What is Pilates?
By Phenomgirl / March 8, 2018
Photo credit Michelle Morton
You may describe Pilates as the "middle child." Recognized as the sibling who doesn't get the deserved attention. Pilates expert, Michelle Morton explains why adding this extraordinary exercise to our workout regimen could be an added bonus in getting you on the fast track to greater health.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a system of exercises performed both on the mat and on specialized equipment that uniformly develops the body, invigorates the mind and spirit, stimulates circulation, restores proper alignment and function, corrects poor postures and faulty movements, and connects you to your core. Alignment becomes first priority when teaching the work of Pilates. You begin to understand what “tightness” means, muscular development, either overly developed or muscularly under developed, and you learn about joint and spine flexibility and stability. It is important to first understand how essential the mat work is and then incorporate the apparatus, because it is in the mat work where you build the basic understanding and foundation of movement and how it specifically relates to you.
The Pilates' work is designed to address pathologies due to habitual patterns, injuries, or trauma and analyzes postures which create poor movement patterns. It is an opportunity for your spine to experience Flexion, Extension, Side-bending, Rotation and Twisting promoting a healthy spine. Once you've succeeded in learning the basic fundamentals of movement you begin layering in more challenging exercises creating a sequence that transitions a person from basic to intermediate to advanced level. Changing a poor habit or posture that does not serve you well requires repetition, patience, and persistence. The important thing to remember is no matter how advanced a body becomes fundamental movements are always incorporated.
Who invented Pilates?
Joseph Pilates was from Germany born in 1883 and died in New York City in 1967 at age 83. He was always very sick as a child and spent a lot of his childhood in hospital beds. He became enamored by the classical Greek ideal of a person being balanced in body, mind, and spirit, and began developing his method based on this concept. He was largely influenced by martial arts, gymnastics, boxing, and yoga. He even spent time in the circus.
Joe came to New York City in 1926. He and his wife, Clara, started a fitness studio that shared the same address as the New York City ballet on 56th and 8th, which is where he began instructing George Balanchine and other dancers like Martha Graham.
Joe’s original method was named “Contrology”. The exercises became very popular but the name did not. This is when his exercise method became better known as “Pilates”.
How did Pilates entered your life?
In 2000, I suffered from a neck injury after I was rear-ended at a complete stop. I was sent to physical therapy and from there referred to Pilates, where my life was forever changed. Based on my quick recovery due to the benefits and the way Pilates changed my body through posture and alignment, I knew there was something special about teaching Pilates. This was how I was going to help others feel better.
How long have you been an instructor of this exercise?
I have been teaching Pilates since 2004 for over 14 years.
What’s the training and education requirements to become a certified instructor?
All training and certifications are different. My Pilates program and training was an extensive program that included over 750 hours of lecture, observation, practice teaching, workshop, apprenticeship, and testing. After being classically trained and certified in mat and all apparatus, I was fortunate to be part of the founding teacher training class in Kathy Grant work. Kathy Grant was one of Joseph Pilates’ students and is considered one of the “elders” when referring to the Pilates lineage. I also took intermediate and advance level training at the Pilates Center in Boulder; a highly reputable certifying program.
What part of the body is Pilates geared to?
Pilates is geared to not one specific part of the body but uniformly develops the body as a whole. One of the main focus areas in Pilates is however developing the connection to and having a strong core, also known as your center.
What are the benefits of Pilates?
Pilates will change not only your body, but your life. Benefits include decreased acute and chronic aches and pains, it improves overall health and well-being, balance, strengthens your core, and you find yourself having more energy at the end of the day. Pilates lengthens and tones the body, and as mentioned above invigorates the mind and spirit, stimulates circulation, restores proper alignment and function, and corrects poor postures and faulty movement patterns.
Why hasn’t Pilates gotten the attention compared to the more “trendy” Yoga?
I believe there are three reasons Pilates has not received the attention it deserves when comparing it to Yoga: (1)People don’t know what Pilates is. (2)People find Pilates to be too hard. (3)People find Pilates to be expensive.
Is Pilates more popular in certain cities?
Pilates has become popular both nationally and globally. Teachers visit all over the world teaching other teachers how to teach the Pilates method and it has become extremely universal in countries such as the US, Japan, Australia, and South America just to name a few regions where Pilates is widely practiced.
What are the similarities and differences between Pilates and Yoga?
Similarities that Pilates and Yoga share would be: (1)Pilates and Yoga both have a series of exercises that maintain a sense of flow that are performed on the floor using a mat. (2)They both exercise similar principles such as Breath, Concentration, Control, Precision, Movement, Flow, and Body Awareness through every exercise. (3)Both Pilates and Yoga effectively tone muscles and build strength and balance.
Some differences would be: (1)The use of equipment and apparatus that Pilates incorporates where Yoga does not. ( 2)Although Pilates classes are very popular, typically individuals work one on one with a teacher that way your workout program is designed specifically for an individual’s body needs. (3)Pilates addresses flexibility like Yoga but has a deep focus on stability and strength at the level of the joints, and works to elongate muscle tone while decompressing the spine by resisting day to day activity and gravity’s pull.
Do clients find the machine used for this exercise intimidating? What does it do exactly? Does it have a name?
People’s first impression when they see the Pilates equipment from a distance or in a studio space is to be intimidated. However, for every Pilates introduction I have ever given in over the 14 years I have been teaching Pilates they have found instant affinity for the equipment, and are 100% more intrigued than afraid immediately after trying the equipment. Always walking away wanting to come back for more. So I always recommend trying and feeling the equipment once in order to understand what the apparatus has to offer.
