Refine your Spine

May 2017 / Pilates Style Magazine
If you’re not integrating the Spine Corrector into your workouts, your missing out on nurturing one of the most foundational aspects of Pilates: your spinal articulation. Kyria Sabin Waugaman, the program director of Fletcher Pilates, shares some of the most valuable work for helping the spine become stronger, more flexible and more articulate, as taught by her mentor Ron Fletcher.

THE SPINE CORRECTOR IS SUCH A SIMPLE YET INCREDIBLY POWERFUL TOOL .

It can be used in private sessions to teach pelvic placement and precise spinal extension, as well as in the group class setting to provide a more supportive and safer environment for the head and neck. Joseph Pilates developed several arcs and barrels throughout the evolution of his method, but none are more effective than the Clara Barrel—named posthumously after his wife, Clara Pilates—at teaching balanced pelvic placement and spinal articulation. According to Joe, the ultimate goal of his method is to help us develop a “strong, flexible and articulate” spine. When my teacher, Ron Fletcher, returned to New York City following a career as a choreographer for the Ice Capades, he also returned to the original Pilates studio to study closely with Clara. Ron relayed that Clara was a patient and generous teacher, with a keen eye and deep understanding of body mechanics. Ron would often say,

“Joe was a genius, and Clara was the true teacher.”

It was during this time that Ron was reintroduced to the effectiveness of the Spine Corrector. Clara would have him place his hips on the “lip” of the barrel to extend his upper back, slowly moving his hips back toward the barrel’s “crevasse” to work one spinal segment at a time. This patient, methodical approach allows both the teacher and student to have a better understanding of where and how the spine is moving—and where and how it’s not. This precise teaching technique also encourages our most distracted clients to focus, allowing for a deeper internal awareness and concentration that can carry over into other aspects of their lives. I teach weekly group classes on the Spine Corrector and incorporate the Clara Barrel in teaching most private sessions—especially for clients with scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis. I also incorporate the Barrel with exercises on the Trap Table, Universal Reformer and Guillotine to provide both more support and movement feedback. In fact, if I had to limit myself to one Pilates apparatus to take to a desert island, I might very well choose the Spine Corrector!

GENERAL GUIDELINES

Props: none

Breath: The breath is a key ingredient to precise spinal movement and core control. Ron Fletcher would often change the breath pattern to better support a movement, based on the needs of an individual or a group. I can still hear him saying, “allow the breath to inspire the movement,” and love this concept of the breath as the origin of all movement. This epitomizes moving from the inside out.

Reps: In general, practice 4–8 repetitions of each movement. The first 3–4 reps are to prepare the body, “set” the basic movement pattern and to ensure safety. The remaining repetitions are about refining the movement on a deeper level.

Tips: Before you practice these exercises, identify which segments of your spine require more stabilization and which would benefit from more mobility. Pay special attention to balanced spinal articulation throughout your practice.

Before You Begin

Most exercises on the Spine Corrector start with precise placement of the pelvis/hips. In teaching on the Spine Corrector, I often say, “place the pelvis, move the spine.” With that, here are the five basic pelvic positions on the Spine Corrector.

HIPS ON THE LIP (AKA SEATED PERCH)

Place your sit bones on the lip. Actively lengthen your spine and torso up and out of your hips.

HIPS IN THE CREVASSE (AKA ROOTED PELVIS)

Place your sit bones in the crevasse. Actively lengthen your spine and torso up and out of your hips.

SIDE-SIT POSITION

Place one sit bone in the crevasse, actively extending your other leg out to the side in parallel. Lengthen your torso up and out of your hips.

HIPS ON TOP: SUPINE (AKA WRAPPED PELVIS)

Place your hips on top of the arc in a supported shoulder stand, actively “wrapping” your pelvis around the arc.

HIPS ON TOP PRONE (not shown) Place your pelvis at the apex of the arc, centering the front of your pelvis (between your pubic and ASIS hip bones), and extending your legs and spine straight out into Plank.

 

LIP SERIES

Purpose: hones in on thoracic spinal extension and articulation

Setup: Position your pelvis for Hips on the Lip (see “Before You Begin” at left), pressing your hands into the front edge of the Spine Corrector to expand your chest and engage your back.

