What is Pilates?

As part of my Pilates instructor certification, I submitted a short essay on “What is Pilates?” For those of you curious about the answer yourself, here’s what I wrote:

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One-legged hover plank.

In our world of fast fitness, Pilates serves an important counterpoint. In some ways, what Pilates isn’t is as important as what it is. It is not a gimmicky piece of equipment, it is not a “get rich quick” scheme for an entrepreneur, it is not a fad. In fact, Pilates has nearly a century of proven results few other fitness routines can boost that type of longevity.

And Pilates wasn’t created to turn a profit or make the founder famous. When Joseph Pilates developed his method, it was to help wounded soldiers in WWI, providing an avenue for rehab and conditioning. It has been almost 100 years since he introduced his method to New York City, where it quickly became popular with dancers including Balanchine.

Pilates continued to refine his method, but at its core it remained the same: increasing strength, endurance and flexibility while maintaining spine stabilization and conscious breathing. “Pilates is driven by the mind-body connection and understanding how the body works from the inside-out,” according to the manual that accompanied this course.

Pilates “stands out as a tried-and-true formula of wisdom and unwavering results,” according to certified instructor and author of “The Pilates Body”, Brooke Siler. “Pilates was developed to create a healthy body, a healthy mind, and a healthy life, and people are ready to heed its message of balance.”

Long-time fitness professional Denise Austin writes that Pilates is one of her favorite exercises in her 2002 book “Pilates for Every Body.”

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Side passé

“The Pilates method involves a series of exercises that place intense concentration on your abdominal muscles, particularly the deepest layer of muscles in your abdomen,” she writes. “Pilates also helps strengthen and stretch the entire body from head to toe, helping you to stand taller. This unique system will create long, lean, toned muscles similar to the muscles of a dancer.”

I was encouraged to pursue my teaching certification by an instructor at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center, where I attend Pilates mat classes two to four times per week and the occasional reformer class.

An instructor for the past decade, Alex Ford summarized Pilates method this way:

“Pilates is a dynamic, integrative system of exercises that center on the principles of control, precision, stability, breath, flow and concentration with a goal of building strength and establishing stretch through opposition.”

The foundations of Pilates center around breath, concentration, control, centering, flow, precision, alignment and balance. These are all cultivated through a series of exercises that strengthen and lengthen the body, improving posture and toning the entire core including abdominals, glues and back. The arms and legs also benefit, especially in advanced variations incorporating props and weights.

While Pilates published several books about his method and trained a number of instructors, he did not specifically codify his principles or establish an official training program. That has led to many variations in Pilates, but all possess the holistic mind-body approach. Mat classes may incorporate a Swiss Ball, small “playground” balls, light weights, resistance bands, foam rollers and, of course, Pilates’ “Magic Circle.”

Off the mat, Pilates developed several additional pieces of equipment utilized in Pilates studios across the world, most notably the Cadillac and the Reformer. The Wunda Chair, Step and Ladder Barrels, Ped-A-Pul and Arm Chair are also incorporated.

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