Pilates: Strengthen Your Body Without Pain
More than 20 years ago in a tiny walk-up studio with creaky hardwood floors, several dancers and exercise enthusiasts would join several times each week for 'ballet exercise'. In actuality, the movements of Joseph Pilates (Pil-lah-tees) (1880-1967) were in practice. The benefits from his method provided physical and mental balance, eliminated stress, and helped to build in each individual a strong and streamlined musculature.
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.
His teachings, "The Art of Contrology" unites mind and body to create a direct connection to the muscles. Each precise movement requires mental concentration and physical control. The mind and body learn to work together as one harmonious unit. Muscles are stretched and lengthened while building strength through gentle, non-impact exercises that, as perfected, are designed to flow naturally in rhythm from one movement into the next.
Although, Pilates has been associated with equipment termed the Cadillac and the Reformer, or strange looking apparatus made up of cables, springs and pulleys, the basis is the mat work. Instead of machines and weights, the body utilizes its own resistance.
The Pilates Philosophy
The Pilates philosophy incorporates basic principles some of which include concentration and control, centering, and breathing.
Concentration and Control includes visualizing the body in motion as movement occurs. Each mental command stimulates and teaches muscle control that, over time, can become precise. Engram is a medical term used to denote muscle memory, which is stored in the brain's cerebrum. Like learning to play a musical instrument, diligent practice leads to beautiful music. In Pilates, emphasis is placed on the quality of the movement, not the number of repetitions.
Centering focuses attention on the 'powerhouse' - the body's energy source that flows outward to the extremities. Anatomically, the spinal column is a major component in the powerhouse. To support the spinal structures, its muscular system (i.e., gluteals, obliques, quadratus, trapezius, scalenes) must be strong and flexible. Pilates mat work is designed to build a firm foundation for the entire spinal structure.
Breathing is more than taking in and expelling air. Breathing properly serves to oxygenate the entire body and cleanse it of impurities. When done correctly, breathing requires full inhalations and exhalations during the entire course of mat work or exercise.
The Benefits of Pilates
The benefits to be gained from Pilates are numerous - learn the ability to maintain proper posture, which contributes to the overall health of the body - long, flexible muscles - increased joint range of motion - a flat lean stomach - improved circulation and stamina - better coordination - this and more without pain and soreness often caused by conventional forms of exercise.
To realize the many benefits Pilates offers does not mean purchasing special equipment or clothing. All that is needed is a willing attitude to improve the body. The exercises can be done just about anywhere the body fits when completely stretched out. Many people who have started Pilates who are at the beginner level state how well they feel after only 8 or 10 sessions.
To learn more about Pilates, check out Brooke Siler's book entitled The Pilates Body. This is an excellent book and source for learning the essentials to start Pilates without attending classes*. The illustrations, photographs and prompts Ms. Siler incorporates make the book easy to use at the mat. The Pilates exercises provided in her book are for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced participant. Plus, a comprehensive list of certified Pilates instructors (this is important!) is provided at the end of her book.
*It is advisable to consult your physician prior to starting any physical fitness or exercise program.