Pilates Facts: Principles for the Complete Coordination of Body, Mind, and Spirit
Pilates is a form of exercise that emphasizes balanced development of the body. This is achieved through core strength, flexibility, and awareness that supports efficient, graceful movement. In short, the goal of Pilates is coordination of body, mind, and spirit. When considering Pilates facts, we need to look at the six core principles that Joseph Pilates set as the foundation for the practice he developed. First, though, let’s look at a couple of other selling points that make Pilates such an appealing exercise modality.
Adaptability and Development of Core Strength
Pilates is an adaptable method, meaning it is possible to modify the exercises so anyone can do them. Modification is the key to Pilates exercise success with a variety of populations. Joseph Pilates developed every exercise with modifications that can make a workout both safe and challenging for a person at any level.
Development of core strength is the foundation of Pilates exercise. The core muscles are the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back. When the core muscles are strong and doing their job, as they are trained to do in Pilates, they work in tandem with the more superficial muscles of the trunk to support the spine and facilitate movement.
As you develop your core strength, you develop stability throughout your entire torso. This is one of the ways Pilates helps people overcome back pain. Stabilizing the trunk properly relieves pressure on the back. The body can then move freely and efficiently.
No discussion of Pilates facts is complete without looking at the six Pilates principles. In fact, if we want to understand Pilates facts, we need to start here.
These six principles—centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow—are the foundation of the Pilates approach to exercise. Applying the principles to the Pilates method of exercise is part of what makes Pilates unique in the fitness world.
With this in mind, let’s look briefly define each principle.
Centering – Physically bringing the focus to the center of the body, which is the area between the lower ribs and pubic bone. Energetically, Pilates exercises are sourced from center, or the core.
Concentration – Placing full attention on the exercise and performing it with full commitment to obtain maximum value from each movement.
Control – Using muscles completely. In Pilates, we do not leave any part of the body to its own devices.
Precision – Sustaining awareness throughout each movement with detailed attention to the appropriate placement, alignment relative to other body parts, and trajectory for each part of the body.
Breath – Joseph Pilates emphasized using a very full breath in his exercises. He advocated thinking of the lungs as a bellows and using them strongly to pump air fully in and out. Proper breathing is an integral part of a Pilates workout. Most Pilates exercises are performed in coordination with the breath.
Flow – Moving with fluidity, grace, and ease. The goal is to use the energy of an exercise in an even way to connect all parts of the body.
Knowing these Pilates facts and applying them to your practice is your key to success. In other words, like anything else, you’ll need to take the time to understand the foundation of Pilates practice. Know your Pilates facts, and your practice will thrive!
You have decided to try Pilates. Welcome to a whole new world! Some people understand and appreciate the benefits of Pilates right away, while others may need more time. These Pilates tips are for you if you feel like you are just not “getting” it or are not seeing results as quickly as you hoped to. My goal is to encourage you!
“In 10 sessions, you will feel the difference. In 20, you will see the difference. And in 30, you’ll be on your way to having a whole new body.” ~ Joseph Pilates
Four Pilates Tips That Will Help You Get Results Sooner
- Be patient. Always be kind to yourself, and most of all, be patient. It takes time for your body to learn new things. Pilates is a whole new way of moving. One of the most important Pilates tips I give my clients is to look at it like learning a new language. Focus and do your best. In time and with patience, you will feel and see results.
- Be persistent. Don’t give up. Stick with it. It’s worth it. I’ve had many clients tell me they finally “get” what I’m teaching them after months of instruction. They may have begun to feel like they’d never catch on, but they persisted. Persistence pays off. Think long term fitness and wellness. There is no time limit. Pilates is a workout that is gentle enough to do anytime for the rest of your life.
