These last couple of years, it seems just about everyone practices Pilates, from Hollywood celebrities to your next door neighbors. The name of this fast growing phenomenon is an acronym for “Proximal Integrating Latent Agile Toning Exercise”.
Pilates isn’t just another form of exercise, but a method of stretching and strengthening the body. These exercises are based on systematic practices designed to develop the body’s core through balancing, stretching, strengthening, and breathing.
History of Pilates
Pilates exercises are the invention of Joseph H. Pilates, a German born in 1880. During World War II, he was a doctor in an English hospital. Observing injured soldiers confined to their beds and unable to exercise, he came to the idea to create a machine made of old hospital beds and springs, and design a method of exercise which would help the soldiers in rehabilitation regain their strength. Later, when he came to New York, he also brought along this method of exercise. Since then, Pilates exercises gradually became very popular counting more and more fans around the world.
How Does Pilates Work?
Pilates works by combining breathing techniques with special stretches. Unlike other forms of exercise, Pilates represent a method focused on improving the body’s core by making the body more flexible and stronger. Many people confuse it with yoga, but Pilates is actually much more dynamic of the two because it pushes the body through stretching and targets flexibility, posture, and strength.
The Benefits of Pilates
Pilates practitioners have reported that by doing regular exercises, their bodies become toner, better-balanced, and stronger. After a complete course of these exercises, an individual should instantly feel the difference in their abs, backs, and legs. All this leads to weight loss, increased energy levels, and a general sense of well-being. Although most people see Pilates as a kind of exercise targeted specifically at women, especially overweight woman, that isn’t true. Pilates is an ideal workout for athletes recovering from injury, older people with not enough capacity to do strenuous exercise, and pregnant women as well.
The most favorable benefits from doing Pilates exercises are:
- Aligning your body
- Rehabilitation of all kinds of injuries
- Developing and strengthening abdominal muscles
- Stretching and strengthens the whole body
- Increased energy levels
The Pilates principles
Pilates follows principles based on a well-constructed philosophical and theoretical foundation. It shouldn’t be considered just a collection of exercises but a method, developed and refined over more than 800 years. There are certain inherent ruling principles that bring all these elements together under the Pilates name, principles such as Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breathing, and Flowing Movement.
Mind over matter: This is the main principle, a cornerstone of Pilates exercise, but also the most paradoxical one. The goal is to create a fusion of mind and body, because an individual should move with economy, grace, and balance without actively thinking about it. The goal for every participant is to hold oneself regally, making the most of the body’s strengths, counteracting weaknesses, and correcting imbalances.
Breathing: The author of Pilates exercises, Joseph Pilates, believed that a person should get the blood pumping just enough to awaken all the cells in the body, in order to carry away fatigue-related wastes. For the blood to do its work properly, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. Not only exercise, but also breathing should be done with concentration, control, and precision.
Relaxation: By learning to relax more deeply, a practitioner can avoid undue tension and significantly lower the risk of injury. In Pilates, the secret is to use just the right amount of effort, neither too much nor too little, in a relaxed, focused, and attentive way, adjusting to the needs of the moment.
Concentration: Concentration should be targeted on the entire body. This can be difficult to learn, but eventually it becomes a natural process. Once a person begins to pay attention to the whole body, he or she will find that even the most complex movements become quite simple.
Control: The complete concept of Pilates exercises is based on the idea of muscle control, which means there should be no sloppy, haphazard movements. All the exercises must be performed with the utmost control of all body parts in order to avoid injury and produce positive results.
Precision: Nothing in Pilates is done by incidence and every movement has some purpose. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many imprecise ones.
Centering: Pilates is focused on a large group of muscles in our center – uniting abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks. These groups of muscles are collectively called “powerhouse.” All energy for Pilates exercises stems from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities.
Fluidity: No move in Pilates should be done quickly or suddenly; all exercises should be performed fluidly with no static, isolated movements, because our bodies do not naturally function that way.
Alignment: Pilates works by aligning the body in a way that protects and supports the whole system of the bone structure and internal organs in a healthy way.
Common Pilates Exercises
Of course, a beginner can't hope to start with complicate exercises but rather should try some simple Pilates exercises to see how it feels, and upgrade the exercise program with time.
The Ballerina Arms exercise:
- Sit cross-legged, keeping the spine straight
- Bend the elbows at a 90 degree angle to protect the shoulder in its socket
- Then take the arms back to connect the shoulder blades
- Arms should be brought down so the shoulder blades slide down the spine
- Then, raise the bent arms above your head (as a ballerina would – hence the name of the exercise)
- End with arms in front, just as they were at the start of the exercise
Repeat the exercise three times every day, and in one week you should see a major difference in your posture.
The Roll Up exercise:
- Lie on your back, legs straight, arms stretched above the head, shoulders down.
- While keeping the back flat on the floor, slowly lift arms toward the ceiling as you breathe in.
- Breathing out, slowly roll forward, peeling the spine off the mat. Head remains straight, eyes focused forward.
- Breathing in again, stretch out over your legs. Breathing out, slowly roll back down to the floor.
- There should be no pauses, and as you breathe in, roll up again to begin the second repetition. No more than ten repetitions should be done in a row.