You've just got to your fitilates (Pilates) class and laid your mat on the floor, the class hasn't quite started yet so you stretch out on you mat and close your eyes to focus on your breathing. Deep breaths in through your nose, expanding the rib cage like a balloon and exhaling through pursed lips feeling the connection of the deep abdominals as you fully exhale.
The above scenario is a great example of how to warm yourself up mentally for the class ahead. You can choose to lie down, sit cross-legged or even stand up but bringing awareness to your breath is perfect. Often we need to shut out some of the world around us and closing our eyes is a great way to do that. But once class officially begins, in the world of Pilates, it's eyes open. Always.
Why you may ask? Spinal alignment is a fundamental principle in the Pilates world and it pretty much trumps everything else. If your spine is not properly aligned, most likely your core muscles will not be properly engaged, other muscles will compensate for you to complete the movement and pain is often felt in areas such as your low back, hips and neck. I know what you're thinking.. what does any of that have to do with my eyes being open?? The answer is of course, everything! You see, the eyes are the centre of our head and our head should be perched perfectly on our neck, imagine a bowling ball balancing on a stick. Our eyes are not only used to see what's going on around us but they are sending constant feedback to our brain about our surroundings and our body placement within these surroundings. This information is extremely important for proper spinal alignment.
Try this little test:
Look straight ahead and let your head feel balanced and relaxed on your neck.
Look as far over to the right as you can using only your eyes. Notice that your head will automatically want to turn to follow your eyes and centre your head around the direction you are looking.
Now just imagine what happens when you close your eyes - your brain is actively searching for feedback on where your head is in space and proper alignment becomes very difficult to maintain. This becomes extremely evident in any of the abdominal flexion exercises. With the eyes closed, the position of the head is often skewed and extreme stress is placed on the intrinsic muscles of the neck.
Moral of the story - keep your eyes open throughout your class to ensure the spine is properly aligned and unnecessary stress is reduced. If your neck is causing you grief, notice where you are looking, if it's up to the ceiling, draw your eyes down towards your thighs and allow your head to gently follow your eyes.
Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer? Cue your clients eye placement to achieve proper spinal placement, such as gazing straight up to the ceiling for a neutral spine placement while lying on their back; bringing their eyes to their thighs when in an ab curl; and keeping their eye gaze slightly in front of them (not too high up) when in spinal extension.