- Practice. There is a reason for the expression practice makes perfect. And while reminding you to practice may seem too obvious to be on my list of Pilates tips, the reality is, you can’t succeed if you don’t work on perfecting your practice. It’s also important to understand that Pilates is not a performance. It’s a personal activity that belongs to you and only you. Don’t try to keep up with anyone else, and don’t worry about what you look like. Just strive to do your personal best. I strongly encourage you to practice at home as well as in class. Doing “home-work” helps you learn faster and see results quicker.
- Be present. You need both your body and your mind to do Pilates. So, the final piece of advice on my list of Pilates tips is leave your worries at the door! Difficult, yes, but possible (especially with practice). It’s important to be in the here and now. You want to participate in the practice, not just go through the motions. When you are distracted during your Pilates practice, you will not get results. When you are present, you will see the benefits. Everything on your mind before class will still be there after your workout. But maybe you will have a fresher, clearer perspective once you’ve focused your mind and moved your body. I know this is always true for me.
Mat Pilates is a Great Way to Begin
I suggest mat Pilates as a great way to begin. On the mat, you’ll learn the fundamentals without the added confusion of working with new apparatus. Pilates mat exercises will help you gain strength and confidence. It’s just you, your mat, and your body.
Whether you choose Pilates on the mat or on the apparatus, don’t give up. Pilates is worth the effort; that I know for sure!
If you attend fitness classes, do you work out with a teacher or instructor? If that seems like a strange question, read on. While it may seem like teachers and instructors are the same, there are some important differences.
Teacher or Instructor: What’s the Difference?
Consider this quote:
If you learn only methods, you’ll be tied to your methods, but if you learn principles you can devise your own methods. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
As the quote suggests, there is a difference between needing continual guidance from an outside source (an instructor) and learning how to learn under the guidance of a teacher. When it comes to choosing a teacher or instructor, there are benefits to both, but eventually, you’ll want to be able to function on your own.
Let’s look at the Merriam Webster’s dictionary definitions of both teach and instruct. This will help you decide whether a teacher or instructor is right for you.
Definition of Teach
- to show how to do something; give lessons to
- to give lessons in
- to give knowledge, insight, etc. to
Definition of Instruct
- to teach, educate
- to inform
- to order or direct
If you look closely at these definitions, you will see a clear distinction, even though they are similar. Which method is more effective for you? Do you learn better when you are taught or when you are instructed?
The Difference Between Teaching and Instructing
The definitions above suggest a major difference between teaching and instructing. Teaching involves guidance, example, and mentoring. This requires a deeper level of both subject matter knowledge and skill in caring for the student. Teachers invest in their students on a personal level.
Instructing, on the other hand, does not really require an investment or deep level of care for the student. Instructors simply impart information authoritatively, often by order or command. On a superficial level, this can be effective. If you need information quickly, your relationship with the source may not be so important. However, the skills and abilities that stick with us throughout our lives tend to come from teachers, not instructors.
Do You Want a Pilates Teacher or Instructor?
Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing. ~ Albert Einstein
In terms of Pilates or any kind of fitness classes, instructors and teachers serve distinct roles. Sometimes a person can function as both a teacher and an instructor depending on the situation. In certain situations, a set of instructions guiding students through a series of exercises may suffice, especially for familiar routines.
A good teacher can help students move forward so they can continue to progress and improve. In other words, deep, lasting learning requires a teacher—someone invested in you and your success who can help you tap into your own abilities and identify what you need to do in order to thrive.
In the fitness world, personal trainers are common. Trainers work one-on-one to ensure that their clients use proper form for weight training and other exercises. That personalized approach isn’t just limited to traditional workouts at the gym. If you’re a Pilates enthusiast, private Pilates sessions may be your best bet.
Why Private Pilates Sessions?
An alternative to group classes or practicing on your own with a DVD, private Pilates sessions offer much more. Pilates is all about you and your body. The goal is to develop body awareness and intelligent movement. While you can do this over time with others or on your own, having a personal instructor to work with will enable you to see results in a much shorter period of time.
