Pilates is a system of slow, controlled exercises intended to strengthen your body’s core stabilizing muscles while improving their natural flexibility. Joseph Pilates defined his method as “the complex coordination of mind, body and spirit”. Each exercise flows into the next at a smooth controlled sequence, reflecting the way that your body engages muscles and joints dynamically during movement.
What are the benefits?
The slow controlled movements condition muscles, helping them to strengthen and elongate in an even, balanced manner. In particular, Pilates concentrates on the abdomen, back and pelvic girdle region: the core muscles used to stabilize the body. This aids posture and keeps the hips and spine supple.
The exercises use gentle, lengthening motions to increase the body’s flexibility, taking pressure off joints and reducing soreness, pain and fatigue. The stretching motions also pump vital nutrients to the muscles and joints, improving joint lubrication.
Unlike yoga which promotes deep breathing through the nose, the basic rule for breathing while practicing Pilates is - breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the mouth. Breathing whilst concentrating on your exercise is an integral part of Pilates exercise. Pilates require you to coordinate the exercises with inhale and exhale patterns, and use the breath to initiate and support movement. Pilates breathing involves the contraction of the abdominal muscles. Keeping the abdominal muscles deeply pulled in, and taking a great big inhale at the same time, can seem like contradictory directions. When the abs are pulled in properly, they protect the spine and act like a supportive corset for the whole trunk. Knowing how to breathe well while keeping the abs contracted gives us extra support throughout an exercise. Furthermore by engaging the abdominal muscles in the daily process of breathing, it helps to develop the body’s core. The Pilates breathing techniques also work towards relaxing the body by unraveling the tension and stress present in the body.
When I first started doing Pilates, I felt some soreness in my abdomen. My teacher told me that meant I am working the correct muscles and as my abs strengthened, the soreness will go away.
Pilates complements your yoga practice as it helps to strengthen your core muscles. Having a strong core will enable you to have good core stability which makes it easier for you to do poses like Crow, Chaturanga, Handstand, Headstand, Jumping Forward, and Boat Pose. Many practitioners are stronger in the arms and legs which lead to them overworking the external limbs, relying on them instead of the center of the body. When we don’t use our core strength, we put more stress on the lower back, shoulders, joints and hips.
Pilates is low impact, making it suitable for people of all ages. The lack of bouncing and jarring also makes it ideal for people with joint problems or weak muscles. Recent research finds that Pilates is not only great for sculpting a strong, lean body — but also for preventing and treating low-back pain.
Click here to watch free videos on a series of beginner pilates exercises.