A brief History of Pilates
Pilates is a form of exercise developed 80 years ago by Joseph Pilates. He was a sickly and weak child but determined to rise above his weakness and make himself as strong and fit as he possibly could. He studied sport and exercise becoming proficient in skiing, gymnastics, diving, boxing and circus performing, he moved to England before WW2.
As a German national, he was interned during the 2nd world war on the Isle of Man. There helped the other prisoners who were injured to get fit and well by adapting the bedsprings from their beds to use for resistance training whilst still lying down.
After the war he travelled to America and set up his first exercise studio in New York. His reputation grew and he soon became indispensable to the dance community. His exercises helped the dancers with their posture, strength, lengthening of limbs and flexibility. The Pilates exercises kept them in tiptop condition, particularly if they were injured and could not perform their usual ballet moves.
The word spread from New York and to the showbiz world as movie stars discovered the benefits of this exercise. Many pop music stars, including Madonna, admit to being regular Pilates exercisers to keep in shape.
How will Pilates help me?
Pilates concentrates on strengthening your stomach muscles
and increasing the strength and flexibility of your back. This will help flatten your lower abdomen, improve your posture and allow you to perform daily activities and other sports with reduced risk of injury.
Pilates exercises strengthen and lengthen muscles, increases flexibility in the joints leading to improved body shape and longer, leaner looking limbs.
Pilates can give you that elegant graceful poise and fluidity and ease of movement that ballet dancers have.
What are Pilates exercises like?
Pilates movements are very precise, slow and controlled. The exercises work the muscles very deeply and would not be suitable for an ordinary toning class without proper emphasis on technique. Because you concentrate on your posture, muscle control and breathing, the class is totally absorbing and most people find the hour passes very quickly. Although you work the muscles deeply and to great effect, it is also very relaxing as the moves release tension and you forget about daily troubles and concentrate on just yourself for an hour.
The music used is slow and soothing and allows you to work at your own pace. There are many different levels one can work at and adaptations for specific problems or weaknesses, allowing each individual to work and develop at their own pace and to the level they are able to achieve.
My Pilates class is done on a mat and allows each person to concentrate on themselves and not worry about what anyone else is doing. There is no impact on the joints so it is suitable for most people.
Definitely no aerobics, or jumping around involved!
Is it like Yoga?
Joseph Pilates was influenced by Yoga so there are some similarities with this discipline. They differ in that there is more movement in Pilates and there is at least as much emphasis on strength as flexibility in Pilates. The breathing is different to yoga. In Pilates you learn to breath into the ribs whilst keeping your centre (lower abdomen) still and tight.
Will it help my bad back?
Many people come to Pilates (as I did) because of long term back problems.
The focus of all the Pilates moves is a strong centre. Your centre is the circular muscle (transverse abdominus), which runs around your stomach and back below the belly button and is your own natural corset. The other essential component of the exercises is the neutral spine position. This position is the natural gentle S shape that your spine should be in when sitting, walking, etc. Training your back and stomach to be strong in the neutral spine position makes you fit for your daily life of sitting, driving, eating, standing, walking, carrying etc.
After practising Pilates for a few months you should find yourself sitting and standing much straighter as if you had a corset on, which in a way, you will have except you won’t have to take it off at night!
If a pregnant woman has already been doing Pilates for 6 months or so, then she can benefit from continuing with Pilates (with important modifications and conditions). I would not however recommend starting Pilates once already pregnant.
(Tummy, back & Pelvic floor!)
Once given the Thumbs-up from the consultant at the 6 weeks (normal birth) check up, to continue with normal activities, I cannot think of a better exercise to recommend to a woman trying to get back in shape after childbirth.
With its emphasis on flattening the stomach and strengthening the back it gets to the parts post natal women are most concerned with. As part of the technique for pulling in the stomach, I teach people to pull up on their pelvic floor. This strengthens it, which is very important just after childbirth, both for preventing incontinence later in life and for getting back to enjoying marital relations!
My second child was born by caesarean section and I thought nothing could get rid of that lovely flap of skin! But the two things, which most impressed me when I started to learn Pilates was the way it cured my 20-year, back problem, and flattened my postnatal caesarean tummy!
If you have a medical condition please consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise programme.