If you’re not integrating the Spine Corrector into your workouts, your missing out on nurturing one of the most foundational aspects of Pilates: your spinal articulation. Kyria Sabin Waugaman, the program director of Fletcher Pilates, shares some of the most valuable work for helping the spine become stronger, more flexible and more articulate, as taught by her mentor Ron Fletcher.
By Kyria Sabin Waugaman • Modeled with McKenna Mendoza • Edited by Amanda Altman
The Spine Corrector is such a simple yet incredibly powerful tool. It can be used in private sessions to teach pelvic placement and precise spinal extension, as well as in the group class setting to provide a more supportive and safer environment for the head and neck. Joseph Pilates developed several arcs and barrels throughout the evolution of his method, but none are more effective than the Clara Barrel—named posthumously after his wife, Clara Pilates—at teaching balanced pelvic placement and spinal articulation. According to Joe, the ultimate goal of his method is to help us develop a “strong, flexible and articulate” spine.
When my teacher, Ron Fletcher, returned to New York City following a career as a choreographer for the Ice Capades, he also returned to the original Pilates studio to study closely with Clara. Ron relayed that Clara was a patient and generous teacher, with a keen eye and deep understanding of body mechanics. Ron would often say, “Joe was a genius, and Clara was the true teacher.”
It was during this time that Ron was reintroduced to the effectiveness of the Spine Corrector. Clara would have him place his hips on the “lip” of the barrel to extend his upper back, slowly moving his hips back toward the barrel’s “crevasse” to work one spinal segment at a time. This patient, methodical approach allows both the teacher and student to have a better understanding of where and how the spine is moving—and where and how it’s not. This precise teaching technique also encourages our most distracted clients to focus, allowing for a deeper internal awareness and concentration that can carry over into other aspects of their lives.
I teach weekly group classes on the Spine Corrector and incorporate the Clara Barrel in teaching most private sessions—especially for clients with scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis. I also incorporate the Barrel with exercises on the Trap Table, Universal Reformer and Guillotine to provide both more support and movement feedback. In fact, if I had to limit myself to one Pilates apparatus to take to a desert island, I might very well choose the Spine Corrector!
BREATH: The breath is a key ingredient to precise spinal movement and core control. Ron Fletcher would often change the breath pattern to better support a movement, based on the needs of an individual or a group. I can still hear him saying, “allow the breath to inspire the movement,” and love this concept of the breath as the origin of all movement. This epitomizes moving from the inside out.
REPS: In general, practice 4–8 repetitions of each movement. The first 3–4 reps are to prepare the body, “set” the basic movement pattern and to ensure safety. The remaining repetitions are about refining the movement on a deeper level.
TIPS: Before you practice these exercises, identify which segments of your spine require more stabilization and which would benefit from more mobility. Pay special attention to balanced spinal articulation throughout your practice.
PURPOSE: hones in on thoracic spinal extension and articulation
SETUP: Position your pelvis for Hips on the Lip (see “Before You Begin” at left), pressing your hands into the front edge of the Spine Corrector to expand your chest and engage your back. Your legs can either be together or hip-width apart.
1. Contract back to the arc without shifting your pelvic placement on the lip.
2. Reach your arms forward at shoulder height, palms in. Maintaining this alignment, roll back through your thoracic spine (ribs) to a “tabletop” position with the tips of your shoulder blades on the arc and your neck elongated in line with your upper back.
TIP: During the extension, focus on keeping your pelvis on the lip and extending your upper back.
ADVANCED: At the end of step 1, practice lengthening up and contracting back to the arc several times.
PURPOSE: focuses on full spinal extension with the pelvis in the crevasse
SETUP: Position your pelvis for Hips in the Crevasse (see “Before You Begin” on page 53) with your legs in a “diamond” position and the soles of your feet together. Reach your arms forward at shoulder height, palms in.
1. Contract back to flex your lumbar spine (lower back) to the arc without shifting your pelvis forward.
2. Roll to the top of the arc to a “tabletop” position, actively reaching your pelvis into the crevasse, placing your shoulders on the arc and lengthening your cervical spine in line with your upper back.
4. To return from full extension, first lift your arms to vertical, then lengthen the back of your neck and round away from the arc into a Spine Stretch Forward. Pulse forward before extending back over the arc.
TIP: Allow your arms to follow the movement of your spine.
MODIFICATION: If full extension strains your neck or upper back, do not progress beyond the tabletop position.
SIDE BEND SERIES
PURPOSE: promotes lateral flexion and spinal rotation; stabilizes the pelvis in the crevasse to allow for more precise spinal movement
SETUP: Same as Arc Series, but extend your arms to a T position, palms up.
1. Maintaining pelvic placement, side-bend up and over to one side, placing your hand on the floor.
TIP: The arm and shoulder should follow the line of the spine.