Pilates is a complex exercise system designed to improve or create bodily alignment, thereby improving posture, muscular strength, core stability, flexibility, and agility. Pilates can be engaged in for exercise and physical development, or, with more of an emphasis upon remediation of postural and movement problems which are the result of illness, injury or lifestyle. Joseph Pilates originally called his exercise technique “Contrology”, and this evolved over the years through his work during World War 1 with injured soldiers at internment camps in the UK, and after the war with police officers, professional dancers and fitness enthusiasts, both in the UK and Germany. Around 1925 he left Germany, moved to New York, and with his wife Clara started their own studio. Although Joseph and Clara worked mostly with injured professional dancers, Pilates believed that his system was beneficial as a general exercise system for all (and, of course, it is!).
Besides working with clients, Joseph and Clara also taught others to carry on their exercise system. In the late 1960s, UK dancer and teacher Alan Herdman travelled to the USA to receive training from Carola Trier and Bob Fitzgerald, two instructors who Pilates had personally trained. In 1970 Alan returned to the UK to open Britain’s first ever London Pilates studio, where he firstly worked with actors, dancers and singers, and shortly found himself receiving many referrals from medical professionals requesting him to work with their patients with chronic injuries. Besides working with clients over the decades since, Alan has spread his training worldwide and has authored a number of books. Not surprisingly, Alan Herdman’s training and certification of Pilates teachers is now one of the top trainings available throughout the world.
In modern times Pilates has evolved and is not solely participated in by those who are ill or who have been injured. Pilates is a fun and often challenging exercise system available for everyone who wants to engage with it. If you do, you will find numerous benefits which include improvements in your body awareness, in your pelvic and thoracic stability, and in your overall bodily alignment which in turn helps you to improve your posture. Through improvements in posture you are able to increase your overall stamina because you are not wasting valuable energy compensating for your bodily misalignment.
Besides the mat exercises that Joseph Pilates devised, he also invented many different types of apparatus (the term which he used to describe his exercise machines). Working with bedridden WW1 soldiers in the internment camps, Pilates attached springs to the bedposts which enabled the soldiers to stretch and strengthen their muscles, whilst keeping their bodies in alignment, free from further injury, and at the same time helping them to develop core strength. The use of interchangeable springs, of various lengths and gauge, was later developed into his apparatus, particularly his Universal Reformer and Cadillac. As Pilates continued developing his exercise system, he developed more and more different types of apparatus. In today’s Pilates studio, you will find a range of apparatus that's nothing at all like the metal monsters found in gyms! Each piece of Pilates apparatus is a combination of engineering science, art and craft. They are constructed of precision metal springs, framed in highly crafted wood, padded flat surfaces, designed for gentle, carefully balanced movements which keep your body aligned and at the same time help you to activate your deep core muscles. The movements are so precise that they seem like you use very little effort or strength. However, each movement needs a great deal of concentration on your part.
Pilates mat exercises are very gentle resistance exercises designed to help build muscular strength and endurance. Using your own body weight allows you to reach these goals without struggling to lift heavy weights. Pilates, whether using apparatus or simply mat work, also helps build joint flexibility, agility, and muscular balance.
There is an endless range of Pilates mat exercises and I teach these exercises combining both linear and non-linear movements which allow you to increase your personal flexibility throughout your body. However, no matter what the exercise is, and no matter what the difficulty level is, all Pilates exercises are to be performed in correct postural alignment for you to be able to gain the most physical benefit.
Sports Yoga training consists of exercise sequences aimed at increasing your range of movement, core stability, balance, strength, flexibility and agility. These exercises are not the kind of complex poses associated with other yoga! Sports Yoga is all about movement (linear and non-linear), not getting into strange-looking and difficult poses! And, unlike Pilates, Sports Yoga uses no apparatus at all. It's all based on exercises which are done lying, standing, sitting or stretched out in various ways on an exercise mat, for padding and comfort. Sports Yoga is a combination exercise system that has evolved from Pilates, yoga, functional movement, and other body areas, such as kinesiology and fascia and soft tissue therapy.
Most of us are born with the capability to enjoy our body’s full range of movement (by the way, this is equally true for girls and boys). Over time we lose our flexibility - our ability to move freely and fluidly. This loss can be attributed to sports or exercise participation, but it can also be attributed to our lifestyle. As a result we often experience feelings of “stiffness” throughout different parts of our body. We just "...can’t seem to move there!” Or, “I ache here!” These aches, pains, and/or stiffness may be due to living a sedentary lifestyle, or to repetitive movements in your exercise or sport which may cause muscular imbalance in your body over a period of time.
Such issues may also be caused by “favouring” one side of your body as you use, or over use, certain body areas. Another likely cause of aches or stiffness may be from your body’s healing process which may have been initiated from an injury or illness. And, finally, your lack of flexibility may be from a combination of one or more other factors too numerous to list. Whatever the underlying reason(s) for your muscular imbalances or restrictions, these limit your personal flexibility, your ability to move, and limit you from enjoying and succeeding in your sport or exercise. It doesn't need to be this way, however! Pilates, Sports Yoga or a combination of the two can help to alleviate this massive problem and make playing your sport, or achieving your exercise goals more realistic as a proposition.