Pilates follows principles based on a well-constructed philosophical and theoretical foundation. It is not merely a collection of exercises but a method developed and refined over more than eighty years of use and observation. While Pilates draws from many diverse exercise styles, there are certain inherent ruling principles that bring all these elements together under the Pilates name. One interpretation of Principles: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breathing, and Flowing Movement, and Routine.
Mind over matter
The central element of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it you will move with economy, grace, and balance; using your body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. The goal is this: to produce an attention-free union of mind and body, the method requires that you constantly pay attention to your body while you are doing the movements. Paying attention is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of the movements or the method.
Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation are part of every Pilates exercise. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation. “Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry,” he is reputed to have said. Breathing, too, should be done with concentration, control, and precision. It should be properly coordinated with movement. Each exercise is accompanied by breathing instructions. Joseph Pilates stated, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly”.
Pilates called the very large group of muscles in our center – encompassing our abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” All energy for Pilates exercises begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities. Physical energy is exerted from the center to coordinate one's movements. Pilates felt that it was important to build a strong powerhouse in order to rely on it in daily living. By working from this central core, we are able to stretch and lengthen the muscles without any risk of strain or injury to your spine and neck.
Pilates demands intense focus- it is not a form of mindless repetitions where your body runs on automatic and your mind shuts off. Every movement should be carefully controlled. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be accessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps. You will learn to pay careful attention to your body, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing.
Joseph Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. That meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements. Every Pilates exercise must be performed with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. It's not about intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, it's more about proper form for safe, effective results. The slower the movement, the stronger we become.
Every movement in the Pilates method has a purpose. Every instruction is vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Eventually this precision becomes second nature, and carries over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
Pilates mat exercises are supposed to be performed fluidly. There are no static, isolated movements. Concentration and body awareness replaces the quick, jerky movements of other exercise regimes. Grace of motion is emphasized over speed; ultimately the movements are meant to feel as fluid as a long stride or a waltz. Uniformly developed muscles are then developed to complement good posture, suppleness, and natural grace.
By developing routines and practicing regularly (even if only for a few minutes) we gradually improve our technique and enhance our skills and abilities.