1. You Have to Already Be Fit and Flexible to Do Pilates.When Joseph Pilates said, "In 10 sessions, you will feel the difference. In 20, you will see the difference. And in 30, you'll have a whole new body," he didn't follow up with, "But only if you are under 30, thin, and limber." We are, after all, around 75 percent water. Our bodies are naturally dynamic and responsive. The main obstacle to achieving our wellness goals is proper, intelligent, and consistent practice.
With an experienced instructor, Pilates is an ideal support for a wide range of physical conditions and needs. Pilates is appropriate for post-rehabilitation, sedentary desk jockeys, and anyone who needs a program that is gentle on the joints and body.
2. Pilates is Just Like Yoga.Pilates and yoga are both sophisticated systems of integrative exercise with some basic similarities. The common ground they share is the linking of breath with movement. Bringing attention to the breath calls the mind into focus, awakening the mind/body connection. Pilates and yoga both create a longer, hence more flexible, muscle fiber. This combination of length and flexibility represents a key benefit from both practices.
Some practitioners combine these forms, while others prefer the emphasis Pilates places on strength building. Another distinction is the support Pilates lends to realignment, or addressing the movement patterns that contribute to chronic conditions. The targeted core-work of Pilates reorganizes and empowers the body to provide its own underlying support and poise.
3. Pilates is Just for Women.This is a strange idea, considering that "Contrology," the original name for Pilates, was developed by a man, Pilates. Pilates was a gymnast, a boxer, and a military trainer in his early years. Men have always played an important role in the Pilates world.
Pentagon TV includes Pilates on its Fit for Duty lineup of video workouts for service men and women alike. James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio was an original student of Pilates and remains an avid practitioner. Tiger Woods is on top of the growing list of male athletes who have become true Pilates devotees. Professional sports teams now put Pilates equipment in their weight rooms.
Once past the old idea that "real" exercise brings pain, sweat, and exhaustion, the benefits that Pilates offers can be achieved.
4. Pilates is Expensive.With the correct approach and a sincere intention to learn, Pilates doesn't require a huge outlay of money. Instead, conquer the learning curve by integrating the form into the body and establishing muscle memory. While this can require an upfront investment, the principles learned in Pilates apply to many other activities and last a lifetime.
Group classes using reformer, chair, or mat are widely available and cost effective. Look for smaller, level-specific classes to get the most out of your Pilates dollar. You can also ask an instructor to develop a home program with you. In these cases, meet with your instructor occasionally to review your program and check for movement habits that can creep in. Typically, studios with certification programs offer discounted lessons with teachers-in-training.
And of course, when you consider money spent on injuries resulting from inefficient movement patterns, or the expense of chronic physical pain, the cost of feeling great is nominal.
5. Pilates is Easy.Pilates is an adaptable form of exercise that can be easy or very hard, depending on the needs of the individual. The fact that Pilates exercises can be modified for different populations is one of the greatest strengths of this practice.
Because Pilates has become extremely popular, practically every gym in the U.S. offers basic level Pilates classes. This is a good thing, but it also limits exposure to the broader repertoire and complexity of the form. Pilates exercises are often done slowly. The emphasis on awareness and control can make an exercise look easy to the casual observer. Joseph Pilates intended "Contrology" to be practiced with poise. "You must always do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it. Everything should be smooth, like a cat."
All myths aside—in real life, and on real bodies—benefits of a consistent Pilates practice include improved posture and flexibility, greater physical confidence, energy and balance. Pilates cultivates increased core strength along with re-education of the body's musculature, fascia, and movement patterns, allowing your body to achieve its natural alignment and support. Practiced regularly, Pilates literally changes the body.
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Elizabeth Russell holds degrees in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska and Theater/Movement Studies from Naropa University. She co-directs Bodies in Balance, a Pilates/Movement Education studio in downtown Portland, Oregon.