Pilates & Aging Gracefully
by Penny Crochiere, Pilates Master Certified
What is Pilates?
That simple question is typically answered by this description: Pilates is a system of exercises to strengthen at the same time lengthening the body to improve posture and body mechanics. But, since other exercise programs claim the same statement, then why is Pilates so unique? Pilates movements are specifically designed to work from the inside-out to elongate, strengthen and decompress the spine and joints. This work will make you taller, stronger and better balanced. Best of all, Pilates is for all ages.
Joseph Pilates believed you are only as young as your spine is flexible. “Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles.” As we season, we lose our natural core connection through improper body alignment.
So, this brings up my favorite topic — Finding your Magic Muscle, known as the Transversus Abdominis (TrA) which we all have. No matter what age, the TrA can come back to doing it’s job for you — of course, only with proper training, especially if the TrA has been on vacation from some time. A lazy TrA is called “pooching out”. How many people allow the TrA to pooch? MANY! The sad thing is there is no special age that the laziness of the TrA takes place. For one thing, working the rectus (known as the 6 pack) does not help the TrA. The rectus is the front shield of our body — too far away from the spine to strengthen and lengthen the deep back muscles that support our spine. So — stop the crunches — you are only tightening and shortening the spine!
The Rectus (6 pack) should be lengthened not tightened; that only compresses the spine.
The TrA is the only muscle we have that pulls inward. In contrast to the other abdominal muscles, the TrA is considered primarily a postural muscle and a muscle of respiration. It is referred to as the “corset muscle” because it encloses the abdominal cavity similarly to the way a corset would.
The TrA is used in such actions as forced expiration, coughing, sneezing, speech, laughing, straining, even vomiting, — ok, I hope you get the drift. But this awesome muscle is meant to pull the abdominal wall in toward the spine. The TrA has also been shown to be particularly important for stabilization of the spine when the arms and legs move and for helping protect the spine during lifting. In dance, the function of the transversus abdominis is ‘pulling the abdominal wall inward’.
Teaching only Pilates the past 14 years has been the most rewarding experience ever. As I season, I wish everyone could understand and capture the true works of Pilates and enjoy the physical freedom your body is capable of having. Your mind and body will work in such close coordination, you will know when any part of your body has reached it’s limit. Pilates is a re-education of your body and mind.