Mind, Body & Work - Pilates
What do the names The Mermaid, The Saw, Scissors, The Bicycle and The Hundred have in common? No, they’re not some weird new game involving awkward hand movements. Neither are they characters in a spectacular new up-and-coming X-Men Hollywood blockbuster.
Put some ‘pep’ into your life with Pilates
They’re exercises - in what has become the fastest-growing alternative therapy in the world. You’ll no doubt have heard of it before (after all, around 12 million people practice Pilates). Added to that, just five years ago there were 14,000 Pilates instructors in the United States alone.
So what’s the big deal? And anyway, being a business entrepreneur you don’t have time to fit exercise into your life right now. In fact, you’re hard-pushed to even devote the time to reading this article…
Well think again. The beauty of Pilates, say devotees, is its simplicity and the way that – once you’ve mastered the basic techniques – twenty minutes of this therapy can become as regular a part of your routine as embarking on your ablutions every night and morning. The former being far more enjoyable.
But why should you invest the time? Well, hello! Is your health important to you? Pilates has been billed as an exercise method which not only strengthens the body physically but restores balance in a threefold manner – mentally, spiritually and, of course, physically.
Perfectionists will love it because it’s all about precision and quality rather than quantity. In other words, once you’ve mastered the exact techniques you don’t have to embark on many repetitions (which makes it a lot less boring than many other forms of exercise we’ve encountered over the years).
Pilates has often been compared to yoga and, like the ancient ‘bending and flexing’ art, it focuses on the body’s muscular and skeletal systems and breathing technique. However, unlike certain forms of yoga (Ashtanga – see Madonna) and body building, Pilates practitioners will never be Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alikes. In fact, you can often tell a Pilates tutor by their long, lean look. And wouldn’t we all love to be long and lean?!
The body’s Powerhouse, according to the granddaddy of Pilates, the predictably named Joseph Pilates, is the core muscles of the stomach and the back. In fact it’s all about supporting the spine. If this is working properly, Pilates believed, then the rest of the body’s muscular and skeletal system would fall into perfect alignment.
The beauty of Pilates is you can go into a class and see eighty-year-olds bending alongside their grandchildren. We kid you not! That’s because the exercise regime is low-impact and appropriate for ages 12 and upwards (with no upper age limit). The elderly like it because it helps combat osteoporosis, improves posture and relieves those nigglesome back problems that seem to be a regular feature of 60-plus living.
Other conditions the exercise benefits include those involving balance (such as Menieres disease), neurological conditions eg Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis, circulatory problems and anxiety.
But even if you are not at the mercy of one particular illness, prevention – as they say – is better than cure and Pilates is excellent for strengthening the bones, aiding mobility of the back, boosting muscle tone and flexibility and making sure joints are healthy. It’s said the exercise can also result in quicker recovery from soft tissue injuries.
Specific groups of people take up Pilates because, quite simply, it makes their life easier. Pregnant mums use it to learn how to breathe better to help them with delivering their baby while dancers can’t get enough of the precise movements involved.
Athletes like the flexibility it gives them. Both David Beckham and Andy Murray have been quoted in the press extolling its virtues. Beckham underwent one hour a day of Pilates while at AC Milan. In fact the whole team engaged in it. Another team which swears by it is the fearsome New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks.
Legendary German heavyweight boxer Max Schmeling also did a spot of bending and breathing while getting back up-to-date, Scottish tennis ace Murray swears by core strength training to prepare for international matches.
Other well-known fans of Pilates – whose talents lie in non-sporting directions - are the Four Weddings and a Funeral actor Hugh Grant and Friends co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox. And, in corporate terms, the German police training school engages in Pilates when it comes to toughening up recruits.
So it’s an exercise popular with men as well as women? Not quite… Jennifer Wilson, 32, is a Pilates instructor at ForwardFitnessGlasgow – a company she runs with fellow instructor and friend Elle Morrison, 34. Both women are qualified level 2 gym instructors and started their business earlier this year.
For every class they run the ratio is 1/30 male to female.
