What is Pilates? The question is often asked, normally with the conclusion of simply strengthening the Core. But Pilates is much more than that. Yes, the Core is a primary component of Pilates, but this activity also holds additional characteristics that benefit the individual to a far greater degree.
Pilates is a low-impact method of exercise, focussing on muscular strength, flexibility and endurance. Pilates can either be performed using a series of apparatus, such as a Reformer or Trapeze Table, or on a mat. RewbyPilates utilises mat exercises, with the introduction of accessories (Pilates circles, foam rollers, exercise balls, Therabands™, etc) as the sessions progress. These exercises require time, commitment and practice for one to start to notice the benefits.
The benefits of Pilates include:
- improved core strength and stability
- Improved postural alignment and balance
- Improved flexibility and mobility
- Improved co-ordination
- Prevention and treatment of aches and pains, particularly lower back pain
However, there is also a mindful component of the practice, which originates from the founder himself. Joseph Pilates referred to Pilates as Contrology and described it as “the comprehensive integration of body, mind and spirit”. (Return to Life Through Contrology). His work was then later developed by instructors that proceeded him, forming the six Pilates Principles, namely: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath, and Flow.
1) Breath: Is the foundation of our existence and helps calm the mind, body and spirit. Breathing is the very tool used to anchor us to the moment, a key ingredient for keeping us acutely present to the task at hand. Pilates utilises the breath to initiate and support movement by inhaling to initiate movement and exhaling to exert it. Mindful breathing replenishes the lungs with fresh clean air, whilst excreting all stale air from our bodies. Oxygenation of the blood then results, improving circulation throughout our entire body. It’s a process of renewal and detox. And if one had to really ponder the breath, consider how important the breath becomes, if we were simply to hold our breath and attempt to stop breathing altogether!
2) Concentration: or awareness, are essential in the Pilates practise. By using our breath to become present to our bodies, we can then execute Pilates movements and form accurately. Focussing the mind allows us to connect to our bodies fully, to recruit the correct muscles and to avoid injury.
3) Control: The mind must be engaged, controlling every movement our bodies make, therefore achieving specific alignment, form and effort. Control, or rather, “Contrology” is the very reason we do Pilates. There is more success in achieving 5 accurate repetitions of an exercise, then to push for 10 repetitions with zero effect due to poor form. This will only establish bad habits and promote possible injury. Pilates is about attention to detail, the smallest detail making the biggest difference.
4) Centering: All movements in Pilates radiate from your centre, known as the Core or Powerhouse. Developing a strong, stable and flexible center is key. Once this is achieved, controlled peripheral movement is the result, enabling us to perform physical activities safely and functionally, not only in classes, but in our everyday life.
5) Precision: Postural alignment is achieved through actively focussing on the precision of each and every movement. Positive results can result quickly if we are only able to tune in, to clock and correct the slightest degree of movement and to practice the continuity of precision through this movement.
6) Flow: Smooth, graceful movements will decrease stress on the joints and will help develop your body to move and flow smoothly and effortlessly. Flow is normally achieved after practising Pilates for some time, as it reaches a point of unconscious competence (The Learning Matrix). This will take time, it’s allowing oneself the approach of self-kindness and compassion.