Pilates is a mind-body exercise that was developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. He called his method Contrology which refers to the way the exercises encourage the use of the mind to control the muscles. This program focuses on awareness of breath, alignment of the spine, and strength of the core postural muscles. When practiced regularly, benefits of Pilates may include a refreshing mind-body workout, decreased stress, development of strong core muscles, improved posture and strength, and increased flexibility and agility.
If you choose to practice Pilates, remember these tips for practicing safely.
- Consult your physician. Pilates is not suited for everyone. Before engaging in these exercises, please discuss your medical history and fitness goals with your physician so that you can make an informed decision about your health.
- Prepare. During your Pilates practice, you should wear activewear that feels comfortable and allows you to move easily. You’ll also need a great “sticky” mat for practice. A sticky mat is an exercise mat with non-stick grip that prevents you from sliding during practice. These roll-up mats are also available with extra padding for individuals who have back issues or prefer more cushion during rolling exercises.
- Breath is an important part of your Pilates practice. It involves inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Full inhalations and exhalations are important because they aid in movement control during difficult abdominal exercises. Avoid holding your breath at any point during your workout. As you inhale, breathe in slowly and allow the air to fill the upper part of your chest to your ribs to your lower back. Take care to inhale without allowing your chest or shoulders to rise. As you exhale, let go of the breath with control. You can also try to practice this breathing exercise off the mat when you have a moment while driving in traffic, working at your desk or taking the dog for a walk.
- Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when the body is in proper alignment. To find neutral spine, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor with your arms alongside your body. Inhale and as you exhale push every back bone into the mat. Inhale and as you exhale and arch your back allowing for enough room to place your hands under your back. Again, exhale and imprint every bone into the mat. Inhale and arch your back. You will find neutral spine somewhere between these poses. When you’re in neutral spine, there will be only enough space for a grape or two or three fingers in the hollow space (also known as the “grape space”) under your lower back. Try to maintain neutral spine throughout your practice.
- The powerhouse primarily consists of your core postural muscles including your abdominal and back muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor with your arms alongside your body. Inhale and allow your belly button to drop towards your spine. Then, pull in your abdominal muscles and breathe normally. Your powerhouse should always be pulled in and up, in this way, like you’re trying to pull on a tight pair of jeans.
- Move only in a range of motion that you can control. For example, if you find that it is difficult to make large circles during the One Leg Circle exercise, try drawing small circles the size of a dinner plate on the ceiling.
- You should never feel strain or pain in any pose. If you feel an exercise is too strenuous, ask your Pilates instructor for a modification. She should have several options for safe and effective practice.
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