Opposition, the bridge to lightness
So often, as we are working to better integrate our bodies, and become more effective and efficient, we get a bit fixed, or bogged down. We focus so much on engaging the core we forget about creating length. With out this component we loose the fluidity and lightness that we are working towards, not just in ourselves but in our horses as well. Remember our horses muscles will mimic our muscles, so if ours are fixed, or bogged down, then so are our horses.
To create this beautiful lightness we need to work with two forces, the grounding force and the lengthening force. We are then creating opposition which then creates lightness and fluidity. Opposition is one of the major forces in creating the Pilates connection. It plays a key roll in creating how we connect the core, and how we work towards symmetry; not only on the mat but in the saddle as well. When we correctly engage this concept within the Pilates connection we create a light, properly aligned, and connected body. We can then use this in all that we choose to do physically.
How does this work? Opposition in Pilates is easily created through grounding our powerhouse, and stretching as evenly and equally as we can through our limbs. As you reach you will notice your core draw up, or down in opposition to the limb you are activating the stretch with. In each exercise in Pilates there is a point of grounding (shoulders, pelvis, hip…) and a point of lengthening. As we grow in our connection we are then better able to refine, and challenge it by learning to lengthen more, and increase our ROM in relation to our stability. For example, in the roll up we create opposition in our legs as we lengthen them along the floor, and slowly articulate through our spine, up and over the stretch in our legs. Through this length we find and can feel opposition and, through opposition we then find lightness and fluidity in our movements.
This is true on the horse as well. As we become more balanced and more connected in our powerhouse, so follows a more balanced and independent seat and leg, that is better able to handle the challenges presented in our daily training. So how do you get this wonderful, balanced, adaptable seat?
You learn to create opposition!! Easily said, surprisingly, with practice, not that hard to do.
I want to take a few simple exercises that naturally relate, and give riders the tools they need to be effective and light. I have attached the related videos for you to practice with, and as a visual aid.
Rib Cage Arms:
This is the key to a correct half halt from your seat not just your leg and hand. This is easiest to learn lying down. You lie on your back, legs can be bent feet planted if you have a sensitive back, or legs can be straight on the floor and together. You want to have a neutral pelvis and feel the natural curves of you back on the floor. Have your arms long at your sides, and actively reaching toward your feet. Your shoulders are flat on the mat and stay flat and down away from your ears at all times. On an inhale you raise your arms to the ceiling, on the exhale you start to stretch your arms over your head. It’ s import to keep your shoulders down and flat, and to use your rib cage in opposition to the stretch in your arms. So as you exhale you draw your shoulder, arm pit, and ribs down towards the belly button. This will restrict how far overhead you reach. You want to feel your ribs slide down and in, filling up the space in the lower back, and keeping your powerhouse grounded to the floor. On your next inhale you lift your arms back up to the ceiling and then exhale and bring your hands back down to your sides. Here is a link to a video demonstrating Rib Cage Arms.
Once you’ve mastered the feeling lying down, you can then try the exercise standing. I usually do this against a wall so you can be sure your are working the correct feeling and connection.
Seated Spine Twist
This exercise I have mentioned in previous posts, and is one of my favorite exercises to teach. It does a lot for the rider in terms of teaching proper engagement of the inner thighs, as well as correct rotational alignment in the core. This exercise helps riders understand how to better ride any bending line.
Start sitting tall, on the front of your sits bones, legs are together, straight out in front of you, (if you are stuck in your pelvis and can’t find the front of your sits bones, you can bend you knees slightly and ground your heels.) With your legs lengthen together in pilates stance, or parallel, toes pointed. Arms are out stretched to the sides, shoulders drawing in towards each other in opposition of the reach in the arms. If you have shoulder or neck issues you can do this with your arms bent at your sides as if you are holding reins. On the inhale you ground through your legs, draw that energy up you inner thighs, into your sits bones and turn to your right for a count of three. Keep in mind that the legs stay equal, one doesn’t get shorter than the other as you rotate. The weight stays equal on your sits bones, and you don’t sink or fall to the back or your sits bones. On the exhale you untwist, returning the the start position. On the next inhale you repeat the processes to the left. Below is a link that you can practice along with.
