Where do I put my head?!

November 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm 5 comments



Joseph Pilates bobblehead created by Balanced Body, Inc.


How often do you find that your clients’ heads are not in the expected alignment? And for yourself (remember, your “favorite client” is yourself: Your Favorite Client)? Where should you put your head? How do you develop awareness of where your head ought to be in space?

In this piece, we’ll start to discover it. Let’s go step by step in several articles. I don’t want to overwhelm you. Just one aspect at a time.


Where is the first place that you can really discover where your head is in space and how?

Lying down, supine on the mat or even better yet, on the reformer…with your head on the head piece. Feeling any part of your body on the mat of any apparatus gives you biofeedback. And if we teach consciously, rather than instruct passively, we teach our clients to be aware of that feeling and develop a deeper biofeedback…neuromuscular connections develop…proprioception develops. The brilliance of starting workouts lying supine on a mat/reformer/Cadillac, etc., is not only because of the gravitational pull/balance/support, but because of the feedback from the mat. We start to develop a sense of the parts of our bodies that we don’t see. And what we don’t see, we often don’t “connect to,” consciously become aware of or develop good proprioception of that area.

When we lie upon the reformer for the first exercises in Pilates, I do strongly suggest that it’s a footwork series or footwork exercise. Not just because I’m a classical teacher and that’s what Mr. Pilates did…but because I’m a biomechanist and that is a wise place for a full body warm up. (Things have to make sense and even be backed up by evidence. Please do not follow anyone or anything blindly!) The Footwork exercises give an opportunity to have gravity supporting the body against the mat/carriage while we get good feedback from that mat/carriage. The legs are supported by the foot bar so you don’t have to hold them up against gravity. You work your legs vigorously (appropriately for the client in front of you. Vigorous to an athlete is different from vigorous for a client with heart disease and emphysema. Right? Right.) The vigorous use of the legs takes a lot of energy. There are large muscles in the legs and they require a lot of oxygen to work so well…that means your heart and lungs have to work hard to provide continuous supply of blood flow…and this is why it is a great warm up. Same thing could be said for The Hundred…except the muscles of the arms are smaller than those of the legs, which is why it is not as great a warm up as The Footwork.

OK…so we’re agreed…The Footwork is a great warm up.

Now, your head is on the headpiece in The Footwork. That means you have a little mat behind you for biofeedback! Great! Then we’d better make sure your head is in the best position possible for you to get the right neurological information…

If we recall that the concept of the The Footwork is that we’re jumping or doing many squats, but reducing the acceleration of gravity/the pull of gravity…
Footwork is like a jump or squats?
Yes, either as a new concept for you or a refresher:
Imagine that the reformer was not lying down and horizontal, but was upright and vertical.
Then The Footwork would be like a series of jumps where your feet do not leave the ground…or squats, then.
When you jump or even do your squats, there is a lot of force upon you. You are accelerating towards earth at the rate of  gravity: 9.8 m/s2
That is your mass x gravity = your weight = the force you upon the floor and the force upon you!
That’s pretty hard on your joints as you wish to regulate tempo/speed and make all sorts of glorious Pilates adjustments.
And that is why we are horizontal with springs. The springs act like reduced gravity. They provide an acceleration that becomes part of the force that you work against to push the carriage out and that you must resist as they bring you back in toward the foot bar.


What does this have to do with head placement?

Well, if we are supposedly jumping or squatting when we do The Footwork…where would your head be while you jump or squat?
Right. You’d be looking straight ahead.

Then why when you do The Footwork are you always looking forward and not straight ahead which is directly up to the ceiling?
Yes…you ought to be looking straight up to the ceiling when you do The Footwork.
Every variation. Straight up to the ceiling.
Your practice of looking forward to your teacher or the memory of your teacher is making your tip your head down at quite an angle. And passively. If you did this during a squat or jump, your head would be bobbling around. That would be silly wouldn’t it.
So why are you doing this in The Footwork? Your being stabilized by the headpiece…but what are you doing to stabilize? Where? How? Right now…you’re not doing anything. But after you read this…you will be doing a lot!



The Footwork: Set appropriate height headpiece and look straight up.


First, you must set the headpiece to the appropriate position for your client (including yourself).
Your headpiece is to support your head and your current cervical/neck curve:
Headpiece Down: If you have no forward head posture.
Headpiece on Low Setting: If you have some forward head posture (most people)
Headpiece on High Setting: If you have a lot of forward head posture
Headpiece Down with Pillow: If none of the settings seems appropriate

Now that your headpiece is in the correct position…it’s time to just look straight up to the ceiling.
With both your eyes and your entire face. Just like you do when you are standing.

And at first you say “But this feels awkward.”
Yes…when you are used to something else, anything new feels awkward.
What you are feeling is that you must use your neck and upper back muscles. These muscles are sorely underused is modern human life (in industrialized countries) and often underutilized in Pilates (stop putting your chin to your chest or looking into your abdominals, powerhouse, etc. Instead, when you flex your neck, make it light flexion that is in line with your thoracic spine. Keep your back/neck muscles working efficiently. We can discuss later. and see Fear Not the Forward Flexion of the Spine…Just Seek to Understand…) It’s time to get and keep these muscles strong. What do you think is holding your head up? Forward head posture is no joke. For every inch your head is forward, it’s another 10 lbs of load on each spinal disc in an alignment they were not designed to habitually support. This is poor biomechanics and leads to lousy things i.e. disc protrusions, arthritis, stenosis.
It begins in The Footwork.

As you look directly up to the ceiling with your eyes and your face (just like you do when you’re standing, walking or jumping) you’ll feel that it is the center-back of your head that is  weighted against the head piece. You can feel that light activation of your neck muscles which starts to tell your brain and all neurons involved in your proprioception/where you are in space literally…where you are in space. Where your head is in space relative to the rest of your body. It takes muscular feed back to make it all happen.

Let’s start to train ourselves doing “Correct Actions Correctly” right there in The Footwork.

More to come, but this is a great place to start!
Practice your Footwork in this manner.

****Please reach out with questions, comments, concerns! The comment section is perfect for that, but if you have something more personal to discuss, always just email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Hand Grasp and Wrist Positions: Which Do I Do and When? The Difficult Client…

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cate Davies  |  November 14, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you. Makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t like/need the head rest up at all. I’m currently reading ‘Athletic Ability & the Anatomy of Motion’ by Wirhed, which is described as bridge between biomechanics & the practice of sport. Can you suggest any other books on biomechanics etc that would be helpful for a deeper understanding of Pilates? I’m medically qualified (UK).

  • 2. Mariana Taragano  |  May 3, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you so much Shari! I just re-read this as I am writing an article about head placement and I just kept screaming (in my head, I’m in a public place!) “yes! yes!!”

    • 3. theverticalworkshop  |  May 3, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      Ohhhhh, Mariana! I’m so glad that you re-read this and…and that it make you scream in your head in a good way!!!!
      I’m glad you’re writing a piece on this, too!
      I know that I owe you the piece that we discussed months ago…clearly I haven’t written a new post in a while. The next on is on why it’s important to keep the foot bar cover on. But then I hope to address what you requested!
      Enjoy, Mariana!
      And thank you!!!
      – Shari

  • 4. Erin Finney  |  August 23, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Thank you!

  • 5. David  |  February 12, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Awesome well written and properly explained article about this topic.
    Thanks for sharing it on internet


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