Pilates Students' Manual

Normal Human Variability

November 02, 2023 Olivia Bioni Season 6 Episode 10
Pilates Students' Manual
Normal Human Variability
Show Notes Transcript

It is normal for human bodies to be a little bit different, from the shape of our bones, to how tall we are, to how flexible we are. We can work to improve our strength, flexibility, and coordination doing Pilates, but we are all starting at different points, and we do have some structural limitations that are unique to us. That doesn't mean we need to give up on our pursuit of attaining a difficult Pilates exercise, but we can give ourselves grace and and recognize that our body's version of the exercise may not look exactly like someone else's. And that's okay! 

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[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

[00:00:46] Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today's episode is about normal human variability, which I think is a really important [00:01:00] topic and something that's really important to keep in mind, even if you are doing an exercise that exists in a system like Pilates, that there are, you know, specific exercises that you're working on and you're working toward, and that's awesome. But at the same time, humans are different. Our bodies are different. The way the exercises might look on us versus our teacher or versus the person on Instagram or versus the person on the cover of some fitness magazine doing something, that bodies are different, so exercises, even if it's the same exercise, is going to look different on every person's body.

[00:01:42] So this episode serves as a reminder that it's totally normal to be different, that there are more differences between us than similarities. The closer you look, the more different we are in fact, and that's both on the outside and on the inside. Our [00:02:00] bodies are slightly different shapes. Our bones are slightly different shapes. Our arms and legs are different lengths, not only like between each of them, but also relative to the lengths of each other. Like some people have longer arms and a shorter torso or a longer torso and shorter arms. Our hip sockets have different depths, like the femur bone, your thigh bone, can fit into your hip socket more deeply in one hip versus another person's hip, or even between the sides of hips.

[00:02:38] Some of us have extra bones, like people are out there with a cervical rib, so our thoracic spine is the middle of our spine and it corresponds with all of our rib bones, but some people have like a bonus set of ribs coming off of their last neck spine bone. Totally fine! Totally normal that that happens.[00:03:00] 

[00:03:00] Um, another time human variability comes out is if you have had tightness in your piriformis or if you've had sciatica, which can be like a tingling numbness that's going down your leg. For some of us, our sciatic nerve, which is this really big nerve that like innervates our lower body comes off of our spinal cord and then goes down our leg for some people, it goes next to their piriformis muscle. For some people, it goes through their piriformis muscle. We don't know why. It's not better or worse than it does, but we may have a different experience based on where that nerve is. 

[00:03:34] Some people have lungs that are bigger or have more folds or have more of those little cells that let us, you know, hold more oxygen in at a time and sometimes people like Michael Phelps who have those bigger lungs get to do an activity like swimming where they can take advantage of the totally normal, slightly weird bit about themselves that lets them be like an excellent swimmer or [00:04:00] something.

[00:04:00] When you see ballerinas who have this extreme range of movement in their joints, they can do the over splits and do splits beyond the splits. Like they're going even beyond 180 degree angle. Like a lot of things, Pilates included, have a bit of a self selecting component to them that if you are already naturally pretty good at it, you keep at it and then you end up with a lot of teachers and a lot of people who are doing a thing and their body just might have a few quirks that help them do those things easier. It doesn't mean that you can't do the thing if you don't have those quirks, but I do want to remind us that we are all starting at different points on the journey. 

[00:04:45] We can improve from wherever we are, wherever we're starting from, we can always get stronger, we can get more flexible, we can build our coordination, develop our balance and get better at the things that we consistently practice. [00:05:00] That is true. But I also want to just toss out there that there are some structural limitations that given the fact that our bones are certain shapes, our sort of innate flexibility. You might be really bendy really easily without practicing or you might be a little bit more stiff on average. It's just that, even with practice, maybe the over splits isn't on the menu. Like maybe the splits isn't on the menu and so also throwing out that even though there are things that might be more difficult for us to master or to even improve at, that it's okay. Um, we don't all need to get our foot behind our head to be successful. 

[00:05:44] I think, I've thought about this a lot, I would say, with the splits. Because I'm very close to getting the splits. But that last inch of getting into the splits requires an inordinate amount of effort and time. And even if [00:06:00] it is possible, there is a choice as the person who's doing the movement in your Pilates class or in the wild that you can decide whether or not it's worth it for you to go that extra amount. And there's no requirement saying that you have to do that next big thing, but knowing that to get to that point, it's going to require a lot more time, a lot more effort. 

