When I tell people that I’m a Pilates teacher I often get a quizzical look. Followed with questions like “That’s like yoga right?”or “That’s like stretching for ballerinas right?”
History of Pilates
Pilates is a method of exercise that was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th Century. Originally called Contrology by Pilates, it has become one of the fastest growing methods of exercise. Joseph Pilates was a German who was interned in a prison camp in England during World War 1. Some say that Pilates created the exercises that we now know to help keep his fellow detainees fit and healthy during the war; it was also rumored that he created resistance equipment by using bed frames and bed springs, as well as metal bands from beer kegs. These were the first Pilates equipment that we now know as the Reformer and the Magic Circle.
After the war Pilates moved to New York City where he opened his first studio and worked mostly with boxers. Because his studio was also in close proximity to many dance studios, eventually many dancers came to him looking for rehabilitation for different injuries. Joseph Pilates continued to teach out of his studio for many years, and wrote two books on his method, “Return to Life Through Contrology” and “Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education”.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is at it’s heart a physical fitness routine that builds on core strength and flexibility. Focus is put on spinal and pelvic alignment, breath, concentration and control of the core muscle group through body based movements. There are six principles of Pilates that are now known to be a major part of the method. These are concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.
There are mat exercises that can be done anywhere on a padded mat, and focus more on using one’s own body weight and movement to engage and strengthen the “powerhouse” and other parts of the body. There is also the apparatus that was created by Joseph Pilates and still used today. These include the reformer, Cadillac, barrels and more. These use spring loaded resistance to offer a more challenging strength and endurance workout.
When most people think about the benefits of Pilates, they think “strong core” But my friends, it is OH SO more than that. Everything that we do radiates from our center, or from our core, which in Pilates we call the “Powerhouse”. Pilates not only strengthens the core but also improves flexibility. Pilates improves muscle tone, balances musculature, supports correct posture, and teaches you to move with ease and grace, while building flexibility and long, lean muscles, strength and endurance in the legs, abs, arms, hips, and back.
As you can see the benefits of Pilates are many. However, my favorite benefit of Pilates is the one that isn’t even visible to the eye; a calming sense of peace of mind. There is a wonderful mind-body connection in Pilates similar to when practicing Yoga. Pilates is like a moving meditation to me. The precision of movement that flows with both grace and strength whether on a mat or a piece of the Pilates equipment can not be beat.
As you move through the exercises with the Pilates principles in mind, you become more in tune and aware of your body. You have very little time to focus on life outside of the studio, as you become one with your body. The stress and tension of work, family life, etc. just melt away as you move through the exercises. It is indeed a very mindful practice.
Of course there are many physical benefits to practicing Pilates, as I mentioned above. Many of my students come to Pilates because of low back pain, or wanting to work on developing lean musculature and strengthening their core. Pilates can help you to look and feel your best, as well as teaching body awareness and good posture. Recent studies even show that Pilates can help alleviate low back pain more than other therapies.
In fact a recent Italian study “found an important improvement of pain, disability and physical and psychological perception of health in individuals who did the daily sessions of pilates”.* The results of the study showed that Pilates was better at reducing pain in individuals with low back pain more than the standard treatment methods for chronic low back pain. That’s pretty powerful! Pilates heals!!
In my teaching I have many special conditions that I work with and all of these clients have seen amazing benefits from a regular and consistent Pilates practice. Whatever your goal is, Pilates can help you achieve your fitness and wellness goals.
Benefits of Pilates:
- Increased Core Strength
- Better Spinal Health
- Improved Balance and Posture
- Leaner Musculature
- Increased Flexibility
- Increased Energy
- Improved Joint Health
- Corrects Imbalances in the Body
- Establishes Mind-Body Connection
- Greater Body Awareness
It’s very easy to see how a regular and consistent Pilates practice can benefit you in so many ways, both physical and mental. Pilates is not only great for building core strength, or helping athletes to improve their games, but it can help the every day person (like you and me) to alleviate pain, build strength and flexibility and heal from the inside out. Give it a go and see for yourself.
The beauty of the Pilates method is that is accessible to everyone, and most of the exercises can be modified to suit different populations. If you are interested in further exploring the Pilates method look for a certified instructor in your area and try a class.