I have practiced Pilates since age 13 and never once been bored. Is it possible that one exercise system can keep inspiring and challenging you to be your very best self, help you create the body you were always meant to have, give you peace of mind, enliven your spirit and make you feel confident, sexy and empowered? The answer is yes.
When you consider the source, it makes sense that Pilates would do all of this and more. Joseph H. Pilates was one determined little boy, rather frail, challenged by asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever; he was determined to overcome his ailments. Through his study of the ancient mind-body arts, he integrated key principles from yoga and isometric resistance work. He came to know through his own experience that specific breathing techniques performed in tandem with targeted movements would dramatically improve his overall health and help him to sculpt a super-hero physique. Little did he know when he began that he would rise up to become a veritable renaissance man of fitness and incite a global fitness revolution, changing the lives of millions and posthumously, to boot.
Here are just a few of the reasons why I love Pilates, and always will:
1. The Powerhouse of Fitness
The “powerhouse” in Pilates is the term that refers to the main focus of the method, the “corset muscles” of the body, the primary abdominal, pelvic and back muscles, and it is a fitting term. The idea of a “powerhouse” encompasses all aspects of what total fitness means to me. The physical benefits that one can accrue from practicing it, like yoga, are almost too numerous to mention.
Pilates is a “vitality supercharger.” You engage the mind to move the body as an integrated whole in tandem with the breath, economizing your movement, using only those muscles that are required to perform a movement with the utmost grace, control and precision. Freshly oxygenated blood is pumped throughout the entire body, activating the lymphatic system, which aids in the removal of toxins, endorphin and serotonin production is triggered in abundance, and the result is an almost euphoric sense of total wellbeing.
Pilates is unmatched in the arena of total body toning and conditioning, and nothing, and I mean nothing, helps you create powerful abs the way Pilates can. Pilates is a gentle but challenging, gravity-defying system of physical conditioning that focuses on body placement and increasing awareness of your capabilities and untapped resources. It changes your body and makes it longer, leaner and stronger. It empowers you as it helps you create the body of your dreams.
Pilates is not just an exercise regime; it’s a journey, and one that teaches you to be in the moment and embrace the process of your own evolution. But, make no mistake, it yields immediate results. Once you start Pilates, this is what you’ll hear: “There’s something different about you!” “Have you lost weight?” “You’ve finally started taking ballet classes!” It’s true: if you have a great teacher, who lives, loves and breathes the work herself, you will feel and see the fruit of your labor right away. Pilates is a “master-apprentice art” and is meant to be passed along to the student like a secret, and a gift, something that is precious and worth working for.
Pilates is so effective, and so powerful, that when taught properly, it makes your entire body stronger and more flexible in no time at all. People report dropping a dress size and inches in mere weeks. It helps your body to know what good posture feels like right away and quickly improves your breathing, which also improves your mood and general outlook on life. Even after one class, you’ll look and feel taller, more energized, more capable and more alive.
3. Staying in the Game
Pilates is an incredibly effective cross-training tool. It makes any sport you love even better. Pilates exercises not only strengthen the weaker muscles and give the dominant muscles a break by demanding that you work symmetrically, they also make you more aware of your body, enhancing coordination, balance, power and precision. Pilates improves alignment and breathing and increases efficiency of movement, which translates into less effort, greater power and grace in your game, whatever that may be.
As we age, the synovial fluid that protects our joints diminishes, and Pilates helps to keep the surrounding musculature strong, taking the burden off of your joints. It helps people who suffer from arthritis find relief, because the precise movements literally lubricate the joint capsule itself, and relieve inflammation.
Long before anyone knew what it was, we aspiring dancers used Pilates as a secret weapon to strengthen our abdominals and our bodies, so that we could jump higher, turn faster and move with greater control and grace. I practiced Pilates throughout my professional dance career, and it kept me inspired, injury free and powerful!
4. Variety Is the Spice of Life
You will never get bored. The very nature of the work, like yoga (sun salutations, warrior poses, standing balances, arm balances…) asks that you refine and redefine the movements you already know, engaging your mind entirely, demanding high-level multi-tasking of your brain as it quests to perfect and further integrate movements and breath. As you gain strength and ability, you can observe your own evolution by gauging your capability in performing the same exercises with greater skill. Few things in life are more satisfying, let me tell you. And the bonus? The stronger you get, the more you can do -- the more you are entitled to do... There are exercises in Pilates that are so challenging on more advanced levels, that very simply, if you don’t do the prerequisite work, you can’t perform them. You literally have to earn the right to do them, and that’s exciting! And, what’s more, in the Pilates syllabus, there is always more -- so many challenging, exciting exercises, that just when you think you’ve mastered one, there’s another variation that changes it entirely, and when you’ve experienced that one, there are a few hundred more...
5. Less Is More
“Economy of movement” is one of Pilates’ foundational principles, meaning that you learn how to focus your efforts with laser-beam precision and engage only those muscles that are required to successfully perform the exercise. The rest of the body breathes and joins “the party,” but does not get overtaxed.
