What is Pilates?

 

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When I tell people that I’m a Pilates teacher I often get a quizzical look. Followed with questions like “That’s like yoga right?”or “That’s like stretching for ballerinas right?”

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History of Pilates

Pilates is a method of exercise that was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th Century. Originally called Contrology by Pilates, it has become one of the fastest growing methods of exercise. Joseph Pilates was a German who was interned in a prison camp in England during World War 1. Some say that Pilates created the exercises that we now know to help keep his fellow detainees fit and healthy during the war; it was also rumored that he created resistance equipment by using bed frames and bed springs, as well as metal bands from beer kegs. These were the first Pilates equipment that we now know as the Reformer and the Magic Circle.

After the war Pilates moved to New York City where he opened his first studio and worked mostly with boxers. Because his studio was also in close proximity to many dance studios, eventually many dancers came to him looking for rehabilitation for different injuries. Joseph Pilates continued to teach out of his studio for many years, and wrote two books on his method, “Return to Life Through Contrology” and “Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education”.

What is Pilates

Pilates is at it’s heart a physical fitness routine that builds on core strength and flexibility. Focus is put on spinal and pelvic alignment, breath, concentration and control of the core muscle group through body based movements. There are six principles of Pilates that are now known to be a major part of the method. These are concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.

There are mat exercises that can be done anywhere on a padded mat, and focus more on using one’s own body weight and movement to engage and strengthen the “powerhouse” and other parts of the body. There is also the apparatus that was created by Joseph Pilates and still used today. These include the reformer, Cadillac, barrels and more. These use spring loaded resistance to offer a more challenging strength and endurance workout.

When most people think about the benefits of Pilates, they think “strong core” But my friends, it is OH SO more than that. Everything that we do radiates from our center, or from our core, which in Pilates we call the “Powerhouse”.  Pilates not only strengthens the core but also improves flexibility. Pilates improves muscle tone, balances musculature, supports correct posture, and teaches you to move with ease and grace, while building flexibility and long, lean muscles, strength and endurance in the legs, abs, arms, hips, and back.

As you can see the benefits of Pilates are many. However, my favorite benefit of Pilates is the one that isn’t even visible to the eye; a calming sense of peace of mind. There is a wonderful mind-body connection in Pilates similar to when practicing Yoga. Pilates is like a moving meditation to me. The precision of movement that flows with both grace and strength whether on a mat or a piece of the Pilates equipment can not be beat.

As you move through the exercises with the Pilates principles in mind, you become more in tune and aware of your body. You have very little time to focus on life outside of the studio, as you become one with your body. The stress and tension of work, family life, etc. just melt away as you move through the exercises. It is indeed a very mindful practice.

Of course there are many physical benefits to practicing Pilates, as I mentioned above. Many of my students come to Pilates because of low back pain, or wanting to work on developing lean musculature and strengthening their core. Pilates can help you to look and feel your best, as well as teaching body awareness and good posture. Recent studies even show that Pilates can help alleviate low back pain more than other therapies.

In fact a recent Italian study “found an important improvement of pain, disability and physical and psychological perception of health in individuals who did the daily sessions of pilates”.*  The results of the study showed that Pilates was better at reducing pain in individuals with low back pain more than the standard treatment methods for chronic low back pain. That’s pretty powerful! Pilates heals!!

In my teaching I have many special conditions that I work with and all of these clients have seen amazing benefits from a regular and consistent Pilates practice. Whatever your goal is, Pilates can help you achieve your fitness and wellness goals.

Benefits of Pilates:

  • Increased Core Strength
  • Better Spinal Health
  • Improved Balance and Posture
  • Leaner Musculature
  • Increased Flexibility
  • Increased Energy
  • Improved Joint Health
  • Corrects Imbalances in the Body
  • Establishes Mind-Body Connection
  • Greater Body Awareness

It’s very easy to see how a regular and consistent Pilates practice can benefit you in so many ways, both physical and mental. Pilates is not only great for building core strength, or helping athletes to improve their games, but it can help the every day person (like you and me) to alleviate pain, build strength and flexibility and heal from the inside out. Give it a go and see for yourself.

The beauty of the Pilates method is that is accessible to everyone, and most of the exercises can be modified to suit different populations. If you are interested in further exploring the Pilates method look for a certified instructor in your area and try a class.

*Notarnicola A., Fischetti F., Maccagnano G., Comes R., Tafuri S., Moretti B. “Daily pilates exercise or inactivity for patients with low back pain: a clinical prospective observational study”  European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. February 2014

How To Start a Yoga Practice

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Yes, starting a yoga practice can be very intimidating. One of the number one reasons I hear from people for not starting a practice is that they feel they are not flexible enough to do yoga. That is why you start! Yoga helps build flexibility, so you can just meet your body where it is now and get started. As long as you show up on your mat, you can benefit from yoga.

Besides flexibility, yoga is also great for increasing muscle strength, reducing pain, improving mental clarity, it offers a sense of calmness, relaxes the mind and relieves stress.

