“… is the attainment & maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactory performing our many & varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest & pleasure.”
– Joseph H. Pilates, 1945
Expect to forget everything you ever thought about exercise as you begin to remember that the body was designed to move with ease and fluidity. As you embrace the idea that ‘less is more’ you are invited to focus on the quality of movement over quantity and mindless repetitions.
This process of transition may be frustrating or confusing because at first you may feel like you are ‘doing nothing’ as you begin to allow the body to move instead of pushing, forcing straining or striving. In this transition phase you begin to release old habits of moving/working and holding patterns, which are linked to chronic pain and injuries.
The benefits are well worth the effort as you discover an exciting new sense of whole body awareness. Movements on the mat or machine and in everyday life will become easier, more fluid, leading to a decrease in pain, repetitive strain and fatigue. Joint mobility will increase; core strength of the deep postural muscles as well as co-ordination, flexibility, and overall muscle tone will improve. Pilates’ transformative work produces a stronger, leaner more graceful body and a calmer more focused and attentive mind.
There are 34 classical mat exercises and over 250 on the Reformer, the most commonly used piece of spring resistant equipment.
The Principles of the Pilates Method
Pilates is a workout for the lungs as well as the muscles. For the human body to work effectively the muscles must be charged with oxygen throughout an exercise. Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation releases tension and creates a rhythm that pulls you through the exercises.
Whether it’s called the core, the powerhouse or the belly, every move starts from your center. More than just the abs, it also includes muscles in the buttocks, hips and back. Strengthening from the center enhances your whole body and transforms how you move, creating greater control and precision.
Pilates is really a meeting of the mind and the body. The first muscle the Method engages is the brain. Students must focus attention on the mechanics of the work they are doing in order to physically locate and activate specific body muscles and consequently accomplish specific movements.
Originally called ‘Contrology’, Pilates should be performed with the control of a gymnast or dancer. Total control is demanded of the entire body, not just the larger motions of arms and legs but the position of fingers, head and toes, the degree of back arch, pelvic tilt, rotation of wrists, legs, hips and ankles. Control is important for graceful movement, but more importantly control maintains the positioning of joints without stress, and therefore maximizes the efficient use of specific muscle groups and prevents injuries.
As you master the moves, Pilates becomes more like a fluid dance rather than a collection of exercises. This rhythm encourages grace, fluidity and flexibility and can have meditative effects.
One precise Pilates move brings more benefit than 10 sloppy ones. That’s why the reps are small: the point is to perform them perfectly, not just power through from one to the next. Practicing the precision of controlled body motion and placement will develop grace and fluidity for all movement.
About Joseph Pilates
As a child, Joe suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever all at which left him very frail. Determined to become stronger, he dedicated himself to building both his body and mind through practices including yoga and Zen. His self-conditioning led him to become an accomplished gymnast, skier, boxer and diver. During WWI, Pilates became a nurse, at which time he designed a unique system of hooking springs and straps that attached to a hospital bed and which helped his disabled and immobilized patients regain strength and movement. It was through these experiments that he recognized the importance of training the core abdominal and back muscles to stabilize the torso and allow the entire body to move freely. This work was the foundation for conditioning and the specialized exercise equipment associated with the Pilates Method.
In 1926, he immigrated to New York where he and his wife, Clara, establish a studio to teach and share his knowledge. He attracted the attention of several major dances and dance studios, including Martha Graham and George Ballanchine, who sent many of their students to Joe. He lived to 87, a fitting tribute to the effectiveness of his training and fitness exercise.
The Pilates Method
is a series of low-impact exercises, linking breathing to movement, designed by Joseph Pilates to develop strength, flexibility, balance and inner awareness.