We discussed the what and why’s of practising Pilates. And we also mentioned it is key to apply the Pilates principles not only during the practise but throughout our daily activities.
This is how we will build a new nerve response behaviour and how we will ‘train’ our brain to connect with the right muscles to avoid injuries and imbalances.
Joseph Pilates developed its technique around 3 main principles: breath, whole-body health and whole-body commitment (whole body as mind, body and spirit).
These 3 principles led eventually to 6, which cover the most important roots to develop a conscious and healthy practise. We will focus today in these 6 main Pilates principles. All traditional Pilates exercises are based on the same fundamental principles.
Below you will find the most important roots to develop a conscious and healthy practise.
All principles are important and are not independent from each other. However, we should all agree that breathing may be the most important principle not only in Pilates but in our lives.
“Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.” said Joseph Pilates. What a great quote.
Breathing is an integral part of the Pilates practise, as applying the correct breathing technique in each exercise helps to activate the stabilising muscles needed.
We do usually inhale to prepare for a movement and we do exhale through the effort in Pilates. We do also tend to inhale when we extend our backs and exhale when we curve the spine (spine flexion)
When the effort is done in each movement is going to be different, this is why students and teachers should familiarise themselves with the breath pattern.
Holding the breath is not good at all for your lungs, muscles and entire nervous system, it is important to keep breathing throughout the whole practise. Many times we tend to hold the breath during stretching poses or when we do a big effort, however this is not recommended.
There are three common methods of breathing during exercise: lateral, diaphragmatic and thoracic.
The traditional Pilates method encourages ‘lateral breathing’ and this is the one we will focus on.
Lateral breathing involves inhaling into the lateral area of the ribcage and the lower back. Why is it important to practise this breathing when practising Pilates? Because by inhaling laterally, our abdominals remain engaged – as opposed to conventional diaphragmatic breathing where ab muscles need to relax – hence the breath does not compromise stability., which is key to maintain during our exercises to strengthen the core.
Besides, the air is channeled into the ribcage and expanding to the front, rear and side.
When breathing laterally, ideally the apex region of the thorax should not rise.
To implement the technique:
- Stand upright, you can place the hands on the lower ribs to feel the expansion, fingers pointing to the front of the ribs and thumbs to the back
- Inhale deeply through the nose – keep shoulders relaxed, you are not engaging the upper part of your body
- Feel the ribcage expand laterally and posteriorly
I always like to cue lateral breathing as imagining our thorax is an accordion, that is being opened and closed to play amazing music.
It is important to focus 100% during the Pilates practise. Bringing awareness to the mind and body is vital as all Pilates exercises have a mental and cognitive element attached to them. In order for us to initiate a movement, we need to establish proprioception to become aware of the space where we are and where we want to be.
For example, learning how to activate the core correctly can take time at the beginning of the practise. With full concentration on our movements, our brains will train to respond with the right nerve sign to the correct muscle, in this case to all the core muscles. This does not happen from one day to the other, training is everything and going back to the same movement with full focus is what is going to help us achieve the best results.
When the mental components of movement are applied correctly, efficient and quality movement happen. With repetition, these movements will become automated and unconscious, but thanks to that prior training you will be moving in the right way.
Many times we feel pain on muscles that should not be sore, because we had been putting the effort on a muscle that should not be the primary muscle to activate, however, time made the primary muscle to become weak, and the second muscle to strain. Learning to activate the weak muscle is like learning to walk again, slowly, with concentration, and with awareness, it will happen, but without real focus we will probably keep unbalancing the body.
Joseph Pilates firstly name the technique as ‘ Contrology’ , and this is due to the control that requires to use the right muscles at the right time.
You will hear Pilates teachers saying control a lot during a class. And this is because the utmost control during exercising will reduce risk of injuries and attain the best results. Pilates prioritize quality over quantity. Slow is good to learn and to control the movement. Once we master the control, we can work on the speed.
Connected with concentration, we are not able to control a movement without being focused on it. Control is at the heart of the Pilates technique.
You will hear the word ‘core’ a lot during a class.
The core is considered our body powerhouse, from where all movement originates.
The ‘core’ muscles ( Transversus Abdominis, Lumbar Multifidus and Pelvic Floor muscles) are the foundation of movement and they are essential for the control and stability of all bodily regions.
From the core we initiate the movement through the limbs. This is why a strong core is so important, as it will relieve strain from the joints and will help to keep a healthy and younger spine, among other benefits.
Precision is basically attention to detail. It is not the same than control or concentration, but it is linked to it.
Checking the whole alignment of our body, giving careful attention to each joint, muscle at the beginning, during and by the end of the exercise, is what is going to make the practise perfect. When we are precise we notice and feel the movement and the posture, we are able to auto-correct our alignment.
Precision is not the same than control or concentration, but it is linked to it. The full combination along with repetition will allow us to achieve physical and technical mastery.
Pilates exercises should be performed with fluidity. Stiffness should not have a place during the practice. Even when exercises are performed with control, these should be done with grace, one movement leading to the other.
A smooth, continuous rhythm with appropriate transitions will increase also stamina.
Learning to apply all these principles takes time, but it is also fun and the most rewarding part is when we feel there was a positive change in our bodies thanks to the application of the theory. At the beginning of my practise, many years ago, I felt so rewarded every class when I would notice a small positive change class after class, but also on my daily activities thanks to feeling better, thanks to having a better control of my body and a stronger core.