My teaching of Bartenieff Fundamentals (BF) led me to Pilates. I was teaching classes and private sessions based on BF and conditioning to injured clients at Dr. Bachrach’s Center for Osteopathic Medicine in 1987. Teaching Bartenieff Fundamentals™ to an injured population taught me the power of this work. My colleagues while I was studying to be trained as a Certified Movement Analysis (CMA) were such great movers that I did not understand the importance of BF at that time. Working with clients led me deeper into the concepts of BF and their potential in assisting neurological re-patterning.
As an example of the value of Bartenieff’s rehabilitation and efficiency methods - I am going to describe her exercise “the thigh lift” and how it can change the Pilates workout. Teaching the principles of the pre and thigh lift is a wonderful link to the single leg stretch of the Pilates mat. The thigh lift is an important principle to understand for all abdominal training and the Pilates mat. One must stabilize the pelvis to connect to the correct mobility of the femur. The psoas alone will flex the hip. Without the counterbalance of the abdominals, the pelvis is pulled to an anterior tilt and/or unleveling. A short psoas will also bring the pelvis in an anterior tilt. A tucked pelvis will make the psoas lax. Stabilization is about finding quietness in the spine with length as you mobilize the legs.
The thigh lift is a key action in just about any movement: gait and dance/sports activities. It is the dancer’s passé, the initiation of the kick in sports, yoga, fitness and most importantly our walking. The ability to move our legs and move us through space is essential for everyday activities. The freedom of the thighbone in the hip socket with the strength of the leg and torso muscles take us into standing, walking and more complex movement actions. A lot of problems of back, hip and knee pain can be a cause of poor patterning how the thighbone moves in the hip socket, pelvic stability and lifted to propel us in space.
A poor thigh lift disconnects to the deep use of the abdominals and the psoas will be lost. Other muscles will have to take over for the lack of this connection. In the Pilates repertory, the thigh lift fundamental will teach the differential of the thighbone from the pelvis.
Let’s now look at footwork and the relationship to the thigh lift on the reformer. In Footwork, one lies supine on the carriage with the feet pressing on the foot bar. The carriage glides in and out with flexion and extension of the legs. Footwork taught well is a wonderful link to gait. In traditional Pilates, the tucked pelvis can kick out the hip extensors when the legs are extended.
With teaching of the thigh lift fundamental with footwork, the client gets a better connection to the legs. The femoral fold is soft while the correct sequencing of the quadriceps and hamstrings come into play to move the carriage with the legs. If there is a contraction around this fold, one could be overusing other muscles such as rectus femoris, some certain fibers of the adductors and even the back muscles. When the back becomes involved, this gives the appearance of the hips hiking, anterior/posterior tilt (depends on the client) and/or rotating.
Leg springs or modified short spine takes the pre- and thigh lift to a fuller range of motion. The springs or straps give a wonderful spatial intent in counter balance to the hollowing and the spine lengthening in the opposite direction. With pelvic stability and this counter tension, the legs mobilize with a different connection in the hip sockets.
New research is coming out now of the importance of the pelvic floor, transverse abdominus and multifidus. Irmgard was revolutionary. In the section about the fundamentals in Coping with The Environment published in 1980, she was already addressing these concepts. It is possible to have ease of motion and dynamic strength in the Pilates repertory.
BF and Pilates is about connections. BF can enrich Pilates not only with its biomechanical principles but by taking the Pilates repertory into new spaces, creating increased and exciting neuro-muscular demands.