Ever wondered what your Pilates teacher is on about when they mention the powerhouse, refer to pelvic stability or ask you to bust out a butterfly? 

We’re in the middle of a nine-week Pilates Align program here at BodyMindLife, where each week a different principle of the Pilates reformer repertoire is addressed. It’s a chance to get back to basics, build from the foundations up, and is both a great introduction for new students and a refinement course for those with a regular practice. The more we practice reformer Pilates, the more it becomes apparent that it’s less about what you practice, and all about how you practice. That little tweak in posture, the relaxation of that muscle while you simultaneously engage this muscle, breathing correctly, and using slow, controlled movements can all add up to the difference between a good practice and a truly great one.

The program, developed by our head of Pilates Monique Scales, covers all the exercises in the repertoire broken down into leg and footwork, hands in straps, feet in straps (including spinal articulation), lunge work, hip disassociation, lateral work and hands on bar work, short and long box work, arm work, and hip abduction and adduction work. So, whether you like to get things right from the get-go or have hit a Pilates plateau and need some fresh direction, you can jump into the program at any time. Or check out this quick cheat-sheet that outlines the key holistic Pilates principles to give you a deeper understanding of the method.

1. Concentration 

Concentration is, essentially, mindfulness. Concentrating on each movement, on each breath and each exercise trains the mind to stay present in the body and therefore in the moment. To concentrate like this requires laser-like focus, which is challenging at first, but over time will become something that you’re able to take into every aspect of your life.

2. Breathing

In Pilates, we fully exhale by squeezing all the air out of the lungs, like wringing a towel dry. This encourages oxygen to fill the lungs and body, supplying rich nutrients to our cells. Breathe in to the point before strain, and then fully exhale, gently drawing in the abdominals to empty. We fill the lungs and ribcage without tensing the neck and puffing out the abdomen. The idea is to fully breathe whilst keeping the corset engaged and neck soft.

3. Control

In the Pilates method we learn to control every part of the body from our toes to our fingers, from our pelvis to our neck and head. We control each breath and each part of every exercise. This principle integrates with the principle of concentration and results in refined, flowing movement.

4. Centring 

Your centre is referred to in Pilates as the powerhouse. This is the area from the base of the pelvis to the lower ribcage–front, sides and back, including the buttocks. Strength, stability and range of movement in this area creates movement efficiency, grace, and a pain-free body. Similar to martial arts and yoga, everything starts from the powerhouse.

5. Flowing Movement

The key to a brilliant Pilates practice is not to move too slow or too fast. Moving from your centre with concentration creates flowing movement that builds endurance and true core strength. When applying this principle, you kick bad movement habits and enhance co-ordination.

6. Precision

There are certain precise movements that are universal in Pilates, from the placement of your hands to the placement of your head and neck, pelvis, lower spine, shoulders and elbows. Precision of each exercise works hand-in-hand with concentration.

7. Lengthening

Reaching out through the limbs creates space in the area and joints. Lengthening the spine enhances postural awareness and postural endurance. Lengthening the body throughout the practice creates space, stability and better posture, activating deeper muscles and encouraging eccentric contraction of superficial muscles. It also feels fantastic.

8. Alignment

Pilates educates students about how they hold their body, what their natural postural habits are, and teaches how to balance your body’s bony structure. When we have correct alignment of the bones and muscles and articulate and engage them correctly, we strengthen deep postural muscles, creating energy efficiency in everything we do form walking to running, Pilates to Yoga.

9. Relaxation and Ease of Movement

We approach the exercises in a relaxed manner, with a sense of ease but without collapsing either. The postural muscles of the body need stamina and endurance. Exercises you once found exhausting will become easier. This is your ‘core’ building strength and your postural muscles building stamina.

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