Postural Alignment for Ballet

Second day of Kathryn Morgan’s 12-Week Challenge: I had to switch things around as I couldn’t really do the cardio as suggested on her January calendar. It was raining cats and dogs for the most part of the day, so I decided to do some gentle stretching instead, especially since I have developed some muscle aches after my first class yesterday (as expected!). “Yoga” was suggested for Thursday, so I decided to swap “cardio” with that. And since I haven’t really properly learned to do any yoga myself, I opted for Egoscue exercises instead.

You may never have heard of Egoscue exercises. They are exercises for correcting our postures so that our main loading joints align properly, giving the entire body balance from left to right and from front to back. I learned to do these more than eight years ago, about the same time I started to take ballet lessons. At that time, I had a severe case of back pain, and I tried many different modules until I hit the jackpot—the book “Pain Free” by Pete Egoscue showed up in my local bookstore right in front of me. Following the exercises for back pain in the book helped me get rid of most of the pain and I was able to function normally again.

Later on I realized that ballet strictly requires a symmetrical alignment of the body and mine was far from the ideal. In fact, being desk-bound for my work made my right shoulder much lower than the left, and there was a serious imbalance between my left and right hips. Such imbalances caused pain in the lower body, such as pain in the knees and ankles. So I looked into the Egoscue Method further and found the following book: “The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion.”

The book shows three different kinds of imbalances and mine (left-right and anterior pelvic tilt) are two of those covered in the book. The other one is posterior pelvic tilt. I started doing full sets of exercises to correct both the left-right and front-back imbalances. I did them first thing in the morning every single day for about four years, and the result? Voilà!

Egoscue_Condition1_Before-After-Left

2007 vs. 2011

Egoscue Exercise for Condition 2 - www.balletomanehk.com

Life got busy, and I haven’t been doing these exercises diligently after the initial four years. Sure enough, the long hours sitting behind the computer screen have taken a toll on my posture again. With Kathryn Morgan’s 12-week challenge, I have found the motivation to squeeze some time into my busy schedule to realign my posture again.

Some of the exercises are borrowed from yoga and some are unique creations by Pete Egoscue himself. Below are some snapshots of what I did today:

Egoscue - Downward Dog - http://www.balletomanehk.com Egoscue - Frog - http://www.balletomanehk.comEgoscue_Standing-Quad-Stretch Egoscue - Abdominals - http://www.balletomanehk.com
Egocue - Supine Groin - http://www.balletomanehk.com

I feel so good now that I have aligned my posture for the day. The whole body feels relaxed and light, and the exercises have given me the kind of gentle conditioning that would prepare me for the ballet workouts that are coming up.

Thanks to the rain, I did manage to do a tiny bit of cardio after all—it made a mess with my garden on the roof, so by cleaning up the mess, I did get my heart rate pumped up and I got a little sweaty too! 😉

How has your challenge been so far? Share with me in the comment section below.

Relaxing Your Hip and Back for Ballet

If you are like me, who find yourself sitting at the computer desk for way too many hours a day, you probably would have developed tight hip flexors, or psoas—the largest muscle group in our body responsible for flexing our legs from the hip joint. Well, this is bad news for anyone serious about doing ballet the right way, because a good ballet posture calls for a relatively neutral spinal alignment (vertical, but allowing for the natural curve of the spine). When the hip is tilted forward as a result of tightness in the psoas, it is more difficult to move your legs freely from the hip down, and it affects the balance and all sorts of movements too.

The following photo illustrates how an anterior-tilted hip looks like (yea, that was me many years ago 😉 ):

Anterior Tilt of Hip Joint, a no no for ballet - www.balletomanehk.com

I’m sure most of you have heard this instruction from your teacher in class: “Drop your tailbone!” or “Coccyx forward!” Basically, it is a reminder that we should keep our hip level and not tilted forward (or in some cases, backwards).

But most of you probably have found it difficult to maintain that neutral position, having to constantly be reminded or try to remind yourself.

There is a solution to this problem. But before I share the solution, let me just explain the reason why we have anterior tilt in a simple way: Our muscles in the back are too tight from many hours of sitting. The tension of these muscles must be released before they can do their work of properly holding the upper body in the upright position.

The following picture shows how we can release those tight muscles in a very easy and relaxing way. It is free and can be done in the comfort of your home. Find a chair, a sofa or any piece of furniture that has the height of the length of your calves, such as a low coffee table. Lie down on the floor. Place your calves on the flat surface of the furniture so that your calves and thighs form a 90-degree angle. If the surface is too low, try to pad it up with a firm cushion so that you get that 90 degrees. Lastly, place your arms on the side at a 45-degree angle to your trunk. Make sure the palms are facing the ceiling.

Egoscue Exercise - Static Back

Egoscue Exercise – Static Back

Now, you’re likely going to feel some tension at the lower back at this point. Try to place your hand under your back and feel if there is a gap. If you have a gap there, it is a sign that you do have an anterior tilt. What you do next is just to lie there, deep breathe through your diaphragm (horizontal expansion of rib cage), and relax. You can listen to music, daydream, go through ballet combinations in your head, or just dose off—whatever you feel like doing in a relaxed state. Just try not to watch TV as this would strain your neck and back muscles and defeat the purpose of doing this exercise.

Gradually, you will notice the tight muscles on your back loosening up. You may feel so relaxed that naturally fall asleep! How long should you be doing this? It depends on how tight your muscles are, but check the gap under your back after 10-15 minutes. If it is still there, I suggest staying there until the gap disappears. Half an hour would be really good as a start. Of course, if you are short of time, just do whatever you can. But if you keep doing this 10-15 minutes a day, you will find a difference in your spinal alignment. This simple exercise can contribute a great deal in achieving the “aplomb” that is so important for ballet. Try it, and let me know how you feel! Off I go to do this!