Posture and Pilates

Episode 16

We’re about to delve into a topic that may stir some debate, though its significance can’t be denied. Exploring the subject of posture has the potential to alleviate a considerable amount of stress for Pilates teachers and that’s precisely why we’re tackling it today. Get ready to explore Posture and Pilates on today’s episode of The Pilates Exchange with Hannah. We’ll delve into the complexity of posture; touching on a range of factors, from injury and compensation to mental attitude, genetics, clothing, diet, the subconscious mind, trauma, general muscle tension, and weakness. Hannah’s aim is for you to grasp the multi-dimensional nature of posture and, through a mindful approach, consider that some individuals may not require any ‘fixing’ at all. Enjoy. 

 

Key Points From This Episode:

 

  • Why Hannah wanted to tackle the topic of posture today.
  • Her belief is that posture is much more than just standing there.
  • What we are looking at when we look at posture.
  • Two things to keep in mind when working with posture.
  • Be careful of putting too much weight on “the ideal alignment.” 
  • Hannah sheds light on different things that might be affecting posture.
  • Injury and compensation: working toward equilibrium. 
  • Disease: movement as powerful. 
  • Habits: bringing awareness to the client.
  • Overall weakness in the body: moving all together.
  • Mental attitude: creating a positive environment.
  • Genetics of posture: trying to fix it may not be productive.
  • How the clothing we wear can affect our posture. 
  • Asking about eyesight and wearing glasses: it can also affect body alignment.
  • Improper diet and malnourishment and its effect on posture.
  • Looking at chronic fatigue: getting the maximum benefit for that person.
  • Thinking about the different overloads that can affect the person.
  • The unconscious mind and trauma; you can’t separate the mind-body experience.
  • She underlines the multifaceted and intricate nature of posture.
  • Ask yourself, as a teacher, “Does their posture genuinely require fixing?”
  • Are you considering their occupation and the postural requirements that correspond with it?
  • How muscle tension and muscle weakness can affect our posture.
  • Her encouragement to look at the whole person. 

EPISODE 16

 

HT: So, we’re going to be heading into a controversial topic or I don’t know how controversial it is, but I think that if we unpack this one, it’s going to save a lot of us Pilates teachers a bunch of stress and this is why I’m going to do it.”

 

[INTRODUCTION]

 

[0:00:22.2] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 

 

I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates and Yoga for over two decades, and what I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. 

 

We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives, one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange.

 

[DISCUSSION]

 

[0:01:22.1] HT: Posture is a whole lot more complicated than just filling out a little form at the beginning of the Pilates session and a checkbox of looking out where your shoulders are, where the hips are or doing a roll down and then creating a program for Pilates based on a roll down and your perceived – the person’s perceived problems during that. I think that in my opinion, we are going really off-base as Pilates teachers and in the teacher training by basing an entire program just on that.

 

So, we’re going to be heading into a controversial topic or I don’t know how controversial it is but I think that if we unpack this one, it’s going to save a lot of us, Pilates teachers, a bunch of stress and this is why I’m going to do it. In a lot of our teacher training programs, we have been taught with good intentions, to do postural analyses, and then we program our work, our training plans, depending on what we find in our postural analysis.

 

And while I think that – I know that the intention behind it is good. We want to help people and that’s why the teacher trainings are done like they are because the intention is to help people feel better in their bodies, and when we have a good posture, maybe we can say it is that you would feel better and have more efficiency in your daily life. So, I get where we’re coming from but I don’t think that a static posture test has anything to do with what sort of exercises we should be programming for a six, 12-week program.

 

So, let me get to the point of this. It’s not that it doesn’t have everything, anything to do with it. There is some things that we can infer but posture is so much more than just standing there and having the Pilates instructor go through a checklist, “Is there forward head, are their shoulders went down, is the pelvis rotated?” all that because it’s unless you’re looking at an X-ray, unless you’re a physio, I just don’t think that it is the easiest way or maybe it is the easiest way.

 

[0:03:52.5] It’s definitely the most superficial way to see what’s going on but there’s so many other things that are affecting posture and I want to get into that, and sort of take the stress out of the programming out because I don’t think that posture, if we’re looking at like the ideal alignment and the Kyphosis Lordosis and the flat back and the sway back posture, I don’t think that putting people in those containers is going to be helpful for them.

