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.” 
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.
One 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.”
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.