Joseph Pilates’ exercise philosophy can benefit men and women of any age. It is especially beneficial to people who recognize the importance of providing a firm support system for the spine. The essence of Pilates places its focus on what is termed the body’s ‘powerhouse.’ This is the abdominal area, the buttocks, hips and low back – the center of the body. Pilates works the deep muscles in the body creating a strong center. He believed in strengthening the mind and body simultaneously and gave certain guiding principles to help people achieve that.
Engagement of Mind and Body through Visualization
Visualization is a time-tested, proven technique that involves focusing on positive mental images in order to achieve a particular goal. Visualization is so powerful because it impacts our subconscious minds and without us even realizing it, we are propelled in the direction of our thoughts. It could be imagery based or anatomy based, or an integration of both to engage the mind and muscles leading to better overall results.
Focusing on your Powerhouse
The powerhouse: The powerhouse in Pilates is usually defined as extending from the pelvic floor inferiorly to the ribcage superiorly. Effectively, the powerhouse is the center of the body. It is the powerhouse that gives us the energy, stability, strength, and control to move into the intermediate and advanced Pilates exercises. Developing the powerhouse muscles in a balanced way will help you progress in Pilates and move toward enhanced fitness the fastest possible way. In Pilates, it is imperative to engage your powerhouse with every exercise and movement. Don’t be disheartened if you have to consciously reengage in the beginning, over time it will become automatic and happen subconsciously.
- Spinal movements
Joseph Pilates designed his signature system using an integration of strength and flexibility, in order to right incorrect postures and restore the body to its natural upright structure. Way ahead of his time, Joseph Pilates advocated the thought ‘You’re only as old as your spine’ and therefore every Pilates exercise has specific spinal movements. In fact, in the contemporary world with people spending maximum time on their phones or lap tops leading sedentary lifestyles, we need to adhere to his teachings more than ever and incorporate more spinal movements into our Pilates practice.
The Physical and Mental Benefits of practicing Pilates
1. Increased Core Strength
Pilates is famously known for its emphasis on the core — the center of the body from which all movement stems. The core is all of the surrounding muscles of the trunk that when strengthened and pliable, support and stabilize the body. Pilates improves core strength and function.
2. Improved Posture
Pilates focuses on the full body’s alignment, ideal range of motion at the joints, and a balance of all opposing muscles. It improves posture by bringing awareness to your alignment and strengthening neglected postural muscles.
3. Increased Flexibility
A Pilates practice keeps moving with smooth transitions between precise and slow, controlled movements. Instead of stretching after a strengthening exercise, most Pilates exercises are a combination of the two, which improves strength, flexibility, and mobility.
4. Freedom in the spine and Joints
Pilates increases mobility of the spine and joints, which allows you to move with more freedom of motion. As we age our range of motion decreases, but through Pilates we can maintain a good functional range throughout our lives.
The Man behind Pilates
Joseph Pilates discovered his journey into fitness, through his own personal experience. Being a sickly child, riddled with asthma and rheumatic fever, he discovered that exercising such as diving and skiing, paved the way to good health and healthy benefits. He developed a series of exercises previously known as ‘Contrology’ which has come to be known as ‘Pilates’. In 1926 he joined a Boxing Gym and advocated his methods of fitness which spread gradually, but became very famous over time. Even after his unfortunate demise in a tragic fire at his studio, his students endeavored to keep his methodology alive and established Pilates studios and practices throughout the country.
How does Pilates help?
Balanced muscle Development: Pilates focuses on the full body’s alignment, ideal range of motion at the joints, and a balance of all opposing muscles. All the muscles develop uniformly without placing intensity on any one muscle so that it becomes overdeveloped.
Harmony of movement: Usually in the gym emphasis is put on one muscle biceps or triceps for example. Pilates however promotes the harmony of all muscles and the mind and the body are trained to work as one cohesive unit.
Improved Awareness: Pilates helps you to focus on your body and posture at all times through Alignment and Technique. It trains you to be mindful of your body, so even when you are out of the studio and performing simple tasks like sitting or standing, thanks to the awareness created by Pilates you will be more upright and mindful.
Increased vitality: Pilates exercises encourage deep mindful breathing, which leads to more circulation of oxygen in the brain and thus increasing vitality.
Greater Sense of Calm: Pilates involves placing emphasis on breathing, alignment and technique, and this practice helps us to be more mindful, focusing on peace and bringing calmness to your life.
In his books Joseph Pilates advocated breath, whole body health and whole-body commitment as the guiding principles of his work. Over time his disciples have added additional principles based on his writings and teachings, which are integrated with the original principles and enumerated below.
• Concentration – Joseph Pilates believed that full mental concentration was imperative to achieve the intended advantages of his system. This highlights that during Pilates you should focus on your entire body to ensure smooth movements. This is hard. In Pilates exercise technique and how exercises are performed is, in many respects, more important than the exercises themselves.
• Control – Since Pilates routines require specific movements in coordination with your breath, a great deal of control is required to perform the exercises as they were designed. Every exercise in Pilates must be done with control. Fundamentally it’s about you being in control of your body. In fact, when each exercise is performed with the maximum level of physical and mental control, only a few repetitions are necessary to reap the benefits.
Pilates is essentially a low-impact workout effective at strengthening, lengthening, and toning your muscles through controlled, repetitive movements. There are many advantages to incorporating Pilates into your workout routine from increased strength to improved posture. Pilates trains the body as an integrated whole, focusing on the core, lower body, and upper body strength as well as flexibility and posture.
• Centering – Centering has both physical and mental applications. It means focusing on the core and powerhouse in every movement which will enhance the quality of your technique. To effectively control your body you must have a starting place and that place is your center. You’ll often hear this called the ‘powerhouse’ which is a term that means your center and encompasses the abs, upper and lower back, hips, butt and inner thighs. All movement in Pilates should begin from your center, your powerhouse and flow out to the limbs.
• Precision – Joseph Pilates designed his fitness routines with specific directions for body placement, movement sequencing, and breath. Intent on creating a balanced system for the entire body, Pilates selected every movement and breath for a reason. Pilates is not about doing many repetitions poorly or with poor technique. Rather Pilates aims for precise and perfect movement. With regular Pilates and expert instruction this precision will eventually become second nature and carry over into everyday life. An expert Pilates instructor can tell a lot about a person by simply watching them walk. Learning the precise technique and execution of the exercises from the beginning of your Pilates journey is vital for your success.
• Breathing – Deep breathing increases the body’s oxygen intake and stimulates circulation. Pilates assigned specific breath patterns to each exercise. He advocated that aligning breath with movement led to greater physical and mental benefits. Typically, in Pilates you focus on breathing out with effort and in on the return. As you practice Pilates, breathe fully, even if your breath doesn’t initially match the instructions. Overtime it will become automatic. Coordinating breathing with movement is an important part of Pilates and good instructors will continually remind you when to breathe in and when to breathe out. Like everything in Pilates, you should concentrate on each breath and feel the engagement of your powerhouse.
• Flow – The flow of Pilates is experienced in three ways. First the choreography of each exercise involves the harmony of all muscle groups, leading to fluidity of movement. Second once you know the drill, they can be performed in sequence to flow seamlessly from one exercise to the next. Finally, the movements in Pilates are never meant to be jerky or abrupt, instead they flow like water. This quality of movement transfers to other activities and helps you to gain more poise and grace in your carriage and gait. Exercises within Pilates are intended to flow into each other to help build strength and stamina. The use of appropriate transitions and economy of movement is highly prized and is one of the key things that differentiates novice and advanced practitioners. Keep in mind, however that, technique, precision, breath and control always come before the principle of flow.
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