What is Pilates?
First developed in the early 20th century, Pilates is an exercise and breathing regime that “develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” Created by Joseph Pilates, it was initially known as “Contrology” before being named after its founder.
Through Joseph Pilates’ studies, he understood and believed the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. He believed that physical fitness is the first prerequisite of happiness. This belief is the foundation of the Pilates method which is a programme created with specific and controlled exercises that not only stimulate the body but the mind too, all through the mind controlling the muscles. The main focus of Pilates is on what you do rather than how you do it. Pilates demands intense concentration and focuses on posture, core muscles, and breathing, which is similar to Ashtanga yoga, although they are different practices.
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In Pilates, precision is everything; it is all about working smarter and not harder. Joseph Pilates once said, “a few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy callisthenics or forced contortion.” He believed the spine is the key to physical fitness.
Spinal alignment is essential for all. Pilates aids in developing the deep muscles of the back and abdomen. This helps to support your spine to have a better posture. As there is such a big focus on strengthening the core, Pilates teaches you to focus on breathing too. The various breathing techniques are used to enhance relaxation, lower blood pressure, and activate specific muscles to aid in the improvement of posture.
What are the 10 benefits of Pilates exercises?
As you can imagine, there are many benefits to exercising in general, although Pilates has a few unique benefits too. Studies have shown that Pilates can reduce stress, anxiety and high-functioning anxiety, depression, and improve muscle tone which aids in relieving aches and pains. Clinical studies showed that individuals who regularly participated in Pilates had an increased range of motion as well as a decreased waist size within the first four weeks of exercising.
There are many benefits to participating in Pilates regularly. These health benefits include:
1. Balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body.
2. Enhanced muscle control of your back and limbs.
3. Improved stabilisation of your spine
4. Improved posture.
5. Rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances.
6. Enhanced physical coordination and balance.
7. Safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries.
8. Prevention of musculoskeletal injuries.
9. Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing.
10. Increased body awareness.
What is the best Pilates exercise for beginners?
Now that you’re aware of the multiple benefits of Pilates, you’re probably eager to get started. The roll-down is a simple standing mat exercise that is effective for warming up the spine before starting a Pilates session, and one that is easy to master for beginners. The roll-down stretches the back and the hamstrings while activating the abdominal muscles too. While you are focusing on working the abdominal muscles, it is also vital to keep your shoulders relaxed. The more you practice the roll-down, the better your body awareness will become.
When you learn to articulate through the spine, keep your neck and shoulders relaxed while working the abdominals. As you develop body awareness, you will also improve your posture. While gaining more strength through using the roll-down exercise, you may experience relief from the strain in your back, neck, hips, legs, and even your knees.
How to do a roll-down in Pilates:
Note: When learning or teaching this exercise, some people like to use a wall as an initial point of reference. As the strength and body awareness improves, you can step away from the wall as you will no longer require the feedback.
1. Stand with your back and heels against the wall. Take one foot forward so that the heel is in line with the toes of the other foot, and then bring the other foot forward too. Keep a slight bend at the knees. Keeping the knees soft just ensures that there is no overextension.
2. Stand up as tall as possible without shrugging the shoulders. Keep the elongation through the spine and neck. I always like to imagine there is a string pulling me up to the top of my head. Contract your powerhouse by pulling in your pelvic floor, using your lateral breathing, and pulling the belly button into the spine. Your hands are hanging next to your sides.
3. Take the chin down to the chest. Inhale to prepare, and exhale as you slowly start rolling your spine off the wall, almost as if you are peeling yourself off the wall one vertebra at a time. Think of the head like a heavyweight that is pulling you down to the ground. Your arms are just hanging loosely, allowing gravity to pull them down, as you are working from the top of the spine all down to the bottom.
4. When you are roughly three-quarters of the way down, get the feeling that you are scooping your belly button even deeper. I like to imagine that there is a metal bar just below my rib cage. As I am rolling down, I am picking my abdominals up and away from the bar. Remember: keep your head and neck relaxed.
5. When you have bent over as far as your body allows, inhale at the bottom, and exhale as you start rolling back up.
6. During the roll-up, you will feel your abdominal muscles engage. Your abdominal muscles are responsible for restacking the vertebra one on top of the other. As you are rolling up slowly, you are keeping control over every muscle to the top.
7. Once your vertebrae are restacked, reconnect with your core muscles. The reconnection is vital when you are performing the exercise. Remember, you are warming up the muscles in the back. The muscles will readjust as they become closer and accustomed to the movements.
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