Mind-Body Awareness, an Added Value of Pilates

The Pilates method goes beyond the development of a strong body. It’s a fitness system for the mind as well. While the brain is not composed of muscle tissue, it acts a lot like a muscle in that it requires exercise-without activity and consistent challenges, the mind can fall out of shape. A flabby mind can’t focus, flounders in everyday problem solving and is more susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

It’s interesting to note that Joseph Pilates’ earliest writings on his fitness system at first focused only on physical control, but as his system (which he called “contrology”) took shape, the mind came to have a key role in Joe’s vision of complete health. He ultimately invented a method that works to unite the body, mind and spirit in a coordinated whole, strengthening all three aspects of the self. The mind in particular is exercised as one applies intense concentration to the precision and flow of energy through every movement of a workout, while deep, controlled breathing pumps oxygen-rich blood to the muscles and the brain. Each principle of Pilates reinforces connections between the workings of the brain and the workings of the body, generating an overall increase in mind-body awareness.

Many people appreciate Pilates for the muscle tone, mobility and weight loss it offers, but increased mind-body awareness is another highly desirable effect. A study in the 2012 Journal of Dance Education interviewed a group of 63 Pilates students, and their responses indicate the value of mind-body awareness in everyday life. Students reported that enhanced proprioception gave them a boost in confidence, improved their ability to manage stress, and enabled them to identify and enact positive change in their lives.

Many people practice tai chi and yoga for similar mental benefits, and more serious or traditionalist practitioners incorporate the religious foundation of these disciplines into their fitness regimen. Pilates, though a distinctly Western system, may also deepen your sense of self and spirituality.

Pilates can be uniquely tailored to you and your individual life path; and in deepening your mindfulness, Pilates makes that journey more healthy, happy and whole. Ruth St. Denis, a pioneer of modern dance who worked with Joseph Pilates during her career, had this to say about the method: “Not only is the body rejuvenated, but the mental and spiritual refreshment is beyond calculation.”

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The Pilates Principles Are the Path to Physical Wellbeing and Self-Awareness "To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life, we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limit of our ability."- Joseph Pilates, b. 1883 (Germany), d. 1967 (New York)The Pilates method has become a mainstream form of fitness, but too often overlooked are the principles on which Joseph Pilates based his lifelong work.Centering/StabilizationControlConcentrationFlowBreathPrecisionCentering comes from an internal source of awareness. Oftentimes our awareness tells us that we are standing up straight, not because we feel it but because we have become accustomed to long-term misalignment. Centering ourselves opens us up to awareness and enables us to initiate positive change.Control leads us down the path to balance of body, mind and spirit because we become mindful of how we move and place ourselves in space and time.Concentration is a mindful form of awareness that helps us steer our bodies in the correct movement patterns that we strive to achieve. Concentration and awareness allow you to develop a deeper sense of self, both physically and mentally.Flow is the result of physiologically perfect muscle movement in time. When one experiences the sensation of energy flowing to create a desired movement, he or she is truly living the moment as a personal, unobstructed channeling of mind and body.Breath is the first thing we do when we come into the world and the last thing we do going out. Unfortunately, most of us never learn how to breathe correctly. We basically tend to ignore it and let it be an autopilot function like digestion. Breath, purposefully coordinated with movement, can truly enhance our lives-it is what connects and links our bodies, minds and spirits.Precision requires the integration of awareness, concentration and control. Fine-tuned muscle isolation leads you to perform each exercise with a committed focus-mindfulness. And mindfulness is what leads us to the perfect balance of mind, body and spirit, which helps us achieve our highest physical and spiritual selves."With body, mind, and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person?" -  Joseph Pilates, Return to Life through Contrology** Joseph Pilates referred to his method of body conditioning as "contrology." Contrology has been posthumously rebranded as Pilates.Everyday Benefits from Pilates: Improved Posture When new clients at our studio have completed a few sessions, one of the things we frequently hear them say is, I can feel myself standing up straighter! Big deal, right? Actually -- yes, this is a big deal! The reinforcement of good posture is built into every exercise within the Pilates system. Pilates develops strength deep within the muscles of the core. These muscles connect directly to and control the alignment of the spinal vertebrae. Continued practice awakens a client's awareness of their "midline," the invisible meridian that runs through the top of the skull to the floor of the pelvis. It is a powerful energetic channel. When one has been trained to feel the internal midline, he or she can then feel when parts of the spine, shoulders and limbs are out of alignment. It takes time and correct cueing from an instructor to develop this internal sense of one's midline. The experienced practitioner's objective eye catches and corrects slight misalignments: the drop of an ear to one side, for instance, or an oblique slant in the shoulders. With each adjustment, one's perception of correct form becomes better established. Good posture is one of those little things that make a huge difference. Many people don't realize how much energy it takes to stay in a slumped position all day. The muscles of a body trapped in poor posture actually expend more energy in order to keep you from completely succumbing to the forces of gravity (i.e., falling out of your office chair!) This extra physical stress can manifest in other non-muscular ailments, such as headaches, shortness of breath, indigestion, decreased circulation and overall fatigue. The Pilates method comprises exercises that work bilaterally (i.e., both sides) in an even fashion, thus rebalancing the body. Beyond its physical benefits, good posture projects an air of confidence and ease. In other words, you won't just feel really good-you'll look just as good as you feel!"Remember, too that 'Rome was not built in a day,' and that PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor."Joseph H. Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology (1945)