You may well be aware that Pilates can have amazing effects on the body. There are many types of Pilates classes available nowadays at gyms, studios, physiotherapy clinics and online. This is where your Pilates journey can get a little complicated and choosing the right teacher is essential.
So, what’s the point of Pilates?
Classical Pilates is how we call the extraordinary exercise system that was originally developed by and named after Joseph Pilates himself. The Pilates method is based on the biomechanics of the human body. Its goal is to create natural movement in the most efficient way that allows the body to revitalise itself. Pilates is much more than just a workout. Whether you are a newbie, an athlete or someone who is suffering from an injury, the Pilates method works like no other discipline.
If you ever find yourself wondering where to go and which style to choose – well, hopefully the points below will help. Here are seven fundamental skills Pilates teaches that help you look after your body. For life.
You can’t master your body without mastering your breath. Our breathing changes with our emotions and the physical activities we do. By conscious breathing we can amplify the expansiveness of the lungs to connect with our centre (or core muscles). Developing this strength will certainly power up our moves from the inside out. Along the years as I have got closer to the Classical Pilates method, I have discovered that the breathing should be nose-nose and not nose-mouth. As natural as it can be, avoiding any forceful contractions of the abdominals not to block the diaphragm on the exhalation. In short, the aim is to let the movement teach you how to breathe, increase circulation, warm up and detox.
You can read my article about breathing here.
The body doesn’t understand each of its muscles on their own. It does however know the movement. Just think of how animals move. We need to move to feel our muscles. Overly stabilising the shoulders or pelvis will only lead to tension that is in fact the enemy of movement. What creates stability is the movement itself. This may sound contradictory at first, but only until you have understood the next principle, which is…
The word “stretching” gets a different meaning when you start practicing Pilates. It cannot be separate from strengthening. Real strength is length. Instead of trying to pull your navel towards your spine and shortening or working your muscles separately, your Pilates teacher will align you by the help of the machines to elongate your body along its longest axis. This way your core can engage automatically. No movement exists without a two-way stretch. You may find that hard to believe, though it is backed up by Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Equal and Opposite Reaction. Consider that when we pull a spring apart, as it gets longer it also gets thinner. This is called centralisation. If you want a strong core, you need to train your muscles to work like springs, be bouncy and elastic, equally being able to lengthen and contract, supporting your skeleton in suspension. If your abdominals are hard (sorry guys) they can’t provide space for your organs and will also make your spine rigid. It’s simple physics.
The previous point brings us to the importance of integration. An integrated workout means it is for the whole body which is not achieved by exercising each body part separately. The aim is to feel and move your limbs like extensions of your core. A famous example of this is Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. A drawing that symbolises the human body being connected to the wholeness of life. A man reaching out with his arms and legs that fall onto a perfect circle from where his energy is transferred right back towards his stomach. Translating this to the language of Pilates, a movement is safer and much more powerful when it is coming from the centre.
You can read my article about oneness here.
Integration and centralisation creates traction and decompression in the joints. Your Pilates teacher might seem to be obsessed with straightening your back, but the real goal is to elongate your spine during movement. This will allow the body to realign itself by even weight redistribution and regain space and fuller range of motion inside the joints. Simply put, the parts that are tend to be working too hard can get decompressed, while the less active ones can be re-awakened.
6. Letting go:
We don’t initiate change. We allow it. Let the machines work for you. Instead of fighting them, allow the springs to work into your body and facilitate your muscles creating uniform movement. Let go of your own resistance. It’s not about what you need to do more to get stronger. It’s about undoing the habitual patterns that might be holding you back from free movement.
7. Body awareness:
Your Pilates session is the time to shift back into your body instead of constantly being in your mind. Listen to your body. It’s speaking to you – all you need to do is hear it. Rediscover its natural abilities. Bringing body awareness into your workouts is essential for a healthy physique. Forget “no pain no gain” and reconnect with your true power within. We all experience ups and downs. Some days you might be feeling stronger than others. Honouring what your body is capable of on the day is key for sustainable progress. Be open about how you feel. Your Pilates teacher shouldn’t be there to push you hard but to help you get to where you want to be in your time.
Since we all live in a human body, no matter what type of Pilates it’s called, if your teacher is following any of the logical rules above, keep calm, you are doing the right thing. It works.