Teachers In Training Teaching Skills

Using Postural Assessment Every Day

February 18, 2014

Today, we have a contribution from Kristi Milner Quinn, STOTT PILATES Lead Instructor Trainer and co-founder of Body Center Studio in Seattle, Washington.

Most Pilates instructors learn how to perform a postural assessment during their certification training, but many discontinue using this skill once they have completed their exam.  If you are one of these teachers, take a few minutes here to consider the practical reasons and added value of bringing it back into your practice.

First, lets define static posture and dynamic posture.

  • Static postural alignment is the relationship between the segments of the body and joints in standing or sitting in a stationary moment or without movement.
  • Dynamic posture is the ability to maintain a relationship between the segments of the body during movement and with the environment.

Hopefully, all Pilates and Yoga instructors are assessing dynamic posture when they are observing clients doing exercises.  However, much can be learned from assessing static posture as well, although it is often overlooked.

Lets consider a few principles that underscore the value of incorporating postural assessment in your practice.

1. The posture that you begin movement in will effect the movement that follows.

For example, if your client is standing getting ready for side splits, and they have an anterior pelvic tilt and hyperextended knees, this is going to effect the movement that follows.  The goal of the exercise is to use the hip abductors effectively.  When there is flexion at the hip joint (an anterior pelvic tilt will do that), one abductor will get more of the work – the Tensor Fascia Latae, which as many of you know inserts into the iliotibial band and then into the knee.  In effect, you will be strengthening different muscles than the intended target and missing the goal because the starting posture is not correct.

2. It can indicate what your client should be working on in their program.

When you have completed an assessment of your client’s posture, you can better determine which muscles should be shorter and possibly stronger, at least in their shorter range.  With that anterior tilt of the pelvis, the external obliques are too long so the client should be working them in a shorter range. Over time their length will change and the anterior tilt will be less or not exist.  This will allow the lumbar spine to be longer and reduce strain on the low back area.  If postural assessment is skipped and the static pelvic position goes unnoticed, the instructor may still do abdominal strengthening but maybe not in a shorter, more optimal range.  The external obliques might get stronger but will continue to be too long and not change the pelvis and give relief to the low back.

3. Preserve your Body- Better posture helps you have the least wear and tear on your joints.

Florence Kendell explains “Good posture is a good habit that contributes to the well-being of the individual.  The structure and function of the body provide all the potentialities for attaining and maintaining good posture.” …”But postural faults that persist can give rise to discomfort, pain, or disability.  The range of the effect is related to the severity and persistence of the faults.” [1]

How many of your clients complain of pain?  Poor posture will be involved.  It might be from their static posture or maybe a faulty movement pattern. A successful teacher will assist the client in decreasing pain.  This leads to client satisfaction, progress, enthusiasm, loyalty, retention, positive reviews, and all kinds of rewarding goodness.  It’s why so many of my clients have been my clients for more than 10 years.  They feel better, stronger and happier.

4. Posture is about awareness.

SkeletonOne of the main reasons people don’t change their postural habits is that they are not aware of their body.  We need to build the awareness and proprioception.  Mary Bond’s book The New Rules of Posture is wonderful at giving teachers and clients tools to make permanent changes in posture by feeling it from the inside out. For Example,

“While it’s true that most people hold their bodies behind gravity’s axis, simply positioning the body more forward is merely a mechanical adjustment.  It does nothing to change your perceptual relationship with gravity or the world around you.  The activity of changing your perception is what makes changes in posture sustainable.”[2]

Pilates is a wonderful tool to change someone’s awareness –hence the term, “mind body approach.”  But you cannot effectively change something unless you know which way to make the change.  Take a look at your client’s posture with more than a quick glance.  You also need to re-evaluate every few months to see the changes that are happening.  I have seen many clients who were told they had an anterior tilt and then were never checked again-now they have a posterior tilt.  Programs need to be changed.  There is good reason Chiropractors, Physical therapists, Occupational therapists and massage therapists look at posture.  It matters!

And as always, thank you so much for reading.

Good Luck!







