Drawing on the occurrence of spirals throughout the natural world, the Spirals movement class focuses on mobility and flexibility to help clients maintain healthy, coordinated bodies, writes Michael King.
A question I often get asked about Spirals is ‘Is it Pilates?’ The answer is ‘no’ – but as a movement class which focuses on mobility and flexibility, it will benefit your Pilates practice.
Pilates trains the body in a precise and logical way, targeting muscles that other techniques do not – so when people say ‘I feel aches in places I didn’t know I had muscles’ after their first Pilates class, they’re not lying!
Traditionally, Pilates was very popular with dancers who possessed a great sense of mobility, flexibility and body awareness. Today, because the method is so universally accepted, clients present with a much wider range of physically capabilities.
My 34 years’ experience teaching has shown me that many people use strength-dominated exercise programs, so when they eventually try Pilates it can prove very challenging.
Variety is the spice of life
My background in movement began with dance, before I moved into the fitness industry to teach all styles of aerobics. These days much of my time is spent instructing Pilates, but I certainly don’t consider myself to be a teacher of just one discipline.
All movement is beneficial: we are designed to move, walk, run and climb, which is why participating in a variety of exercise regimes has such a positive effect on the body, prompting it to react and adapt differently to each.
When Veronica Ponieman and I developed the Spirals concept, we wanted to create a program that would improve flexibility and help clients who, although practicing Pilates, were not making the necessary changes to their range of motion, or spinal mobility.
Spirals is a license-free group movement workout program set to inspiring, motivating music. Based on spiral-diagonal patterns and facilitated stretching, this energising workout incorporates choreography focusing on dynamic stretching and stability challenges.
Suitable for everybody, Spirals has been designed with flexibility and mobility in mind. By combining movement with breathing patterns, the program develops coordination and balance, while regulating cardiovascular capacity.
Music and motivation
Our belief in the power of music as a hugely motivating force guided our decision to make the playlist a key component of the Spirals project. There are now 13 Spirals programs, so keeping the music fresh, motivating and relevant is a time consuming and challenging part of the creative process.
We have a formula when planning music for a new program: two or three tracks are popular songs by well-known artists like Madonna and George Michael, and the other seven or eight tracks are a mix of latin, reggae or rock – something to suit all tastes. Once we have the music, creating the choreography comes easily and naturally for me – and then Veronica calms me down and tightens up the choreography so that it can be taught clearly and logically!
Spirals is designed as a template of base choreography to which you can add your own signature flair by adapting, modifying or progressing it to suit your own classes. This freedom to style your own Spirals from the base presentation is an essential part of the program, as it enables instructors to use their skills to help participants get the most from the Spirals program.
An important element of the Spirals class is the encouragement of excellent movement quality, something non-dancers may find challenging. This is why the choreography should not be rushed, and the time should be taken to address breathing patterns and use all the music for each track. This attention to detail, concentration and focus will translate directly to Pilates practice.
Use it or lose it
A healthy, coordinated body can perform movement with ease, carrying out everyday tasks with the least amount of stress or effort because muscles and joints are flexible and mobile with the necessary amount of strength to control movement.
When muscles are overactive or weak, and joints are stiff, our bodies adapt to live in a restricted state. These gradual compensations may lead to minor aches and pains or develop into more serious injury. By enabling participants to maintain mobile, vibrant bodies, the Spirals program is an enjoyable way for these scenarios to be avoided.
The structure of Spirals choreography allows you to add your own creative styles, to modify and to adapt to meet the needs of the class. Each track targets a particular area or skill, so that class members experience a balanced workout. And because the program builds over several weeks, with new combinations being added, participants gain a sense of the session evolving into a finished product.
It is natural when considering a mind body-focused exercise program to take into account the forces of nature and our physical surroundings. Spirals can be found throughout the natural world, both in the animal and plant kingdoms and in mathematics through geometric figures called ‘fractals’.
The spiral is also very apparent in the human body: like the earth, the body is approximately 70 per cent water. Blood movement and muscles are organised in spiral patterns. Actin and myosin, the primary proteins of muscle fibre, interact in a spiralling motion. The main structure of tendons and ligaments are a spiral. Tendons, ligaments and bones are formed primarily from type 1 collagen which is a triple helix. Looking at the body on a grand scale, the long bones of the humerus spiral along their axis. And, of course, our basic make up, DNA – the smallest structure in the body – is a triple helix (Hendrickson 1995).
It is also necessary to acknowledge that movements found in sports and physical activities are spiral-diagonal in nature. They are defined as ‘mass movement patterns’ (Kabat, Knott and Voss) and as ‘various combinations of motion (that) require shortening and lengthening reactions of many muscles in varying degrees’ (Voss et al 1985).
The design of the skeletal system and the placement of the muscles on it determine the nature of the spiral-diagonal character of movements. Because muscles spiral around the bones, when they contract they naturally create a spiralling motion. This natural spiral can be observed when we walk or run – the arms swing across the body in movement, with the upper and lower body rotating in opposition when gait is normal.
In short, spiralling movements are rotational movements involving one or several muscles related to one or several joints. Spirals the class uses the fundamental spiralling movements of the body to create a workout that will leave clients feeling exercised, energised and happy.
Michael has worked with Pilates techniques since 1979, when he was a dancer at the London School of Contemporary Dance. He opened his first Pilates studio in London in 1982, and was the director of the Pilates studio for the Houston Ballet, Texas. Michael also taught at the Voight Centre in LA, and was the founder of the Pilates Institute UK.