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Exercise of the Month: ZEN•GA® Mat and Reformer Exercises for Better Posture

Pilates exercises can help improve posture by strengthening the deep muscles and stabilizing the joints and tissues that support the head, neck and spine.

According to one study examining the effectiveness of Pilates for posture, researchers found that participants who practiced mat Pilates exercises regularly (three times a week for 12 weeks) improved their postural alignment and muscle mass and reduced their body fat.

There are a few common attributes of good posture. In general, when sitting or standing, the spine should be in neutral, shoulders level and rolled back, core slightly engaged, chin parallel to the floor, and body weight distributed evenly over the feet. This also applies when sitting.

There are many benefits to maintaining good posture, including preventing back, neck and shoulder pain, reducing the risk of muscle strains and injuries, and ensuring the body continues to move efficiently.

As a Pilates instructor or mind-body specialist, you should encourage your clients to become more aware of their posture and alignment to help them develop positive habits for everyday life. Get them to think about how they hold their upper bodies, where they experience tension, what poor postural habits they’ve developed while at their desks or on their phones, and how they can make small adjustments throughout the day to improve their posture.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that an extremely hunched posture, known as hyperkyphosis, affects up to two-thirds of senior women and half of senior men. Hyperkyphosis has been associated with back pain, weakness and trouble breathing. The good news is, one study found that after a six-month yoga practice, older adults with hyperkyphosis showed significant improvement and less rounded shoulders.

So, it’s about time to start moving.

Merrithew's ZEN·GA® modality fuses elements of Pilates and yoga, both of which have been proven to help improve posture, as well as martial arts and meditation.

This Exercise of the Month is brought to you by Merrithew® Lead Instructor Trainer Kanako Funabashi, co-founder of Sky Pilates Tokyo, a Host Training Center in Tokyo, Japan.

She will teach you two ZEN·GA exercises, one that focuses on thoracic mobility and another that focuses on scapulae isolation, to improve posture. She also provides some handy teaching tips and modifications to use with your clients.


  • Maintain a neutral pelvis and spine during both exercises
  • Use the Mini Stability Balls to create proprioceptive feedback, provide support, improve alignment and as a tactile cue
  • The ball you choose depends on the client’s body size; you may need to make adjustments by deflating the ball or opting for a different size to support them
  • Encourage clients to use the ball to become more aware and in tune with their natural breath pattern

Read the full transcript of the video below:

Hello, I’m Kana Funabashi, Lead Instructor Trainer at Merrithew and co-founder of Sky Pilates Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan.

Today I’m going to teach you two ZEN•GA exercises. I will explain the starting position and then demonstrate the exercises and provide you with some teaching tips and modifications that you can use with your clients.

The first exercise is Breaststroke with the small Mini Stability Ball.

I’m going to lie on the Mat Converter with my pelvis and spine in neutral and place the ball under the sternum. Legs can be adducted or abducted. I’m wrapping my hands on the ball; neck is rested. My sternum is supported.

First I’m just going to breathe, using this ball as a focal point to send my breath towards. Next I’m going to add spinal extension and flexion, using the ball as a support. Pressing into the ball increases my thoracic mobility.

This exercise can also be done with the hands placed at the sides, pressing into the mat. As I reach my sternum towards the ball, I feel an opening across my chest, increasing the extension.

Some teaching tips: The Mini Stability Ball is an amazing tool to create a focal point. This is a tactile way to cue your clients, telling them to direct their breath or body parts towards the ball. For example, in this exercise, I was trying to move my breath towards the ball and also I could cue pushing the sternum into the ball. This will increase thoracic mobility and also increase optimal breathing pattern and awareness.

Inhale during the expansion phase; this is when the internal space increases. Exhale during the condensing phase; this is when the rib cage closes in and down and you get more abdominal support and core stability. Encourage your client to find the breathing pattern that works for them.

The ball size is very important – a small ball should be used to protect the lumbar spine. The lumbar spine and pelvis should remain in a neutral position in this exercise. If the ball is too big, you can deflate the it to adjust the size.

If the client has any difficulty lying down, you can teach this exercise sitting or standing, just pin the ball to the sternum. The hands create downward pressure on the ball and the sternum creates upward pressure, providing proprioceptive feedback during extension and flexion.

By using the ball, the fascial tissue under the ball is also stimulated and hydrated.

The next exercise focuses on scapulae isolation using the SPX® Max Plus Reformer and the Vertical Frame. If you have a taller client, put the Reformer’s carriage stopper closer to position 1; if you have a shorter client, put the carriage stopper closer to position 6. I suggest half to one spring.

We will also use the Push-Thru Bar on the Vertical Frame with one or two springs on. I will also use two Mini Stability Balls (one small and one large) to support my alignment.

Come into a kneeling position on the Reformer with the knees against the shoulder rest. The small blue ball is supporting my pelvis and the orange ball is supporting my torso. Grab the Push-Thru Bar. Try to find a neutral spine. This is the starting position. I’m just going to observe the breath to achieve an organic breathing pattern.

Next is scapulae isolation with elevation and depression. I’m using the two balls as focal points. I can press into the blue ball or orange ball to feel how I breathe and also to support the engagement and activation of the pelvic floor muscles and to maintain the torso alignment.

The size of the ball matters. If the orange ball is too small and the client is bending too far forward or if they’re too high up, you may need to make some adjustments according to the client’s body size to ensure they achieve the proper alignment.

This exercise is amazing for creating full body awareness, a beautiful neutral posture and strengthening the posture muscles.

This is the Exercise of the Month. I hope you enjoy. Have a great day!

Watch more videos like this one on Merrithew Connect™ >

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