Principles of Pilates
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
With today being National Pilates Day, I thought it fitting to write about the Principles that makeup the foundation of this amazing system. Joseph Pilates believed the most important part of physical training was mental concentration, that through this control over one’s muscles you are then able to successfully develop will over action. He had six principles that we use today when practicing each movement.
Centering, Concentration, Breath, Control, Precision, Flow
Centering - The principle of Centering reflects Joseph Pilates’ belief that all movement begins from the center of the body which is about three finger-widths below the naval and move outwards to the limbs. This area is referred to as your “powerhouse” in Pilates. From our center we support our spine and major organs, strengthen the back and improve alignment and posture. A properly developed center makes us less vulnerable to fatigue and lower-back pain.
Concentration – this principle reflects your state of mind while practicing the exercises. Joseph Pilates insisted that the movements be performed purposefully and not, as he stated, “Just going through the motions” (from his book “Return to Life through Contrology”) This mind-body connection is at the very core of the Pilates method. Not only should you be focusing on the moving body part, but you should also be aware of what the rest of your body is doing. Each movement should begin with your thoughts organized in a way the allows you to have full-body awareness.
Breath – Joseph Pilates believed that before the full benefits of his method could be achieved, your breathing must be corrected. Breathing is at the very core of Pilates. In this practice, inhalation is through the nose and exhalation through the mouth. Being “aware” of your breath and patterns of breathing will assist in the movements by delivery oxygen to the muscles being used to execute each exercise. Breathing fully, meaning complete inhalation and exhalation arouses the muscles into bigger activity (Return to Life through Contrology – Joseph Pilates, 1945)
Control – This principle is the main goal of the Pilates system, to gain control of your body through each movement and in turn, your day to day life. Without control, exercise movements can lead to injury whereas with control, you are left with positive results. Learning to perform a movement as simple as a leg raise without using momentum to get your leg up, but instead feeling and controlling each muscle that is being used to raise that leg, and in turn realizing that the movement is coming from the center of your body (powerhouse) is instrumental in seeing the results that you get from Pilates.
Precision – Knowing that each movement has a purpose and the quality of the exercise not the quantity is the goal in Pilates. Precise movement is the reason that Pilates is challenging for people of all fitness levels, from beginner to pro-athlete. Realizing each movements purpose through concentration is key to achieving optimal results.
Flow – Pilates was created to be like a dance, with each movement seamlessly transitioning into the next. It may not feel this way at the beginning, but each movement should be performed with ease and smoothness and not with quick, jerky moves. Trying to keep up with the rest of the class is not the point of Pilates, as previously mentioned quality is the goal not quantity.
Pilates wrote “Contrology (what he called the Pilates method) is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles. Just the contrary, it was conceived… with the idea of properly and scientifically exercising every muscle in your body in order to improve the circulation of the blood so that the blood stream can and will carry more and better blood to feed every fibre and tissue of your body” (Return to Life through Contrology 1945)
It is no secret that Pilates has many health benefits and we have seen that this practice has not only survived through the decades and is more relevant today than ever, but as we gain more knowledge of the science of our bodies, we understand why it’s so beneficial to our physical and mental health.
Happy National Pilates Day!