Some of the Pilates apparatuses are designed using different springs that have different spring tension creating a sense of load or weight when they are engaged. Different exercises performed on the equipment require specific spring combinations that act as either resistance or assistance while doing an exercise. Other pieces of the equipment act as an aide for stretch or tactile feedback giving support where it is needed. The springs work to develop muscle tone, strengthen at the level of the joints, helps to mobilize and decompress the spine, giving a really amazing and deep stretch.
There are technically 6 different pieces of Pilates equipment and a few extra accessories that accompany. There is the Cadillac, the Reformer, Pilates High Barrel, Pilates High and/or Low Chair, the Ped-O-Pull, and The Guillotine Tower. The other accessories are Arc Barrel, Spine Corrector, Foot Corrector, and the Magic Circle/Ring.
Photo credit Michelle Morton
Why do you think some people describe Pilates as “hard.”
Pilates is considered “hard” because it requires such deep concentration and awareness of specific movements that can often times be so subtle you feel like you are hardly moving. Coordinating the mind and body can be rather challenging. You are listening to someone give you specific instructions that includes direction, movement, pace, cues and then asked to coordinate all of that with breathing, it can be a bit exhausting; especially if you don’t have a strong body awareness to begin with. Pilates requires a large amount of control which ultimately is learned through practice. Control over movement, breathing, balance, and coordination. The first few sessions you learn so much about your body and the habits and patterns you have developed over time that often times re-training or development is needed, that it can seem overwhelming. However, the key is to have patience and persistence and keep going back because what was extremely difficult in the beginning quickly turns into something of the past and the short and long term benefits out weigh the difficulties and challenges and become the most rewarding part of the day.
How would you introduce a first time client to Pilates?
Introducing Pilates for the first time to clients is one of my most favorite things. The amount of enlightenment and enjoyment a person receives from exploring their bodies in a new way for the first time is incredible. My first priority is to listen and learn something about the person in front of me. Whether they come to Pilates because of pain, discomfort, or sheer curiosity my goal is for them to always leave having learned something new about themselves and their bodies that they didn’t already know and to give them a movement experience in which they never felt before. I always begin with basic fundamental work which includes breathing as a warm up. Easing our way into layering in more movement and core connection. Bringing us into a full exercise sequence and ending with a cool down giving us time to reflect on everything they just did. I always begin with mat work in order to explain and have a person get to know their body without any distraction from the equipment. Then we apply what was learned on the mat to some of the equipment so a person gets to feel and experience what the springs and apparatus are like.
How many sessions would it take to see any benefits both physically or mentally?
I believe in Joseph Pilates’ model which is in 10 sessions you will feel a difference, in 20 sessions you will notice a difference, and in 30 sessions you are doing things in your body you never knew you could do. Personally in my experience, I would say in just one session you will walk away mentally and physically feeling a difference and the benefits of Pilates.
Are the sessions expensive?
Sessions can vary depending on studio location or if you have someone come to your home. Private Pilates sessions can vary anywhere from $80 to $150 in a studio depending on the level of training and teaching experience. If a Pilates teacher comes to you, again the price can vary, anywhere from $100-$200 an hour, because you pay for teaching level and experience along with convenience.
Would you suggest one on one sessions or group exercises?
I highly recommend one on one sessions. I also recommend taking a few private sessions before entering a group class so you can learn and understand your body and decrease the risk of getting injured and to ensure you get the most out of a group class. The reason being, each one on one session is designed specifically for an individual’s needs, wants, and goals. One on one sessions are crucial for identifying specific habits and patterns that lead to injury, pain, discomfort, and for correcting poor posture. Breaking an old habit or pattern that does not serve you well takes time, and practicing a new pattern or posture needs practice and persistence. There is an enormous amount of value gained in one on one work that can’t quite be achieved in a group class setting. With that being said group classes are excellent and important for maintenance and to keep a person moving and has great benefits as well.
Can someone with a health condition (diabetes, cholesterol, arthritis) add this exercise to their lifestyle?
It is absolutely essential for someone with a health condition to incorporate Pilates because of it’s calming, balancing, and strengthening components. Pilates helps a person to become more aware and better at breathing. More efficient breathing helps to cleanse the blood by bringing in new oxygen and expelling of the old breathe that becomes similar to a toxin once used by the body. Joseph Pilates himself had arthritis as a child and his method of Pilates can be super helpful in helping to relieve symptoms and manage the arthritis so it doesn’t get worse. I highly recommend Pilates for a person who has a health condition. Anything that can help calm and soothe at a nervous system level is important and Pilates does just that.
What do you like best about your job?
What I love best about my job is the passion for my work only grows stronger. After practicing Pilates for 18 years and teaching for over 14, I continue to fall in love with the work over and over again. Not only because it keeps me feeling and looking fabulous, but because the system works and I can trust the exercises to provide me with exactly what my body and mind needs on a daily basis. Then I get to share that passion and explore other people’s bodies helping them feel the same kind of love and connection to their own body. It is forever gratifying and satisfying being able to service people in this way.
Do you have any suggestions on what can be done to make Pilates become a part of our consciousness?
I suggest everyone go to a Pilates studio near them or to a place where they offer private one on one Pilates and treat themselves to a private session, at least once or twice to get a feel for the equipment and a taste for the exercises and see how it relates to your body. I would also like to encourage you to reach out for a 30 minute introduction session and try Pilates one on one with me.
From then to now, can you ever imagine Pilates not being a part of your life?
It was a blessing finding Pilates then, and it remains a gift to me today. Therefore, I live and die Pilates and will continue my practice for life.