9 Principles to Pump Up Your Pilates

As you do Pilates, use your breath to draw your mind into the present and whisk the tension out of your body. In every exercise, keep your abs "engaged" and elongate your spine. The instructions for each exercise tell you when to inhale and when to exhale. For now, just remember that you should breathe as you move.

In other fitness pursuits, you may have learned to go through the motions first and perfect your form second. In Pilates, it's the other way around. You learn to control your abs first and then proceed through a series of more progressive movements. At all times, you should feel in control of your body. If you don't, you're moving beyond your ability level. Make each movement slow and controlled. Make each movement count.

Center Focus
Everything in Pilates starts in your center—your abs and powerhouse—and moves outward. Before every exercise, pay attention to your center, making sure those abdominal muscles are pulled up and in. Eventually, you'll maintain a strong center even while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, sitting at your desk, driving your car, or watching TV.

Pilates is a fluid series of exercises, with each exercise smoothly leading into the next. You rarely stop to hold a pose. You should feel graceful as you perform these exercises.

It's important to do an exercise just right, so you benefit fully. Just the slightest adjustment can make all of the difference between really feeling a move and not feeling it at all.

If you see yourself doing Pilates exercises in your mind, you'll pick them up faster. When I practiced gymnastics, I would imagine myself executing a perfect floor routine. The visualization helped me perform better. Imagine yourself executing perfect exercises, then do them. You'll be amazed at how your imagination can transform your results.

You may have heard the saying, "Listen to your body." Pilates will teach you to fine-tune that skill. Pay attention to how your body feels in every exercise. If something hurts, don't force yourself through it. You may simply need to fine-tune the exercise. Keep practicing. Eventually, you'll be at one with your body, allowing its intuition to tell you how many repetitions to do and how long to hold a stretch. Some days, you'll feel more flexible and stronger than others. Do the best you can and always listen to your body.

In Pilates, you work your body as a unit. You'll soon integrate this principle into everyday life. You'll notice that you walk with ease. Rather than only using your legs, you'll use your entire body. This integration will give you a new grace to your movements, and, believe me, people will notice a connection with your "whole body"!

And finally, before getting started, do something simple yet effective: Put a smile on your face.
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