Joseph Pilates demonstrating some of his 34 exercises.
1 - Breath
2 - Concentration
3 - Centering
4 - Control
5 - Precision
6 - Flow
Pilates said that breathing was like inflating a large balloon before going into an exercise and gradually deflating it until it's completion. The breath is the fuel for the Powerhouse and so, like filling a car up with petrol, the oxygen is fuel for the muscles via the bloodstream. Pilates is done in slow repetitions so give yourself time to recover from one repetition to the next, take a huge intake of breath, give yourself time to do the exercise and gradually exhale until the lungs are empty.
As a beginner there is a lot to think about when starting Pilates exercises, it takes time and practice to learn how to concentrate and do the exercises correctly at the same time. At first the exercises are just mastered mechanically, then there is aligning the body so that arms, legs, feet, knees, shoulders, hips and neck are all in the right place, then there is learning to balance and stabilise the body. This all takes time and practice. Eventually, the exercises can be done without thinking, where the concentration becomes easy and the lesson flies by.
This is about gravity, balancing the body in all four directions by building and using the Powerhouse. When a beginner starts Pilates exercises they wobble and lose balance because they are relying on their arms and legs for stability. With time, the brain trains the body to balance and this where centering through the Powerhouse comes in. Eventually, the beginner learns how concentrate, breath into the move and use the Powerhouse as the centre and driver of the body.
With time and practice the Pilates exercises are done with fewer errors, there is better co-ordination, alignment becomes second nature, balance is improved and there is less effort needed to do the exercises. Breath, concentration, centering and control become part of the Pilates exercises and there is less need to be corrected or self-correct.
This is key to the Pilates approach because if the technique is not learnt or taught correctly then the smaller muscles will not be trained to combat the larger muscles that have got big through over use.
Joseph Pilates discovered that there must be balance in the human body and it is when the balance is disturbed that is when problems start. For example, in a back injury where there is instability, the larger muscles take over the smaller muscles job of balancing and stabilising the muscles. The spine then becomes unstable, nerves are pinched in the vertebrae and pain is felt.
When doing Pilates exercises the exact way must be taught and practiced so that the correct muscles are used and the body is in correct alignment. Eventually, the beginner will learn which muscles are being worked, how it feels and what feels wrong or right.
The idea is of a flowing motion coming from the centre of the body when doing Pilates exercises. It should be smooth and uninterrupted, transitioning from one exercise to the next so that there is a continuity of movement.
Pilates exercises start with working the back, shoulders and neck and then move to the legs, arms and hips and finally to the centre of the body, the powerhouse.