I was recently asked about the shape of the spine. Did I think the shape of the spine had changed?
Now this question was in relation to the evolution of Pilates so it should be caveated with ‘Did I think the shape of the spine had changed since the 1940’s?’ It was a question as to whether the original Pilates exercises developed by Joseph Pilates were still relevant today.
My gut reaction was there had been no change…because nothing changes that quick. I’m sure that, if time travelled allowed, I was presented with the spines from someone from the 1950’s and someone from the 2010’s I would not be able to tell the difference. I started to dig a bit more and found a lovely illustration by De Vinci of a spine from 1500’s.
You can see it has the same curves as the spine today.
When you understand where the curves come from then its obvious. The spine in the chest and sacral area curves out towards the back in what is called a kyphotic curve. This is the natural curve that we all have as we develop as a baby – the natural rounding of the back.
Once we are born we start to try and hold our head upright. This develops the secondary curve at the neck, a lordosis, a curving towards the front of the body. Its a lot easier to balance something if you can get the support under the weight of it and so the spine curves forwards to balance the head on top of the spine.
A little while later we start to stand. We now need to balance the top half of the body on top of the legs and so we develop a secondary lordotic curve in the lower back so that we can stand.
If a person is bipedal (walking on two legs) and has their head is upright then they will have these same curves in their back.
Joseph Pilates wasn’t doing exercises on dead bodies. The shape of a spine might not have changed but what we do with it whilst we are alive has changed.
Again, if time travel allowed, if you showed me a person from the 1950’s and someone from 2010’s I would definitely be able to tell the difference. The posture would be different and it’s the posture caused by those surrounding muscles that Pilates, and other exercise programmes, need to work with.
Are the exercises still relevant today? I would say so. They might be more challenging today because we don’t have as ‘good’ a posture but should we modify exercises to accommodate the fact that we slouch? Our basic underlying anatomy hasn’t changed. We should still be striving for good form in our exercises. Modifications to allow for poor posture are a slippery road to injuries, I suspect.