PROPRIOCEPTION
(Who’s Down with Pro PP)

Have you ever asked your Pilates instructor if you are standing in good posture or if your lower back was collapsing in a plank exercise? Have you ever had to look up to see the reformer foot bar before placing your feet on it or not able to sense if your feet are neither supinated (rolled out to the little toe) nor pronated (rolled in toward the big toe)? If you answered yes, then chances are your proprioceptive sense has not yet been honed. Let’s take a look at this “sense of self”, and why it’s important in all of our everyday movements.

What is Proprioception?

Often considered a sixth sense, proprioception is the sense of your body parts position. It’s the ability of your brain to understand and sense the position, location, orientation, and movement of the body muscles and joints. This information is culled from sensory neurons in the inner ear (detecting motion and orientation) and stretch receptors in the muscles and the joint-supporting ligaments for stance. Our brains are continuously and unconsciously integrating proprioceptive information together with the visual and vestibular systems. A number of factors can hamper the ability of our bodies to sense where our parts are in space. Patients suffering from stroke or neurological disorders, diseases or orthopedic injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system, e.g., joint stiffness or injury, muscle tightness or looseness, joint hypermobility (laxity), a sedentary lifestyle, muscle atrophy as well as age related decline. Physical therapists, movement specialists and Pilates instructors have all worked with clients on proprioceptive training to help them gain a stronger position sense. Like most physiological processes, proprioception can be improved with a challenging and committed practice.

The Role of Pilates

Joseph Pilates originally termed his theoretical framework “Contrology”, a body/mind/spirit approach to movement founded on the integrative effect of principles such as centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. Our goal as instructors is to help the client improve their perception of a body part that is diminished in their mental map. This is only possible if they are able to self-correct; if they can feel where their body parts are in space. To encourage/awaken proprioceptive skills, Pilates instructors infuse each exercise with cues that integrate these principles as well as address placement, alignment, and trajectory for each body part while body awareness is being sustained throughout. As clients continue to practice and hone their skills, more complex exercises are presented and props are included that encourage balance and coordination.

Who Can Benefit

Proprioception is fundamental to our functioning. This internal sense is necessary at every stage of life and every level of skill. Working alongside the other Pilates principals, you be far more successful in your endeavors and have lots of fun as well. Lastly, whether you consider yourself accident prone, athletic, senior, afflicted with a neurological or an orthopedic condition or just want to improve and maintain your health, then you should be down with PRO PP. On my next blog, we’ll take a look at some exercises and strategies to improve your body awareness.

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