What is Pilates?
Pilates is a body conditioning technique that will stretch, strengthen and balance the body. Pilates targets deep postural muscles within the body through a series of exercises aimed at building core strength and flexibility. Excellent for improving posture and alignment, pilates also teaches coordination, concentration and control.
Pilates is either done on a mat or with apparatus in a specialised studio.
Who can do Pilates?
Pilates is accessible to all ages and levels of fitness. The exercises are performed in a precise, controlled manner and can be tailored to suit individual needs.
Because it is low impact it will not cause stress on the body and this makes it popular with older people and those rehabilitating from an injury. Many people start Pilates precisely because they have reached 'a certain age' and want to maintain or improve strength and flexibility.
Pilates is also a key element in serious sports training and injury recovery programmes. Top rugby teams (including the All Blacks and Welsh Rugby Union) and golfer Tiger Woods are advocates of Pilates! Surfers, dancers, skiers and other sports enthusiasts can also improve performance. It will help correct imbalances that often occur with certain sports and can also target any weak or injury prone areas.
Celebrity Pilates fans include: Daniel Craig, Joan Bakewell, Martin Amis, Gweneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Winslet, Pippa Middleton, Cindy Crawford, John Cleese and Sir Ian McKellen!
Why is Pilates often recommended by GP/Physios and other health professionals?
Pilates is hugely beneficial in counteracting the effects of a modern lifestyle. We all spend increasing amounts of time sitting at computers, driving and generally being more sedentary. This can create bad habits that lead to postural imbalances - we become weak in certain areas and tight in others, more injury prone and susceptible to back ache. Pilates is effective as it addresses the underlying structural imbalances in the body.
Pilates is also one of the best ways to ward off the effects of advancing age.
However, the main reason for the popularity of Pilates is that it works! If you attend classes regularly you will notice the difference in your own body.
What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates?
There are many similarities between Yoga and Pilates. Both can be performed on a mat and place importance of breathing with each movement. Both will stretch and strengthen your body. In Yoga you will learn 'asanas' or positions while you breathe (this will challenge both your flexibility and strength). In Pilates we tend to move in a continuous 'flow' with the emphasis more on strength, alignment and less end range movement.
Yoga in an ancient practise with a strong spiritual element whereas Pilates uses mindfulness to connect to the inner workings of the body.
The Pilates Method has apparatus and can incorporate small props (i.e Magic Circle, small ball).
Ultimately, it might just be down to personal preference and finding the right teacher. Both are fantastic for mind and body!
How is authentic Pilates different to gym classes or group fitness?
Your experience of Pilates will greatly depend on the teacher. A Comprehensively qualified Pilates Teacher will have studied full time for a minimum of one year but often much longer. They will regularly update their skills and attend professional development workshops.
Often at Gyms the Fitness Instructors have done very short weekend courses in mat 'based' Pilates, Fitness Pilates or PiYo type hybrids. While these classes might be fun and are great exercise they are a long way from authentic Pilates! The attention to detail and deeper understanding requires many years of training and experience.
Who invented Pilates?
Joseph Pilates was born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880. He developed a system of exercises during the first half of the 20th century which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body.
Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder, but when he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, a circus-performer, and a self-defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. During World War I the British authorities interned him, along with other German citizens, in Lancaster Castle, where he taught wrestling and self-defence. It was there and later when transferred to the Isle of Man that he began refining and teaching his system of exercise. He studied yoga and the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises.
Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s and set up a studio in New York. The method soon became popular, especially with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique and recover from injury.
Joseph Pilates believed that mental and physical health are inter-related. He called his method 'Contrology' the "comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit".