Far from being a random exercise approach or loose training style, Pilates is founded on six principles. It is these concepts which dictate the approach to Pilates and ultimately which define it. While not laid out by Joseph Pilates, the founder of the exercise program, most fitness experts broadly agree on what the principles are and how to define them.
The 6 principles of Pilates tie together the theory, practice and philosophy of Pilates. It is by following these principles and letting them guide you that you can keep true to the aim of Pilates as a complete body conditioning exercise system which, as Joseph Pilates wrote, will “give you suppleness, natural grace and skill.”
- Control: Joseph Pilates described his program as ‘contrology’. This central theory is what umbrellas the other Pilates principles. The premise is that controlling your muscles and movements allows for you to better exercise and move in a way to benefit the body. This is basically the opposite of a chaotic approach where you exert lots of energy but don’t control the movements, thus weakening or losing any real benefits. Contrology is not just about the physical body either. It’s also about the mind and how to become body aware and let the mind take the lead.
- Breath: Just as yoga practitioners assert, breathing in the right way can have an impact on Pilates. It is really the lifeblood of the practice. Creating enough oxygen-rich blood to help the body function during each movement, Pilates advocates deep, full breaths, breathing through the nose on the inhale and through the mouth on the exhale. Breathing is linked to movement as you exhale during an exertion, before expanding your rib cage and really working the abdominal muscles.
- Concentrating: You might enjoy mindless exercising while you watch a screen or listen to some music at the same time. Pilates however demands your attention. It is not enough to simply go through the motions. Because Pilates is all about how you do exercises it is vital that you keep your mind on each movement to ensure you are performing the proper form. Mindfulness can help relax the body as thoughts and judgements flow away. Joseph Pilates saw his techniques as “coordinating mind, body and spirit.”
- Flow: Pilates may have an emphasis on form but the movements are not robotic and there is a flow created which helps to build a workout that challenges the body. The breath sets the rhythm and this is used, alongside the sequence of movements, to flow seamlessly from one position to the next. The connection you feel during sessions and the momentum each movement creates gives Pilates a sense of flowing energy.
- Centering: All Pilates exercises radiate from the center. This is a core-strengthening and conditioning program. It also serves to connect the body and give a focal point from which each movement comes forth. By ensuring this center is strong you can also provide good protection for the spine and pass on power to each movement. This is your Pilates ‘powerhouse’.
- Precision: Alignment is essential in Pilates. Proper form is created by not only moving in a controlled and mindful way but making sure that spatially each movement is precise. During a Pilates exercise the position of each part of the body in relation to other parts is crucial. The idea behind this is that by being precise you can prevent injury. Precise practice also leads to repetition and certain movements becoming second nature. Over time this means you can focus on creating balance through flowing form.
The principles behind Pilates so strongly define movements that there is no separation between theory and practice. All that is left is to put thoughts of practicing Pilates into action.