Lovely Bones

Lovely bones….they follow rules

Years ago, when I was a newly qualified Pilates teacher, I heard about a book written in the early 1990’s by Bruce King (someone trained by the man himself in NYC back in the late 1960-70’s) called Rules of the Bones: Exercise Theory and Program for Correct Body Usage. A title that trips off the tongue! (Pilates teachers have often seemed to like to use lots of words!) This book was written during the years when teachers avoided using the name Pilates as there were legal challenges taking place that have thankfully been resolved. I am a compulsive book buyer (and reader) and already had devoured Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education and Pilates Return to Life Through Contrology by Joseph Hubertus Pilates (JHP). Somehow, I managed to acquire a copy of Bruce’s book before Amazon existed and when it arrived was surprised to find it was more of a booklet than a fully- fledged book but it is still one of my most prized Pilates books in my library.

Who was Bruce King and why do we care what he had to say?

He was a dancer (weren’t most of them) who was one of the precious few trained by JHP and he opened his own studio in NYC in the mid 1970’s. Today he is classified as one of the elders along with Mary, Carola, Ron, Kathy, Romana, Eve, Lolita and the others. According to Mary Bowen, who studied with him, a knee injury had led him to Pilates where he was only allowed to do three exercises for 6 months on the Reformer perfecting the alignment of his legs and feet. His experience of staying focused on precision and alignment gave him an understanding of the importance of the bones being in the right place during movements and allowing the muscles to follow. This is where I believe we should always start our Pilates practice.

Why do we care about the bones?

Optimal organisation results from the positioning of our bones. Knowing the bones, their relationships and their movements is integral to Pilates. When we can feel the weight of our bones our body lightens and we feel where we are while we move. The focus on the bones has always resonated with me as a teacher, as we can easily identify them and observe their relationships while our clients move. Understanding their positions and studying their movement is key for me in my work as a Pilates Therapist. Movement happens in the spaces between our bones (our joints). Bones should not touch each other, when they do they are said to have degenerated and movement becomes painful.

Classical Pilates evolves into Modern Pilates

According to Mary Bowen, John Claude West (a student of Kathy Grant) was one of the first in the Pilates community to start working with Physiotherapists and studying anatomy and biomechanics. He was a thinker who wanted to understand more about the body and how it worked. Classical Pilates focuses on students following the sequence, the pattern of the exercises, first Reformer, then the Mat, this exercise follows the one before. Mary has said that JHP didn’t mind you changing the order, or invention, as long as you used your whole body.

Does understanding optimal biomechanics and joint actions inform our teaching of Pilates?

The core principles of Pilates include precision and alignment. From the start of my training as a Pilates teacher in 1998 I have continued to study in an attempt to understand optimal biomechanics and joint actions. Our bodies are comprised of soft tissues and without our bones we would be a pile of jelly. Bones give us form and an ability to move on our lovely planet. When we understand the bones, joints and their actions we are in a strong position to facilitate optimal changes with our clients. Issues stemming from sub-optimal biomechanics can be resolved when we teach from the bones.

Do you know your PSIS, from your ASIS and your AIIS?

Pilates Therapy courses focus on deepening our understanding of the bones, joints and biomechanics. We teach the movements of the pelvis as it relates to the hip and the spine. Understanding the mechanics of the spine (Fryettes laws of spinal mechanics) when it is in neutral and non-neutral.

Spoiler alert: the laws are not the same when the spine is not in neutral.

Did you realise the bones of the spine move in different ways during flexion, neutral and extension? Knowing how the bones should move gives us an opportunity to cue them in ways that support optimal joint mechanics. Screening objectively helps us identify those whose anatomy is not optimal.

There is nothing we can do to change the shapes of our bones – structural scoliosis, a cam or pincer in the hip, will not change with exercise. Being able to identify these individuals allows us an opportunity to work with their bodies, allowing us to support them as they are. We can work with their anatomy and know when to refer this population on which raises our standards as Pilates teachers and improving our reputation with the medical practitioners we share our clients with.

Maybe it wouldn’t have taken 6 months of repetitions for Bruce’s legs to return to optimal alignment had he been screened, and manual skills been integrated into his Pilates sessions. What makes Pilates special is the fact that we get to see our clients moving their bones, when we screen them objectively we can objectively identify what is moving and what is not (iliosacral or sacroiliac), is the spine responding to what is happening at the hip or is it the other way around? This deeper understanding enables us to facilitate changes more quickly. Pilates Therapists also have additional skills to help identify who needs to be referred on. It isn’t our job to diagnose anything but knowing what are not likely to change, saves time for us and our clients.

References and Links:
YouTube: Mary Bowen Shares Her History and Love with Pilates and Bruce King, Author of Rules of the Bones

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