[00:06:27] There is a little bit of a cognitive dissonance that I want to highlight when we look at exercises like teaser or like the splits, and there's some splits versions that happen on the reformer before you think I'm just talking about splits with no relation to Pilates whatsoever. No class is going to say you must be this tall to ride. We might have age limits on who can take a reformer class, but I've worked with kids who are under the age of 18, who, you know, you make some adjustments because the reformer is kind of built [00:07:00] for an adult sized human. Um, but kids could also do it, but there is no limit that's like, Oh, you have to be at least so tall to be on the reformer. We're not saying you can only do Pilates if you have brown hair or blonde hair. Like we know that there are differences between us. Like only brown eyed people can do Pilates or something silly. Like obviously not. 

[00:07:24] And that also goes for your flexibility. Sometimes people will come into my classes or may have this belief that like, Oh, well I want to do Pilates, but I'm not flexible. And that's not it. Like we get better at what we practice. If becoming more flexible is something you want to do, like let's do some Pilates and let's help you get there. But there is no requirement to start. You don't need to be a certain size a certain shape a certain height a certain level of ability to start. 

[00:07:54] Joe, Joseph Pilates, our good friend, founder of Pilates the method, [00:08:00] he has instructions for exercises. He has versions of exercises that he's set forth and said, you know, these are my exercises and in your Pilates classes, you might be working up to them. You might be doing versions or variations of the exercise building up to that point. And as you continue in your journey, you might also go beyond that point and add in more things past what Joe even thought of for things because that's appealing to you, that's something you want to do, but those exercises aren't accessible to everyone at every point of their journey.

[00:08:37] And I also just want to validate that the work you're doing on your exercises, even if it's not the exercise the way it shows up in Joseph Pilates book, Return to Life Through Contrology, even if it doesn't look exactly like that, working on the exercise is also part of Pilates. Pilates isn't one point in the journey. The whole journey [00:09:00] can be Pilates. It's up to us as the Pilates student, as the body that is doing the thing, to decide whether we want to do Joe's version of the thing, whether we want to do another version that might be a better fit for us, either where we are in our journey or just that is a better fit for our body as a whole.

[00:09:22] Like you don't have to keep going either. If you're in a spot and you found a version of swan that is just the right version for your body, staying there is also Pilates. Achieving a particular shape and an exercise is only important if it's important to you. It's important within the system of Pilates that we're undertaking. We're trying to do things this way because there is a lot of gold in the method, but we are giving it that importance by doing this Pilates class. The inherent importance is not there. Um, it's really, really individual and I want to [00:10:00] bring more attention to that. 

[00:10:01] In addition to our human variability, which is totally normal, totally natural, part of the fun part I think of having a body is the little quirks that it has, I'm going to talk about how we change and how we grow as we do Pilates, and what we can change and how we can grow. That's coming up next.

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[00:11:29] We can change some things, but we can't change everything. We can become more flexible up to a point. I do think that bodies have an end range that is unique to them. And our end range is probably further than we think it is, but there is a limit to how flexible we are. 

[00:11:53] There is a limit to how strong we can be, like our ability to lift [00:12:00] heavy things is related to how heavy we are. So if you are a bigger person, you can lift more like it's, it's proportional. Um, so there is a limit based on your size, you know, in terms of how heavy the thing is going to be. 

[00:12:16] And we can develop our flexibility. We can get more flexible than we are. And when I say that there's a limitation, this is not to say, like, absolutely give up, throw in the towel, there's no way that it's ever going to happen. It's just taking it with a grain of salt, giving yourself a little bit of slack, and recognizing that some things, like the length of your arm, is not going to change if you do Pilates. Like, it's not, your bones aren't going to get longer. 

[00:12:47] Um, and I know there's the phrase that floats around that I wish wouldn't float around. That's like, you're going to develop long, lean muscles when you do Pilates. While that might be an aesthetic ideal that you're, um, working on, [00:13:00] your muscles don't actually get longer. You know, as you get more flexible, cause like what happens when they're not stretched, you just have like loose floppy muscle noodles, like inside your body, like, no, your muscles are a set length, but their ability to stretch increases, if that makes sense.

[00:13:17] So we can change those factors. You know, if you couldn't touch your toes and you work on it and you're trying to touch your toes, maybe you're coming out of the roll up and you're trying to, you know, get to your toes to do those pulses at the end. Like that's possible. We can get more flexible, but are we going to touch our elbow to our toes? You know, structurally, I don't know if that is possible unless you were like super duper duper mobile, and I don't think that that should necessarily be the goal. 

[00:13:47] I think it comes down to as well, comparing ourselves to ourselves instead of comparing ourselves to other people. And it can be tough when you have this fabulous, beautiful, incredible teacher, and [00:14:00] you just want to be like them. But recognizing that the way they're doing teaser and the way that they're showing you teaser when they're demonstrating may not be exactly what it looks like for you who's in a totally different body with totally different experiences. So we can get more flexible. We can get stronger, but it has to be something that we work on.

