You must be consciously aware of your body and it’s movements, otherwise you cease to learn, you ‘just do’. Failure to concentrate will result in loss of alignment and/or recruitment of the wrong muscles. Pilates requires you to train the mind as well as the body as the two are undoubtedly connected.
Over dominant muscles will continue to be overactive unless they are switched off. So it is important to relax and lengthen short, tight muscles before you try and strengthen weak ones. Otherwise, the tight muscles will inhibit the action and a faulty movement pattern will continue.
Recognising areas of undue tension, relaxing the body before you start each exercise and then focusing attention on the relevant area will lead to correct muscle recruitment patterns as well as greatly reducing the risk of injury and adding to the calming effect of a session.
Joseph Pilates said he wanted the lungs to be squeezed of every last ounce of air so as much air as possible could be inhaled to charge the body with oxygen. He saw correct breathing as a way of cleansing the body, increasing oxygen levels, stimulating circulation and digestion. It also releases endorphins and natural brain chemicals that make us feel good.
Few people breathe properly. Correct breathing techniques are central to the Method. When asked to take a deep breath, people usually either breathe too shallowly in the upper chest or throw out their abdominal. The deep abdominal breathing practiced in yoga is wonderful but not applicable to Pilates .It is impossible to keep a strong center and to practice deep abdominal breathing at the same time. We teach Lateral/thoracic breathing ,making maximum use of the expansion of the rib-cage and therefore the lower lungs. It is a very efficient way of breathing and also promotes flexibility in the upper body. We use the timing of the breath to maximize the effectiveness of the movements. Each exercise has it’s own breathing pattern which can differ for beginners, intermediate, and advanced. As a general rule for beginners:
- Inhale to prepare for movement
- Exhale on the movement
- Inhale to recover
This timing complements the use of the abdominals as transverses abdominus, a stabilising muscle of the abdomen, is the muscle of forced exhalation. It also ensures that the breath is not held or excessive tension created anywhere in the body. When stretching, it encourages relaxing into the stretch.
The goal is for the individuals to recognise good alignment themselves, so that they can take this knowledge into their everyday activities. Great attention is paid to correct alignment to ensure good muscle recruitment.
The creation of a ‘girdle of strength’ is one of the main aims of Pilates. Abdominal training is key with every exercise to support and protect the spine.
A typical training programme will begin with awareness training to help the individual release tension and maintain correct alignment. Then lateral/thoracic breathing with co-ordinated centring with movement is taught. Small range motion skills to isolate the key muscles are taught initially, moving on to more challenging choreographed sequences, but always with the core stabilised and correct alignment. Co-ordination skills are finely tuned as the mind and body work together to perform the advanced exercises.
All movements are controlled, slow and graceful, flowing, lengthening outwards from a strong centre. Muscles are worked with control through their full range of movement and in different combinations, resulting in long, lean muscles with greater strength. Control is paramount. It is harder to perform an exercise slowly than quickly. It is also less easy to cheat.
Stamina is both an end goal and an end result. Good recruitment pattern results in efficient movement – you learn to use minimum effort to do a task, which frees up your energy. Pilates works on all systems of the body and naturally increases stamina. However, Pilates is not an aerobic workout; although some of the advanced sequences are cardiovascular. Therefore, it is advisable to combine Pilates with some aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. But even in the absence of other activity, stamina is increased and in particular, the postural muscles will have greater endurance.