Each exercise is very precise in its nature and requires a high level of concentration and accuracy. The mind controls the body and the exercise program ensures that the mind is used to control and monitor breathing, co-ordination, abdominal control, spinal control and postural stabilisation.
Mr Pilates described the above in the following way:
“First you purposefully acquire complete control of your body and then, through proper repetition of Contrology exercises, you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities.”
Science tells us that repeated movements create and strengthen new neural pathways in the brain, and that each time a movement is repeated, it becomes easier and quicker to access the previous experiences. This echoes Pilates’ description.
The spine is the most important element of exercise. According to Pilates himself, a poor state of spine health makes us feel tired and old.
If the central part of the body is not in good shape, the limbs cannot be in good shape – simply by association.
The largest muscle groups of the body are found in the chest and abdomen, often referred to as the core, and all movement begins with these. If there is stability and control in the torso, movement flows out from it in a relaxed and easy way. With healthy torso muscles, the limbs can move without tension.
Pilates’ philosophy was that correct and focussed breathing could flush the whole body with fresh, clean oxygen.
Correct breathing should be steady and aerobic, and therefore there is no stopping throughout the exercises. This enables the body to regularly and consistently exchange oxygen from the lungs to the blood.
He further created the majority of the exercises to be carried out lying down in order to allow all of the organs to settle within the natural posture of the body without gravity taking its toll. Bad postural habits are easier to rectify lying down.
Because Mr Pilates believed in a holistic approach to exercise, he ensured that his system encompassed the spirit. He believed the exercises would encourage a kind of spiritual peace, because it would literally “lift the spirits” of its practitioners. In both yoga and Pilates, working with the breath links the physical exertion with attention of the mind – creating grace and flow in the movement, and providing a vehicle for centring the presence of the practitioner. The spiritual aspect of Pilates is much more covert than that of yoga but should nevertheless be considered as a vital aspect.