 

I think we should look a little bit more broadly. So, posture, we can say, we’re looking for an ideal alignment in the body, and a lot of the time in our workbooks and our teacher training manuals, they’ll give that picture of the ideal alignment. So, you see those little curves in the back and it’s usually with the skeleton and it’s looking through the plumb line. Yes, cool.

 

You know, we have to have some sort of middle ground and then to look at where the deviations come in but posture is affected by so many things, and when we’re coming at it from a superficial place of just, “Well, it’s because this muscle is tight, this muscle is weak and that’s what’s causing everything.” I think we’re missing valuable information about our clients and how we can help them in a faster way.

 

So, my idea for right now is to go through a few different ways that posture can be affected to just ease your minds that if you’re not getting the results that you had intended for that person, there could be many, many different influences on it. That’s one thing. The other thing, posture may not need to be fixed, that person is in an equilibrium that works for their body. 

 

We are in our teacher training, we are taught that whatever we’re seeing if it’s out of alignment, if there’s a deviation from that ideal alignment from what they have in the books, that means that it needs to be fixed. I want to counter that. I don’t think it needs to be fixed. I think that that body is in alignment in the most efficient way that they need and perhaps if they’re exhibiting any pain or if they’re uncomfortable with that, sure, we might want to talk about ways to fix or ways to help them. 

 

[0:06:06.0] But I’m in a lot of different Facebook groups of different Pilates teachers and different movement teachers and yoga teachers and sometimes what’s coming up is that it’s always about fixing the person and fixing them back into this ideal alignment. There might not be any dysfunction there. So, I want to be careful of putting too much weight on what that is. 

 

All right, so let’s talk about some of the ways that I think that are going to be affecting posture. Injury, right? If someone is injured anywhere. There is going to be some sort of compensation that happens in the body. Say you stubbed your toe or you banged your knee on something or in my case, you have a hip injury or a prosthetic hip.

 

You know, things will start to move around because we’re moving our body in a way to compensate for that injury, so that might be what is affecting posture. So, of course, following protocols and working around whatever that injury is and then trying to get back to an equilibrium, that would probably be your best bet but if you’re just looking on the postural alignment and you’re not doing any other talking with your client, then you might miss over that important part.

 

My guess is that, depending on when the injury occurred and with the healing process, healing timeline is for that person, that probably posture will ease its way back into whatever that person’s alignment is. So, we don’t need to worry about that so much but just following protocols for different injuries. 

 

[0:07:39.4] Disease. Disease is another one. Depending on the disease, it might weaken the bones, the muscles and maybe the nerves. Maybe the nerves are affected in a different way that’s holding on to, that’s sending the signals for our muscles that are holding that posture. MS for example, yeah, diseases of the joints, of the vertebrates. 

 

So, it could cause a dysfunction of different muscle groups and different power in muscle groups and that could be affecting the posture. So, can we affect disease with Pilates? No. Can we you know, like we’re not doctors and we’re not healers in that way but what we can do is see like, Mariska Breland at the Neuro Studio that has a fantastic program. 

 

If you want to look at how to help people with neuro conditions. So, movement is really going to be powerful for them but it might not be as simple as just taking off those boxes for the postural analysis.

 

Habits. Now, habits get really interesting for us as coaches. We can look altogether if you’re being a mindful teacher, you’re noticing, when your client is walking in, how they’re sitting down, how are they moving in the world. Maybe those habits, whether good or bad are really changing the way that they’re walking, they’re standing, they’re sitting and the more we practice a certain type of coordination, that’s also going to become an unconscious way of what we’re doing.

 

So, maybe there’s no tight muscles or weak muscles there, it’s actually just, “We need a little bit more awareness in what they’re doing and that’s an easy way for you to be in awareness with your students in there and that will take them, just taking a few moments of giving some tips in that area might have a profound effect. It could be just that the person is a little bit weak, that the overall body strength and endurance is not there. 