We are all unique. No two bodies are the same. Therefore, how can one workout fit all? Simply put, it can’t. When you’re in a class, you probably look around to see what everyone else is doing, right? Don’t worry. It’s okay and normal to do that, but it may not be serving you well. For example, you may start wondering why others can do a particular exercise and you can’t. There are many possible reasons, but none of them are important.
When you pay attention to what others are doing, you lose concentration on the most important person in the room: you! Private Pilates sessions work because a personal instructor will continually redirect your attention to your body. This will help you master the exercises quickly and see results sooner.
Your Body, Your Mind: Making the Most of Your Time on the Mat
Pilates is a body-mind workout. It’s for your body and your mind, not someone else’s. Of course, you can go to a class to get what you need and leave the rest, and that’s fine if you know what you need and don’t mind spending the extra time on what you will leave behind. But are you sure you know your body needs? If you’re not quite sure, personal Pilates sessions will help you find out.
Another rationale for group classes that may not be optimally effective is some movement is better than no movement at all. Yes, of course it is. But imagine knowing your body so well that you can focus on moving in the exact ways that are right for you. This is intelligent movement.
Private Pilates sessions are the most effective way to learn the method as it applies to your unique body. A personal Pilates instructor can provide you with an in-depth, insightful look at Pilates and your body. You’ll learn what your body needs to do The focus in a private session is on you learning about you. Private Pilates sessions help you understand your physical self and how to move with more ease and efficiency in daily life, as well as in any sport you participate in.
Pilates is more than exercise. It is movement for life. Private sessions will equip you with the body awareness and tools you need to get more out of group classes. Then perhaps when you do take a class, someone will be eyeing you!
Pilates Body NYC specializes in personal private Pilates instruction. Our specialty is you. We also make Pilates convenient. We are the Upper West Side Pilates Studio that comes to you.
Do you have a computer head? No, I’m not asking if your head is a piece of electronic equipment. What I mean is does your head lean forward when you sit or stand? This condition—known as forward head posture—is typical of people who work at computers for many hours each day. So, what can you do to fix your posture? Try Pilates!
First, look in the mirror to see if you are, in fact a “computer head.” Are your ears directly over your shoulders? They should be. But there’s a good chance, if you’re like many people with desk jobs, that your ears are forward of your shoulders. If they are forward, you are officially a “computer head.” And this is really not a club you want to be in.
How Did You Become a Computer Head?
I probably don’t have to tell you that our ancestors were not computer heads. They did not sit at desks. Rather, they moved—a lot! We no longer move like our ancestors. We sit on our asses. And we pay the price.
Computer head syndrome can become an especially serious problem if you have a stressful job. You may find yourself hunched, clenched and tense as you work out problems and try to meet deadlines. Is this you? Don’t despair. Computer heads can be corrected. I’ll give you some tips to help you fix your posture. But first, let’s look at why you need to do it.
Why You Don’t Want to Be a Computer Head
Computer head syndrome goes beyond the forward position of your head. If you’re a victim of the syndrome, you probably also have hunched, rounded shoulders, and your tailbone is tucked under. This may not sound so alarming, but the truth is you’re inviting back pain with this posture. You’re also inviting headaches, neck pain, arm or hand numbness, and pinched nerves.
We weren’t meant to sit for long periods of time—certainly nowhere near the amount of time that we modern humans sit—but a majority of us spend at least five or more hours a day sitting. You want to fix your posture because if you don’t, your muscles will become shorter and tighter. This results in all kinds of aches and pains.
How to Fix Your Posture if You’re a Computer Head
Here’s a simple tip: stand up. Do some light stretches at your work station. Better yet, get up and go outside for some fresh air. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. (Yes, I know, you have a lot to do. But wouldn’t you rather stay pain-free and healthy enough to continue doing it?)
