Pilates Bracing and Collapsing

When I’m working one on one with clients, so much of what I observe is coping mechanisms.  When I’m taking someone through a movement process, I can see whether they are comfortable and supporting themselves well, or if they’re struggling. The former usually happens when there is familiarity and the practice has laid down the pathways that provide connectivity.  When I’m introducing something new, I often observe either bracing or collapse. 

Bracing is tension - tissues activate even if they’re not part of what is being called upon.  A few common bracing patterns are butt gripping and shoulder shrugging.  This has an overly active quality to it...too much is happening.  I’ll use the example of bringing your pelvis up into a bridge.  The tendency here is to grip the feet, grip the butt, grip the shoulders, even grip the jaw.  Overstimulated!  All that is happening is a mild hip and shoulder extension.  We’re displacing the weight of the pelvis into the feet and shoulder girdle.  Do we need to grip our whole body? As my one teacher used to say, “We’re not moving a fridge!”.  By first accessing the ground through our feet then increasing pressure through them, our pelvis will unweight itself and become suspended.  Down to go up.  Grounding cannot happen via gripping.  Grounding instead requires an opening to support (gravity) rather than binding and bracing which cuts us off from support.  Once a client trusts the opening to support and accesses a bit of spatial intent (the direction of the pelvis is going upward) then the movement becomes quite easeful.  No need to grip!  

Collapsing is on the other end of the spectrum...not enough is happening!  This can be due to fatigue, atrophy or lack of innervation.  Under stimulated!  Tensile forces need to be dialed up a bit here...perhaps through oppositional energy.  I’ll use the example of a slumpy spine.  This is a very common collapse pattern - the pelvis is rolled back in a posterior pelvic tilt, ribs are sunken in (kyphotic thoracic) and the head is shearing forward.  This may seem strange but a collapse pattern creates a lot of tension since the curves of the spine are out of balance.  The spinous processes are strained, the diaphragm and organs are under pressure and our brain stem is being pinched.  Backaches, poor digestion, shallow breathing, headaches - you name it. Yikes!  As soon as we ground through our sit bones and reach the top of our head to the ceiling,  our spine naturally expands into its length and balance.  Down to go up.  Grounding creates oppositional energy for the spine to develop tone.  Once our spine is in balance we can breath efficiently and access our core support.  Ahhhh -  so nice!

We can never go wrong with accessing support and the supports that are always present are ground and space.  We may need to yield and push more to access ground - condensing our tissues for just enough toning up.  We may need to reach more into space to access length and decompression.  A nice balance between push and reach is optimal - the tensile forces are such that just enough is being used for the required movement.

We all have areas in our body that are high tone and others that are low tone.  Areas that are overly toned and bracing need more inner space and volume so tissues and joints can freely glide.  Areas that are under toned could use some gathering in on themselves - perking up a bit to hug into the joints.

Becoming sensitive to where we could dial the dimmer switch up or down is very useful.  Each day & each moment will be different.

About Anita Seiz:

Anita comes from a background of dance in classical and contemporary styles. She has been teaching Pilates for over 9 years, having graduated from Boditree’s comprehensive program in 2002. In 2004, she graduated with distinction from Long Beach Dance Conditioning’s Advances in Pilates Technique training under Master Instructor, Marie-Jose Blom. This deeply added to her existing experience and prompted further study under Eric Franklin. In 2005, she certified in the Franklin Method, emphasizing postural and biomechanical imagery techniques. Imagery supports her work in movement re-patterning and expanding clients access to movement potential. 

Click to learn more about Anita Seiz.

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hadassah, posted on October 8, 2014

You are so articulate with language and movement! Wonderful:)

IrinaPetrovna, posted on July 23, 2014

Great article Anita!

gordyfancypants, posted on March 22, 2013

i love your concise language. I love your videos.

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