How Pilates Can Keep You Young

Happy healthy active people

Developed from a news item on the About Health website by Alycea Ungaro, here are five key ways that Pilates can help keep your body young, healthy and active:

Encourages full breathing

Pilates teaches you to breathe fully and deeply. Cells saturated with oxygen boost energy levels as well as cognitive abilities, resulting in reduced tiredness and forgetfulness.

Works the whole body

Instead of rapid movements performed with poor control, Pilates favours low repetitions and good positioning. This avoids the poor body mechanics and repetitive strain injuries frequently experienced with high intensity exercise like Step or Zumba or indoor cycling. By working all parts of the body equally, Pilates, done on a regular basis, can help us keep strong and mobile throughout the course of our life.

Involves a complete range of movement

Pilates exercises take the body through a full range of movement. This keeps the joints lubricated and preserves the health of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that work them. As we age, maintaining the ability to sit, stand, kneel and bend is key to the body’s health and wellbeing. Pilates can help with this. By contrast, other forms of exercise involve a much more limited range of movement. For example, if you were to focus on cycling as your main source of exercise, over time the range of motion of your spine would diminish and the muscles in the chest and shoulders would tighten. Tight muscles inhibit movement. When movement is restricted you become more sedentary, which, research shows, accelerates the aging process.

Indoor cycling class

Encourages alignment

Pilates teaches you to move your body in alignment, by which we mean working the muscles and skeleton the way they are designed. Pilates exercises strengthen the body symmetrically so that nothing overworks and nothing underworks. Everyday life though creates imbalance in the body. For example, we carry bags or children, or sleep more on one side than another. Pilates provides us with a way to counter the imbalance caused by our daily activities. Golf and tennis are good forms of exercise, but they don’t work the body evenly; in fact most sports don’t. Keeping your body properly aligned as you move, particularly at speed, helps prevent injuries, avoid arthritis (particularly in the spine and leg joints) and reduces poor motor skills, all of which are synonymous with aging.

Assists with transitioning

Injuries happen most often when we transition from one activity to another, for example, getting up from the floor and running to answer the phone, or bending down to pick up a drill then reaching up to use it to mend a shelf. Pilates exercises train the body to bend, turn and straighten with control thus helping us transition more effectively. With less haphazard movements, accidents and injuries, which have an aging effect on the body, can be avoided.

Yoga kiss pose

All exercise has benefits but many sporting activities fall short of full body wellness. Indeed, some pursued exclusively and too often, e.g. indoor cycling or running can leave the body prone to injuries and illness. Regular Pilates, together with some form of cardio-vascular exercise, will help the body perform optimally and make it better able to cope with the demands of daily life.

Pilates with its five age-defying properties has a vital role to play in keeping us all as active as possible for as long as possible. But don’t take my word for it. Below are two pictures of Joseph Pilates, one taken when he was 57, the other when he was 82. As you can see, there is very little difference in the physical condition of his body…

Joseph Pilates at age 57 and age 82

If you’d like to try Pilates, why not drop into one of our small group classes run each week at The Wellbeing Studio in Clevedon.

Become a Member of the Pilates Foundation

Pilates Foundation logo

The Pilates Foundation, the professional body for elite Pilates teachers in the UK, welcomes all who share a passion for the discipline to join the organisation.

Affiliate Membership

Affiliate members of the Pilates Foundation are professionals working in varied movement disciplines, complementary health fields like osteopathy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, reflexology, holistic massage, or Pilates teachers trained outside the the Pilates Foundation, who want to be involved with the organisation.

Pilates Foundation workshops qualify for continued professional development credits for osteopaths, physiotherapists and other complementary health professionals.

Benefits of Affiliate Membership:

  • Access to Friend and Affiliate events
  • Access to negotiated vendor discounts with Sweaty Betty, Asquith, Pilates Mad, Physio Supplies, Pilates Plus and Balanced Body
  • Pilates Foundation welcome gift
  • Quarterly newsletter
  • 15% off Pilates Foundation workshops led by world-renowned presenters from varied disciplines
  • 15% off Pilates Foundation branded accessories including the Pilates Foundation Matwork Handbook

The annual Affiliate membership fee is £80.

Balance and support

Friend Membership

Friends of the Pilates Foundation may be clients inspired by their personal work with a Pilates Foundation Teacher, potential Pilates Trainee Teachers or members of the general public who love Pilates and want to support a not-for-profit organisation committed to promoting the Pilates Method and ensuring excellence in the way it is taught.

