- Have you ventured into your local exercise club and seen Pilates classes advertised on the class schedule?
- Have you heard family members, friends or other friendly folk talking about Pilates over lunch?
- Maybe you have read that some famous funky celebrities have suddenly taken up Pilates?
- All of the above? But what exactly is this “Pilates“?
Is it not simply another fitness fad that is fashionable at this moment? Should you be trying Pilates for yourself? What are the benefits and is it worth your time?
I have been teaching Contrology, commonly known as Pilates, for well over a decade in a wide range of settings including high end Health Spas, Local gyms, one to one sessions and private classes. Pilates continues to inspire me to this very day, helping me grow both physically and spiritually.
Please allow me to gently guide you through this Beginners Guide to Pilates and have some of the common questions that you may have about the method answered.
I asked my regular Pilates clients, what would they consider important for a Beginners Guide to Pilates so being mindful of this i will cover some common Pilates exercises that you can practice at home provided you can spare a few minutes to so. This will help you gain some basic knowledge and feeling of what to expect in a Pilates class. When you choose to pluck up the courage and book in to that illusive first Pilates class now you’ll not be a complete beginner at all.
Let us kick off with the History of this Pilates. Where Did Pilates Come From?
Joseph H Pilates was initially a frail young German who took it upon himself to become a very strong, educated, healthy man. He took part in wide range of sports including fencing, skiing, boxing, weight lifting, martial arts just to name a few. Joseph was working with Scotland Yard on self-defense techniques when WW1 broke out and due to him being German was subsequently interned. It was during this time that Pilates developed his technique while working as an orderly on the Isle of Man.
Pilates researched both ancient and relatively modern techniques such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Callisthenics and animal movement he applied what he thought was relevant into his Method of Contrology and his fellow internees were of serious benefit from his work. Pilates developed and used equipment also, bed springs used to help support his patient’s limbs meant it was possible to have his fellow internees gain strength while being adequately supported. Today we see modern adaptions of his early equipment, today we call these reformers.
After his release Pilates continued to practice and perfect his methodology eventually finding his way to New York where he worked with Martha Graham’s Ballerinas, hence we see links between dance and Pilates today. While at New York City Ballet Joseph Pilates taught his methodology to a select few Dancers and Choreographers, these early Pilates protégé’s each had their own personal input to what the Pilates methodology should be and this is why we see a number of Styles of Pilates today. Some names worthy to note here are, Romana Kryzanowska, Eve Gentry, Joe Grimes and Ron Fletcher. The more recent generation include Moira Stott-Merrithew, Elizabeth Larkham, Joan Breibart and Alan Herdman.
In Summary Joseph termed his methodology Contrology. Joseph printed his work be it in only a limited amount in “Your Health” 1934 and continued with “Return to Life through Contrology” 1945. Contrology is the complete coordination of body mind and spirit said Joseph Pilates. Today we simply use the family name “Pilates” when practising his life’s work.
I like to summarise Pilates to new clients as “The use of Controlled Functional Movement to Restore Form and Function to Mind Body and Spirit”.
In the book, A gaia Busy Persons guide to Pilates, 2003 giai books ltd, states
“Pilates is a gentle thinking exercise helping your mind and body work in harmony to produce a healthy, toned mobile body and calm relaxed mind”.
I use this reference as you may well be a busy person who has little time to add Pilates into your day. This books is great value, an easy read and has clear instructions for you to follow so may well help Guide you into Pilates as a beginner. Pilates certainly isn’t a new fashionable fitness fad, Pilates certainly has stood the test of time!
Why Should I Be Practicing Pilates?
Pilates will Improve Flexibility, Strength, Balance, Posture, Coordination, and Proprioception in a Relaxing, Mindful Quiet and Calm manner. We know the body responds best when stimulation is varied. Pilates has a number of different types of stretching in its arsenal to achieve longer muscles and improved range of motion both in and around joint complexes. Isometric, Static, Active, Passive and Dynamic are the common types of stretching you may encounter in class.
For improvements in Strength Pilates again uses a varied array of stimulus, muscular contraction types include Isometric, Eccentric, Concentric. Apparatus may also be used to add variety, some examples include Rings, Balls and light hand weights.
Take a moment to contemplate the 6 key principles of Pilates, how they may help you in day to day activities as well as from an exercise performance perspective.
- Breath – Breath is of the Body, Mind and Spirit. Breath welcomes the most important nutrient into our consciousness, Oxygen, while also removing the toxic Carbon dioxide. We take on average 26,500 breaths per day so taking some time to work on and improve respiration is vitally important. Breath also is vital when stabilizing the spine, pelvis and rib cage.
- Concentration – The Direction of attention towards a single objective. The worst kind of exercise is mindless exercise. Performing each exercise as perfectly as possible, this requires concentration for the duration of each exercise.
- Cantering – Using muscles of the inner unit or Core (Transverse abdominis, Rectus Abdominis, Diaphragm, Pelvic floors). Maintaining a stable base of support over your center of gravity. Your center of gravity (When standing up straight arms by your side) is located just ahead of the second sacral vertebra. Cantering may also have a deeper more esoteric outlook referring to a feeling of inner calm or balance.
- Control – To master a skill you must have control of it. Defined as the regulation of the execution of a given action. Improving control refers to less errors when performing the exercise. Refining control requires practice and patience.
