During the First World War, German-born Joseph H. Pilates devised a series of exercises that could overcome injuries and postural problems. Interned in English camps, he began to train other prisoners of war in his matwork exercises.
He also devised makeshift exercise aids by attaching bedsprings in various positions so patients recovering from injuries could exercise safely. In the late 1920s Joseph Pilates immigrated to New York, bringing his unusual views on physical exercise and fitness with him.
Nine principles provide a foundation for how the Pilates Method is organized and executed.
First there is concentration, the kinesthetic awareness that allows you to focus the mind on what the body is doing. You may need to create a quiet space in order to achieve this level of concentration. You are using the mind to reeducate the muscles, and you should be totally present with the body at all times during this work.
Concentration brings with it control, the neuromuscular coordination that guarantees movements will not be careless or haphazard. Sometimes our bodies do not perform as we want them to, but coordination and control are skills that can be learned through practice.
Control is achieved by centering. Joseph Pilates referred to this as working from a strong core or “girdle of strength.” All movement stems outward from the center. Stabilizing from the deep, small core muscles, and the deep as well as superficial abdominals, is a safe and highly effective starting place for movement.
So is the use of diaphragmatic breathing. The breath initiates the movement. Breathing into the back of the rib cage replenishes the body and heops organize the postural alignment of the skeleton.
If one muscle or bone of the body is out of alignment then the whole structure is affected whether we are sitting on the ball, standing on our feet, or lying on a mat.
Faulty alignment negatively affects breath, posture, and movement just as the dominance of one muscle group can affect the quality of movement.
The principles of flow and precision open the door to a holistic movement experience that is as beautiful to watch as it is to perform. Eventually, as we have mastered the exercises, one exact, supple movement will flow into the other. We are aiming for movement that is slow and graceful as well as efficient and accurate.
Finally, and only when you are ready, intensity of movement and the addition of resistance allow stamina to be built in the body. We challenge the endurance of the stabilizing muscles without sacrificing form or technique.
As important as it is to build up the muscles, it is essential to teach them to relax. Relaxation is the key to health and healing of mind and body. A mind/body that knows how to release is a mind/body that will not overwork and overtire.
Adapted from Pilates on the Ball, by Colleen Craig. Copyright (c) 2001 by Colleen Craig. Reprinted by permission of Healing Arts Press.
Adapted from Pilates on the Ball, by Colleen Craig.