These simple tips—getting up and moving more—may be your saving grace. But perhaps you need more help and want to know what kind of exercise program is best to fix your posture. As I suggested, Pilates is a great antidote to poor posture, because its central principle is development of a strong core. It’s those core muscles that move your torso, pelvis, and spine, so a strong core gives you a more aligned and flexible spine. When your core is strong enough to hold your entire body upright, your shoulders can relax, and your head and neck are free to move. A strong core also takes pressure off the hips, legs, and feet.
So, if you’re suffering from computer head syndrome, consider starting a Pilates practice. It will fix your posture and then some! And if you work with an office full of computer heads, you can even schedule classes right in your workplace.
As is the case with most teachers, each Pilates instructor varies in their abilities as well. Some are good, others are great, and others still are fantastic. And, unfortunately, there are a few in the mix who should find a different profession altogether! But let’s skip over them for now.
In today’s post, I want to discuss why certain Pilates instructors, in my opinion, rise above the rest.
What Makes a Good Pilates Instructor?
As a private Pilates instructor myself, I feel strongly about the traits an exceptional Pilates teacher possesses. She is kind, compassionate, supportive and aware. She understands the needs of her clients. She is highly educated in the regimen. And, a sense of humor is always a welcomed addition. (Have you seen some Pilates positions? If we can’t laugh at ourselves…)
The Six Traits Every Great Pilates Instructor Should Have:
There are many more attributes that I believe define a good instructor, but I’ve made a list of what I consider the six most important:
- Patience. As the old saying goes, “Patience is a Virtue,” and Pilates instruction is no exception. It is important that a Pilates novice finds an instructor who will work with her at her own pace and consider a beginner’s limitations. Each student learns at a different tempo. A quality Pilates teacher appreciates this fact. If your instructor pushes too hard or expects “too much too soon,” find someone else.
- Training + Experience. Unlike many other exercise regimens, Pilates requires its instructors to undergo considerable training and extensive practice. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask your potential instructor where she trained and when she earned her certification. A top tier instructor also seeks professional development through continuing education. This reflects her dedication to the regimen as well as her desire to maintain her mastery of the system. Finally, experience counts. While new instructors are enthusiastic, their “classroom” skills can fall short. Look for a teacher who not only knows her stuff but also knows how to teach it.
- Challenge. Due to its characteristics, you can’t rush the Pilates learning process. Repetition is key to perfecting your technique. You do, however, want to be challenged. A good instructor strikes this delicate balance with ease. She can easily gauge your progress and tailor your sessions accordingly. By introducing new, more ambitious exercises as you improve, she’ll keep you interested, motivated and energized.
- Pilates Integrity. Don’t be fooled by the aerobics teacher or marathon trainer who thinks that because they are athletes, they can teach Pilates. A superior Pilates instructor loyally and correctly incorporates the principles of its founder, Joseph Pilates. She consistently emphasizes postural alignment and core muscle strength, and works to increase your spinal health and flexibility. As I discussed in Point 2, training and education are critical to the competence of a Pilates instructor and, by association, a student’s success.
- Mind-Body Connection. While Pilates is definitely physical, it is also respected for its mind-body connection. The Pilates system encourages the marriage of conscious awareness and movement. It also incorporates a highly focused form of breathing to heighten concentration. A first-rate instructor fosters a synergy among these components, allowing the mind and breath to assist the execution of effective movements. This fluidity promotes benefits such as muscle strength, balance, energy, and a reduction in physical and mental stress – basically, enhanced whole-body health.
- Comfort Factor. No, I’m not referring to the physical this time. I’m talking about the comfort you should have with your Pilates instructor. Successful teacher-student relationships depend on trust, fellowship and a solid rapport. Make sure you can be yourself around your Pilates instructor, and that you communicate freely with one another. This will optimize your experience and your benefits. In turn, she will know she is making a difference in your life. After all, that’s what attracted her to teaching Pilates in the first place.
That’s my list. I wish you good luck in finding the teacher that best matches your needs and personality. The right Pilates instructor will enhance the practice for you, and inspire you to reach your goals. And isn’t that what it’s all about?