For those of you who don’t know about Joe Pilates, he is the guy who came up with the Pilates method of exercise back in the early 1900’s. Joe Pilates started out with asthma and rickets but refused to go through life with physical limitations. He developed a way to reeducate his muscles and movements, and eventually became a boxer and physical specimen.
Originally, his method was called, “The Art of Contrology.” I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds a bit oppressive!
It’s true. His method is about control. This is probably why he developed a devoted following among dancers, starting with Martha Graham and George Balanchine back in the 1920’s. After all, dancing is probably the ultimate in muscle control.
But, there was a softer side to Joe.
It can be summed up by what could have been his mantra. CONNECT, NOT CONQUER. It is not about thinking that you have to beat your body into shape. Instead, it is about making sure that nothing you do is haphazard. The goal is to reduce strain, not increase it. This is what Joe wanted for all of us.
So here’s the deal. Most of us go along using our big muscles to get things done, often in isolation. Pilates changes that focus to CONNECTING our muscles so that they work together in groups. This is more efficient, less likely to lead to injury, and gives you good posture and alignment.
The kicker is that, especially in the beginning, you need to retrain your brain to help you move differently, paying attention to small changes that may seem uncomfortable or counterintuitive.
Let me give you a quick example so that you can start to feel what I am talking about.
Lie on your back on a mat or carpet. Press your legs together, lengthen your spine, and pull your naval slightly toward your spine.
Keeping your arms at your sides, palms down, lift your legs up so that they are at about a 45-degree angle to your torso. Here comes the subtle part. Activate the muscles of your inner thighs and turn your legs slightly toward one another. Difficult at first, right? But notice that when you do that, it makes your abdominal, hip, and butt muscles jump into action.
They are rushing in to stabilize the move you are about to do, which is to make small circles with your legs clockwise 8 times, and then counterclockwise 8 times. As you do this, make sure you keep on pressing your legs inward and together. Difficult, I know, but hang in there. This is called “The Corkscrew” exercise in Pilates. This exercise is great for tightening your abs and hip area, and keeping your low back from arching.
Hopefully you can feel the benefit of getting your hips, butt, and inner thigh working together. The alternative would be overworking your low back, which can cause strain to go right up your spine to include your neck and shoulder area. Going forward, learning to stop straining in the wrong areas can be hugely important for you. To give a specific example, stopping neck strain during exercise can be a huge win for you.
One of the beauties of the Pilates system is that it gets you thinking about coordinated, efficient action. This can trickle down into everything you do, which helps you feel better, and then you feel like moving around even more. Not bad, right?
For more information on the Pilates Method check out the following resources:
- 10 Best Benefits of the Pilates Method of Exercise
- The Pilates Body, by Brooke Siler
Please comment on your experience with Pilates below!
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