From sole to spine

Mara Brenner

Gabriola Dance and Pilates

Tuesday, September 2 2014

In the late 1980s the fitness and physical therapy industries adopted some of the love for Pilates that dancers have enjoyed since the 1950s. Since then, Pilates has developed a reputation for building abdominal strength to the point where the core muscles have become its mantra. In so doing, its followers have learned that a strong core equals a healthy spine and pelvis. Although this is absolutely true, it is more than that - Pilates techniques reach out to the fingertips and toes too.

Coming from a ballet background I learned a lot about feet and how important they are to the way we engage our whole body. Yet we squish them into shoes, walk on cement sidewalks, wear high heels and pay little attention to them until they are directly at issue. Often, when problems arise, we buy orthotics to help correct imbalances in the structure of our feet. These imbalances are often a result of genetics or a weak structural design (thanks Mom!) combined with years of weight bearing...including mealy walking. Moving on these “imperfect” feet requires us to compensate and so creates more imperfections. And on and on it goes up the line. Orthotics certainly help, but they may also be perpetuating lazy feet.

Depending on how you are moving or standing, the bones of your feet shift dynamically and in turn trickle up the muscles in your body. It’s a lot of responsibility for such small intricate structures. When standing, your feet are the only connection and reference point you have with the ground. They set up your balance and help your skeleton and your muscles stack your body up vertically. So how you use your feet will dictate how your leg, core and back muscles are recruited up the muscle lines of your body. Do your muscles align in “neutral,” which is your own personal ideal posture, or is your body counterbalancing. For example, if your lower back is overly arched, your upper back will round your shoulders forward as a counter balance. These muscle imbalances are present in everyone to some extent, and my goal as a trainer is to make them as minimal as possible. If they continue this compensation, they will again create more imperfections. And on and on it goes up the line yet again.

In order to create a more balanced and neutral position for your feet, Pilates works on them, to begin with, while lying down and sitting. In this way, a more perfect and neutral position can be achieved. With this correct alignment, the muscles can begin to balance out and with some time, the positive effects of strong and aligned feet will percolate up to the leg muscles, then the pelvis and so on. By alleviating foot ailments like collapsed arches and arch pronation you are on your way to alleviating knee, back and shoulder pain too. The added bonus is that you have halted the counterbalance cycle. 

Mara Brenner is a former dancer and the resident ballet instructor on Gabriola. She is BCRPA certified in mat Pilates and received her standing Pilates certification through the Physical Mind Pilates Institute in Chicago. She offers dozens of group and private classes weekly. For more information about the fall session please give her a call at 250-247-8538 or check out her website www.maragoldtheatre.com.