[1] Kendall, Florence. Muscles Testing and Function, 4th Edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1949 1st Edition, 1993 4th Edition. Pg.4

[2] Bond, Mary. The New Rules of Posture.Vermont:  Healing Arts Press, 2007. Pg.8

  • Reply
    Abby K.
    March 31, 2015 at 5:01 am

    I’m actually really looking forward to postural analysis. I know that in my own dancing (and years of figure skating), I’ve learned some habits that have wrought discomfort and injury. I sometimes feel like alignment and postural awareness come too late in a dancer’s career, or if we’re really focusing on keeping our alignment in class, our teachers don’t always appreciate that care. Even though I know that I need to keep the connection between my ribs and my pelvis, when I throw myself into a combination, my ribs begin to splay and my lumbar spine goes into extension. If I approach a combo with more care and less abandon, I can keep my alignment a bit more, but then I’m not as aggressive or “risk-taking” as my teachers might like. I’m looking forward to learning more about these connections, and how I can apply them to my own dancing, as well as to my students.

    • Holly Furgason
      Holly Furgason
      April 7, 2015 at 5:50 am

      Humm…interesting point. I agree, you cannot dance fully if you’re thinking about every detail of your alignment. At some point you have to let the thinking go and hope your muscle memory comes through. To get to the point where muscle memory takes over, it takes repetition repetition and more repetition. This is why most people practice Pilates a couple times per week. To begin to create new patterns in the body and build a new understanding.
      I’d suggest keeping up your Pilates practice and keep thinking about your alignment. But then occasionally test your body. I bet you will be surprised how far you have come.

  • Reply
    Caroline Liviakis
    March 22, 2015 at 6:56 am

    This is a wonderful reminder–so useful in my own dancing life as well!

    A question that I have that is slightly on this topic would be with regard to finding neutral pelvic alignment on a variety of individuals’ bodies. On my own body I can feel the bony structures and feel comfortable finding my own symphysis pubis to find neutral, but in determining proper pelvic alignment on a client, particularly in motion, I am finding difficulty in determining this when I can’t feel the client’s pelvis–this is especially a problem when the subject is particularly overweight as the bones get lost visually.

    Any suggestions?

    • Holly Furgason
      Holly Furgason
      April 7, 2015 at 5:53 am

      The Postural Analysis portion of your IMP course will be very interesting for you and will answer some of your questions! We will discuss static and dynamic posture and give you tools for understanding an individual’s alignment.

  • Reply
    Nicole Jackson
    March 17, 2015 at 5:24 am

    One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was given by one of my dance instructors; I do not remember his direct quote, but the basis of it is that if you can only manage to do one thing correctly, START CORRECTLY. He went on to explain that if you start correctly, everything else will fall in to place upon practice. His most famous quote is, “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes PERMANENT.”
    If you practice incorrectly, you will, as Kristi Milner Quinn puts it, “give rise to discomfort, pain, and disability.” However, if you practice proper alignment and starting positions, you will, “Preserve your body…and [reduce] wear and tear on your joints.”

    • Holly Furgason
      Holly Furgason
      April 7, 2015 at 5:54 am

      Wonderful quote, so true! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  • Reply
    Kim Ip
    March 1, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Recently, in my somatics/pilates class we have been observing bodies in neutral postural alignment (i.e. neutral pelvis in prone position). What I noticed, along with my peers, is that a neutral pelvis looks very different on each individual body. What are your suggestions for assessing new clients who don’t understand what neutral alignment looks and feels like? How do you as the instructor familiarize yourself with an individual’s anatomy? Neutral alignment and “neutral posture” (which is synonymous to ideal posture?) is not one size fits all.

    • Holly Furgason
      Holly Furgason
      March 4, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      Interesting. I have lots to say….look for an upcoming post about this topic because it is BIG! Thanks for your ideas.

    • Holly Furgason
      Holly Furgason
      March 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Kim! Check out this recent post and let me know if it helps answer your question:

      Neutral vs. Natural/

    • Kristi Milner Quinn
      Kristi Milner Quinn
      March 11, 2014 at 4:07 am

      Hi Kim. Finding a good neutral alignment on the floor brings new challenges especially when prone. The floor is flat and we want to establish normal curves in the spine but also support the client in the posture that they have currently. Excessive flexion in the upper spine (Kyphosis) will create excessive extension in the cervical spine and maybe even more extension in the lumbar spine when you lie on the floor. When prone, you must also consider the size of the chest since it will lift you off the floor and increase extension in the lumbar spine. Props will be very important. Options to investigate: under the pelvis, the lumbar spine, the ribcage and the forehead.

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