Pilates was formed by the part Greek part German Joseph Pilates during the First World War with the proposal to improve the rehabilitation program for the many returning veterans. Joseph Pilates believed mental and physical health are essential to one another. He recommended a few, precise movements emphasizing control and form to aid injured soldiers in regaining their health by strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing key muscles. Pilates created “The Pilates Principles” to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.
Mind Over Matter
According to practitioners, the central aim of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it the body will move with economy, grace, and balance. The end goal is to produce an attention-free union of mind and body. Practitioners believe in using one’s body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. The method requires that one constantly pay attention to one’s body while doing the movements. Paying attention to movement is seen as so vital that it is considered more important than any other single aspect of the movements.
Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, he maintained, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. By this standard, if you stop breathing during exercise, there is an error in your practice. Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation are purportedly a part of every Pilates exercise.
Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation. “Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry,” he is reputed to have said. Pilates breathing should be done with concentration, control, and precision. Proper and effective breathing, practitioners assert, not only oxygenates the muscles, but also reduces tension in the upper neck and shoulders. Pilates breathing is described as a posterior lateral breathing, meaning that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back and sides of his or her rib cage. When practitioners exhale, they are instructed to note the engagement of their deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as they inhale. Pilates attempts to properly coordinate this breathing practice with movement, including breathing instructions with every exercise.
“Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly.” – Joseph Pilates.
Pilates called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” All energy for Pilates exercises is said to begin from the powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs. In other words, the Pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements of the extremities. Pilates felt that it was important to build a strong powerhouse in order to rely on it in daily living. Modern instructors call the powerhouse the “core”.
Pilates demands intense focus. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be assessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps. Beginners are instructed to pay careful attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing. In 2006, at the Parkinson Center of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, the concentration factor of the Pilates method was being studied in providing relief from the degenerative symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Joseph Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. To him, that meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements. Practitioners are instructed to perform every exercise with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. In Joseph Pilates’ writings, he very frequently emphasizes not intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, but proper form for safe, effective results.
Practitioners assert that every movement in the Pilates method has a purpose. Every instruction is considered vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is believed to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature, and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
All this being said, a qualified Pilates instructor is expected to understand the technique well enough to adapt it to the real-world capabilities of his or her students. Students with physical disabilities, for example, should be given a Pilates regimen intended to improve their methods of physically compensating for their ailment.
Flow or efficiency of movement
Movement is expected to be kept continuous between exercises through the use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina.
A controlled experiment gives some support to claims that Pilates enhances flexibility.
Pilates during pregnancy can be a highly valuable and beneficial form of exercise, but the use of Pilates in pregnancy should only be undertaken under guidance of a fully trained expert.