Following on from his blog on the history of Pilates and its creator, Joseph Pilates, Jamie Isaac explains why Pilates is so popular today, how to get started and how to get the most from the method…
The use of Pilates to keep in shape by numerous famous actors and elite athletes pays testament to its effectiveness for both health, wellbeing and physical fitness. The list of famous names that swear by the Pilates method of exercise is large and includes movie and music stars Jennifer Aniston, Megan Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Manchester United football star Ryan Giggs, Australian rugby captain George Gregan, and numerous professional sports teams in the NFL and NHL.
However, Pilates is much more than a celebrity fad. The improvement in physical and mental wellbeing that you can feel through regularly performing exercise is huge and works wonders in the endeavour to stay fit, healthy and stress free… not to mention the promise of being stronger and leaner.
Created by Joseph Pilates at the start of the 1900s, it was designed to be done by anybody, practically anywhere. Of course, I would advise finding a good instructor and a good class to get started, but, if you look around, there are classes for all levels and you’ll find that it’s all sorts of people that will be rolling their mat out next to you.
And don’t feel that it has to be just with those scary looking machines. Pilates was originally designed for the floor, so just a simple mat and maybe a few bands and balls (to keep things interesting) will be plenty to get you started bending and stretching your way to a longer, leaner, more balanced and pain-free body.
It seems as well that Pilates is beginning to shake the image of being just for women. In the USA where Pilates is huge, there are many pro-sports teams that send their male stars to Pilates studios. And if you ask around, you’ll find plenty of pro-surfers that attribute their flexibility, core strength, and injury-free bodies to Joseph Pilates’ incredible method. Even in the UK Ryan Higgs has commented on his training with Pilates, which seems to have given him plenty of energy to perform both on and off the pitch.
But it’s not just about those that play sports. Pilates can be great if you just want to tone up and gain some strength, or if you are looking to rid yourself of those troublesome back aches and pains.
The Pilates method focuses on the deep muscles that support the spine, creating a strong core, which then allows us to move with control, more easily and efficiently. When combined with correct breathing this makes life a lot easier. Now I’m pretty sure that’s something that everybody would like.
And don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all easy and boring. Performed correctly, Pilates will challenge you. Are you used to putting your mind through such extreme control, concentration, and focus? Top that with a strenuous physical workout and you have a winning combination of mind and matter working towards a goal – super challenging! From improved flexibility to better posture; from enhanced muscular strength to stabilization of the spine; and from rehabilitation to prevention of injuries, Pilates helps one and all. Believe us, even if you are running around to juggle work and family, Pilates is possible. A couple of short sessions a week is all it takes.
So follow these simple guidelines to safely join the Pilates revolution.
Very few people are aware that the term ‘Pilates’ is generic and free for unrestricted use. This means that anyone can offer advice on Pilates, whether trained or untrained. That’s a worry and can be dangerous! Besides the general precautions that you’d take before doing any exercise, I recommend that if you are pregnant, or overweight or have any pre-existing medical condition, be very cautious and careful. Take advice from qualified medical professionals before starting. And when you find your instructor, ask questions. If they are professional they’ll be happy to pass on their knowledge and experience.
Quality is more important than quantity
The posture, the breathing, the movement, the number of repetitions and the amount of energy that is spent – we should aim to do everything as precisely as possible. So it’s important to work with quality in mind. Instead of churning out hundreds of mindless repetitions, it’s much better to perform fewer with quality and precision and train the body to get it right. There are thousands of books and DVDs out there, but I’d recommend avoiding that route and learning from a qualified teacher if you can. Try and avoid big class sizes too. To get it right, you’ll want plenty of attention and corrections from your teacher.
It’s the combination of movement with correct breath that can make your life easier. So learning to breathe correctly is a great place to start. As Pilates himself said, ‘It’s the first and last act of life, so above all, learn to do this properly!’ It also prevents you from just holding your breath, straining, and turning blue mid-exercise.
It is often forgotten that Joe Pilates wanted his method to be something to bring together not just the mind and body, but also the spirit. So what exactly is the spirit?
I like to believe that it is the way in which we bring ourselves to our class, or performance. Spirit is taking an approach of mindfulness and focus along with a desire to be performing each and every exercise to our full potential.
Not just breathing, quality and spirit, you have to concentrate as well! It’s actually what makes Pilates so good. Concentrating through every movement really takes your mind away from all the worries and day-to-day stress. It also helps you perform the exercises better, which in turn is good for your body.
If taking a little time out for yourself and working towards a healthier and happier you sounds like your type of fun, then do it with a smile!
There are just a few spaces remaining on Jamie’s special retreat week: Pilates Body, Mind and Spirit on the 10-17 November. Visit the website or get in touch for more details.
Fluid Art Pilates demonstration of the Roll Up:
About the instructor
|Jamie Isaac is a Pilates instructor and yoga enthusiast. A former international trampolinist and a graduate in Physical Education and Sports Sciences, Jamie is passionate about the positive effects exercise can have on all aspects of life. He is the head instructor and founder of Azul Yoga & Pilates Retreat and the founder of Fluid Art Pilates.