This exercise is great for learning how to use your shoulders, find length in the spine, and freedom in the neck. It also teaches you how to not lose your balance in you core as you move your head. You do this kneeling, if you want you can put a block or ball between your inner thighs. You place a thera band, or you can hold light weights (2-3lbs), or you don’t need to have anything. You kneel and ground through your knees, up your inner thighs and lift your your pelvic floor. If you have the Thera band it’s under your knees, and you have choked up on the band so you feel some resistance. If you have weights they are held lightly in your hands. If you have neither hands are at your sides, they are actively reaching down. From here you lengthen up and pay attention to your ribs. You will inhale and reach your long arms back behind you, bringing your shoulder blades together and down (imagine holding a pencil between your shoulders). Make sure you engage the “Rib Cage Arm” feeling and don’t let you ribs pop open like the prow of a ship. This engagement of the ribs will create opposition and make sure you stay in proper alignment. Exhale and turn your head to the right looking as far behind you as you can. Keep your arms behind you as your inhale and return to the center with your head. The next exhale you turn your head to the left. Inhale return to center and exhale return you arms to your sides. Here is the video to follow along with.
This is great for learning how to lengthen the hip flexors and still keep the core engaged and the back happy. So many people have tight hips from sitting a lot, and collapsing into their pelvis. You will start by lying on your stomach, with your hands on top of each other and forehead resting on your hands. Your belly button is strongly lifted off the mat and your hip bones and pubic bone are grounded into the mat. Your legs can be hip width apart if you have a sensitive lower back or together if you do not. On an inhale you lengthen your right leg so much so, that it slides along the mat and then lifts. At the same time you are keeping the weight in your hips even and your pelvic floor and belly button strongly engaged in opposition to the stretch of your leg. Exhale and place that leg back on the floor keeping the length you’ve gained. Repeat on the the left leg. You can alternate this six times per leg. Here is a video to practice with.
Side leg Series
This is great to help create a more flexible hip, as well as challenge your core stability, and create length and strength for the whole leg. I also find it’s a great way for riders to learn how to move from the hip, not just the knee. In the side leg series we use our powerhouse to create the stability and opposition we need. It’s important to remember to stay stacked and balanced on your hips, and ribs. There is no swaying in the body to counter balance the movement of the leg. You will lie on your side, you can have your elbow bent and support your head with your hand (if you need to rest your head on your shoulder that’s ok too). You will be one straight line from your ear through your feet, then you take your feet and move them forward to the front corner of the mat. If you need more support you can bend the bottom leg into a chair position to help create a more stable base. Your top hand is in front of your belly button, and helps you maintain your balance as well. From here lengthen your body from the crown of the head through the toes. Pull your belly button to your spine, and the area of your stomach that is between your ribs and hips, lifts off the mat slightly as if it’s going to be pricked by a pin. Lift your top leg up to hip height and flex the foot, lengthening through your heel. Exhale and bring the straight leg forward towards your nose, on the inhale reach the leg long, point the toes, and reach back to the long straight line you first started on. Your range of motion is determined by how stable you stay as you move your leg in the hip. If you are moving a lot make the movement as small as you need to create stability. To challenge the stability, first make the leg grow longer, then increase your range of motion. There are few more in the series, below is the link to the video.
Once this concept is learned, it really transforms your practice on the mat and in the saddle. You will find not only, better engagement and more purpose in the Pilates exercise, but also in how you engage just with your body on a daily basis. It becomes fun to play with in and out of the saddle, and the exercises take on so much more meaning and direction. I hope this has helped answer some questions on how we create and manage the Pilates connection. If you have questions please feel free to reach out, I love questions, and look forward to feed back. Enjoy your practice and your horses!