As a young athlete, I'd been taught to constantly push my body during practice. Fatigue and pain were signs of failure and not that my body might be screaming for rest and recovery. I wrapped my aches and pains in copious amounts of athletic tape and pressed on.
One day, I purchased a Pilates VHS tape from a local discount store on a whim (we're talking mid 90s here). In contrast to the rigorous pounding and repetitious workouts my body endured as a gymnast, training with my Pilates video was surprisingly refreshing and effective. That was my first taste of a mind-body approach to exercise. I used that VHS for years until it literally fell apart.
When I began my rehab career as an Occupational Therapist, I quickly learned that many of my patients shared the same disconnect between their minds and bodies as I once had. As I incorporated the Pilates method into my treatments, I watched people get stronger, understand their bodies better and make positive lifestyle changes. I was convinced that almost everyone could benefit from integrating Pilates into their fitness programs.
1. Your body's needs are constantly changing.
Pilates adapts to your unique needs. On the days you crave intensity, Pilates can offer you a fast-paced, high-energy workout. However, if your current workout has left you feeling depleted, it's time to make some adjustments. On those days, Pilates is a restorative tool to rejuvenate you and recharge your internal battery.
No matter what type of Pilates class you choose, the goal of each session is for you to leave more focused and energized. Learning to tune in to your body's specific physical and mental needs on any given day, is one of the greatest lifestyle changes you can make.
2. Pilates connects the mind and body.
Concentration is the major principle that connects the mind with the body. The mind directs your body's actions, and as you shift your attention to the muscles being used when performing an exercise, you'll begin to notice how much more those muscles are working when you give them extra attention. That's the mind-body connection in its simplest form!
Consistent practice will deepen your understanding of this connection and allow you to make conscious changes according to what feels right to you. You'll develop greater body awareness as you continue to engage your mind throughout each workout.
3. You'll discover your inner "powerhouse."
The musculature of your abdomen, low back, hips and glutes makes up your powerhouse, or core. You're likely familiar with using your arms and legs to complete your daily activities, but for most people, the core is often overlooked and weak. But the powerhouse is your source for great energy. It's the starting point for Pilates. Exercises begin from this central region of the body and flow out toward your arms and legs. A strong powerhouse helps to build a solid base to coordinate your movements.
As you find yourself scooping your abdominal muscles to support your spine and standing taller as you wait in the grocery line, you will see that a solid Pilates foundation is useful both inside and outside the studio.
4. Your movements matter.
Muscle control is of the utmost importance to produce successful results. Since the Pilates method of conditioning integrates the entire body during each session, your movement quality is more important than the quantity you perform — every movement has a purpose. You learn to recruit the right muscles needed for each exercise and release excess tension and effort. By doing this, you create new patterns of more efficient, functional movement.
5. Exercise becomes meaningful.
When you flow mindfully through the Pilates repertoire, you can begin to re-educate your muscles to move with fewer restrictions and a renewed sense of purpose. Exercise becomes meaningful. You will notice subtle shifts occurring as you work to bring balance to your mind and body.
There's no doubt Pilates offers many health benefits, including increased strength, greater flexibility, better ease of movement and a profound connection between the mind and body. Pilates is an invigorating, and dare I say it, a fun workout that everyone should be doing!