The Importance Of ‘Being Present And Aware’ In Pilates

At the beginning of a Pilates class, have you started with breathing, moved on to lifting your leg up and down, gently mobilised your spine by rocking the pelvis back and forth, and couldn’t wait for the ‘real stuff’ to get started? The bits that feel like you are burning your abdominals and getting warm? 

Many people don’t understand the full value of the ‘warm-up/centring’ activity at the start of the class. It’s a shame, because the true value of how to learn the Pilates method and how to get the best from it, lies in the small, precise movements taught at the beginning; facilitating a concentration and consideration that should travel with you through the rest of the programme, until the very last standing posture.

Joseph Pilates himself stated that there were six main principles of Pilates:

Concentration – You cannot ensure correct muscle activation and exercise execution for maximum gain and minimum injury risk, if you do not pay attention to your own body and its capabilities.

Centering – Both in mind and in body, centering refers both to the connection of the central stabilising muscles and a steadying of the mind in preparation for movement.

Control – Each exercise requires consideration in order to balance the muscles and protect other areas of the body from becoming overused and fatigued.

Breathing – A deep exhalation initiates contraction of the deep, stabilising abdominal muscles, which then makes it easier for you to connect with them and maintain the connection whilst executing an exercise.

Precision – From the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes, every muscle should be conscious and in balance in order to ensure fluidity and functionality to each exercise.

Flow – Initially, this referred to flow within each exercise. That is, each series of exercises should be executed smoothly and with grace. In more recent years the concept of ‘flow’ has been further added to the choreography of transitions between exercises.

Now, apply these principles to the aforementioned, ‘lifting your leg up and down’ or the ‘Single Knee Fold’. This spectacularly underrated exercise happens to be great both for fit and able-bodied clients, and for rehabilitation because of its role in balancing the pelvis, establishing strong integrity between the ribcage and pelvis, settling the spinal curves and strengthening the abdominals.

For the ‘Single Knee Fold’ you must, concentrate on maintaining a neutral pelvis and relaxed shoulders and ribs whilst centring your body and mind. Through the power of a deep exhalation (breathing) the stabilising abdominals connect, the pelvis starts to feel heavy, the lifting foot starts to feel light, the abdominals tighten and prepare for movement. Smoothly (flow), the leg floats away from the ground with balance through the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle to a ‘precise’ 90-degree angle, so that the hip flexors release around the hip joint.

You must maintain the strong abdominal connection against the power of the inhale, as the diaphragm presses down against your belly threatening to force your stability to release. Having maintained your strength, you exhale again and aim to find your strong centre and calm ribs, whilst lowering the leg smoothly to the ground, placing the foot down ‘toe to heel’ exactly in the place from where it came.

You see? Just lying on the ground and lifting your leg up and down, whilst waiting for the ‘curl up’ section is not going to bring balance and stability to both your body and mind; but if you apply the principles, it will. Really think about it. Don’t you want your body to benefit from each and every moment of the session that you have chosen to attend and probably paid for?

These days, this kind of ‘being aware in the present moment’ is known as ‘Mindfulness’, a technique that has enormous value both in and out of the Pilates class environment. Many sufferers of anxiety and depression are taught mindfulness as a way to limit the potential for catastrophising about the future or even issues in their present lives. Mindfulness extends from only thinking about the present time and not the future, to the very action one is taking in that present moment i.e. making a cup of tea or eating a chocolate. Mindfulness teaches us to appreciate the present moment because once that moment has passed you can never get it back. Enjoy the sounds made by the kettle boiling, notice smells and noises; enjoy the texture and flavour of your chocolate and so on. It’s almost meditative, in the sense that in that moment; you are only focussed on the one thing, your mind cannot be occupied by stresses and worries.

However, mindfulness is not meditation as with mindfulness the moment is fleeting and changing; in meditation, we make the moment last and stay focussed for a long time on only one area of concentration, like breath or a candle.

Joseph Pilates asked us to be present and aware when practising his discipline in order to elicit the highest of physical gains, but Mindfulness (or concentration) has a further role to play today in that we should enjoy our sessions! Joseph wasn’t against his participants enjoying themselves; but life is very different now, much more stressful in the work place, more pressure and difficulties in establishing work/life balance. So enjoyment is extremely important too, for overall well-being (happiness) and you cannot enjoy what you are doing, if you are not fully present and aware, now can you? This also has the effect of switching your mind away from daily life, clearing your stresses and worries and calming the mind.

To summarise, concentrating or being mindful in each and every moment of your class and understanding and executing the Pilates principles in each and every exercise, will ensure both maximum physical gains and enjoyment, leading to improvements in overall well-being and happiness! Perfection.

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