- Precision – The way in which an exercise is execute is vital. Precision of exercises may well seem to be the same as in other practices such as Yoga for example. Precision is the manner in which the exercise it is performed. Knowing how, when and why to contract or relax precise muscles, how to relax your mind and body, when to breathe and how to breathe are all important to improve and master precision. Activation and Integration of body and mind as well as of all the above will help improve Precision.
- Flow – Smooth, uninterrupted continued movement. Mihaley Csikszentmihalyi states “Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.” Romana Kryzanowska stats “flowing motion outward from a strong center”. I personally like to describe Flow as “the Energy within, a calm concentrated catalyst for any of your rhythmic movement desires”.
Beginners Pilates Exercise Guide
In my experience as a trainer I have used Pilates to great effect reducing low back pain, improving posture and reducing various niggling aches and pains. I would recommend Pilates to the majority of you out there Men and Woman Youthful or Mature. Pilates has something to benefit you. The Breathing technique is key to practice, my clients tell me all the time, it is so easy to easy to forget the breathing so I would highly recommend practicing the Breathing.
See below for a short Beginners Guide to Pilates Exercises that you simply can perform at home. All you will need is a mat and maybe a towel. Ensure you are comfortable, have enough space, some water may also be a good idea in case you need to stop and recover.
Perform the exercises are perfectly as possible gradually building up to the 10 repetitions. Of course ensure you are safe to start exercise by consulting with your GP or health professional beforehand.
Setting up a Natural Spine Alignment
- Lay in Supine, feet hip width apart, knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Take one hand and place in the low back, under the navel. A small curvature in the low back is ok but anything more than a fingers width (as a rule of thumb) is too much of an arch.
- Tilt the Pelvis in an anterior direction (backwards) and/or close down the rib-cage to help reduce the low back curvature (lordosis – excessive inward curvature of the lumbar spine).
- Keep the shoulders relaxed back and drawn down.
- Lengthen the spine through the crown of the head.
- Keep an even amount of weight through the feet, arches lifted, and the knees in line.
- Place the arms to the side.
Navel to Spine and Pelvic Floor Breathing
- Laying in a supine position with a natural spine alignment.
- Inhale smoothly through the nose allowing the belly to rise initially, (The first third of your breath should be into the belly area) allow the rest of the breath to fill and expand the chest.
- Exhale smoothly through pierced lips, as you do so scoop the belly, drawing the navel downwards toward the spine. (hollowing out the abdominal area)
- After the navel has been drawn down lift up the pelvic floor muscles avoid an aggressive over tightening and look to achieve a gentle lifting.
- Be mindful not to bring yourself out of the natural spine alignment. Keep the hips still, shoulders relaxed back and down as well staying lengthened through the crown of the head.
- Repeat this 10 x
Bridge / Pelvic Curls
- Laying in a natural spine alignment in the supine position, continue the navel to spine and pelvic floor breathing.
- As you exhale (with the navel to spine / pelvic floor activation) tilt the pelvis backwards, the low back will press on the floor.
- Continue the exhale, lift the hips upward allowing the spine to smoothly curl up and off of the floor and aim for the hips to come in line with the shoulders and knees.
- Once at the top begin to inhale and smoothly lower the spine back onto the mat as you do so, imagine one vertebra at a time rolling down onto the floor. Return back to the start position.
- Always keep an even amount of weight through the feet, arches lifted and knees in line. Avoid pushing backwards through the feet aim to lift up with the hips.
- Shoulders stay relaxed, allow the pace of your controlled breath the dictate the flow of movement, avoid tension and concentrate on the precise detail.
- Repeat 10 x
Clam / Oyster
- Side laying with knees bent approximately 90 degrees, knees and feet on top of one another.
- The bottom arm rests the head, use of a towel or block if needed. You may like to bend the bottom arm.
- Applying the navel to spine and pelvic floor breathing technique, exhale smoothly and lift the knee directly upward. Avoid any rotation of the hips. Pivot on the heal of the lower foot or toe.
- Inhale smoothly and lower the knee back to the start position.
- Avoid any rotation or dropping of the hips, be mindful you are moving the leg not the hip in this exercise.
- Repeat 10 x each side.
- Standing in a positive relaxed posture, feet with an even amount of weight through them, arches lifted, knees slightly soft, the pelvis in a natural alignment (no lordosis).
- Shoulders relaxed back and slightly drawn down, neck lengthened through the crown of the head.
- (Following the navel to spine breathing technique) Exhale tucking the chin towards the chest, close the rib cage down, peel the spine down (still exhaling) arms and shoulders relaxed. All the while keep the weight even through the feet and knees slightly soft.
- Inhale once down and upon the exhale (following the breathing) begin to roll back up initially activating the hamstrings (backs of the legs) to pull the pelvis backwards, engage the gluts (bottom muscles) to support the pelvis and then continue to roll the spine up, one vertebra at a time, smoothly returning to the start posture.
- Repeat 10 x
- Starting on hands and knees, knees are in line with the hips and hands under the shoulders.
- Spine in a natural spine alignment (no excessive lordosis)
- (Following the navel to spine breathing technique) Exhale, tuck the chin towards the chest, pull the pelvis under and lift the upper back rounding the shoulders forward.
- Inhale smoothly, lower the navel towards the floor, lifting the chin up and tilting the pelvis forwards.
- Repeat 10 x
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