They come primarily for the flat abdominals and long sleek muscles that those springs, pulleys, and mat work can bring, but the clients that have passed through the doors of BodyTonic Pilates Gymnasium for the past eleven years leave with so much more. I have seen Pilates change a person’s life over and over again, across all ages, personalities and fitness levels.
I recently had to give an office presentation to a group of fairly intimidating people and I felt nothing but excitement about it. When I questioned my own calm and prepared state of being, I realized Pilates gave me all I needed to make a great first impression and deliver a powerhouse package. And then I thought of hundreds of clients that I have heard proclaim, “Pilates has changed my life!”
When you embark on Pilates training, changes in your body and in your self-image are felt almost immediately. With new clients, about three exercises in, I will hear something like, “Oh, yes, I feel that. Wow, I feel taller, (slimmer, more relaxed, etc.)” You are sucked in and motivated to continue. Over time, small benefits of your 55-minute sessions become huge. Five big Pilates pluses stand out.
1. Enhanced Focus - The jumble of annoyances and stresses of everyday life simply fade to black in the Pilates session. Whether in a mat class or on the draconian and genius, spring and pulley Pilates equipment there is no room for mental clutter. As a mom of two now, this has never been more apparent. I have to listen to the instructor and to the equipment to perform the work at hand. And in class, there is no cheating, primarily because you cannot look around while lying on your back! In addition, the session keeps moving with a flow from one exercise to the next so if you are not paying attention it is embarrassingly obvious. Pilates a great vehicle for aligning body and mind and you take that off the mat and out the door to the street.
2. Joint Stability - I wore heels to my office presentation and experienced nary a wobble. Pilates includes both stretching and strengthening but to compare it to its better-known counterpart, I often refer to Pilates as “the German version of Yoga.” Although there are many yoga poses that seriously engage joint stabilizers (like any of the one legged balances) almost all of the Pilates exercises primarily focus on control and symmetry without asking you push beyond your current flexibility. For many body types this is a safe approach; the flexibility aspect of the fitness is more passive, progresses more slowly and is secondary to the stability.
3. Grace - I had a client recently ask, “Is all of this inhaling and exhaling really necessary? I mean, I know I am breathing.” Hmmm. Well, yes. I didn’t want to press the issue with someone so obviously committed to this idea that the breathing was unimportant. So I responded, “If I find the your breath pattern to be working in opposition to the exercises, I will let you know.” In my experience, grace comes from two things, proper posture and coordination. Pilates gives you both in spades. Your posture improves through the exercises and those exercises move, they are not static poses. To those who feel like they are born with two left feet, coordinating the breath timing (i.e. an inhale to begin, an exhale to finish) engages the mind, the central nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system, into harmony. Harmony within the body translates to a graceful appearance.
4. Balance - Not just of the tight rope kind. Pilates creates balance between your right and left halves, your front and back, your top to bottom, your body and mind, your intellect and your playfulness, your right side up and upside down, work and rest, inhales and exhales, strength and stretch. As a physical example, I like to use the classic push-up. Just yesterday I saw a man on the lawn area in front of the Brooklyn Museum doing push-ups. My first thought was, “Wow this guy must be really excited about showing off his push-ups if he’s doing them here!” Then I was restraining myself from dashing over to him to lift his gut, support his head, stretch his legs!” In Pilates when you are performing a movement, your entire body is working not just one part.
5. Confidence - One of my favorite things to hear is, “I can’t believe I just did that! It used to be so hard to roll all the way up!” (Or circle my arms in this position or lift my legs that high, etc.) In Pilates through practice and repetition and a carefully structured laying of bit by bit modifications and additions, challenging exercises become easy, seemingly impossible exercises become manageable and -- perhaps the most popular source of new-found confidence -- pants sizes go down. When you believe in your ability to flourish, to master, to refine, to conquer an exercise you feel it everywhere in your life. And when you feel balanced, graceful, stable, and focused, (and let’s not forget the flat abs!) it’s hard not to feel like a million bucks.
Sound pretty good?
Check out our special Pilates 10-Pack at Body Tonic ($119, save $61) over at MindBodyGreen New York