Pilates is the most incredible thing one can do for their body. I realise that’s a bold statement, but for me, it’s the absolute truth. I see a lot of people on a weekly basis that have been referred to me by medical professionals such as GP’s, physios or Osteopaths and many of them have been told they need to come to Pilates to build their core strength; and this is where I want to start this blog. Pilates is so much more than just building core strength!
But before I begin to divulge a myriad of benefits and reasons as to why Pilates is the Holy Grail, lets first explore the term ‘Core Strength’.
For many, the term core strength is extremely confusing.
I mean, what does it actually mean? It’s a subject that would require a lot more in-depth exploration and explanation than this blog will allow so I’ll make it brief. The core is not your six-pack! Ok, technically the rectus abdominis (six-pack) is part of the core make up but so are the obliques, latissimus dorsi (lats), erector spinae (back) and glutes.
These are the major muscles but there are also many smaller muscles that make up the core. When we talk about the deep core, we are referring to the transverse abdominis (your deepest layer of abdominals that wraps around you like a supportive belt), pelvic floor, multifidus and diaphragm. The deep core muscles tend to be ones that become lazy and weak as the larger muscles dominate, reason being, they are much harder to find and activate. It’s easy to do sit ups and work the six pack and feel those bigger muscles working, but to find the deep core; it takes time. Time and patience.
If you’re someone who is new to Pilates, it can be really difficult to engage those muscles at first. I’ve seen many a frustrated client furiously trying to engage the deep core and in doing so, perpetuate the problem of the bigger muscles dominating.
Patience is key when first starting Pilates. It’s a process that cannot be rushed. Pilates can get you really strong and able to perform the most advanced exercises with poise and composure. Many people want to get there quickly and in doing so, actually, hinder their true potential.
Performing something like a double leg stretch with a doming belly will only set you back and actually create a weakness rather than strength. Pilates is all about regressing in order to progress. The most incredible clients that I have the pleasure to teach are the ones that have been with me for a few years and have gradually built not only their strength but their understanding of how to engage their muscles in the correct way and two years later, they are performing advanced Pilates exercises well, having started from a very basic level.
I could go on forever with my enthusiasm of why we need to understand how the core works but let’s move on for now!
You are only as young as your spine feels
“If your spine is stiff at 30, you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young” The spine for Joseph Pilates, was the key to physical and emotional wellbeing.
Pilates develops the deep muscles of the back and abdomen to support your spine and focuses on breathing to promote better posture. Everyone’s posture is different and some say there is no such thing as perfect posture but I disagree. When you are in neutral alignment, you feel incredible. And while it’s true that our posture can change on a day to day basis, depending on our daily habits, when we practice the art of bringing the body into balance, we feel good.
No, not good- Amazing!
I was doing some spine stretches this morning; moving my spine through flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation and during a particular spine extension I thought ‘WOW’ this is absolutely magnificent! I can actually feel the blood flowing around my body. When we stretch the spine, we create space between the vertebra, we allow room for the discs and we literally feel as though we are returning to life! And what is the one thing we need to live- breath! Breathing!
In Pilates we learn how to breathe deeply into the thoracic spine; the lower lobes of the lungs where the gaseous exchange takes place. Breathing this way puts us into the parasympathetic state. It relaxes the body and slows our heart rate. It allows the body to, in lay-mans terms, fire on all cylinders! When the body is in a state of stress, which is many of us due to a product of society, it literally cannot do anything other than focus on surviving. Think running away from a tiger. So the heart rate will be high and the body is unable to function efficiently. Focusing on breathing is vital and once this art is mastered, the feeling is second to none.
Pilates is essentially about re-educating your body and undoing the damage that years of stress and mobility inflict. Your body will respond to what you tell it to do. Whatever posture you adopt, over time, will become the ‘normal’ posture for you and your brain will keep you in that ‘normal’ posture until you decide to rewire the nervous system and make changes.
By repeatedly holding certain corrective positions, our musculature starts to retain a memory of how they feel and in time will automatically adopt them without us having to think about it. It doesn’t happen overnight but it will happen and everyday activities and daily living will become so much more joyful. Happy body, happy mind.
The joy of the thigh stretch!
The benefits of Pilates are tremendous and far-reaching. Pilates is not just about great posture and a rock- hardcore; it’s so much more than that. It can greatly improve one’s mental, emotional and spiritual well being too.
Pilates is a process. It takes time to understand it and make the connections, but once you do, you’ll understand how incredible you can feel.
“Pilates is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit”– Joseph Pilates