Benefits of Friend Membership:

  • Acces to Friend and Affiliate events
  • Pilates Foundation welcome gift
  • Quarterly newsletter
  • 10% off Pilates Foundation branded accessories including the Pilates Foundation Matwork Handbook

The annual Friend membership fee is £35.

To register for Affiliate or Friend membership, click here.

People holding hands

Specificity – The Pilates Secret

Capoeira

For those who have ever played competitive sports, studied an instrument or practised martial arts, you have already experienced the magic of specificity. Any task that requires attention to detail draws upon the same elements – mental and physical focus. Joseph Pilates knew this when he created the Pilates Method. The exercises he developed draw on moves from disciplines like gymnastics, yoga, body building and dance, which require tremendous concentration and a high level of precision. Pilates called his method Contrology to reflect the blend of body and mind effort required to execute the movements. Control is at the heart of it all.

Perhaps the most beneficial part of Pilates is the mental focus that makes every workout a reward rather than a chore. Running through a mindless movement regimen while your thoughts remain anchored in the mundane, is neither physically effective nor mentally rejuvenating. Come to Pilates regularly and you will experience what it feels like to be in the moment and acutely present in your body.

Looking at the physical side, the Pilates Method is defined by the precise instructions detailed for each and every move. The rhythm, placement and muscular recruitment are all clearly specified. Likewise, there is a choreographed breath pattern for every movement.

Tightrope walker

Acute precision is what defines Pilates. Each exercise is performed deliberately and specifically according to a detailed set of instructions about what is right and what is wrong. Working towards these standards is what elevates each Pilates student over time to achieve their highest potential.

The specificity required in Pilates is applicable to all types of activity, whether that be a sport like golf or running or tennis, or something more everyday like gardening or cleaning the house. Learn specificity in your Pilates practice and then apply it to your real life.

This article was developed from a piece by Alycea Ungaro on the Pilates Foundation website.

Pilates balance exercise

Teaching The Pilates Method

Pilates teacher instructing a client in a forward spine stretchnt

Melissa is often asked why a lot of Pilates classes are taught without reference to, or with little emphasis on the navel-to-spine and lateral breathing and the pelvic floor engagement. It’s a good question. The lateral inhale into the sides of the ribcage, the sucking in of the tummy on the exhale and the engagement of the pelvic floor between each exhale and inhale, are fundamental to Joseph Pilates’ method. So why do a lot of Pilates classes ignore or underemphasise these fundamentals? Two reasons. Firstly, poor teacher training. A lot of Pilates classes, particularly those run by large gyms or leisure centres, are often taught by fitness instructors who have completed little more than a short course to qualify to teach a Pilates class.

The second reason is because the lateral inhale, the navel-to-spine exhale and the pelvic floor engagement are difficult to do, especially for beginners. That is no justification for not teaching them though of course. The lateral inhale keeps the air out of the belly thus avoiding the abdominal muscles relaxing. The navel-to-spine exhale powers the movements and is a very effective way of strengthening the abdominals quickly. Strong stomach muscles help to keep the pelvis and lower spine stable, which avoids the back muscles and vertebral discs overworking. This strengthening of the abdominals is perhaps the main reason why health professionals recommend Pilates to patients suffering with lower back pain as a key part of their rehabilitation. The engagement of the pelvic floor fires up (a bit like pressing the ignition on a gas hob) the deep muscles in and around the lower spine, e.g. the transversus abdominis, which are hard to activate. It also strengthens the pelvic floor muscles of course, which is highly beneficial for post-natal women and the millions of people who have problems with incontinence.

Tennis player serving underarm

Not teaching or placing little emphasis on the lateral inhale, the navel-to-spine exhale and pelvic floor engagement in a Pilates class is like going to your first tennis lesson and the instructor saying, “Serving and lobbing are really hard to do, so we won’t bother with those. We’ll just play the game without those two strokes.” For beginners attending their first Pilates class, our recommendation is to think of Pilates as a sport with a number of skills you need to master. Like any sport, Pilates takes time and practice to become good at it. You wouldn’t expect to serve and volley perfectly the first time you play tennis. In the same way, the lateral inhale, navel-to-spine exhale and the pelvic floor engagement, will take more than one Pilates class to get to grips with. Usually after around five or six classes, the fundamentals of Pilates start to become a little less challenging, which means you can focus more on the exercises.

Finally, last week Melissa was asked to describe Pilates in a sentence. Her tongue-in-cheek answer – “It’s like Twister only less improvised.”

A yoga teacher playing Twister