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Pilates for the Uninitiated

By Dominic Pereira

So you’ve been to the physio and been told: “You have a weak core”. You reply: “My what is what?” 

Physio: “Your abdominals are lazy.”
“Shocking! Well, how do I get them active?”, you retort.
The physio has a single word answer for you: “Pilates.”

“Pah .. what?”, you ask.
“Pi-laa-tees,” the physio repeats. 

As soon as you leave the practice you Google “What is Pilates?”, and after reading a few articles you have a vague idea and so your next search is “Pilates for dummies”.  Only joking, your next search is specific,  “Pilates Studios Cape Town” and still you drill deeper, “Pilates studios Gardens” 

You’re serious about taking charge of your weak and indolent core and whipping those lazy abs into hardworking, self-respecting muscles!

 

And so your journey into the unknown world of Pilates begins.

You opt for a private session with a reputable and recommended Pilates teacher. In your first session, you learn that your backache and sore hip are the results of poor movement patterns, the overuse of muscles designed for global movement, and the underuse of muscles designed for local stabilization. 

And now you’re even more confused. But she’s patient and explains further.

Your framework, better known as your skeleton, forms your body’s structural integrity. These beautiful bones are held in place by soft tissue structures, of which the stabilizing or postural muscles are vital. These are the muscles that hold the skeleton while the movement muscles move it. 

Pilates focuses on training the brain and body to connect. This is initially done using small, controlled movements to teach your muscles to fire by laying down new neural pathways. This motion will strengthen your muscles and create optimal movement patterns. 

In turn, this will improve posture, breathing, digestion, joint health, and many other physiological benefits.

These mindful movements are reminiscent of meditation and have the added benefit of releasing stress. 

You cannot think about renewing your car license, outstanding kids school projects, or what to make for dinner, while maintaining equal weight across your sacrum as you rotate your left femur in your hip joint! 

After a few Pilates sessions, your mind/body connection will start to fire and the movements will feel more familiar. That’s when the fun starts. 

Initially, beginners need to lay a foundation of new neural pathways and develop integral strength. From there they can quickly move on to more complex movement patterns and more challenging exercises.

But, Pilates isn’t just a form of exercise. At its core, it’s a new language and way of thinking and being. It can literally change the way you see the world because it changes the way you see yourself. 

When you become conscious of your body (that sought after “body awareness” state), you will not only know where you are in space (proprioception), but it will translate to how you move. It will also instil the need to hold yourself with more structural integrity. 

Your improved posture will, in turn, translate to a sense of pride. When we hold our head up high and lengthen our spines, we feel strong, earthed, and proud in our bodies, hearts, and minds. 

“Body reflects mind and mind reflects body.”

As we recognize this reciprocal relationship we are able to draw on our newfound physical strength to feel better about ourselves. We gain a sense of well-being which we want to maintain and grow. So we feed that which serves us and let go of those things that don’t. 

And the beautiful interplay between body and mind becomes a dance of balance and rhythm that we strive to keep in flight.

Nuts ‘n bolts - How Pilates Works

Pilates can be done in private sessions or group classes on the mat, using a myriad of small props, lotions, and potions. 

I’m joking; there are no lotions or potions involved. (Unless your teacher is also a qualified physio or massage therapist of course!) 

Props encompass various yoga balls, magic (not really) circles, resistance bands and tubing, weights, yoga blocks, balance pads and more. Pilates equipment is also used in group classes or private sessions.

You will also come across scary and interesting terms like “The Reformer”, “Cadillac”, “Trapeze Table”, “Wunda Chair”, “Exo Chair”, “Ladder Barrel”, “Arc” and “Baby Arc’. It’s truly a weird and wonderful world. 

At the end of the day, all the props are tools used to teach and facilitate good movement. The intention is to get to know your body through coordinated movement. To learn to move with efficiency, control, and balance. And then to move often. 

We now know that prolonged sitting is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies – worse than smoking! (yip, Google it). It’s all about avoiding sustained positions. Change, adjust, move, get up, walk around, sit, stand, lie down.

“Body reflects mind and mind reflects body.”

When you go back to your physio in a month or two, you will be able to report back that not only is your transversus abdominis working optimally, but your psoas has lengthened, glutes have strengthened, serratus is firing, patella are tracking better, and your TFL and ITB are happier. 

And so are you.

Are you looking for a Pilates studio in Gardens, Cape Town? Then book your first session with moveOn 89.