By Patricia Staszak, PT, STOTT PILATES Rehab Instructor Trainer
At Andersonville Physical Therapy we are often asked whether it is better to do yoga or Pilates to stay strong and healthy. My answer is yes to both! Using a combination of these two types of exercise is a formidable tool to improve your body’s deep strength and alignment.
For the last six months I have gone to yoga three to five times a week and experienced about twenty different instructors. I am not a yoga instructor, but my experience teaching movement in our clinic and to physical therapists in the area gives me a unique perspective on the topic. First, I have to say that I have come to love yoga and find it extremely powerful in its potential to work on the body and soul. Going to a great yoga class feels like a wonderful gift.
In my travels through different studios I have discovered that there is a huge variety in the types and levels of yoga classes offered. Some classes flow faster, while some have you hold the asanas (yoga poses) for a number of breaths. Some teachers perform a very ordered, systematic sequence while others teach a wide variety of poses and mix up the order of the poses. Some classes are very difficult and increase your heart rate and others are less aggressive.
I have also found that most teachers talk through the class-sometimes to teach breathing, sometimes to engage the class to focus on being in the present, but mostly to attempt to help students find their highest expression of the pose. The language used to help students find each pose is called “cuing.”
Perhaps because yoga has evolved over thousands of years and there many different types of yoga, I have found a wide variety of the cues are used in these classes (americanyogaassociation.org). Instructors also use a large assortment of imagery when explaining each position and movement. Imagery is a wonderful tool to describe the nuances of movement, but it can be confusing. Finding the proper language for the poses is a not an easy task. To do it well requires a very large knowledge base and the ability to find language that the students can understand. Just as with any good teacher, finding the right combination of skills to connect to your audience is a bit of an art. This challenge of communicating position and movement is not unique to yoga. As physical therapists we continue to work to find ways to best explain movement to our patients. And in our group classes offered in the Movement Education Center we strive to find consistent language in our descriptions of positions and movement.
A few years ago we introduced the STOTT PILATES rehabilitation program in our exercise instruction with patients, and added STOTT PILATES classes in our studio. We have found STOTT PILATES does a very good job teaching the basics of neutral joint position, proper breathing, and correct mechanics with exercise. It also outlines basic principles of alignment that serve as a guideline for good positioning and does a very good job describing movement (STOTT Lecture). We have found it to be an excellent tool to train patients how their bodies work so they can achieve optimal wellness.
As we have studied these concepts and incorporated them in our practice, we have realized that what we are really teaching is clinical kinesiology and kinematics. Which are the study of human movement and correct biomechanics for each joint, and the language that is used to describe proper positions and motion of the body (Brunnstrom, Singe, and Lehmkuhl 2-6). We find that our patients understand this language and are able to implement the concepts with exercises and in every day life. The common theme we teach with every exercise and movement is a balanced, neutral joint position. In this position there is minimal stress in all of the joints in our body.
STOTT PILATES is a great tool to learn neutral joint position and whole body alignment, and yoga provides a wonderful environment to practice these concepts. The relaxed, slower paced tempo of yoga allows the student to focus on the positions and movement. Unfortunately, there is no one perfect cue that will make you understand a pose. It is first necessary to learn the basics: the concepts of a neutral, balanced joint and body position, how to engage deep muscles, and how to find the correct alignment.
Tips from APT for achieving balanced, neutral alignment in your yoga poses:
- Listen to your body. When in neutral alignment you should be able to relax into the pose and breathe. You should not experience pain, strain, or tightness or a “gripping” feeling in any part of your body. If you do – grab a prop or modify the pose. Again, if something does not feel right ask your yoga teacher for help.
- Use Props when necessary. Props are items used to help you get into a pose with the correct form; bolsters, blocks, blankets and straps (Cummins). They are excellent tools to help achieve a neutral joint position. Use of props should be the rule instead of the exception.
- Modify if you cannot comfortably get into the pose (Miller). Use props or an easier version of the pose. Your yoga teacher is an excellent resource to find the correct modification or a more appropriate poses.
- Throw your ego out the window. It does not matter what anyone else is doing – this is your yoga practice.
We believe that a more consistent anatomical based cuing with imagery will improve students’ ability to perform their yoga poses, and with movements in all types of exercise. Finding a balanced, neutral, anatomical alignment will further open energy channels and decrease resistance to movement. Of course, learning these concepts takes focus and energy for the student. But, the rewards are great.
Brunnstrom, Signe, L. Don Lehmkuhl, and Laura K. Smith. Brunnstrom’s Clinical Kinesiology. 4th ed. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1983. 2-6. Print.
Cummins, Claudia. “To Prop or Not to Prop.” Yoga Journal. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/989>.
“General Yoga Information.” Americanyogaassociation.com. American Yoga Assosciation. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.americanyogaassociation.org/general.html>.
Miller, Sarka-Jonae. “Basic Yoga Poses and Positions for Beginners.” LIVESTRONG.COM. 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/407044-basic-yoga-poses-and-positions-for-beginners/>.
Photograph. Insureyourhealthyourself.com. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://insureyourhealthyourself.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/yogatherapy.jpg>.
“STOTT PILATES RMR-1 Spinal, Pelvic & Scapular Stabilization: Matwork and Reformer.” STOTT PILATES Rehab Instructor Trainer Workshop. STOTT PILATES Corporate Headquarters, Toronto. Apr. 2009. Lecture.