Your legs can either be together or hip-width apart.

1 . Contract back to the arc without shifting your pelvic placement on the lip.

2. Reach your arms forward at shoulder height, palms in. Maintaining this alignment, roll back through your thoracic spine (ribs) to a “tabletop” position with the tips of your shoulder blades on the arc and your neck elongated in line with your upper back.

3. Carefully extend your upper back over the arc, reaching your arms overhead to a V position.

Tip: During the extension, focus on keeping your pelvis on the lip and extending your upper back.

Advanced: At the end of step 1, practice lengthening up and contracting back to the arc several times.

 

ARC SERIES

Purpose: focuses on full spinal extension with the pelvis in the crevasse

Setup: Position your pelvis for Hips in the Crevasse (see “Before You Begin” on page 53) with your legs in a “diamond” position and the soles of your feet together. Reach your arms forward at shoulder height, palms in.

1 . Contract back to flex your lumbar spine (lower back) to the arc without shifting your pelvis forward.

2. Roll to the top of the arc to a “tabletop” position, actively reaching your pelvis into the crevasse, placing your shoulders on the arc and lengthening your cervical spine in line with your upper back.

3. Actively lengthen your upper back over the arc, extending your arms overhead to a V position.

4. To return from full extension, first lift your arms to vertical, then lengthen the back of your neck and round away from the arc into a Spine Stretch Forward. Pulse forward before extending back over the arc.

Tip: Allow your arms to follow the movement of your spine.

Modification: If full extension strains your neck or upper back, do not progress beyond the tabletop position.

 

SIDE BEND SERIES

SIMPLE SIDE-BENDS

Purpose: promotes lateral flexion and spinal rotation; stabilizes the pelvis in the crevasse to allow for more precise spinal movement

Setup: Same as Arc Series, but extend your arms to a T position, palms up.

1 . Maintaining pelvic placement, side-bend up and over to one side, placing your hand on the floor.

2. Return to center, then repeat to your other side. Do several reps, maintaining pelvic placement with a focus on spinal movement symmetry from side to side.

Tip: The arm and shoulder should follow the line of the spine.

 

Ron’s Crown Jewel

Anyone who had the opportunity to meet Ron Fletcher, a disciple of both Joseph and Clara Pilates, knows that he was larger than life. Here, his protégée, Kyria Sabin, recounts a moment with her mentor that she’ll never forget. I arranged to film a conversation at New York University, between Pilates masters Ron Fletcher and Kathy Grant, on why they each initiated their “Pilates” practice, their memories of Joe and Clara, their approach to teaching and their thoughts on the current Pilates industry worldwide. They were not at a loss for words, and there was much agreement between the two. Kathy Grant was well known for her mastery of the Wunda Chair, so at the end of the taping I said, “Kathy, if you’re Queen of the Chair, that makes Ron the King of the Barrel.”

Ron immediately replied, “No, darlin’, I’m the Queen of the Barrel!”

 

SIDE-BEND WITH FLEXION AND EXTENSION

This exercise showcases the natural affinity for three-dimensional movement on the Spine Corrector.

Purpose: progresses the side-bend into flexion and extension on the diagonal

Setup: Same as Simple Side-Bends, but extend your arms toward the ceiling, palms in.

1 . Side-bend up and over to one side, placing your hand on the floor.

2. Contract forward on the diagonal, keeping your opposite hip pressed into the crevasse; return to the side-bend.

3. Contract back into the arc to extend your body on the diagonal. Return to the side-bend, and then lift to center.

4. Repeat this pattern to the other direction.

Tip: Keep your neck in line with your upper back during the extension.

 

LATERAL RIB ROLL

This exercise was a favorite of my mentor, Ron Fletcher.

Purpose: lengthens both sides of the body with control

Setup: Place your hips in the Side-Sit Position (see “Before You Begin” on page 53) with your arms extended to a T position.

1 . Reach your waist into the arc to begin the lateral roll.

2. Roll through your waist to the base of your ribs, reaching your extended leg long.

3. Continue the movement to lengthen your side over the arc; return to the starting position. Repeat on your other side.

Tip: The front foot placement helps to stabilize your pelvis in the Side-Sit Position.

