Pilates is a mind body conditioning exercise programme that targets the deep postural muscles of the abdomen and spine to improve overall central core stability and posture. The mind and body are brought together to achieve these aims through the following eight sound principles:
• precision and flowing movement
The Pilates repertoire can be seen as a tool box of "mindful movements" designed to return the body to its natural alignment by balancing the muscles. Exercise on the mat and on the equipment gives us a variety of tools to help develop every aspect of physical fitness: coordination, strength, flexibility, endurance, body awareness, body control. One starts with the beginner or foundation exercises, generally used in rehabilitation. One then advances onto the intermediate exercises which requires all your basic Pilates foundation principles to carry out these moves with perfect form. And finally some students will move on to the advanced exercises which require every bit of concentration and focus one has in order to carry these moves out in perfect form, as they were designed to be done.
Pilates suits all ages and fitness levels and is particularly beneficially for those with back pain, poor postures, neurological conditions, mental health conditions, sports injuries, arthritis, stress related illness and before and after pregnancy.
Will Pilates help me?
Everyone will benefit from Pilates, from the young to the elderly, from the pregnant to the new mother, from those who work with their bodies to those who are computer bound, and from the couch bound to the athletic. You don't have to be a dancer or professional sports person to benefit from Pilates. Pilates is especially beneficial to those with back pain, past injuries, poor postures, stress related illness, and before and after pregnancy. I have used Pilates to help people with back pain from car and motorcycle accidents, people with typical kyphotic posture from too much time in front of a laptop, people with scoliotic spines thus helping relieve their discomfort and giving them tools to keep it at a maintainable level.
Not everyone will relate to the Pilates approach as it requires slowing the thoughts, concentrating on the body and the breathing, and very much going within to be utterly aware of every little movement the body is making. Pilates requires patience and precision and thus you need to find your inner perfectionist. Sounds a bit esoteric, but believe me it isn't! Once you have good body awareness, you will be aware of your body's position in time and space and will catch yourself hunching over your laptop, just like I am aware as I type this to put my skull back on top of my spine, soften my collar bones and gently draw my shoulder blades down my back! Hard work if you never do it, and chances are you will force the movement and over do it, thus leading to mid back stiffness and a tired neck, among other little rather unsafe movements to your cervical vertebra... but that is just a lesson in itself!
A good example is watching TV at night, slumped on the couch, rounded lumbar spine, maybe one leg always crossed over the other. Do you stand up and feel stiffness in your lower back, maybe have to stand for a minute and arch your back a bit to counter stretch before you are able to move on? Maybe have a bit of stiffness in one hip? If you imagine that the body is a rather spectacular piece of machinery, which it is to be fair, yet not a failsafe piece of machinery, and if the bits holding the legs to the hips are stretched and weak on the one side, and shorten, yet not necessarily strong, on the other side, imagine how well that piece of machinery is going to perform when it is expected to start walking, or even worse, run? Imagine the "wheel imbalance"? Imagine what it does to all the working parts above it, i.e. the spine! So a muscle imbalance in the hips could ultimately lead to a neck problem. Going for a run with left and right hip abductors imbalanced, and stronger lateral quads than medial quads, thus leading to pronation of the foot... well that is a common occurrence and that alone could send you home with a sore lower back and possibly even a headache!
Quite a few of my clients are runners, and looking at the above example, I like to check their balance on 1 foot, I will check the comparative strength of the left and right glutes, stretch out those ITB's, check out their inner thighs and inner quad muscles, and continue to work on the body, looking for imbalances in strength and length of muscles, thus you can see that Pilates is an all over body workout, an MOT if you will. I wont just strength my clients abdominals, even though that will be a bit part of what I do. One of the biggest lessons I will give my clients is one of "disassociation" . Moving a limb within a socket without disturbing the rest of the body. Think of the femur moving within the hip socket like a joystick moving within its base, a pendulum moving within the clock... Once you master this, your body awareness will grow, you will be "mindful" in all your movements... walking, swimming, running, even reaching for a book off the top shelf. Pilates will not only help your sporting activies, it will change the way you move, and help your daily activities too. Putting on your socks in the morning, walking up and down stairs. The mind will get involved in all these activities, until it just becomes second nature, and this is when you have really reaped the benefit of Pilates. When you don't need to consciously need to think to draw your shoulders down your back while slaving over your computer! Or think to sit up straight during Gray's Anatomy. You just do it because it feels right. Then Pilates has worked for you.
The History of Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born in Monchengladbach, Germany, in 1880. Joseph was a sickly child and suffered from a serious of childhood illness including rheumatic fever, rickets and asthma. Contrary to doctors' warnings that he would have a very short life expectancy, Joseph's drive and determination to overcome these illnesses led him to explore many approaches to health and fitness. He became an accomplished boxer, gymnast and circus performer.
Joseph was a disciplined man, as his physical condition and teachings reveal. His method contains influences of martial arts, yoga, gymnastics, dance, circus training, weight training and self-defence, which can be seen in his later teachings. By taking the best of each of these methods, he developed an exercise repertoire which he believed provided the perfect balance of flexibility and strength, and which he called 'Contrology'.
During the First World War, Joseph devised a series of exercises that could overcome injuries and postural problems. Interned in an English camp on the Isle of Man along with other German nationals, he began to train the other prisoners of war in his matwork exercises, and began devising apparatus to help in the aid of the sick and injured. He fashioned makeshift exercise aids using bed springs attached in various positions so that recovering patients could exercise safely.
Joseph returned to Germany for a brief period, where he taught self-defence to the German Army and the Hamburg Police. In 1926 he immigrated to the United States of America, and on the boat across he met his future wife, Clara. Clara was to play an integral role in the development and teaching of his method, and on realising they had the same views on fitness, they set up a studio in New York based on Joseph's 'Contrology' method. Their studio attracted a diverse population, including socialites, gymnasts, dancers, athletes and circus performers.
The original exercises created by Joseph were matwork based, but over time, in order to supplement these matwork exercises and to further help build the strength and flexibility of his clients, Joseph developed various pieces of studio equipment. Over the course of his career he developed more than 600 exercises to be performed on these various invented pieces of apparatus.
Joseph was loved and respected by his clients, and he never doubted that one day his method of exercise would become popular worldwide. The importance that he placed on the Pilates fundamentals, such as core strength and breathing, would come to be recognised by research studies carried out by the medical industry more than twenty years after his death.