How can Pilates nourish your soul?
The Pilates method, often shortened to simply ‘Pilates’, is a collection of low-impact exercises intended to improve balance, flexibility, and strength in all the body’s major muscle groups. The modality places an emphasis on core strength and pelvic stability; it is often integrated into clinical rehabilitation programs, and used to supplement the training of athletes and dancers.
The Pilates origin story begins with the childhood of its founder, Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Born near Dusseldorf in Germany, he was a sickly boy who embraced physical exercise, yoga and gymnastics as ways to strengthen his body and improve his overall health. Pilates was working in England when the First World War broke out, and he was consequently interned on the Isle of Man as a German national. He applied his experience and ideas to helping other internees stay fit, as well as rehabilitate patients in a hospital where he was volunteering.
Pilates originally named the practice ‘Contrology’ in reference to the precise control needed to perform the exercises accurately. Pilates has several similarities to yoga, and although it is not derived directly from this ancient practice, yoga is believed to have been one of the disciplines (as well as ballet and martial arts) that inspired Joseph Pilates in the development of Contrology. Both Pilates and yoga are low-impact modalities that can be practised by people of various fitness levels.
One of the key differences of Pilates vs yoga is the way yoga poses or asanas are stationary while Pilates exercises include repeated movements of the limbs while the body is held in a specific pose. Another major difference is the fact that while Pilates is regarded as a mind/body discipline, it has no spiritual component or background. Even if you are practising yoga exclusively for its physical benefits, its history still stems from a quest to develop the mind and spirit as well as the body.
Benefits of Pilates
Some of the general, popularly agreed health benefits of Pilates include improvements to posture and greater core strength. Studies have shown Pilates may offer measurable benefits for flexibility and muscular endurance. There is evidence to suggest a traditional eight-week Pilates training program may lead to a significant reduction in body fat and other measures of physical fitness.
Research suggests Pilates benefits psychological as well as physical health, with the results of one study indicating 10 sessions of weekly Pilates may improve body awareness and elevate mood. The results of a meta-analysis suggest Pilates may improve balance in elderly people, possibly reducing the risk of falls, but further research is recommended. There is evidence to indicate practising Pilates may significantly reduce post-menopausal symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve the quality of sleep.
Studies also suggest that Pilates may be a beneficial modality for rehabilitation, possibly supporting a reduction of disability and pain caused by conditions such as non-structural scoliosis and ankylosing spondylitis.
Pilates may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Back pain
- Balance, stability and coordination
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Concentration, focus and problem solving
- Flexibility, endurance and strength
- Hips and pelvis
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Mobility and movement
- Mood imbalances
- Motivation and procrastination
- Pain relief
- Posture and spine issues
- Respiratory and breathing issues
- Sports injuries
- Stress and tension
- Weight control and obesity
What to expect from a Pilates session
Pilates is most often practised in one of two formats, or a combination of both. These are referred to as ‘Mat exercises’ and ‘Reformer exercises’, the latter referring to the Reformer apparatus originally designed by Joseph pilates.
During a Mat class, you will need to remove your shoes and lie on a soft mat to do the exercises. You might wish to bring your own mat, and wear reasonably tight-fitting clothing for ease of movement. Your instructor will guide you through a variety of exercises to train your pelvic floor, abdominals and other muscle groups, synchronising your breathing with the workout. Mat pilates classes may involve small props, such as a tension ring (known as a Magic Circle) and a foam roller, but your own bodyweight is the primary source of resistance.
Reformer Pilates involves using a floor-based apparatus (the so-called Reformer) that has a rolling platform to support your body and help you complete the exercises in optimal form. The Reformer has a spring-based resistance system, which can be adjusted to suit the intensity of exercise you require, and wearing grip socks is recommended when using the Reformer.
Because of the additional support provided by the apparatus, this may be particularly useful for rehabilitation from injuries. Your instructor will explain everything you need to know about using the Reformer safely, and guide you through exercises that can vary from simple and basic for beginners, to challenging and complex for more experienced users.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing Pilates, especially if you are pregnant or if you have not done any exercise for an extended period. Seek medical advice regarding the suitability of Pilates if you have an injury or any other health condition. This modality may be an effective path to support your rehabilitation, and your Pilates instructor will be happy to address any concerns you might have, and customise the exercises to suit your individual requirements.