Where Pilates Goes Wrong…

I know that I spend a lot of time reminding people not just to obsess about the area that is injured, painful or out of alignment. The general thrust of my writing and talking about the body is to always look at the system as a whole. A key model for understanding this holistic approach is through the Anatomy Trains identified by Thomas Myers. Fascia, the connective tissue that wraps around each cell, each bundle of cells, each muscle, the tissue that interconnects muscle, to tendon, to bone, to viscera. Fascia, I have thought, is the reason the whole body is a whole system. But what if I’m slightly wrong?

As so many of my clients and classes wind down for the end of term, I have more time to think of my own body and training. I went for a run on Monday which absolutely shattered my lower calf muscles (the soleus area). No matter how much I stretched them out, they still felt tight. Walking down stairs was actually painful. Thursday comes and I was determined to get myself out for another run. I hoped that the movement would help to release them. It didn’t and I had to give up after 10 minutes just because the tension was getting silly.

Now, I’ve always struggled with super tight calve muscles. I tell everyone that I inherited them from my Dad, which is true! I swear I have my Dad’s legs! (How many times have I heard that from a client…?) But I also know, because I am a Pilates teacher, that this kind of overuse is a signal that the mechanics of my running are slightly dysfunctional. Something I am doing is leading to this over use. It’s probably wrapped up with my knees being hyper-extended and the position of my weight over my legs when I’m running. It’s symmetrical (both sides are equally tight), which is some good news. It’s probably something to do with the switchover between the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles during the take off and landing phases, (as my teacher Dominique Jansen has said in the past). Or maybe it’s just the shoes, or the fact that I haven’t run for some time.

My brain went into over-drive trying to work it out.

Later in the day I hobbled down to Triyoga to do a Feldenkrais class. We spent the whole lesson working on the shoulder girdle. The whole 1.5hours lying on our backs just doing movements around the shoulders and integrating this into spiralling the back.

I walked out of the class with no calve pain…

[Pause for effect]

This is why I keep on going on about Feldenkrais. But what I realised is that what happened yesterday was not just related to fascia. Feldenkrais talks to the nervous system and invites an overall more functional organisation of the whole body. So yes, we worked on the shoulders, but the whole body was adjusting in the meantime, and something else let go. Not only is the calve pain gone, but my scoliosis is less significant today.

The discovery has been both exciting and worrying. I realised that even though I actively attempt to address the body and person as a whole, Pilates does, unfortunately, still have a tendency to reduce pain to a specific area and to try to treat it. We look for logical connections: the neck and lower back, the neck and gluts, the hip and knee, the foot and lower back, the wrist and the shoulder etc. What we sometimes get wrong is that the system’s natural ability to self organise is so finely tuned to the balance of every part, that even our extensive body knowledge and eye for detail cannot always see the whole. Pilates goes wrong when teachers assume they know better.

Now excuse me whilst I go and have an existential crises.


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