Many autumns ago, I heard about this new way of exercising called “Pilates.” It was supposed to give you long, lean muscles and work your core.
Being very much into being lean (and never quite getting there), I promptly bought a Pilates VHS tape and a mat to use at home. I think I tried it once. The floor was too hard or my mat was too thin, and it hurt in ways that didn’t feel good.
I gave up on Pilates.
Then I moved to a small town with a Pilates studio. At the time, my teenage daughter was looking for a new kind of exercise (that didn’t involve running, balls and other people), so I signed her up for Pilates lessons. She went through the lessons and realized she had really serious back problems that required more expert help (think Mayo Clinic).
However, in the process, I got to know the Pilates instructor, Amanda Rhine, and when it was time for her to open her own studio, Discover Happy, I helped throw out ripped-up carpet and sweep the back room.
This earned me a $25 gift certificate.
Which I didn’t use – until Fitness Month rolled along, and I wanted to try something new. Like Pilates.
When I asked Amanda about getting started, she offered to give me a lesson for free, which I accepted with delight. I also scored a quick interview about Pilates after the lesson.
The Six Principles of Pilates
I already knew Pilates was founded by Joseph Pilates and had some vague idea that he used Pilates to rehabilitate soldiers in Germany. However, I also learned that he initially trained athletes such as gymnasts and dancers.
Initially, Joseph Pilates called his method “Contrology,” which will make a lot of sense once we get into the principles below. It’s about controlling your muscles with your mind. Quite intense, actually.
The following principles come from the first modern book published on Pilates, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning:
Pilates is based on intense focus – something we as a society could use more of.
Remember “Contrology?” Practitioners of Pilates must be “in control of every aspect of every moment.”
The core of the body is the focal point of Pilates. Also known as the “powerhouse.” All movement starts here.
4. Flow or efficiency of movement
Exercises are meant to flow into each other. Also, all movement is to flow from the center.
This is definitely part of the secret sauce. Movements must be precise to be effective. (How to teach this to others seems like a mystery to me…)
Perhaps based on his experience with yoga, Pilates included breathing as a key component in his method. He indicated that it was especially important to inhale and exhale completely. I agree.
My Experience with Pilates (So Far)
So far, I have enjoyed two private lessons and two classes at the Discover Happy studio. It is not easy when including the precision principle! I’m not used to that level of focus when it comes to my body.
I have definitely felt it in my abs, but maybe even more importantly, I have become a lot more aware of my posture and the balance (or imbalance) of my body.
I can see how sticking with Pilates could really transform my body and potentially reduce the need to “pump iron.”
Words from the Instructor
When I sat down with Amanda after my first private lesson, I asked her what she loves about Pilates. (Clearly, she must love it, since she teaches it to others!) Here’s what she said:
I love how alive you feel when you move. It’s awakening to your whole system (neurological, muscular, circulatory, and spiritual).
She also said that she really enjoys helping people become pain free from the release work that happens during Pilates.
I asked if there are any groups of people who shouldn’t do Pilates. Amanda said it’s pretty much good for anybody. In fact, she even does “Chair Pilates” with seniors who have limited mobility.
Pilates can be part of a cross-training program or your only official exercise, assuming you get aerobic exercise by moving naturally.
It’s been really exciting to try something new – and I do believe in the Pilates method. If I had a Pilates budget, I would want more private lessons to work on the precision aspect and mix that up with classes. Pilates feels kind of like golf. It will take a while to get the technique just right and you’ll have to stick with it to get anything out of it. (Hopefully, I’ll stick with Pilates longer than I stuck with golf.)
Maybe I’ll even try Demi-Bar Pilates! (“For people who want a challenge,” as Amanda says.)