 

You know, there’s been numerous experiments that have shown that slumped and slouched positions of the body can be maintained with a lot less metabolic energy as compared to like, completely stretched out, tall, erect posture. Maybe it’s just an overall weakness, and just by moving, just by doing the session of all the other exercises that you choose, you don’t even need special exercises, it’s just moving altogether is going to be what that person needs.

 

[0:10:16.8] Here’s one that I don’t think we talk about at all in our Pilates teacher training is mental attitude. So, when a person – and this is obvious, we know it inherently but we don’t talk about it. If a person is happy, if a person is confident and satisfied, they’re automatically going to be exhibiting that balance, posture, that erect posture, that looking, you know, that looking strong. 

 

Whereas, depression, feeling of sadness, too many hurdles in life, that is going to affect how their posture is in that moment. Maybe creating that atmosphere of ease, of optimism, of not toxic positivity but just having a positive environment, maybe that’s what that person needs to change things up a little bit, and then that mental change, that little attitude change could show up in a different way of expressing in the body.

 

Genetics, hereditary factors can be responsible for poor posture. In here, we’re talking about like, kyphosis and lordosis and all the “Osis-osis’s” you know? Like, that could just be what it is. We don’t really need some things, we don’t really need to be fixing at all because again, if you do if you change one thing, you’re going to be affecting a lot of other things in the body. 

 

So, I’ll give you an example, I have a pretty strong sway back. I mean, people have been talking to me about this all the time. I do not experience any pain, never have. Low back is not my thing, I feel good in that area. Like, anytime that people have tried to, Pilates teachers included because I’ve been doing Pilates a long time, any time that people have been trying to fix me, it’s been more painful in other areas of my body.

 

So, I think that posture for me, just feels great and feels fine. Christian has very, on the outside, a little perfect posture. It looks fantastic but he had back pain. He had a slip disk when he was dancing. So really, it’s not a one-for-one. You know, we’re going to talk a lot of stuff back on a different episode and I do have some guest specialists that are going to come in and talk about scoliosis, which is a different thing. 

 

[0:12:37.8] When we talk about scoliosis, I got the person for you coming up soon but genetics of posture, again, it might not need fixing. What about improper clothing? Now, what’s improper? I mean, like the things we’re wearing, the things we’re doing from the external design standpoint, our life design standpoint can also be affecting our posture. So, do we know what’s going on outside of our studios for our clients?

 

What kind of shoes do they wear? High-heeled shoes, some slippery shoes? What’s required for their work? Is the clothing too tight, is that restricting their breathing? That would definitely have an impact on their posture. I had one man that was coming into me for a while and his hips were way – if you were just looking at his hips, they were definitely towards the side and looking a little, you know, a little bit tilted, let’s say.

 

And we reduced it to the fact that he had a huge wallet, it was always in his right back pocket, and just by sitting on the wallet for all of those years and hours and hours upon hours, had started to shift his body alignment. Once he took that wallet out, then his posture started to normalize back in the centre

 

What about the people that – the women that have a really heavy handbag and it’s always on one shoulder? So, if you’re seeing something show up in a person’s body, it might be worth just asking them about that, you know because that would have a longer-lasting impact on them. How many times, how many hours a day is a person going to be carrying a handbag or a heavy briefcase or maybe it’s the big wallet in the pocket and they sit down for lunch meetings for example, all the time. 

 

[0:14:29.6] So, something like that, the many, many hours during the week if we could change that little aspect, it would have a huge impact on the rest of their lives and how their posture is. Maybe again there, it’s not where it needs fixing in the Pilates realm. 

 

Eyesight, glasses, I have a couple of clients where we came out afterwards where they need glasses, they weren’t wearing their glasses and they had this real pronounced, forward neck movement that was going on just because they were trying to see.

 

So, it’s much better to wear the glasses in the session so that their body alignment is better. Like, that’s such a simple, easy fix. We don’t need to be working, going through it again a 12, 16-week program to fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed. Just wear the glasses but you have to ask that and that’s an easy ask.

 

[SPONSOR MESSAGE]

 

[0:15:27.6] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers.

