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THE PRINCIPLES OF PILATES

 

Control

"Contrology" was Joseph Pilates' preferred name for his method, and it was based on the idea of muscle control. "Nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is so you can be in control of every aspect of every moment." All exercises are done with control, the muscles working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs and thereby control the movement of the body and the apparatus. "The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy."

 

Centering

For practitioners to control their bodies, they must have a starting place: the centre. The centre is the focal point of the Pilates Method. Many Pilates teachers refer to the group of muscles in the centre of the body - encompassing the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs — as the "powerhouse". All movement in Pilates should begin from the powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs. This is the main focus of Pilates. It does this to strengthen the rest of the body. This can have effects for years to come if you are consistent with the exercise.

 

Flowing and efficiency of movement

Pilates aims for elegant sufficiency of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina. In other words, the Pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the centre should coordinate movements of the extremities: Pilates is flowing movement outward from a strong core.

 

Precision and concentration

Precision is essential to correct Pilates: "concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value". The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Here Pilates reflects common physical culture wisdom: "You will gain more strength from a few energetic, concentrated efforts than from a thousand listless, sluggish movements". The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.

 

Breathing - Lateral

Breathing is important in the Pilates method. In Return to Life, Pilates devotes a section of his introduction specifically to breathing "bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation". He saw considerable value in increasing the intake of oxygen and the circulation of this oxygenated blood to every part of the body. This he saw as cleansing and invigorating. Proper full inhalation and complete exhalation were key to this. "Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation." He advised people to squeeze out the lungs as they would wring a wet towel dry. In Pilates exercises, the practitioner breathes out with the effort and in on the return. In order to keep the lower abdominal close to the spine; the breathing needs to be directed laterally, into the lower rib cage. Pilates breathing is described as a posterior lateral breathing, meaning that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back and sides of his or her rib cage. When practitioners exhale, they are instructed to note the engagement of their deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as they inhale. Pilates attempts to properly coordinate this breathing practice with movement, including breathing instructions with every exercise. “Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”

 

Powerhouse

Students are taught to use their “powerhouse” throughout life’s daily activities. According to Joseph Pilates, the powerhouse is the centre of the body and if strengthened, it offers a solid foundation for any movement. This power engine is a muscular network which provides control over the body and comprises all the front, lateral and back muscles found between the upper inner thighs and arm pits.

The Powerhouse is activated effectively by hollowing of the deep abdominals, by drawing the navel back into the spine in a zipping-up motion, from the pubic bone to the breast bone thereby engaging the heels, the back of the inner thighs, the deep, lower-back muscles, and the muscles surrounding the sitting bones and tailbone area without inhibiting the natural function of the diaphragm—that is without the practitioner holding their breath either from lifting the chest upwards or contracting the chest.

In the sitting position the power engine elevates the torso and places the centre of gravity at its highest and most efficient position; in prone position it elongates the body bidirectionally to reduce weight in the upper body; in supine position it elongates the body bidirectionally and places the centre of gravity again at its highest and most efficient position.

 

Postural alignment and precaution

Safety is always involved in every aspect of the Pilates workout; therefore there are precautions, modifications and protocols developed over decades within the knowledge of Pilates itself, which a fully qualified Pilates instructor should know and follow when working-out people with certain conditions, e.g., during pregnancy, after birth, or with specific issues with their body. Safe teaching involves additional comprehensive inspection of the Pilates apparatus regularly and the way it is set up prior to a lesson.

Always ensure that you find a qualified Pilates Instructor before starting the Pilates repertoire.

 

Rib Cage Placement

In Pilates we always pay particular attention to detail to the placement of your rib cage during the lateral breathing. The abdominal wall attaches to the lower ribs. The abdominal muscles must often be recruited to maintain the rib cage and the thoracic spine, in proper alignment. Often the rib cage will tend to lift up in the supine position or deviate forward in a sitting position, extending the thoracic spine. Pay particular attention while inhaling or elevating the arms. Engagement of the obliques will ensure proper alignment at all times.


