by Katrin Neue
In Part 1 of this blog post we talked about what Somatic Movement is and how we can use it to help release tight bodies and muscles. In this second part we talk about the links between Pilates and Somatics.
How Somatics can help you perfect your Pilates?
Some of the more common complaints we hear in a Pilates class are tight and stiff necks and tired hip flexors. Even if you’re otherwise strong and active, some parts of your body may not work optimally or efficiently as they could during Pilates. We want your movements to flow so you gain that controlled, effortless technique that we all strive for. Somatics and Pilates share a lot of key principles and if using Somatic Movement to ‘level yourself’ before refining your movement further through Pilates, it’s a perfect match.
Here are the key principles of Pilates and how they relate to Somatic Movement in the tradition of Thomas Hanna:
First and foremost, both are holistic. Philosophically, Thomas Hanna, who put together what is called Somatics or Somatic Movement Education (forms of somatic education exists since the late 1800s, the most known now might be Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique), talks of Somas rather than bodies and emphasizes a MindBodySpirit unit. Joseph Pilates saw his work as a mind body approach to movement too. Both had in mind that through practice, you will gain freedom in movement without being reliant on somebody else to fix you. Independence and control is what both Thomas Hanna and Joseph Pilates wanted us to gain from their work.
The following list of principles is commonly accepted as the key principles of Pilates. I have added how they relate to Somatic Movement Education.
Somatics teaches a full breath with abdominals relaxed and your belly rising while you lie on your back. Pilates teaches a lateral breathing, widening the ribcage while keeping your powerhouse / centre engaged.To be able to use your breath fully, it is important to be able to control the abdominal muscles – which means being able to relax them as well as contract them. The more you can go into relaxing, the easier it will be to engage them efficiently. Being able to direct and control the breath is an essential skill.
None of the techniques allow for floppy execution of movements. In Pilates, you’re trying to make each repetition the best you can by paying close attention to the body. In Somatics, you zoom into the contraction and release of every muscle and how it affects the rest of the body, which will make you more precise in your awareness. Precision is closely tied in with the principles of control and concentration.
Gaining control over the movement is one of the key ideas in both. Pilates called his technique Contrology, which strongly suggests that maintaining and re-gaining full control over yourself was pretty high on his list of what Pilates is about. Somatics is also looking at the control of the muscle at the level of the brain, retraining the brain to send the correct signals by correcting the feedback loop between brain and muscle. The more aware you get of the details, the better your ability to self-correct. This practice can beautifully enhance your control in moving through the Pilates repertoire.
You can’t do Pilates while checking your emails. You can’t do Somatics while listening to the radio. Both require your full attention – mastery of your movement cannot be gained by half-assed attempts.
We work from the centre to the periphery to create balanced, effortless movement. In Somatics, we look for release through the centre which travels outwards to the limbs. Often, we find tensions that leave us imbalanced, so it’s important to even them out before strengthening the centre.
One of the hardest things to achieve is a fluid, effortless rhythm within the movement. You can easily distinguish a beginner from an advanced practitioner by looking at how effortful or seemingly easily they move. Somatic Exercises help you to smooth out the movement and create an effortless and efficient rhythm within a relatively short time of practice. You often feel the effect after a few repetitions.
Relaxation is both a requirement to be able to fully concentrate on the movement, and a result of fully concentrating on the internal sensation of the moving body. Particularly in Somatics, we encourage you to fully rest into the floor and relax all muscles. This gives the brain time to integrate the information. Releasing muscles lowers a high tone too, so literally is helping you to relax. The focus required in both Pilates and Somatics gives you a rest from your daily tasks, of which so many are focused on the outside.
One final thing that is important to note is that Joseph Pilates created his repertoire before mobile phones and laptops, in a time when not everyone had a telly or a car. His client base also consisted of many professional dancers with extraordinary movement. Think of any of the Matwork exercises that start in sitting – how many of us can comfortably enough sit upright with their legs stretched out? In modern societies, prolonged sitting and slouching is one very common reason for tight hamstrings, buttocks, backs and calves. In order to be able to execute the traditional repertoire as it was intended (with a few updated safety changes when it comes to flexion as we teach it at Live & Breathe Pilates), we have to work on releasing tensions that are in our way to even safely get to the starting positions required. Somatics are a safe, medically sound and quick way of freeing your body of habits holding you back to be the best Pilates student you can be!
Book a 6 week course on Somatics with Katrin, starting September 2015.
Read Part 1 of this blog post.