 

DIAGONAL RIB ROLL

This is another example of how to use the Spine Corrector to develop balanced three-dimensional spinal movement.

Purpose: integrates spinal flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation to involve the entire body

Setup: Position your pelvis for Hips in the Crevasse with your back contracted into the arc and legs together. Place your fists on your forehead with your elbows wide and chest open.

1 . Press up and out of the arc to extend your left leg on the diagonal, reaching forward over your extended leg with your left arm, and on a diagonal behind you with your right arm; allow your gaze to follow your left hand.

2. Roll back on a right diagonal, maintaining focus on your left hand. Repeat the rib roll forward and then back on the diagonal.

3. From the back diagonal, open your chest on top of the arc, drawing your legs into a diamond position.

4. Lengthen up, and then contract back to the starting position.

5. Repeat the pattern on your other side.

 

HIPS ON TOP SUPINE SERIES

Purpose: focuses on actively placing and articulating the lumbar spine (lower back), pelvis and hips

Setup: Position your pelvis for Hips on Top: Supine (see “Before You Begin” on page 53), evenly distributing your weight across your shoulders and throughout your hips, holding onto the sides of the Spine Corrector to “anchor” your shoulders and lengthen your neck.

 

ROLLOVER

1 . With abdominal control, peel your hips and low back away from the arc, until your legs are parallel to the floor.

2. Separate your legs to a V.

3. Flex your feet.

4. Roll your spine to the arc.

5. Point your feet.

6. Draw your legs together.

7. Reverse the movement pattern, bringing your legs together, separating your legs to a V, rolling over, drawing your legs together, flexing your feet and then rolling back to the arc.

Tips: Minimize any weight placed on your head and neck. Your mid-back should never leave the barrel.

 

SCISSORS AND HELICOPTER

These exercises are wonderful for articulating the hip joint, and balancing strength and flexibility through the hip flexors, hamstrings and adductors.

1 . Maintaining pelvic placement, “scissor” your legs apart, focusing on equal hip flexion and extension. Pulse your legs apart.

2. Return to the starting position.

3. Reverse the scissor, pulsing your legs apart.

4. Alternate sides, pulsing apart twice, then return to center.

5. Scissor your legs apart, then rotate your legs open to a V. Continue to circle around to the opposite scissor position. Continue circling your legs around through the V to the scissors.

Tip: Actively maintain the placement of your pelvis in this position, focusing on articulating your legs and hips.

 

JACKKNIFE

1 . Press up to a shoulder stand by coordinating abdominal, gluteal, hamstring and adductor engagement.

2. Maintaining a strong upper body in your shoulder stand, fold at your hips with control.

3. Press your hips back up to a shoulder stand.

4. Roll back to the arc with control.

Tips: The supported shoulder stand on the Spine Corrector is the ideal place to teach the body to initiate the movement from the pelvis and spine, rather than using the momentum of the legs, for the Jackknife and Rollover exercises.

 

KYRIA SABIN WAUGAMAN,

PMA-CPT, initiated her Pilates studies with Ron Fletcher in 1991 and founded Body Works Pilates Studios in Tucson, AZ, two years later. She founded Fletcher Pilates® International in 2003, a licensed Pilates school offering a professional comprehensive curriculum, as well as a wide variety of continuing education. A graduate of Duke University, a Pilates teacher and a massage therapist, Kyria developed the Pilates Program at the University of Arizona School of Dance, where she serves as adjunct faculty. She is an international presenter, and has served on boards for the Pilates Method Alliance, the University of Arizona School of Dance and the Foundation for Expanding Horizons. She currently chairs the PMA Certification Commission. For more information, visit fletcherpilates.com.

 

MCKENNA MENDOZA, PMA-CPT,

initiated her classical Pilates studies while in college, and ultimately connected with Fletcher Pilates based on the movement precision and emphasis on breath. Upon graduation, McKenna continued her Pilates education at the Fletcher Pilates headquarters in Tucson, AZ, where she completed the 1,000-hour training program in 2008. Shortly thereafter, she opened her first Pilates studio in Phoenix. She now resides in Los Angeles and teaches out of her studio in Silver Lake. McKenna is also trained in Kundalini yoga and herbalism. For more information, visit mckennamendoza.com.

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