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What is Pilates?

Pilates is a rejuvenating, low-impact method of exercise that originated from Joseph Pilates. The exercises focus on stability, breath, awareness of alignment, and strength and can be practiced at various exercise levels. There is the Pilates Mat work performed on a Mat and the various equipment apparatus exercises using spring tension.

Who is Pilates For?

Pilates is for anyone who wants to increase awareness and control within their body. It does require patience and an ability to want to slow down and practice each fundamental movement. It's not for everyone as it requires patience but the payoff and carryover is vast in other forms of exercise and how we move through life.

What is Pilates Equipment?

One of the most well-known pieces of equipment is the Reformer. This piece is often found in many Pilates studios and even group settings with Pilates equipment-based classes. There are also other apparatuses, such as the Cadillac/Tower, Wanda Chair, and Barrel. The Pilates equipment is unlike any gym equipment due to the niche design of the exercises and work by Joseph Pilates. Pilates-certified instructors must undergo an extensive training program including objective, muscle focus, and breath pattern of the equipment and mat exercises. Beyond that, they must practice each exercise and know how it feels, how to cue, and what to focus on while teaching their future student. In addition, they must observe other seasoned instructors teaching classes and privates to understand how to work with many bodies.

What Makes Pilates Different?

Pilates is also unique due to the exercises following a breath pattern as they are performed. This breath pattern also creates a slower more mindful and controlled approach to moving one's body. Pilates was originally called Contrology by Joseph Pilates. As Pilates wrote in his book Return to Life Through Contrology, “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our life depends on it.” He made it very clear in each exercise how to breathe to get the most out of each exercise as a way to improve circulation. This makes Pilates so unique is moving mindfully and with control while incorporating your breath.

There is also a large emphasis on establishing connection and strength in what Joseph Pilates called “the powerhouse.” The powerhouse is the ability to control your spine with your core muscles from the center of your body such as your abdominal muscles, back extensors, and hip musculature. While Pilates is focused on moving from your center, it emphasizes your limbs are also moving from a state of control as you are mindful of your spine and powerhouse in each exercise. This is the secret of how Pilates can change your body. Your entire structure becomes more robust and stronger with the emphasis on moving from the inside out.

Due to Pilates focusing on your center and your breath, you can develop more awareness and control of your body and the way it moves. This is a valuable practice for so many people and has many carryovers into other movement modalities. It allows you to be more present in exercises and that is very healing as well as meditative as a form of exercise.

Is Pilates The Same As Yoga?

But let’s not confuse it with yoga. Although Yoga is low-impact and a mindful movement focusing on your breath while exercising, Pilates has a different way of utilizing alignment and resistance. The equipment in Pilates has spring tension, and the Mat work in Pilates utilizes more core emphasis as opposed to yoga, which focuses on more flexibility. Yoga has ancient roots, and Pilates has only been around for roughly 100 years. There are some similarities, but Pilates has an application to develop more strength and control versus just increasing flexibility.

The 6 Principles of Pilates

Pilates has six fundamental principles intended by Joseph Pilates, which are present in all exercises while performing them:

1) Control: Controlling the entire body at all times with awareness of how the body moves together in each exercise.

2) Precision: Focusing on each exercise with proper placement of the body and application of movement.

3) Breathing: Using the breath as your rhythm and adding circulation to your movement.

4) Concentration: Focusing on the quality of each movement per repetition versus quantity

5) Flow: focusing on the continuous movement between exercises from one to the next.

6) Centering: Focusing on maintaining the powerhouse center as where you move from and adding the awareness of your core.

The more contemporary Pilates that I have studied through BASI Body Arts and Science International by Rael Isacowitz, added four more principles to Joseph Pilates's original six:

7) Balance: working in various planes of motion and various muscle groups within a session.

8) Efficiency: creating movement that is efficient and does not strain the body.

9) Harmony: being focused centered and in control after your pilates session and feeling rejuvenated.

10) Awareness: this is the first step in the Pilates practice of knowing where your body is in space and having a mind-body connection.

Now, that might sound like a lot to manage while exercising, but the beauty of Pilates is that the exercises emphasize these principles when performed correctly. From beginner Fundamental work to Advanced work, Pilates exercises are all about incorporating the principles as you perform them.

To start practicing Pilates, you can take an in-person equipment or mat class or even do a mat class online if you don't have access to a studio. These days especially with YouTube, you can easily take a beginner class and feel how Pilates can give you a sense of rejuvenation and vitality even if you have never tried it before. Check out the link below for a beginner's Pilates Mat class you can do anywhere.


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