The essence of Pilates, the principles that drive our practice, and the wisdom of Joseph Pilates and his students.
Joe Pilates work was built upon three fundamental principles: Breath, whole-body health, and whole-body commitment, encompassing mind, body, and spirit. These principles are the foundation of everything we do in Pilates.
Mary Bowen, who was one of Joe and Clara’s students apparently recalls Joe emphasizing the most important principle – “the whole body.” It’s a reminder that Pilates isn’t just about your physical core; it’s about connecting your innermost self, from your feet to the crown of your head, and everything in between.
There’s no doubt that Pilates continues to evolve and we see many versions of ‘Pilates’ in various settings. Some versions adhere to the traditional work of Jo and Clara and other versions have ripped to bones out of the method and just kept the name.
So, in a World where anything goes and where anyone can call themselves a Pilates professional, one of the mainstays of Pilates is the guiding principles that were born from Joseph Pilates’ students and how they interpreted his work.
On the surface, these principles may seem simple and benign but a true Pilates professional will spend their career delving deep into the principles and exploring their depth to better understand and better appreciate the work that they represent.
Let’s check them out in no particular order:
Centering: Finding your innermost Pilates self
Centering is a multi-dimensional concept that extends beyond just engaging your core muscles. It’s a holistic approach to connecting with your inner self, the Earth, and the broader universe. Imagine it as the root of a tree, firmly anchored in the ground and reaching for the sky, embodying a sense of balance and purpose. To understand this better, let’s explore the role of consciousness in centering.
Consciousness is a fascinating subject. It’s not a static entity but a dynamic awareness of who we are, where we exist in the present moment, and what we comprehend in the deepest layers of our being. Research shows that consciousness can be cultivated and managed through dedicated efforts and study. For example, practices like meditation and mindfulness have been proven to enhance conscious awareness. The concept of mindfulness, as described by Thich Nhat Hanh, encourages us to keep our consciousness vividly connected to the present reality. Studies indicate that regular mindfulness practices lead to improved mental well-being and emotional balance.
Concentration: The Power of Focus
In our fast-paced world, maintaining focus and concentration has become a rare skill. The average human attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to a mere 8.25 seconds in recent decades, even less than that of a goldfish. This decline is exacerbated by the ubiquitous use of mobile devices.
The consequences of reduced concentration are profound. It’s not just about being able to concentrate during Pilates class; it extends to everyday life. Students, both young and old, often struggle with lack of direction, dropping out from activities they once enjoyed, and spending excessive time scrolling through digital distractions. The inability to focus can lead to a loss of creativity and productivity.
Control: The Art of Discipline
Control in Pilates, contrary to the negative connotations it might carry, is about maintaining steady and intentional movements. It’s like a conductor leading an orchestra, ensuring that every note is played precisely and harmoniously. The practice of control is not limited to physical movements; it extends to your mental faculties.
Studies have shown that people with self-control tend to lead happier lives. They are more disciplined, have a clearer sense of direction, and are more likely to make choices that benefit their overall well-being. This extends beyond the physical realm; control over the body is closely connected to control over the mind. The mind-body synergy fostered by Pilates can lead to enhanced mental clarity and emotional balance.
Precision: Attention to Detail
Precision is like adding the final touches to a masterpiece. It’s about executing every Pilates movement with meticulous attention to detail. This principle emphasises that the small aspects matter just as much as the larger ones.
Consider a world-class chef plating a gourmet dish with utmost precision. It’s not just about the taste; it’s the presentation, the arrangement, and the attention to detail that elevates it to art. In Pilates, precision is akin to that, and it’s the small things that make all the difference.
Think about your most luxurious hotel stay or an exquisite boutique store you’ve visited. The precision with which every detail is attended to makes the experience memorable. Similarly, in Pilates, precision is where the magic happens. It’s the sparkle that sets you apart, both as a teacher and a practitioner. Research has shown that attention to detail in any discipline not only enhances the quality but also leaves a lasting impact.
Breath: The Elixir of Life
The role of breath in Pilates is not just limited to its life-sustaining function but is a key element in maintaining focus and centering during exercises. It’s fascinating to understand how our bodies extract energy from the air we breathe.
Breaking down chemical bonds in molecules is essential for obtaining energy. To access this energy, oxygen is required. The foods we eat are digested into smaller molecules, like sugars and amino acids, which are then transported to cells through the bloodstream. These cells need oxygen for the process. The energy is stored in a chemical compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which contains three phosphate groups. When we need energy for any activity, ATP is broken down into adenosine diphosphate (ADP), releasing a significant amount of energy.
Our respiratory system plays a critical role in this process. It facilitates the exchange of gases between the air we breathe and the blood, ensuring that cells receive the necessary oxygen. Breathing is not just about inhaling oxygen; it’s about maintaining the delicate balance of gases in our bodies. A disruption in this balance can have significant consequences.
For instance, when we engage in physical activities, our muscles use oxygen, producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. This carbon dioxide is expelled when we exhale. Understanding the intricate process of gas exchange in our bodies sheds light on the significance of mindful breathing during Pilates. Regular, mindful breathing has been shown to enhance lung function and improve overall well-being.
Flow: The State of Timelessness
Flow is the ultimate culmination of the Pilates principles. It’s when all these principles come together in a seamless, continuous motion, creating a state of timeless bliss. To appreciate the concept of flow, let’s delve into the psychology behind it.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term “flow state,” observed that people are at their best when they are in a state of flow. This state is characterised by complete concentration, clarity of goals, a transformation of time, intrinsic rewards, effortlessness, a balance between challenge and skills, the merging of actions and awareness, and a feeling of control.
The ability to achieve flow is not just confined to Pilates; it’s a state that can be experienced in any activity. Csikszentmihalyi’s research revealed that when people are in a state of flow, they are so immersed in the task that nothing else seems to matter. It’s an experience that is inherently rewarding, and individuals are willing to engage in it even at great personal cost.
Applying these principles to your Pilates practice and life can lead to a transformative journey. They provide a roadmap to strengthen your mind-body connection and create a life filled with awareness, control, and joy. Whether you’re teaching or practicing Pilates, these principles are the foundation of a holistic approach to well-being. So, embrace them and let them guide you both inside and outside the studio, as you embark on a path of self-discovery and personal growth.
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