When supine in neutral, maintain a sense of the weight of the ribs resting gently on the Mat, neither lifting away nor pushing into the Mat. Emphasise breathing three-dimensionally into the rib cage and abdomen during inhalation.


Allow the two sides of the rib cage to close toward each other during exhalation, softening the back of the rib cage toward the Mat. Avoid overly depressing the rib cage, which will flex the thoracic spine, possibly extending the cervical spine and may deactivate the transversus abdominis.


When flexing, the rib cage will slide toward the pelvis anteriorly. When extending, allow the rib cage to open to facilitate thoracic extension. It is important to not completely relax the abdominals during extension; otherwise a loss of spinal stability will result.

The abdominal wall attaches to the lower ribs. The abdominal muscles must often be recruited to maintain the rib cage and the thoracic spine, in proper alignment. Often the rib cage will tend to lift up in the supine position or deviate forward in a sitting position, extending the thoracic spine. Pay particular attention while inhaling or elevating the arms. Engagement of the obliques will ensure proper alignment at all times.


When supine in neutral, maintain a sense of the weight of the ribs resting gently on the Mat, neither lifting away nor pushing into the Mat. Emphasise breathing three-dimensionally into the rib cage and abdomen during inhalation.


Allow the two sides of the rib cage to close toward each other during exhalation, softening the back of the rib cage toward the Mat. Avoid overly depressing the rib cage, which will flex the thoracic spine, possibly extending the cervical spine and may deactivate the transversus abdominis.


When flexing, the rib cage will slide toward the pelvis anteriorly. When extending, allow the rib cage to open to facilitate thoracic extension. It is important to not completely relax the abdominals during extension; otherwise a loss of spinal stability will result in back injury.

 

Scapular Stability

The scapular stability i.e. the back of your ribcage age is off utmost importance when contracting the abdominals aka “The Powerhouse”.

The shoulder requires both mobility and stability in order to support and stabilize the rest of the upper body. Poor movement patterns and/or deficits in muscle strength at the scapula can lead to uncoordinated movement, instability and pain/injury in the elbow, wrist and hand, the muscles of the scapula function as follows:

  • Serratus Anterior. The serratus anterior is an important scapular stabilizing muscle

  • Rhomboids. The rhomboids (major and minor) function to stabilize the medial border of the scapula.

  • Trapezius (Upper/Middle/Lower)

  • Levator Scapula

  • Normal Biomechanics

Your shoulder joint does not act in isolation to create movement in your arm. The muscles of your shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) act together to create all movements of the arm. The  importance of strengthening the muscles controlling the shoulder blade is forgotten.

 

Pelvic Placement

In Pilates we always start of executing the movement in neutral spine position, it’s a shock absorbing position.

Neutral Spine is one of the most subtle yet powerful principles in Pilates,  like most of the fundamental concepts underlying the Pilates method. Although it’s best to have a firm mat under you, Pilates mat work can be done anywhere you have a soft but supportive surface under your spine.

How to feel feel Neutral Spine:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your spine should have two areas that do not touch the mat underneath you: your neck and your lower back (the cervical spine and lumbar spine, respectively). These natural curves in your back function to absorb shock when you’re standing, running, jumping, or simply walking around town. When you sit, it’s important to maintain the natural curves in your spine to prevent lower back and neck strain. Neutral Spine is basically universal proper posture. One must remember never to arch or over extending the spine during Pilates for risk of back injuries.

 

Leg and Foot Pisitioning

Always ensuring that we have proper alignment, involving the feet, hips and kegs. In our Pilates stance, the legs are always together, straight, and rotated outward from the top of the thigh. This brings the heels together with the toes pointing slightly out known as (the Pilates V), following the line of the knee. This leg position is similar to, but not as extreme as, ballet's first position. But having said that , with hard work and training Pilates does give you a Ballet Body or makes you feel like one!

 

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