As a Pilates instructor I obviously not only enjoy Pilates, but believe in its benefits wholeheartedly. I’ve seen the results in my own body and mind throughout my Pilates journey. As a junior in high school I found myself in constant back pain from two herniated discs in my low back. I completed months of physical therapy, and although I felt better for the majority of the day, I still had back pain when I exercised. Thankfully, I found Pilates and have been able to eliminate my back pain completely and continue to strengthen my body and mind along the way.

 

I decided I wanted to become an instructor when my desire to learn more never ceased. I wanted to have the ability to share this wonderful tool with anyone and everyone; so that they can see the benefits for themselves.

 

As an instructor the most common questions I am asked are, “So, what is Pilates? Isn’t it like yoga?”. I would say that Pilates and yoga are similar when it comes to mind body connection, however, Pilates greatly emphasizes the core and it’s power in raising awareness of the rest of the body. Pilates was initially developed as a rehabilitative tool. The founder, Joseph Pilates was a German gymnast, born in 1883 as a small and sickly child afflicted with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. As he grew he became dedicated to creating exercise techniques called “Contrology” to overcome his physical ailments. He strongly believed that poor posture goes hand-in-hand with poor health; and that our everyday lives promote our poor posture. Imagine the problems we create in our musculature as we sit in front of computers all day, with our shoulders rounded forward, dumping into our low backs and relaxing our abdominals. Parents, holding children on one hip or another, creating imbalances throughout their musculature of the entire side body. We carry these poor habits as muscle memory and they affect us in every part of day.

Joseph Pilates eventually worked with injured soldiers from World War II. The soldiers that were too weak and injured to get out of the hospital beds inspired the machines and apparatus used in Pilates today; as Joseph thought attached springs from the bed to the headboards and footboards of the iron bed frames, turning them into equipment that provided a type of resistance exercise to rehabilitate the soldiers.

 

Joe Pilates based his work on three major principles: Breath, whole-body health, and whole-body commitment; with the whole-body encompassing mind, body, and spirit. It is in the honoring of the Pilates Principles that the depth of the work is achieved. These Principles are traditionally cited as:

  • Breath
  • Concentration
  • Centering
  • Control
  • Flow
  • Precision

 

He believed that by having awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, we can strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles, and reduce stress.

So, what are the major benefits of the current day Pilates method?

1. Pilates is suitable for everyone

I believe the best thing about Pilates is the fact that is caters to everyone, from beginner to advanced. There are endless modifications that can be made for all genders, sizes, ages and abilities. Pilates is also safe for pregnant mothers, with the correctly trained instructor.

 2. Core Strength

Pilates is based entirely around activating the deeper abdominal muscles, and therefore strengthening the core and creating that muscle memory that will stay with us throughout our everyday lives. A 2008 study by Endelment and Critchely provided the first evidence that Pilates exercises do indeed activate the deeper abdominal muscles. The researchers used ultrasound imaging to measure the thickness change of the transversus abdominis (TrA) and Obliquus Internus (OI) when subjects performed a representative set of classical Pilates exercises. The researchers found a significant increase in thickness, representing muscle activity, in both TrA and OI during all correctly performed Pilates exercises, compared with resting supine (lying flat on one’s back).

3. Back pain relief

According to the American Chiropractic Association, about 31 million Americans experience low back pain at any given time. If we are able to learn how to walk, run, and hold ourselves up with our abdominal muscles rather than lower back muscles, we can alleviate pain. That’s why those with chronic lower back pain who practiced Pilates for just four weeks experienced more relief than those who visited a physician and other specialists, says a study from the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Researchers believe that by stabilizing the core’s lumbar-pelvic (lower-back) region, Pilates alleviates stress on the area and ups mobility.

4. Increases Flexibility

In one Brazilian study, when young women without any prior Pilates experience performed 20 Pilates sessions, they became 19.1 percent more flexible. When you’re tight, you shorten your muscle and limit your body’s range of motion. At best, that can hurt your exercise performance. At worst, it can cause injury.

5. Increased lung capacity and circulation

As you saw above, breath is one of the major principles of Pilates. The constant deep breathing provides increased lung capacity overtime, therefore increasing circulation throughout the body.

6.Increased muscle strength and tone

Although Pilates brings attention to tiny, stabilizing muscles throughout the body that we don’t think about, it greatly strengthens and tones the “core muscles” of your body. These are specifically the abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks.

7. Increased awareness

The many aspects of a single Pilates exercise requires a great amount of concentration and body awareness. The mind body connection formed assists in stress management and relaxation in other areas of life.

 

Although I could write 30 more benefits of the Pilates method, I’ll leave you with these seven. Hopefully I have convinced you to try Pilates for the first time, or to continue your practice long into old age. In the words of Joseph Pilates, “The mind, when housed within a healthful body, possess a glorious sense of power”.

 

Hailey Wilkinson

CPR/AED Certified - American Red Cross

From Jackson, Wyoming, Hailey recently came to Laramie to pursue a degree in Kinesiology & Health Promotion with a minor in Physiology.  She is also working towards her Mat Pilates certification through the Body Arts and Science International Pilates School (BASI). An avid dancer in high school, Hailey discovered Pilates as she recovered from a spine injury her junior year of high school.  Pilates greatly increased her body awareness and strength, helping her fully recover from 2 herniated discs with no recurring pain! When she isn’t studying or doing pilates, she enjoys hiking, paddle boarding, playing with her dog and listening to podcasts.  Hailey is excited to join the AF team because “I love to surround myself with others that have similar interests in health and wellbeing. I am looking forward to learning from other members of the AF team.”

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