Pilates: wake up your core

Shortly after I gave birth to my daughter by Caesarian section, I literally felt like I had no abdominal muscles. I could just about see that they were there, but it felt like they were in a deep sleep. It was an ‘interesting’ (read deeply disturbing) feeling. It was like I had to teach my muscles to do things all over again: simple things like getting up from the sofa, walking, and picking something up from the floor. Soon enough I was able to get by, but even a couple of years later I really felt like I could use (a lot) more strength in my abs.

I had heard some good things about Pilates: that it helps with post natal strength and that it’s good for your core. So as soon as I got the opportunity, I started a class. What a difference it made! I can honestly say that after a short course of classes I could see a big difference. Physical every day life became easier, I felt stronger, and my abdominal muscles felt like they’d woken up.

After giving birth a second time I started Pilates again. This time round, thankfully, there was no surgery, so not the same urgency for re-training the abs. But I have found that my sense of well-being has vastly improved, and that I’m more aware of my body. I am also aware of my posture, and constantly correct the position of my spine and shoulders. Also I have found that the strength, balance and focus I get from Pilates really compliments the other exercise I do: swimming and, on occasion, Zumba. It’s hard work but I love it. I feel relaxed and happy after doing it. It’s like my body thanks me.

It turns out that there is some fascinating history to Pilates: Developing the Pilates exercise method was Joseph Pilates’ response to his own ill health as a child. After suffering from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever as a kid, he was determined to re – educate and train his body in order to increase his strength and improve his health. He worked hard and through self study and exercise he achieved a physique good enough to be modelling for anatomy charts by the age of 14.

He later went on to become a circus performer and a self defence instructor, employed at one time by Scotland Yard.

During the First World War while he lived in England as a German National, he was placed in a camp under forced internment. At this time he taught fellow camp mates about his exercises and concepts. Later on he was transferred to a different camp where he became a nurse and care giver to many patients who suffered with diseases that were common at the time. He began rehabilitating them back to health, so much so that all the patients in his care survived a flu outbreak in 1918.

Pretty impressive, right? And not at all surprising that I’ve felt such improvement in my health and well being after doing Pilates. In fact, there is even an argument that it helps boost your immune system by making your lymphatic and respiratory system more efficient. You can read more about that here.

So what’s the thinking behind this super duper exercise method? It’s quite simple, and based on the teaching of balance and control of the entire body, which then spills into every day life (as has been my experience). It’s all about six basic principles:

1. Centering- doing all the hard work with the core, central muscles in your body (including all your abdominal muscles, your pelvic floor, your spine), your powerhouse as Pilates called it.

2. Concentration- concentrating the mind to guide the body.

3. Control – being in control of each movement so that gravity, momentum and habit do not take over. (This one makes it hurt particularly much when you do it right).

4. Precision- it’s better to do a few repeats and do them correctly – quality rather than quantity.

5. Breath- breathing deeply to send maximum oxygen to the muscles when they need it.

6. Flow- once you have l the quality and precision of the movement, Pilates exercises are meant to flow into each other.

So there you have it. I thoroughly recommend Pilates. In my experience, it will wake up your core, and do so much more: improve your breathing, posture, health, immune system, and general every day life. Well worth it!

Read more about it here.