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Pilates 101 for massage therapists.

Pilates and massage are very different but complementary practices. Massage therapists, like any athletes, need to stay strong to stay in the game. Protecting and strengthening your body adds longevity to your career and to your health.

What is Pilates?

Pilates, originally called Contrology, was developed over many years during the last century by Joseph Pilates. It is a complete system of exercise that tenses muscles and then releases them from tension.

You have to learn how to tense your muscles if you really want to know how to relax. Joseph Pilates Pilates is movement, strength, balance and coordination. It is physical and mental control in action. Pilates practitioners are mentally focused and work dynamically. They practice controlled breathing while following a specific sequence of exercises. This sequence of exercises is designed to mentally take the Pilates practitioner from a state of distracted stasis to a focused and concentratedly active state.

For Joseph Pilates developing the powerhouse, which roughly correlates with the center of the torso and outward towards the shoulders and legs, was an important focus of his work. The powerhouse is regarded as the seat of strength in the body.

Massage therapists are familiar with reciprocal inhibition, PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) and pin and stretch' techniques. By applying these same neuromuscular principles to movement, Pilates exercises allow the practitioner to coordinate deep stretches and powerful activation of all muscles in the body.

Pilates exercises use coordinated muscular ischemic contractions which work in a similar way to ischemic compression, a technique commonly used by massage therapists. These contractions facilitate muscle cell respiration, that is, they facilitate the deep exchange of oxygenated blood and venous return in a systematic and potent way.

Practising Pilates exercises also decompresses the spine and allows increased space within most skeletal joints, by applying a kind of self traction through activating opposing muscle groups.

Try Pilates

Most Pilates workouts start with a warm-up exercise called the Hundred. Typically done lying supine, the Hundred is simultaneously a breathing exercise, an isometric abdominal exercise, a pelvic stabilizing exercise, and more.

The participant begins by pulling his lower abdominals strongly in toward the spine. He will lift his head, neck, and shoulders, gazing forward. His arms reach straight from his shoulders to above hip level. His legs reach straight out from his hips to a 45% angle.

In this challenging position, the weight of the legs and torso, aided by gravity, will tempt the practitioner to wobble and arch the back or the neck. Lift or lower the shoulders and legs only to the point where the abdominals can maintain their lower back on the floor.

To support this position, adduct the inner thigh muscles strongly until the heels touch each other, using the deep external hip rotators to turn the legs slightly out. Pull deeply in to the waist wrapping the transverse abdominus muscle, and basket weaving the obliques completely around the torso, girding and supporting the pelvis and lower back.

Breathing deeply in, pump the arms vigorously, reaching wrists and fingers long, for a count of five, and exhale deeply for another five. Repeat for ten repetitions. Reach the hips and legs away from the rib cage and vice versa. Lengthen through the waist.

This simple exercise quickly oxygenates the blood, stimulates internal organs, increases movement of circulatory, lymph, and interstitial fluids, warms connective tissue and muscle, and increases ranges of motion. Coincidentally, these all are also benefits of massage.

In addition, practising Pilates exercises strengthens pelvic, spinal, and scapular stabilizers as well as the powerhouse. Strengthening these muscle groups is crucial for massage therapists to help prevent injured backs and shoulders. A strong powerhouse allows transfer of energy from the therapists' legs pushing into the floor, through the torso, through the shoulders and arms, to the massage client. Weakness in these areas can translate to pain as the therapist twists and contorts to accommodate these forces.

Simona Cipriani | Director Of The Art Of Control Pilates, Massage Therapy, Feldenkrais, Purchase, NY
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Author:Cipriani, Simona
Publication:Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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