 

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[DISCUSSION CONTINUED]

 

[0:16:15.1] HT: A different way that posture can be affected and it – we might not be seeing it in our realm in the Pilates population, let’s say but improper diet, malnourishment. So, that can result in lots of different various diseases due to different deficiencies and vitamins and minerals, rickets for example, and that would have definitely affect the posture. 

 

I don’t know if you’re going to be seeing that population in a typical Pilates studio but what we could be seeing is chronic fatigue. Oh, gosh, I feel this one is strong but like the, due to the continuous work, the lack of sound, rest, good sleep, the body just then develops that fatigue and that condition becomes so chronic. You know, it’s the persistence of that tiredness. 

 

So, without proper relaxation, rest, sleep, and the body and the mind just – they’re overworked, they just become efficient and you see that sort of collapse down inward posture. You know, maybe it’s worth it because it’s just, you know, if you’re exercising, I think a pillar of, lifestyle medicine pillars, right? 

 

So, it’s just a pillar of it. Like, how are they exercising, how are they sleeping, how are they eating. Simple questions and if it’s they’re not getting enough sleep, gosh, what an easy way to get a person some maximum benefits if just that came up in a conversation. 

 

Another thing that affects posture, overload, right? So, I want to imagine that young – say, this young boy going off to school and he has, you know, his backpack loaded up with books and his backpack is a little bit too big for him and he’s holding on to the straps and he’s hunched over like a little turtle trying to get into class and he’s carrying in for, you know, a quarter of a mile to get into the school.

 

Now, you might not have any young clients but you can imagine how that posture would be of that young person. So, how – maybe, depending on the profession of the person, there might be different overloads that are coming in. So, it might be useful to be thinking about that rather than just a picture of a posture. 

 

[0:18:31.0] What about trauma? I mean, trauma, your unconscious mind has so much influence over posture. Like even, more than we think. I’m sure that researchers have found that stress and trauma and mental health can impact posture, I’m positive of it. So you know, it’s just – it’s part of that mind-body connection, we can’t separate the two. 

 

So, if someone had experienced trauma, maybe it’s childhood trauma but it doesn’t need to be childhood. It could be anything recent, that would also affect the way that the person is standing and moving in the world. Now, we may not be educated to work with someone from trauma and I’m not expecting any teacher to be able to do that. 

 

But maybe having the resources to recommend them to see someone else and it may not at all be within your capacity to ask about some sort of trauma but the point would be that something from before, some traumatic event can definitely be impacting what that posture is and just by hammering at it with a couple of exercises isn’t going to be producing the same results.

 

So, as what you think, as what we’ve been taught, “Do this exercise, do some rowing, do this and it’s going to help posture.” Well, if there’s something that has been profoundly affected their mental health, it would be more beneficial for them to be doing other types of work rather than feeling like they’re not going anywhere with their posture because we just need to be working on it at a different level.

 

[0:20:11.7] So, I want you to take that off of your plate as well. It’s posture is having many, many different facets of it. It could be as simple as lack of exercise. Of course, we’re moving instructors. So, we know that exercise tones the spinal nerves and the abdominal muscles and improves our appetite, our digestion, our flexibility, coordination, all that. 

 

It could just be as simple as the person that’s standing in front of you just needs to exercise a little bit more and that’s an easy win. That doesn’t require any sort of special exercises, so we don’t have to worry about picking out the perfect exercises for that person. Just get them moving, that’s so nice, that’s so easy. 

 

It could also just be a lack of awareness. Maybe the person is just unaware of proper posture, and they’ve just been following along, you know, whatever it was, that faulty posture, and that just becomes their permanent. It doesn’t need to be like a total defect, it’s just a lack of awareness and by bringing gentle awareness into the body, it might resolve itself if it needed to be resolved. 

 

That’s, I think, where I’m coming down to. It’s like, does it need fixing, really? And are we prepared to understand when we – let’s air quote this one, “fix something” are we understanding what the implications are in other places? Obesity, overweight, puts extra stress and strain on the muscles and different aspects of the body that might result in different postural deviations or not.

 

There is always, the “Or not” occupation, that might – there are occupations out there that require different seated positions, standing, and working in an imbalanced way for long hours. I’m thinking like dentistry, gynaecology, like, a violinist, right? So, they have their habits, their occupation is actually going to cause differences in their posture. 