“Most of the men we have in our classes have been referred to us by a physiotherapist,” said Jennifer. “That’s because one of the main benefit of Pilates is in strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Do that and you can prevent prostrate problems in later life.
“We have to get the message out there that men can benefit from Pilates too. Every woman who has been pregnant is aware of how to strengthen her pelvis but men well, they don’t know until often it’s far too late.”
The girls have recently begun going into schools and teaching to classes of 16 and 18-year olds.
“They’re often surprised at how strenuous the exercise can be,” said Jennifer. “They tell us they’ve seen their mums do Pilates and aren’t expecting to be put out much at the beginning of a class but by the end they’re pretty taken aback at just exactly how much strength they’ve been required to use. Pilates is a full bodywork out after all. It’s not just about abs.”
Even if you’ve tried a Pilates workout before, it’s not necessarily a case of ‘done that, got the tee-shirt.’ According to Jennifer, not all Pilates classes are equal. Sometimes we’re not even talking the same ballpark.
“I’ve been in classes before where the instructor has gone around mid-lesson and sprayed the room with lavender oil,” she said. “I left that class floating on air and semi-meditating.
“At others I’ve emerged sweating from head to foot with the same feeling I had after running a half marathon several months earlier. What I’m saying is there’s an enormous amount of variation when it comes to Pilates teaching.
“If you go to one class and don’t like it don’t just give up and think ‘I’ve tried Pilates and it’s not for me.’ It’s just that that particular instructor’s style didn’t suit you personally. Look around long enough and you’re sure to find a class you click with. It’s worth the search.”
But is Pilates just a passing phase? Well, depends what you mean by passing. Considering it was first introduced to bed-ridden soldiers on the Isle of Man after the First World War by a young physicist named Joseph H Pilates, it’s proved pretty durable.
At the time he called it Contrology due to the therapy’s emphasis on precise movements. It wasn’t until he died in 1967 that the therapy was renamed Pilates. The name has since become an anagram for Proximal Integrating Latent Agile Toning Exercise.
Of course those keen to pounce on the bandwagon have developed weird and wonderfully-named ‘offshoots’ such as Yogalates, the newer Menezes Method (named after Australian exercise instructor Allan Menezes) or the Canadian Stott Pilates (which puts more emphasis on the shoulder blade than the other forms).
Today, just to add an element of toughness, you can even invest in a whole host of Pilates-orientated exercise machinery such as power balls, Pilates rings and soft weights.
Joseph Pilates himself saw the value in this and came up with his own inventions. For instance his first piece of equipment – or rather apparatus – the Universal Reformer, came into being in 1925 and involved lying horizontally on a bench-like structure. Another, the Wunda Chair, had a dual purpose as once used for exercise it converted into a rather pleasing piece of furniture.
In all Joseph Pilates came up with around five solid pieces of equipment and 500 different types of exercises. Not bad for a man who already had quite a time-consuming day job. If he could find the time, couldn’t you?…
The Six Principles of Pilates
•Precision – all movements (exercises) should be perfect. Imprecise or half-hearted movements would be futile. Pilates believes that one part of the body affects all the others hence the need for precision.
•Breathing – every single exercise in Pilates involves a specific breathing instruction. This is because it is believed that breathing properly (ie swapping oxygen for carbon dioxide) enhances the circulatory system resulting in a more energised and alert body
•Centring – the core of the body is the main feature of Pilates (ie the back and stomach area). The focus should be here. Get this right and the extremities and limbs will benefit in a bonus fashion
•Concentration – an essential of Pilates. Only through total focus can an individual reach perfect movement
•Flowing – like the body’s energy all exercises in Pilates should take on a gentle, free moving and uninterrupted motion
•Controlling – all exercises should be controlled by the Pilates practitioner. Control leads to focus which in turn achieves precision, according to founder Joseph Pilates who believed the individual should be in control of their own body and not vice versa.
This article is for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Global Business Magazine is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis based on the content of this article. Always consult your doctor before commencing any kind of dietary or health and fitness regime.