Pilates Basics – The Art of Balance

What is Pilates? The Pilates program focuses on the core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and that are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.

Pilates and yoga share the same techniques to develop, tone and strengthen the muscles of the entire body – such as the arms, legs, abdomen and back – by using the body’s own resistance to build power during movement. Compared to yoga postures, Pilates poses are strikingly similar, yet there are some differences.

Pilates is more dynamic than yoga. Pilates is designed to combine your breathing rhythm with the movement of your body. In Pilates exercise, you hold your torso tightly in place while moving your arms and legs in different directions. This challenges your flexibility, balance, stability and strength.

Practiced faithfully, Pilates yields numerous benefits. Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep, healthy breathing is a primary focus. Strength and flexibility, particularly of the abdomen and back muscles, coordination-both muscular and mental, are key components in an effective Pilates program. Posture, balance, and core strength are all heartily increased. Bone density and joint health improve, and many experience positive body awareness for the first time. Pilates teaches balance and control of the body, and that capacity spills over into other areas of one’s life.

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 so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of the movements.
Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation are part of every Pilates exercise.

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 begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities.

Pilates demands intense focus and concentration.

Every Pilates exercise must be performed with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. Pilates emphasizes not intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, but proper form for safe, effective results.

Every movement in the Pilates method has a purpose. Every instruction is vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones.

Getting Started
The best way to get started with Pilates is to join a class and learn the basics from a qualified Pilates teacher. However, if there are no classes in your area, there are numerous DVD’s to choose from. You will be taught to concentrate on your muscles and instructors will guide you through each move and explain why you’re performing each move and what your body is doing.

Some exercises are performed on specialized Pilates equipment including the Pilates Reformer, Pilates Cadillac and Ladder Barrel, but the basic system can be done on a standard floor mat. Small accessories including balls, resistance bands and Pilates rings can be added to the repertoire for more variety. Pilates can also be performed in your home using traditional fitness equipment.

For Pilates beginners, the exercises are hard at first because your body will need to adjust to the feeling of using supporting muscles for the balancing and strengthening movements. Start practicing slowly, as your body allows, and more exercises can be added to your routine once your body adapts.

Almost everyone can do Pilates. To ensure your comfort, wear cotton clothes – such as a T-shirt or tank top and shorts – during practice. Shoes are not necessary. When you perform the poses, every movement should be slow, but flexible and strong. Since Pilates is commonly performed at a leisurely pace, you might want to pair Pilates workouts with another more intense aerobic exercise – such as swimming, running, cardio machines (elliptical, stepper or cross trainer) or brisk walking to get your heart rate going.