Pilates is an exercise program designed to help strengthen your body from the inside out. Exercises will help develop strength and flexibility in your abdominal muscles, back, shoulders, and arms. Joseph Pilates created the movement technique to revolve around some primary principles. These principles include concentration, control, centering, fluidity, and precision of movement, as well as proper supportive breathing techniques.
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These principles tend to sound scientific and stuffy; however, the form itself has been designed with such a natural approach that it automatically lends itself to deep imagination, intuition, and integration.
For the purpose of this article, the focus is on three of the aforementioned principles: Concentration, centering, and breath.
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For a moment, consider the effortless movements of toddlers. They do not hold their breath, they do not slump as they play with their toys, and they tend to enjoy the freedom of being able to move quickly on short little legs. When is this inherent joy of movement? When does life begin to feel labored? Does it need to be this way? Exercise should help bring you back to a state of being that is effortless. This is a place where breath happens from a natural stress-free environment, where your posture is not labored or forced, and where your concentration on objects (be it a toy or a computer) is exciting, not fatiguing.
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From the very beginning of a Pilates lesson you'll start to notice the natural state of your body. This enables your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is one of the two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of "rest-and-digest" activities that occur when the body is at rest, including salivation, tears, urination, and digestion. Its action is described as being complementary to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stimulating activities associated with the fight-or-flight response.
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As you become calm, you're able to make more profound changes in your body. This is when you can fully examine your true flexibility and strengths without injury. This is a place where your breath is less labored and more natural. It is also a state where posture tends to be at a premium, helping to assist in the biomechanics of the rest of the lesson/class.
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Try this exercise the next time you go walking. Imagine you forgot to finish an important assignment given by your boss. How does your walk feel? Are you overwhelmed? Fatigued? Does it require more energy for you to finish your route? For the second half of your walk imagine that your route takes you through soft grass next to a babbling brook on a warm summer afternoon. Does your posture change? Are you breathing easier?
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The way a human's mind works is still a mystery to some of the world's greatest neuroscientists; however, the simple children's stories such as The Little Engine That Could had it right. You are capable of anything that you put your mind to. The way you think is so deeply seated in the way you behave it is miraculous.
Many approach exercise as if it were another chore. Perhaps this is why you don't share the joy of a toddler scurrying across the room. Perhaps it is also why we gripe about exercise rather than relishing in it.
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Mechanically the Pilates approach to movement will help you with improved awareness, flexibility, and strength. Through imagery it will also help you with improved concentration, centering, and breath. But hopefully with a defined purpose it will help create better belief in one's own body and lend to an improved sense of well-being.
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