Written by Selena Deleon
This is the second in a four-part series that will look at the use of Pilates for alignment of the body.
LAST week's article looked at alignment, beginning with the feet. This week we are moving up the chain, as we review the ankles and knees as the next pointS of contact for addressing the effects of faulty patterns.
If you are familiar with the children's game Jenga, you can appreciate how load, when stacked upright, takes balance and carefully thought out weight distribution in order for the structure to maintain integrity.
THE ANKLES AND KNEES
If you apply this visual to the leg, the ankle and the knee will be the next major joints in the vertical series of your body.
It stands to reason that if the foot is off in its positioning, this will cause the ligaments in the ankle to come under strain, as they do their best to keep the balance.
The knee is the strongest and most important joint in the body. It is also extremely vulnerable to poor alignment as it is abused and overused daily on repeat.
It bears weight, is under extreme pressure, and is critical for most daily activities. It is held together by a network of ligaments which can be compared to an elastic band pyramid.
The muscles that surround and support this joint are key players for alignment corrections, and are sometimes misunderstood.
Muscles on the inside of the knee, more specifically the VMO (vastus medialis oblique) as well as the adductor muscles, are more often underutilised, causing the knee joints to be pulled out of their ideal position by the abductors and lateral counterparts.
So the knee, relative to the weight it bears, is a delicate and fragile web, and there are many solutions that Pilates offers to restore it to its optimal function, and avoid and reverse its injuries.
The simple exercise below is a good way for the beginner to start to restore the alignment in the foot, ankle and the knee.
1. Using a firm, long and even cushion or pillow, lie on your back with the knees bent.
2. Place the cushion between the insteps of the feet, connecting the ankles right up to the upper thighs above the knees to either sides of the cushion.
3. Squeeze the cushion as hard as you can and hold it for five counts, breathing deeply. Release and wait for 10 seconds between each repetition.
4. Repeat for eight rounds.
5. Repeat the exercise with legs fully extended on the floor, keeping focus on the upper thigh muscles dominating the action of gripping the cushion; keep the toes vertical.
Alignment is a key player in maintaining the bones in the best position to glide effortlessly in the tracks provided by the shape of our bones and the hardware we are given by Mother Nature, to cushion and assist us in movement. When rehabilitating the knee joint the name of the game is smart alignment and low impact.
Corrective muscle recruitment and training needs to be deliberate and thought out, even while walking or standing up, as these repetitive patterns, even when done unconsciously, rival the results of the rehabilitative training efforts.
When standing, notice if your hips lean forward, notice if your weight is borne over the heel or the toes.
Look to see if you notice any dimpling in your toes, see if your weight is more to the inside or outside portion of your foot; also check that your toes are pointing straight out in front of you.
Your second toe should line up with the centre of the ankle and the knee, directing the knees and hips to face centre and forward. If you observe any habitual patterns that take your weight distribution more dominantly to one area, you can notice the effect on the shape of your ankle and its position, as well as the knee.
Working out smarter is tantamount to working out hard because of what is at stake when injuries occur, even unconsciously, in how we stand and move in our daily lives, as well as for the limiting effect on peak performance.
Starting from the ground up, take your alignment apart like building blocks and feel the lightness right up to your head as you unweight, unwind and unburden your joints.
The beauty of Pilates and alignment is in how much easier it is for your body to move fluid, pain-free, and effortlessly once you are lengthened out and all lined up.