With so many studios popping up and yoga seemingly everywhere, it has never been more accessible. However, it can also be a bit overwhelming to know where to begin. Here’s some tips and information to get you started and on your mat in no time.

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There are now several styles and schools of Yoga. Here are a few and their different approaches.

  • Hatha – this is a generic term that refers to most forms of yoga. Typically these classes move a bit slower and focus on holding poses (or asanas) for a few breaths.
  • Iyengar – developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, this type of yoga utilizes props such as yoga blocks and straps to make the asanas more accessible. This is a great practice for beginners or someone who maybe has difficulty with balance, alignment or who has certain physical conditions.
  • Vinyasa – Vinyasa is a more fluid and constant moving form of yoga. Asanas are linked with breath and transitioning from one asana to the next is part of the practice. When you see classes labeled as Power Yoga, they are usually a form of Vinyasa.
  • Gentle or Restorative – there are many forms of gentle or restorative yoga, such as Yin Yoga. These classes will also feature props like yoga blocks and bolsters in order to support the body in more passive poses. These classes typically move very slow and are great for relaxation.

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I highly recommend trying out a few classes and styles to get a feel for what type of practice you may be drawn to. Also, taking a class in a studio means you will have a teacher there to watch your alignment in the poses so as to avoid injury.

A certified yoga teacher will be able to modify the exercises for you and help you to find the proper alignment in each exercise. Make sure that your teacher is there to teach, focus on your alignment, and keep you safe. They should not be practicing alongside you for the whole class. They are there to teach, not get in a workout of their own.

A knowledgeable teacher will focus on alignment, anatomy and offer modifications for special cases or injuries. They should also be able to teach all levels of students at once, teaching the exercises so a beginner can do them, while offering progressions of the exercises for intermediate and advanced students in the class. No yogi left behind!

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If the thought of going to a studio is still a bit intimidating, there are now many options that can help you start a practice at home. This is actually how I got started in my own yoga practice, which led me to practicing at local studios and then eventually getting certified to teach.

All you need is a mat and some floor space to get started. I started off by following along to yoga DVDS. Some of my favorite yoga DVDs are from Gaiam, especially Gaiam Healing Yoga DVD With Rodney Yee. Not to mention that there are so many great instructors who do videos on YouTube (myself included) and there are even some pay per view yoga sites online. These help to make getting started easy and fun. Here are a few that I love:

As far as what to wear, just wear what you are comfortable in. I prefer athletic gear that is lightweight, more form fitting, breathable and moisture wicking. I prefer more form fitting clothes when I work out, because extra fabric can actually be a hindrance and just get in the way. However, wear whatever you feel comfortable in and what’s going to get you on your mat.

Make sure to have a towel nearby for sweat and to wipe sweat off your mat so you don’t slip in certain poses. Also, have a water bottle handy so you can stay hydrated while focusing on your practice. Props are a great way to help make certain asanas more accessible as well as take you even deeper in some poses. I recommend having at least one yoga block and a yoga strap ( or a long towel or belt will do). You can find these anywhere now, even at places like Target, TJ Maxx and sporting goods stores. I’ll leave a few links at the end of this article of my favorite yoga props. I’ve also included one of my YouTube videos that is a short and gentle yoga practice perfect for beginners.

I hope this post as given you some more information on starting a practice and helped to relieve some of the anxiety about getting started. If you have any questions please comment below or reach out to me and I’ll be happy to answer them. Now unroll that mat and get your yoga on. Namaste!

Resources:

Yoga Mats:

Manduka Yoga Mats

Gaiam Moroccan Garden Yoga Mat (3mm)

GoFit Yoga Mats at Dick’s Sporting Goods

Yoga Props:

Gaiam Block & Strap Combo

Gaiam Rectangular Bolster

Yoga Props at REI 

The Happiness Project: Mid Year Check In & June Resolution

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After reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin back in December, I set out to create my own Happiness Project for 2018. I set an area of focus, or resolution, for each month in which I wanted to bring more happiness and joy into.

Now that we are half way through the year, I did a mid year check in on my goals. In the video below, I share how I did on each goal, including some wins and some misses. I also share my resolution for June and some exciting news about my professional career.

I would also love to hear about any goals you set for this year and how you are doing on them, so comment below.

The Happiness Project 2018: January Resolution – Health

I am doing my own Happiness Project for 2018 based on Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project”. Each month I will focus on a different area of my life that I have been taking for granted and want to bring in more joy and happiness.

Check out my January resolution/goal to focus more on my health and some actionable steps I will be taking to achieve my Health and Weight Loss goals.

The Happiness Project: 2018 Commandments and Resolutions

I will be doing my own Happiness Project this year based on Gretchen Rubin’s best selling book “The Happiness Project”. In this video I go over my 12 Commandments and the 12 areas of my life that I will be focusing on over the next year.

If you are interested in joining me on this journey you can purchase the book here (Affiliate Link) as join my Facebook Group, The Happiness Project 2018, where we will are motivating and supporting each other to achieve our goals during the upcoming year.

Make sure to subscribe and comment on the video what your New Year’s Resolutions or Goals are for 2018.