I began Pilates training when I was sixteen. Ballet dancers often do. It becomes apparent, around that age, that if you want to have a successful career, and avoid injury, you need more than a ballet class a day – you need all the help you can get. During my long dancing career I kept up Pilates. Most ballet companies have a fully equipped Pilates studio and often a full-time Pilates teacher. Dancers use the studio to work on their areas of weakness as well as for rehabilitation. Once I hung up my pointe shoes, I gave my body a good rest. I stayed away from studios of all kinds, preferring to throw myself into the water or run along the beach. But it wasn’t long before I found myself back in the Pilates studio.
The benefit of Pilates It doesn’t matter what your pursuit. Pilates training is going to aid you in everything. Though I no longer need to stand on my toes and turn pirouettes, I still need correct posture – elongation through my spine and a strong core to carry my body healthily in my new activities and everyday life.
The fact is, pretty much all bodies need some extra help. With sedentary lifestyles and with the natural quirks, twists and weaknesses that we are born with and accumulate, we have to develop muscles (our core muscles in particular) to support our bodies in correct alignment. Correct alignment brings with it more efficient movement, more mobility and less chance of injury and pain.
What is Pilates? It is a method of training which uses slow eccentric and resistance exercises to recognise and correct physical and structural imbalances. It was developed by Joseph Pilates during World War 1 during his time in internment camps in England. Joseph Pilates, was a gymnast, a diver and a body builder with a deep curiosity for how the body moves and a natural instinct for helping to finding ways to strengthen, stretch and train others. Today’s research on his methodology has since confirmed his principles of correct alignment and movement.
The Pilates class Pilates, like yoga, is task-based. During a class, the teacher describes the exercise or task to you in simple terms. This is called “cueing”. It is through practising the task – such as raising the torso off the floor while keeping heavy in the hips – that the right muscles are engaged and the body elongated. A class usually lasts for one hour and during that time, pretty much the entire body will get worked. Sometimes you use equipment and sometimes not. A basic mat class is one of the hardest, as you are working entirely with your own body weight without help from a machine.
Teachers We all tend to develop a loyalty to one teacher as we become accustomed to them, and they to us. I encourage more diversity, working with other teachers and classes. That way you can never get complacent. You are kept interested through learning new exercises as well as new cues which just might work for you in a better or more understandable way.
Emma Sandall runs Body Playground, an online space for discovering how to put the fun back into your fitness routines. With fellow Body Playground director and Pilates teacher, Peta Green, she has developed a new and expressive style of workout that brings together the technical and fluid aspects of Pilates, yoga and ballet. For tips on stretching or to learn a nice sequence you can do any time, any place, check out Vimeo.