I have been practising Pilates for 12 years now. After 7 years I decided to train as an instructor and I opted for an intensive 9 month course. I must admit when I realised how “intensive” the intensive was I wondered what on earth I’d let myself in for but I was committed to it.
My first training session was all about the background history of Pilates, the movements themselves and how they had been developed. We were handed a sheet of exercises, there was a photo to each one giving its name, describing which muscle group it was working and how to do it. Then there were progressions and regressions for each movement. There weren’t just 34 original exercises to learn!
We started with the first four exercises on that sheet. There were only four of us on the training – it was intensive for a reason. We were thrown straight in at the deep end four exercises, four hours theory, four hours practical, four trainees. I can tell you now four hours of Pilates and you’re going to know about it. Oh, and we had to do the movements s-l-o-w-l-y.
After each training day my body felt like it had been in the boxing ring with Tyson. Joseph Pilates has a famous quote: “In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference, and in 30 you’ll have a whole new body.” By the end of that 9 month intensive I had never been so toned, strong, and flexible in my life!
I also realised something else. I actually knew most of the movements. I said to my trainer “I’ve done most of these in the ballet rehab exercises” she looked at me over her glasses and said “remember you had to write up the history of Pilates?” a light-bulb went on.
Who and what is Pilates?
Joseph Pilates to be exact. Born in Germany he developed exercises as a young man to improve his own health and fitness by studying yoga, martial arts and boxing.
In 1912 he moved to England and in both WW1 and WW2 was interned with other German nationals. During that time he further developed his range of exercises rehabilitating soldiers enabling them to exercise using resistance.
In 1926 he emigrated to the USA and along with his wife opened a fitness studio in New York. He subsequently worked with the New York City Ballet in establishing their rehabilitation and injury prevention program for dancers, hence my light-bulb moment.
The exercise regimen he developed, extending it to both men and women, that eventually took his name has been going strong for over 100 years (short version!).
Pilates is a low-impact workout with emphasis on core strength, flexibility and alignment. Joseph was also keen to promote proper breathing and to focus on the fluidity of the movement, by doing so concentration was improved. You basically forget about a lousy day and feel amazing after, not only in your body, but also in your mind.
Low-impact though does not mean it is easy, far from it, the deliberate movements are hard. I also teach men’s classes and even those who do weight lifting and snowboarding can find it incredibly challenging.
What’s your goal?
When I took that first class 12 years ago my goal was to ease the consistent muscle spasm that seemed to be going on 24/7. I also wanted to stand upright without it feeling like a battle to do so.
I wanted that poise and grace that I had in my teens. I wanted every day movements to be easy and most of all I wanted to get rid of the pain in my lower back and hips.
My instructor always spoke about working with the body and when I trained it was something I embodied. It really hit home to me how often in dance I felt like I was forcing the move when my body was screaming at me to stop. I’d often walk away from dance classes with some stabbing pain somewhere in my body.
So I teach my clients to allow movement to happen, never force it, work with the body and really focus on how it feels for them. It is not a competition it is not about whether the person on the mat next to you can do a move with more ease, it is not a competition with yourself either. It’s learning to let go and trust your own body.
My client, Matthew, who also has scoliosis, had a goal to improve his overall posture due to one side of his body becoming more compacted. He had this to say “the classes are structured and progressive, each exercise is practised and corrections are made to ensure correct form. Pilates has helped so much with my posture and mobility plus it is fun!”