis.
During an early session, she performed a mermaid stretch on the Reformer. Due to the erosion of her hip, we were only taking the stretch in the direction of the foot bar and this was the instruction given;
'Try and imagine that your other hip (the one closest to the shoulder cushions) is gently dropping away from your stretched arm, so that the stretch is two-directional.'
I did not physically see much change in her positioning but she immediately said 'Oh yes! I can feel that now!'
THAT is the value of being mindful in movement; connecting with the body and asking it to focus in order to facilitate the appropriate connection. When she stood up, she said, 'That's amazing, I feel so free in my sides and back!'
Stealing from my own book, 'Opposition in Pilates and Yoga - Newton's Third Law Meets Mindfulness,'
Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.
'Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose,
in the present moment, and
I have underlined the key aspects of the explanation to highlight the importance of these components within movement practises. Juliet found her present moment by paying attention in a particular way and on purpose. She had physically understood the value of concentration and focus.
I think that it is best to explore being 'present' and 'paying attention on purpose' from the main starting position that we find ourselves in whilst on the mat.
Supine - Lying on your back with the knees bent.
There should be 5 main contact points, the back of the head, the back of the ribs, the back of the pelvis and the two feet. Let us start by paying attention to the feet. Often in standing many individuals will sink more heavily into their heels; this will naturally translate to the mat unless rectified.
If the individual remains loaded through the heels, the hamstrings will remain excessively active, thereby immediately unbalancing (posteriorly tilting) the neutral position for which we aim. Focus your attention on the balance of weight between the base of the big toe, the base of the little toe and simply 'a connection' rather than heaviness through the heels.
- Notice how this allows the pelvis to sit more heavily into the mat, releasing the tension around the hips and activating the ankle stabilisers.
Use this focus for exercises like knee folds and shoulder bridge, to focus the mind on the pelvic balance (knee folds) and reduce the possibility of cramp (shoulder bridge).
'We are not just making shapes - we are feeling them…'
Another example of using mindfulness with these 2 exercises is the concept of 'opposition'. This is the idea that, for something (a limb) to lift, something else has to counteract it by dropping down. It's based on the principle of action vs reaction suggested by Sir Isaac Newton, 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.'
During a 'knee fold' the leg is lifting to 90 degrees using the deep abdominals for stability and control. However, if you focus your attention first on the fact that the foot (before lifting) has to become lighter, and therefore the back of the pelvis (and the back of the ribs) has to become heavier; you will notice that there is a REACTION from the abdominals in which they activate to support the impending ACTION.
Combine this with an exhalation and a gentle drawing in of the abdominal region and you create a more functional, muscular response to movement.
The body is responding to the cues that it is being given, i.e. it is about to become unstable as the thigh bone moves forward (anatomically speaking) so the abdominals respond by supporting the pelvis.
In the shoulder bridge, as the hips lift; the feet become more connected (down) to the mat and there should be a sense of the ribs dropping down too (so they remain lower than the hips). This helps to activate the 'glutes' and reduces the possibility of cramp in the hamstrings.
- The hips lifting is the ACTION
- The opposition is in the feet and ribs remaining lower/'dropping down'
- The REACTION is in the gluteal activation.
Now bring your attention to the heaviness of the back of the ribs, ensure that whilst allowing the ribs to settle into the floor; the hips remain released, the pelvis neutral and the feet balanced. Many individuals fail to appreciate the importance of the 'upper back to mat' connection, in maintaining the integrity between the ribcage and the pelvis. Practise taking the arms over the head without allowing the ribcage/mat connection to become compromised. Continue to feel the heaviness of the pelvis and the balance/lightness of the feet.
- ACTION: arms moving over the head,
- Opposition: ribcage dropping into the mat,
- REACTION: abdominal activation to support the spine.
In short, by being 'mindful' of each and every connection/relationship within the body and between the body and the mat (or apparatus); we facilitate flow and balance along the kinetic chain leading to muscle balance and skeletal alignment.
To translate this to every aspect of Pilates, the value lies in appreciating the kinetic chain at all times; the muscular relationship that exists between the crown of the head all the way through to the feet plus, the understanding that any action or movement we create is never one-directional.
Look for the opposing action, which may not be visible to the naked eye but may just be a concept, that one needs to visualise in order to maintain or activate this 'kinetic chain'. When one is aware of this 'chain' it can help to strengthen the personal relationship, we have with our bodies through greater understanding of its function.
Consider the other main positions we find ourselves in on the mat, side lying, prone, 4-point kneeling and standing. When moving from these; what had to 'drop down' in order for another part of the body to lift up? Where should the mind be focussed? Where do you need to pay attention ON PURPOSE?
Consider this; and you will be practising 'mindfulness in movement'.
What does 'non-judgmentally mean?
We can be our own worst enemies; constantly criticising our own abilities and comparing our abilities against others. To completely connect with our own body and appreciate its subtleties, it is important to disconnect from any preconceived ideas about what it 'should' be doing. Instead focus solely on what it IS doing and what you ARE feeling and simply, accept it.
Through practise, awareness will evolve and develop; but only if you are present enough to notice. We are all working from a different starting point and our journey, whether physical or otherwise; is our own. So, try not to compare your journey or your body to anyone else's, just make friends with the only body you'll ever own and be mindful.