When Pilates (pronounced Pill-ah-teez) was developed, its founder called it Contrology, the science of control. If you think it about it, it all makes sense. Pilates, at its core (see what I did there?) is a method of exercise that works on the mind-body connection, based on 6 principles: concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.
Proponents of Pilates swear it tones all muscles, improves posture, clears the mind, and, above all, builds a firmer tummy; as it works the muscles and packs them tightly, it also strengthens your ‘core’. It used to be an esoteric practice with only a few teachers, but now everyone and their brother has jumped on the bandwagon.
The best part is that you can do it in the privacy of your own bedroom. All you need is a mat and some privacy.
Got 10? Here’s a few of the major exercises:
Start with a warm up of a Swan Prep, which stretches the chest, abdominals, hip flexors and triceps. It also engages the shoulders, back, inner thighs, pelvic floor, quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
To do this, lie face down on the floor with your toes stretched out, palms by your shoulders. Now using your abs only and your triceps, lift your torso off the mat, arching as far as you can go, without lifting your hips off the ground. Inhale, lift up, hold. Exhale as you go back down to prone position. Repeat 5 times.
Now move into a crawling position on all fours and prepare for the basic cat-cow stretch. Keep your elbows below your shoulders, knees below your hips and neck and back in neutral position. As my teacher says, you should be able to balance a teacup on your back. Now inhale and arch your back up, bringing the neck down and in to your chest, like a cat. Hold. Exhale the back inward, curving down, into cow, as you release your neck back to neutral. Repeat 10 times, slowly.
Move on to The Hundred: Lie on your back, extend your legs straight out at about 60 degrees to the floor (or if you have a weak back, bend your knees at 90 degrees). Stretch out your arms towards your feet, lift head and shoulder off the mat. Now that you’re in position, pump your hands 100 times. Inhale as you pump arms up and down five times, then exhale and pump five more times. Do 10 times and you’ll have achieved the 100. Your abs stay contracted the whole time. You’ll feel it later.
Lie on your back and lift your head and shoulders off the mat for the Single Leg Stretch. Now extend your right leg at a 45-degree angle as you pull your left knee into your chest. Place a hand on either side of left shin. Inhale, then exhale and switch legs to bring the right knee in, hands on right shin, with the left leg out. Do 20 sets of each leg stretch.
Stand up and get your back against a wall for Roll Downs. Now walk your feet 6 inches forward so you’re flush against the support only from your butt upward. Now stretch tall, and with arms above your head joined in a Namaste and held by your ears start rolling down, not bending down, vertebra by vertebra.
AS with any exercise, you must stop at the first sign of pain. Do try to keep good form as you do the exercises, remembering the 6 principles always. When you make that mind-body connect, good things will happen.
Take it one step further! Find and try a Pilates class near you.