Tania Huddart on pilates and the contractile field model

Fri,Jan 04, 2019 at 05:51PM by

contractile field model applied in pilates studio setting

I am so excited to be sharing the Contractile Field model in the Pilates studio with you. It has so far been a five-year journey of discovery. Writing this article made me reflect anew on how much my approach to Pilates and my own body has changed. This way of thinking has even influenced my family life as well.

I first met Phillip Beach when he presented a two-day workshop in Wellington in 2013. Wendy Le Blanc Arbuckle had told me about him when she came over from the USA a year earlier. Before I met Phillip I was already looking for answers about how our bodies are designed to move. When I did finally meet him he blew my mind and changed my life for the better. Since then I have attended about five other workshops and taught workshops with Phillip. I can still sit and listen to him and feel the same excitement every time.

What is the Contractile Field model all about?

The Contractile Field model will help you understand human movement. Phillip encourages a whole organism perspective. He proposes that we move our thinking away from isolated muscles or body regions. Phillip trained as an Osteopath and in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In his quest to understand human movement patterns, Phillip studied embryology and anthropology. Phillip’s book, Muscles and Meridians, explains his Contractile Field model in detail. But you will need to attend a workshop to understand how this model works. The workshops help you to understand the fields through touch and through visual aids. Phillip explains the model in a fun, thought-provoking, memorable and humorous way.

You will also learn simple suggestions to improve your biomechanical health. These suggestions make it possible for you to take your new knowledge into the real world. The best part is that these suggestions are easy to do and are free!

//     Spend more time on the floor – squatting, cross-legged, kneeling or long sitting. Phillip calls these floor sitting postures Archetypal Postures.

//     Spend time rising from the floor with style and grace. Phillip calls this act of rising from the floor Erectorcises.

//     Free your feet from shoes as often as you can. Phillip refers to shoes as ‘sensory deprivaton chambers’. He also values the use of dorsiflexion.

Sensory system

After the first workshop I started exploring the sensory system in more detail. I roped my family in to build a large rock garden for the studio. I loved watching how the rocks helped my clients who struggled with leg alignment. When they balanced on the rocks they would self correct. The textured information their feet received immediately helped them to realign. They needed minimal feedback from me. Over the next few weeks they could transfer the same alignment to other areas.

Exploring face and hands

I also experimented with the face and hand to start a movement. Including these sensory nerve rich areas of the body changed the way people moved. At a recent workshop, one of the participants released her cheek. This release improved the Pilates Roll Up exercise. An exercise she had found challenging before. Check out the video:

You can also try the exercise at the end of this article. It involves the ear, which is the Lateral Contractile Field’s sense organ. This exercise requires balance as you side bending. If balance is too challenging, keep both feet on the floor and only do the side bend action.

I presented a workshop at an osteopathy conference in New Zealand in 2015. My presentation inspired me to explore the hand in more detail. This brought on a love affair with hands and hanging exercises. Now I can’t walk past a tree without considering if there is a branch perfect for hanging or climbing!

My story

After that first workshop I saw Phillip as a client every two to three weeks. He helped me reclaim my feet and encouraged me to spend more time sitting on the floor. I started with brief 10-minute blocks because floor sitting had become very challenging. I had an emergency c-section in 2009 and hysterectomy soon after. I had also had three other abdominal surgeries before these events. My movement was becoming increasingly limited.

After eighteen months of treatment Phillip suggested we go for a barefoot walk. I was very nervous. I wasn’t sure my feet were up for the challenge. I walked for ninety minutes and I loved the varied textures and challenges that my feet had to navigate! The next day my feet were fine but my lower abdominals were very tired. That sparked another avenue of enquiry. I wanted to know how I could work the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles by involving the feet in some way.

I can also report that two years after adopting a floor sitting lifestyle my husband and son joined me. At my husbands request we sold our dining room and lounge furniture. He was inspired by the changes he saw in my body. My son was already on board. Our computer is on a low desk and we sit on the floor to work. We have a low table and sit on the floor to eat. We have a variety of floor cushions for when we sit on the floor to watch TV or do other activities.

I now find it hard to teach any movement without seeing it in the context of the Contractile Field model. I also teach clients how to use the Archetypal Postures to retune their bodies. Rising from these postures to standing means you use more of your body. The act of using your body more also provides some protection from degeneration as you age. It is an ideal home exercise programme provided you have not had any joint replacement surgeries, are very frail or have a history of foot fractures and severe deformities. If so please seek advice from your orthopedic surgeon.

At the age of 50 I can report that I am more in-tune than I was at 20! I have no more back or hip pain and I hardly ever need pain relief anymore. Before changing my lifestyle I needed pain relief almost daily.

Benefits of being in tune

//     Strengthens your body’s ability to stand up from the floor.

//     Rehabilitates your feet.

//     Turns on powerful self-correcting modalities in your body.

Learning to value the floor more and putting it back into your life, takes time and patience. You will need to retrain your body. This retraining starts from your feet.

Find time to make everyday movements count

I know I get very passionate about walking barefoot and floor sitting. I want everyone to feel as amazing as I do. These changes have given me so much of a part of my movement life back that I had thought I had lost. But using this information is a choice and everyone can do as much or as little as they find useful. Start slowly. A good way to start is to try combining floor sitting with an everyday task like folding washing. You will be able to sit for 10-15 minutes and may use three or four different postures as you complete your task. Rehabilitate your feet by taking your shoes off whenever you can. Place a rock garden in a place you walk through often to stimulate your feet.

Try this exercise with me

Side bend

//     Starting position: Stand with your feet in parallel. Place your fingertips around your ear. Turn your arm in a little, flexing your wrist and opening your fingers and palm as if holding a ball.

Tania Huddart pilates exercise step 1

//     Exhale: Transfer your weight and stand on one leg with your foot dorsiflexed.

Tania Huddart pilates exercise step 2

//     Inhale: Bend to one side while pressing the side of your head into your fingertips.

Tania Huddart pilates exercise step 3

//     Exhale: Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Repeat 4-5 times on each side.


//     Keep your shoulders relaxed.

//     Move with control.

//     Keep thinking of lifting your ear and pressing it into your fingertips as you move into the side bend.

//     Turn your head with control to look upward and downward. Feel how that affects your balance.

Tania Huddart is a Master Pilates Instructor, a Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) certified Pilates instructor and the owner of Hearts and Bones Pilates Centre in New Zealand. Tania will be visiting Australia in 2019 as part of the Contractile Fields, Archetypal Postures and Movement program with Phillip Beach. Tania will present the Pilates & Movement Module, a 3-day workshop that works with the theoretical concepts from Phillip Beach’s sessions and applies them in specific and practical ways to pilates and movement studio settings.

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