 

And sometimes, if we are, maybe it’s not necessarily with dentistry but you know, sometimes, if that occupation is so finely tuned for that one activity, if we start going and messing around with really not understanding how it can affect the other aspects, we might be creating more harm than good because remember, that body, say, let’s say it’s a violinist, okay? 

 

[0:22:50.4] So, their body has been doing something so efficiently, like for so long, if we’re talking, masterful violinist, and I know that they are also trained in posture, right? So, to – they need efficiency in what they’re doing but if we start messing around with that, that could actually inhibit the way that they’re playing.

 

So, if we’re not having a conversation with them about what the goals are, that’s a little bit tricky and I think it’s a little unethical as well. I did hear in one of our Facebook groups about the student came in for some other things, “But I’m just going to fix her posture because it’s horrendous.” Like, wow. Why is her posture horrendous? That’s a terrible word to use anyway and that posture may be serving her. 

 

Maybe it is because she has some sort of job that needs that efficiency. I don’t know. Muscle tension and muscle weakness in the simplest way will definitely affect our posture and I think that we can – I think that we could do good programming in our Pilates and movement sessions, yoga, whatever it may be, just around balancing the body. 

 

If we’re going pull over here, we’re going to push over there, and opposite muscle groups so that there’s always balance and coming back into alignment. There’s nothing wrong with doing that but as far as stressing ourselves out and creating programs that are supposed to cure bad posture, I think that there are too many other factors in there. 

 

I know I’m a hundred percent because I have these studies, I’ll link to them. I have studies that say, posture can get better with Pilates. Absolutely, but I think that there are a lot of different other factors that are going into those improvements that we’re seeing. So, I’d like to encourage you, teacher, to look at the whole person, not a system of deviations from a perfect posture. 

 

But understanding that that whole person is not static standing in front of you. It is a moving person and by looking at how they’re interacting with the exercises that may be a better way of understanding and their body and what their needs are and that also takes a lot of stress off of us. 

 

[0:25:26.5] You know, we don’t need to diagnose, we don’t need to create the perfect process for this person. We need to get that person moving, we need to get that person enjoying hopefully that movement and feeling good in their bodies. So, when Joseph Pilates famously said, “You’re only as young as your spine is flexible,” I think there’s the thing is that being flexible and I don’t mean like in actual mobility. 

 

I mean, flexible also in our thinking, flexible in movement, and creating opportunities for the person in front of us to move through space to the best of their abilities, to enjoy how that interaction, that learning something new about their bodies of that awareness, of that presence in the moment, in that mind-body connection. I think that’s where the real youth comes in. I think that’s where, you know, where that play of curiosity and discovery. 

 

And I think that is where we’re going to feel the most empowered both for us as teachers and for your student. So, before you take out that next client intake form before that next person comes in, that next new person, I just want you to consider that there are many more aspects to posture and that maybe that person doesn’t need fixing at all. 

 

Maybe, they just need to come in and enjoy some beautiful Pilates and the way that you offer it rather than changing something in that person’s body because I bet, I bet that your coaching, the skills that you are using to really uncover what that person needs is going to bring you and them further along the path of achieving those goals for them that you’re going to get better successes and faster results just by looking at the whole person. 

 

And like always, you are free to disagree with me. I am always open to hear and I’m always open to hear from you. So, if you have a compelling reason why you think that I am totally wrong, I’m up for hearing it. We do have a couple of guests coming on in the near future, so we’re going to go deep into you know, posture but scoliosis, which is really super interesting and that is a super fascinating topic in my opinion. 

 

So, I have a specialist coming on with that and we’re also going to be exploring a little bit more of that, about mind-body connection that we were talking about previously with a different guest of ours. So, hold on tight, there is a lot of great stuff that’s coming up. If you have any ideas of things that you want me to cover, let me know. Send me an email or find me on social, I am up for hearing it. 

 

Have a wonderful day everyone, happy teaching. Bye. 

 

[END OF DISCUSSION]

 

[0:28:30.3] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab anyone of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching everyone. 

 

[END] 

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