Pilates is a dynamic, multi-faceted, mind-body movement method. As a Pilates practitioner, you will find that the longer you practice, the deeper your practice will take you. If you will think back to when you first started your Pilates practice, you may remember feeling awkward with the equipment and how to move your body. The way we align our bodies and how we engage our muscles during a Pilates session is meant to help bring the body back into balance and proper alignment.
At fist, just getting used to how the equipment moves and where to put our hands and feet, etc can feel disorienting so in the beginning, the focus is on just getting used to the equipment (including the Mat!) and the bigger muscle movements of the exercise and engaging the core. As we become more comfortable and we have learned proper engagement of the core for initiating movement and stabilization, we begin to go deeper into alignment, full body engagement, and what are referred to as the Six Guiding Principles of Pilates.
Pilates is a complex system. Every movement should engage the whole body from head to toe. During a Pilates movement we are being aware of our imbalances, and then lengthening, stretching, engaging to bring the body into balance. This often requires moving the body and
engaging muscles in ways that are not our habitual way of moving, so without concentration we will just continue to move the body in old patterns and we will not reap the benefits and change that Pilates is intended for.
All movement comes from the center of the body. Even if we are simply moving our hand, the body first stabilizes the spine, and then movement emanates into the extremities. This is why proper engagement of our core is the first thing we learn in Pilates. When our center is not strong the rest of our body can not be in alignment (Ah! that is a whole other blog post!) In Pilates we refer to our core as the Powerhouse, and the Powerhouse includes our low abdominals, or Transverse Abdominus, our low back, our glutes, and our inner thighs. Often in class you will hear the cue to draw in and up your centerline. This means to engage your Powerhouse and lengthen your spine, bringing your focus to creating a long, strong center.
When Joseph Pilates was teaching, it was not called, Pilates. He called it “Contrology”, which means the study of control. In Pilates, every movement is with intention and every movement is an exercise. Because we have spent so many years living in our bodies without thought of how to properly support and move the body, we have developed many imbalances, many of which we do not even notice but they greatly affect our bodies’ health and efficiency. For example, we tend to sit a lot in our culture – at our desks, in our cars, and on our sofas. This can cause our hip-flexors to become tight. When the hip-flexors become too tight, they “shut off” the reciprocal muscles, or the muscles on the other side of the joint. In this case, that would be the glutes. The glutes are a very big muscle and when they stop working properly and stop engaging when they should, the body compensates by recruiting other muscles to do the work that the glutes should be doing. Now the body starts trying to get the rotator muscles of the hip to do the work that the glutes should be doing. However, the rotators have a different function and therefore their axis of rotation and movements are different. They are also much smaller than the glutes so the load put on them is more than they were intended to bear. Soon, these smaller muscles become overworked and aggravated, and an aggravated muscle stays in a state of contraction. This causes decreased circulation and adhesions to form in the muscle.
Now we have pain 🙁
So it is important, especially during a Pilates session, to bring our focus and Concentration back to proper muscle engagement and control of movement.
Breathing is what brings oxygen to the cells and flushes many toxins and waste from the body. If we do not exhale deeply, we do not empty the lungs of waste and, we cannot inhale completely. The breath is often a component that enhances an exercise, for example, by increasing pressure in the abdominal cavity which helps to stabilize the spine. And often an exercise has a component of strengthening the breath, such as wringing out the lungs during twisting movements. In Pilates, we do not use percussive or unnatural breathing as Joseph Pilates believed that if the breath can remain deep and calm while the body experiences the stress of exercise, then in our daily lives when we experience other types of stress, whether physical, emotional, or mental, our breathing will remain deep and calm helping to reduce the strains of stress.
Precision is like combining Concentration and Control. Bringing precision to your movement is to engage the intended muscles to their fullest, and to perform the exercise cleanly and to the best of your ability without sloppy extraneous movements. In Pilates, every movement has a purpose.
When thinking of Pilates, think of “effort with ease”. We move the body with intention, purpose, and precision, but never with tension. Each Pilates exercise should have a fluidity and grace that reflects this and each exercise should flow into the next. This is one of the reasons why proper transitioning from one exercise to the next is so important. Our workout should feel like one continuous exercise with each movement flowing smoothly into the next, never losing our connections or engagement, and all the while maintaining our focus.
As you begin to memorize the routine of the exercises so that you can move through your session without stopping, and deepen your practice of these six guiding principles, your practice will become a meditation in movement and will reveal much more to you than just a beautiful, strong body!