Pathway from Comprehensive Pilates teacher to a Pilates Therapist…Bonnie here…

 In Background

My professional life started as a Ballerina at age 15.

fell into dancing naturally as I was one of those bendy people who could perform all sorts of tricks, my favourite was doing the Chinese splits which included letting my friends lift my legs off the ground until I eventually was raised off the floor entirely. It became apparent early on in my dancing career that I was one, if not the most, hypermobile dancers in all the companies I danced with. I was in pain most of the time, could barely walk home most days but thought this was normal for dancers. During my career, I had three surgeries on my feet and one on my knee before I hung up my pointe shoes. Moving forward in time I became a mother of three and my body seemed ok as I did not challenge myself much physically. I had not continued to dance and had allowed myself to become weak. I decided it was time to do something and decided that I would train as a Pilates matwork teacher. This was when problems really started to occur physically for me. I was brilliant at making shapes with my body so I could perform the mat work reasonably quickly to everyone’s satisfaction. I had made a living at creating shapes and delivering what was asked of me, so this was not a problem. It was around this time that I found I started experiencing small areas of my body that ached more which again I related to no pain no gain as I had during my dance career.

I then made the decision to train as a comprehensive Pilates teacher, and it became immediately clear to me that I had absolutely no strength. When I started using the Reformer or Cadillac, I would make the entire piece of equipment shake as I tapped into my neurological system in a way that was new to me. I loved the way it felt, parts of my body that never had been asked to work before were being woken up. As an extreme hypermobile my own joints offered little resistance, so it took virtually no muscular power to make me move. This explained why the matwork didn’t challenge my system in the same way. Once I start to use closed chain exercises with spring resistance offered by the equipment I discovered a whole new world of movement experiences.

I discovered there were positives and negatives to this.

I was making my muscles stronger, and it was nice to move, but it was also a time when a particular exercise could cause my back muscles to go into spasm, or if I was overweighted by too much spring resistance for my body, I started to experience things shifting out of alignment which began caused problems. I never really suffered dislocations in my body until this time, aside from the cuboid bones in my feet during my days on point, but I now suffered from shoulder dislocations, rib subluxations and knee dislocations as well. I have had to ask myself why this was? This was around the time I was formally diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos hypermobility type. I was doing all the right things recommended by the consultants and all the advice found in books on hypermobility. I cannot blame my experiences on poor Pilates practice or teaching as I had some of the best Pilates teachers teaching me and I will still stand by this today.

So what do you do when Pilates isn’t enough?

When trying to work out my own bodies issues. I decided to do everything my Pilates teachers told me. These teachers were great at cueing to correct what they saw as alignment issues and telling me what muscles didn’t work. But, no matter how hard I tried to get the muscles that weren’t doing what they should to work, I still experienced issues, or one area would improve only for another problem to show up, like a game of whack a mole, what I call chasing pain.

My experiences working with professional footballers.

These professional athletes were not getting better through standard physiotherapy methods offered at their club. I had a small group who came to me each week, and I saw all sorts of issues that were out of my remit to deal with, but the physiotherapists didn’t seem to see them as essential, but I knew they were part of the story. This inability to deal with specific issues frustrated me as it held back what I believed I could accomplish with Pilates exercises (case study to follow). When I was strengthening my own body on the pilates apparatus despite wonderful observation and cueing, I was strengthening all my dysfunctions. It was like feeding the beast. Those overactive muscles continued to work harder for the others that possibly due to sub-optimal joint alignment were not predisposed to work. On a hypermobile body, this can wreak havoc.

Birth of a course whore.

I had been working within a private physiotherapy clinic for many years by this time and had been welcomed to attend all their CPD evenings, something I will be forever grateful for. One particular speaker was talking about the connections of the body and how one issue can be driven by another area. They showed a correction of the shoulders on one off the physiotherapists and how this correction made changes to their pelvis. I left thinking this made so much sense to me both in what I was experiencing in my body and observing in my clients. I then enrolled in a course which the speaker was a tutor on beginning my journey of education which will probably never end.

The integration of Therapy and Pilates begins.

I began integrating the skills I acquired on therapy based courses offered outside the world of Pilates. I found specific techniques seemed to make a great deal of difference both to my own body and those of my clients. Objective screens were taking the guesswork out of what was going on in my body and with those I worked with. I started using accurate screens to help find the driver of dysfunctions. Muscle Energy Techniques were useful as a method of changing neuromuscular dysfunctional or perceived tight muscles. I was learning detailed joint anatomy and realising not just how the bones should move but how they move optimally in terms of timing with one another for example: when bending your knee, the tibia should move forward before the femur and in straightening the knee the femur should come back before the tibia. When you straighten your knee that way you cannot hyperextend your knee, try it. Identifying those over tense muscles stealing energy from other muscles and being able to calm them with trigger point or Kinesiology tape has been like magic. All these techniques and all the knowledge I have learned has made changes both to my own my own body and those of my clients with pain or other issues especially the hypermobile population I work with.

I am not perfect yet…

I no longer worry about dislocations, and many of the aches and the areas of my body where I experienced restrictions have improved hugely. I can now take an advanced Pilates session without worry, feeling strong, and enjoying what I can do. As I have gone from course to course, I have observed the changes in the way my body responds and feels. I am guilty of relating all course material I learn to the hypermobile population which has led to new protocols and confidence in working with this population. We are planning to share these protocols with other Pilates Teachers in due time. Sign up to our Newsletter and follow us on social media to be the first to know when our first course for working with the Hypermobile population.

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