The 6 Principles of Pilates
By Dominic Pereira
Joseph H. Pilates once said, “Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all vital benefits of their value.”
After such wisdom from the Pilates Guru himself, take a moment to re-evaluate how you approach your health and fitness regime. Do you mostly skip your workouts because you’re too tired or too busy or do you try to fit in a “quick session” to keep up with your busy schedule? Or do you make enough time in your day to take care of your body and mind? And by “time” I don’t mean hours, even just 20 minutes of mindful movement daily can be beneficial.
We get it; life is not always willing to take a break with you; it is constantly on the move, so you might feel like you need to go with the flow or in this case the gushing rush. And in so doing don’t we often choose quantity over quality? How many reps can we get in under a minute instead of how the quality of the movements to ensure intelligent movement resulting in mind-body improvements and not just aesthetics?
6 Principles of Pilates
Apart from being known for its ability to strengthen your “core” or as we prefer to say, “structural integrity”, Pilates also focuses on six principles, including concentration, control, centre, flow, precision, and breath. Although these principles might sound completely unrelated, they are all infused into every movement.
At moveOn 89, these principles are essential to our philosophy, especially BREATH. Let’s look at each principle below:
We know the mind often wanders to all the to-dos from your daily tasks at work that are up, what supplies the kids might need for school, if your pup has enough treats and walkies, etc. It can all so easily consume our thoughts, no matter what we are busy with!
Which makes the first principle we would like to focus on rather challenging! Concentration. An essential element of Pilates is focusing or concentrating your mind AND body during each movement. This can be HARD. You will be focusing on the burn one moment; then, your thoughts take you elsewhere when that gets too much, perhaps resulting in you losing just that bit of focus needed to ensure your form is optimal and you complete the set. We often give up just before the end because we lose focus.
Bringing your full attention to each exercise and committing will ensure you maximise the value it brings your body. PLUS, as a bonus, by practising concentration and bringing awareness to your movement you will also practising mindfulness which has many de-stressing benefits.
Capturing that elusive concentration and focus can be hard, yes, but by listening to and following your breath, focusing your attention to where the movement is happening and what you want to achieve with the movement, can all help to keep you “in the moment”.
Being in control of your body (and mind) is another essential element of Pilates. As we learnt from concentration, focusing on the movement creates awareness and this will give you the ability to control how you move.
Every exercise performed during your Pilates class needs to be done with complete muscular control. Each movement must be a conscious, purposeful movement for you to reap the benefit. And this is only possible if you focus in order to control what your body is doing. Hence, moving with intention.
“Contrology (Joseph’s name for his method) is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.”
Joseph H. Pilates
The third principle is centering. Some might say that centering and control go hand in hand. Actually, it is 2 concepts in one word. Centering implies focus and concentration in order to gain control but also one needs to start at your centre to fully control your body.
Often referred to as the “powerhouse”, the space between your lower ribs and pubic bone, was always the traditional “core” and centre of your body from where one would center and move. But now we know that the “core” is much more than just our abdominals. Structural integrity is the ability to control translation of movements through our joints in a structural chain. For example, walking or running requires good ankle joint movement so that the knee and hip can move sequentially within that chain without compensatory movement. So rather than just focusing on bracing the core or abs we focus on creating stability and mobility through functional movement patterns. So, you will centre (focus) your mind and then your body within the (old) “powerhouse” which we prefer to call the flexible framework (“true centre”), which includes your abdominals, upper and lower back pelvis, glutes, inner thighs and shoulder girdle.
If you have ever joined a Pilates class, it will often feel like an intense Yoga session, where you will bend and stretch while also contracting muscles (eccentric contraction), but typically each movement flows into the next.
With Pilates, this flow helps you build strength and increase stamina. It also teaches your body to transition from one movement and position to the next and creates new neural pathways which is what intelligent movement really is. And in so doing we pattern functional movement which we can take from the mat into life. To get a great indication of your flow, try using a reformer or other Pilates equipment. It will become “machine-like” once you lose your flow and control.
“That each muscle may cooperatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all our muscles.”
Joseph H. Pilates
In Pilates, precision also plays a significant role. This goes hand in hand with Concentration and Control. It is crucial to practice awareness throughout each bend, contraction and lift. It is never about how many repetitions you can do.
Focusing on how you do each movement, and performing each move correctly, can later translate into your day-to-day activities like walking or bending to pick something up. You will start focusing on the movement as you do it to ensure its precise and with good form, thus preventing injuries.
Each action must be deliberate to ensure your focus stays and your technique is optimal to ensure you break harmful movement patterns.
Lastly, our most significant focus in Pilates is breath.
Knowing how to breathe correctly is key in Pilates. You might think, “Why do I need to focus on breathing? I do it every day.” That’s true! But have you ever considered if you are breathing optimally during your workouts, whether it is Pilates, running, or any other type of workout? Have you ever considered if you are ever breathing correctly? Most people breathe small, short, tight and shallow breaths – apical breathing. This drains one of energy and creates anxious tension in the body. Diaphragmatic, nasal breathing is the optimal way to breathe.
Joseph H. Pilates emphasised using a full breath during his practices. He told his students to think of their lungs as bellows—”a device with an airbag that emits a stream of air when squeezed together with two handles.” A bellow is used to blow air into a fire, but in this analogy, think of using your lungs to pump air fully into your body.
Coordinating your breathing with your movements is integral to Pilates and life. You will often hear your Pilates instructor remind you to breathe.
We usually start to hold our breath when we concentrate on a movement, thinking it will aid us when it becomes painful or difficult. But it is the opposite. Breathing helps our body during challenging exercises. It is also why we are often told to breathe when we are in pain or take a breath before doing something that makes us scared.
Each exercise in Pilates should start with breath and then translate from there through this “centre” and then flow through your limbs. That is why we often begin with the Pilates starting position, also known as Constructive Rest, where we initiate diaphragmatic breathing and allow our fascia to start to find fluidity (glide and slide) as we let the breath create an arch on the inhale and a tilt on the exhale, completing a FULL exhale to start to engage our true stability.
Focusing your breath will help you engage the elements of your “true centre” and always moving from breath will create fluidity, power, mental clarity, ease and control.
This blog doesn’t have enough space to truly fully explain the incredible thing that our God given ability to breath is and how we should harness it every moment of the day to live better.
“Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.”
Joseph H. Pilates
Join a Pilates Class at moveOn 89
Join our Pilates classes at our studio in Gardens, Cape Town, to improve your overall strength, mobility, flexibility and posture. At moveOn 89, we also offer a wide range of wellness classes including Yoga, HIIT, and Fascial Fitness.
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