[00:14:23] Same thing with coordination. We have to practice doing the complicated thing to get better at doing the complicated thing. We have to practice standing on one foot to get better at standing on one foot. So as you're building up to some crazy version of the exercise that Joe says is, this is what the Russian split looks like, or this is what overhead looks like, like as you're building up to that, those stepping stones are also part of the exercise.

[00:14:54] There's many ways to approach Pilates. There's many ways to approach the [00:15:00] exercises. Some people like to teach the full expression or Joe's version of the exercise. And you just keep going until you get there, trying to get there. I ascribe more to the stepping stone version where we break that exercise down: what are the pieces of the exercise that we need to individually practice so we can put them together to do that more complex exercise. But all of that work that you're doing is Pilates. 

[00:15:34] The final destination is not everything. As one of my teachers told me, and now I will say to you, the effort is the outcome. Trying to do the thing is how we do the thing. And trying consistently is how we guarantee improvement. 

[00:15:53] One exercise that I've been working on is an L sit, also called floating stick, [00:16:00] where you sit down on the floor and your hands are next to your thighs on the outside of your thighs. Legs are together. And you push your hands down into the ground with enough force that you lift your legs and your butt off of the ground. Like you literally float up in that kind of L shape. So it's called an L sit. 

[00:16:22] It doesn't show up exactly in Pilates, but the strength of being able to lift your legs and being able to like support your body weight does show up in exercises. So it's definitely helpful. Um, but as I'm doing that, I'm thinking to myself, it's really nice that I have long arms as I'm doing this because it's much easier for me to straighten my arms, push the ground away and lift myself when my arms are longer than my torso. If I had shorter arms and a longer torso, or if I had longer legs, you know, longer legs are always heavier, either the ease of doing the [00:17:00] exercise or even how I would be able to do that exercise would be different. If my body was a different body, I might use something like yoga blocks underneath my hands to give myself another couple inches so that I'm able to lift. 

[00:17:16] So I know when I'm a teacher and I'm offering exercises and versions of exercises to people in my class, and then also being kind to myself when I'm a student and taking class from other teachers or even just moving on my own, that even the size of your body, it's going to change how that exercise looks like. 

[00:17:36] You think of exercises like rolling like a ball where we're in a very compressed ball shape. If you have a bigger belly, that compressed shape is going to look different on you. Maybe you can't do knees right into your chest if your belly is there. Maybe you have to go knees a little bit wider. It's not not Pilates because there's a version of the shape that [00:18:00] feels better and is more accessible for your body. 

[00:18:05] So when you're pregnant and suddenly you're doing all of these prenatal modifications for exercises you're exploring The, what I think to be the core of the exercise, but maybe in a different relation to gravity, maybe in a slightly different way, like it's still counts.

[00:18:22] Bodies are different. And I think those differences should be celebrated and not continually trying to fit our bodies into the picture of Joe doing the exercise, you know, 50, 60 years ago in his body. You know, I wish that we could talk to Joe and hear about the quirks of his body and what his hips didn't really enjoy doing or what his spine didn't really like to do. Because we're just people doing things and it's up to us to set the goals for ourselves. 

[00:18:54] What's important about the exercise? Is it the backbend? Are we trying to get a big backbend [00:19:00] because there's lots of ways to get a big backbend. Are we trying to do some twist? Are we trying to grab our foot? Like there's lots of ways to do it and I think that's the fun part. I think that's the fun part. 

[00:19:11] So, if you're working on something like teaser, that's what I posted on Instagram, that maybe your V shape is really tight or maybe your V shape's a little bit more open or is a little bit lower, closer to a hundred shape. What is the work in the exercise, lifting our legs, holding our torso up, reaching towards our toes, right? And that can happen lots of different ways. And it's all Pilates in my opinion. 

[00:19:39] Um, variability is normal. We all look different. We all move differently. We have different stuff going on in our body. I didn't even touch on this, but if you had some surgery, you had spinal fusions, your spine doesn't move the same way someone who doesn't have fused vertebrae spine is going [00:20:00] to move. It's just going to be different and different is okay. Try to be kind to yourself and in your pursuit of achieving a Pilates exercise, just recognize that the picture you're looking at may not be exactly the way your exercise looks. And that is okay. 

[00:20:22] Huge thank you to all my supporters on buy me a coffee. I'm so glad you're part of this project. I hope that I get to connect with you in a coffee chat this month. Extra special thank you to an anonymous supporter who donated this past month. Thank you so, so much for your support. I know the holidays are coming up and schedules are getting crazy, but I'm really looking forward to connect with you all.

[00:20:47] I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.[00:21:00] 

[00:21:01] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.

[00:21:24] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.[00:22:00]