Because every movement in Pilates emanates from the core, it keeps you “honest” by gently forcing you to use both sides of the body symmetrically in order to execute an exercise successfully. Every exercise focuses on the abdominal center, the muscles of the torso, as well as specific breathing patterns for each exercise, teaching you how to direct energy to those targeted areas while relaxing the rest of the body.
Because you do the fewest number of repetitions with the greatest precision and control, you get the most out of your work, and your focus and determination grow exponentially. You never get exhausted. You get energized and inspired to make each movement count. The result? Greater overall muscular stamina and considerable skill, mindfully accomplished, with less effort.
6. Back Pain? Not Here
We all sit for too many hours at a stretch in front of our computers, completely unaware of our poor posture. We drive instead of walking. We take the escalator instead of the stairs. We suffer from chronic shoulder tension and back pain. Pilates is a powerful antidote. Because the focus is on the stabilizing core muscles of the torso, which support the spine, the active collaboration of these major muscle groups creates a solid cylinder around the central spine. This helps to prevent “shearing” or eroding forces from being applied to the vertebrae, ligaments and discs that evolve as a result of repetitive trauma and habitual patterns of movement.
The result is more efficient total body movement that is ergonomic and smarter, which means the longevity of the body increases. The work itself reinforces optimal posture, which helps you to stand tall with very little effort. Almost overnight, without even realizing it, you’ve grown a few inches. You strengthen and stretch all of the supporting muscles of the spine, making it more fluid and flexible, more resilient.
Not only do you stop back pain in its tracks, you reduce stress, which is another contributing factor to poor spinal alignment and function. You are able to access new levels of energy and ease in your body to perform everyday tasks and create a deeper, more complete feeling of fitness and vitality that remains with you days after your workout.
7. Stress Buster
Because Pilates triggers the magical chain of chemical responses in the body, chief among them the release of endorphins, it reduces stress and improves the quality of your sleep. Modern life with its myriad distractions and demands pulls us farther and farther away from our center of balance and our ability to find calm in the face of society’s minute-to-minute call. The very nature of Pilates asks that you quiet the mind by giving it single-focus tasks that engage it fully, and in so doing, creates a much-needed respite from the stresses we endure in the outside world.
Every movement emanates from the core, and since our “core” is also the seat of our emotions, the exercises themselves help to truly "center" and balance you. When you learn the advantage of paying attention to the energy, flow and rhythms in your exercises and see how pushing or forcing is counterproductive, you begin to apply this notion to the rest of your life. When you focus your attention on the moment and act in harmony with time, you experience inner peace and fulfillment. By staying in the present, you can do less, yet gain more; paradoxically, you create more personal power and energy, enabling you to have a greater influence over the outcome both in your sessions and long after you leave the studio.
8. “Joie de Vivre,” “Swagger,” “Moxy”
Pilates is true radiance from the inside-out. Because it targets the core, our center of will and determination, Pilates can make you feel incredibly empowered and confident. Add to this that you can see and feel your own efforts rewarded, you start to develop a whole new belief in yourself. Your inner victories are reflected by the outer manifestation of your body-shaping efforts, and when you look great, you feel great. You get that inner glow that radiates like the sun and draws lovely like-minded people towards you like moths to a flame!
9. Elixir for the Soul
When you feel good in body and mind, you can go beyond into higher realms of purpose and meaning, where your soul lives. On a spiritual level, Pilates is concerned with the process itself. You learn to focus on the present rather than on what the future brings -- on the results.
Pilates is similar to the practice of yoga, which promotes consciousness and facilitates personal evolution and transformation. The subtle magic of the work is that it grows as you do. You rise to higher and higher levels of capability as your self-awareness and experience deepen. As you gain insight and as your actual physical strength increases, you are able to perfect form and shape. Pilates sees physical activity as a way to restore total oneness and create harmony of body, mind and spirit; under this notion, exercise becomes the means to experiencing a personal potential greater than the physical skills themselves. When you feel a sense of true accomplishment and fulfillment by virtue of your own efforts, you feel purposeful, hopeful and capable. Pilates takes you higher.
10.The Facebook of Fitness
Community: Pilates studios are great meeting places. Whether you are interested in private instruction or group classes, you’ll meet kindred spirits who are there because they are making the investment in themselves, just like you are. The law of attraction is in motion -- literally! Prepare to become a part of a community that’s interested in reaching deeper levels of expression and ease in their lives.
Pilates and other mind-body-spirit modalities center and balance us, making us more aware of ourselves and what makes us feel good, so that we then have greater reserves to share those good feelings with others. We are reminded of what is truly important in life, like seeing someone smile as a result of our single act of kindness that reflects right back into our hearts. Pilates, very simply, makes us into towers of power! We become healthier, kinder, more generous, more connected, conscious people, and the world becomes a better place.