It seems that since Pilates joined the fitness craze, we've all got caught up on feeling the burn and pushing through the pain. After all, no pain no gain - right?
Well, there's two problems with that. Not only might this push-through mentality make you work harder, but it might also make you gain less from all that effort you are putting into your Pilates workout.
Wise Joe knew the deal long ago. And even though we've adapted much of his original moves to better suit what we now know about the body and exercise science, his philosophy toward movement is still king!
The man's vision can be summarized in six words: the six Pilates Principles. If applied to your Pilates practice, they will guide you toward results and actual enjoyment of the exercises. Yes, you read that right – you can enjoy Pilates!
So what are these principles and what do they have to do with feeling less pain and achieving more gain?
Although not established by the man himself, the six Pilates Principles are a way to sum up in a few words how to perform the Pilates exercises with minimum effort and maximum pleasure, while reaping all the benefits.
BREATH – Coordinate each portion of the exercise with an inhale and a complete exhale.
Breathing is not only essential to your body's overall ability to function but is also directly connected to your abdominals, how you feel and your perceived exertion. Focused, rhythmic breathing draws your mind back to the task at hand and signals that what your body is going through is actually ok, so there's less tension where you don't need (aka shoulders and neck) and more power where you do – your powerhouse.
PRECISION – Be aware of how you execute each exercise and where you are moving from.
In other words, pay attention to your form. Often times that voice in the back of your head telling you to stop is an indication that something is wrong or doesn't feel right. When that happens, check your alignment and modify the exercise as needed so that you can effectively maintain your form throughout all of the repetitions. If needed, pause, reset and restart. Proper form will ease the load on your joints and guarantee that the right muscles are working.
CONTROL – Keep your mind active and in control at all times.
There is a reason for the specificity of each movement and each cue. The body will always lean toward the path of least resistance – the one that will consume the least amount of energy. Staying in control of how your body chooses to perform a certain movement, and being able to continuously adjust it as you move, will not only help keep you safe from strain and injuries but will also keep you on track toward the goals of each exercise and the intention you've set for the workout.
CENTERING – Initiate the movement from your center, your core.
A strong, stable and flexible core is the key to overall strength and control. When you integrate your core with every movement, you set your body up for more balance and power all around. Besides, making sure that your deep stabilizing muscles are working will keep you going longer with those fast, big moving muscles (think quads) without burning out.
CONCENTRATION – You must be present and focused on what your body is doing.
Pilates most certainly relies on the art of listening – to your body and the instructor. Staying in tune with your body allows you to differentiate bad form from muscle fatigue and adapt accordingly. Listening to your instructor's cues and being able to apply them as you move will help you stay engaged with all of the other principles while getting the most out of your workout.
FLOW – Allow for smooth, graceful movements that radiate energy through the whole body.
Flow ties it all together. Although there is control and precision, movement is meant to be free – fluid, graceful and effortless. This is where the promise of pleasure lies, in the ability to give in to the experience and live in the movement for its own sake (not for burning calories or being better, stronger, faster). If you can reach this space of mind body connection, you'll find yourself just being, moving, breathing, experiencing. That's when Pilates becomes moving meditation – relaxation for the mind and fitness for the body.
Next time you take a class, and hit that wall, try keeping your form and breathing through the exercise instead of pushing through. Remember these principles and try to keep your focus the best you can. It won't come easy, but if you practice, it will become second nature through each Pilates inhale and exhale. ♥