Why Pi­lates is a pow­er­ful body-strength­en­ing tool


Good Health (Australia) - - Content -

Revered for its abil­ity to cre­ate strong, lean mus­cles with par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on core con­trol, Pi­lates is in­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. We spoke with Dr Brent An­der­son the founder of Polestar Pi­lates, an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised leader in Pi­lates in­struc­tor train­ing, to find out what this body-strength­en­ing ex­er­cise tech­nique has to of­fer and what the lat­est re­search and de­vel­op­ments are.

What are the cen­tral tenets of Pi­lates?

I think first we have to un­der­stand where Pi­lates came from. It goes back to Joseph Pi­lates – he was from Ger­many and­had stud­ied yoga and an­i­mal move­ment, he was also a boxer and a wrestler. By the time he got to New York, he be­came fas­ci­nated with the dance world, which is how most of us came to know him. His phi­los­o­phy was much more than just move­ment – there was a whole life as­pect to it. In fact, his for­mula for health and hap­pi­ness was ex­er­cise, nutri­tion, sleep hy­giene, body hy­giene, and men­tal hy­giene. He en­dorsed plenty of fresh air and sun­shine, and a bal­ance be­tween work, recre­ation and rest. Of­ten we get so hung up on the ex­er­cise part that we miss the other tenets – it’s how you breathe, it’s the en­ergy that flows through our bod­ies, it’s how we move.

How does Pi­lates dif­fer from yoga?

It’s def­i­nitely more west­ern­ised. Joseph took el­e­ments of Hatha yoga, his box­ing train­ing and dance. I think we have let it stray a lit­tle too far from its yoga roots, to be hon­est. Joseph talked about the de­vel­op­ment of body, mind and spirit, and that the first req­ui­site of hap­pi­ness was a strong body and a mind fully ca­pa­ble of do­ing their many daily tasks with joy. There is a very strong spir­i­tual el­e­ment that ex­isted in his phi­los­o­phy of be­ing who you are and be­ing present. We know now from ev­i­dence-based re­search that 15 min­utes a day of un­in­ter­rupted con­cen­tra­tion med­i­ta­tion or mind­ful move­ment can re­set the stress clock in your lim­bic sys­tem.

Why is spine mo­bil­ity and core con­trol so im­por­tant in Pi­lates?

In dance it’s about look­ing like our move­ments are ef­fort­less, that’s the essence of bal­let – to make the bal­le­rina look like she’s float­ing. There is an el­e­ment of this con­cept of ef­fi­ciency of move­ment in Pi­lates. Con­sider the gym where in con­trast there is the idea of max­i­mum load, max­i­mum rep­e­ti­tions – no pain, no gain. The idea is to have big, hard mus­cles. We’ve be­come so fix­ated on this we have lost sight of what it feels like to move ef­fi­ciently and well, which is what Joseph was look­ing at. As for core con­trol, this has been mis­un­der­stood to be ab­dom­i­nal strength. Core con­trol by def­i­ni­tion means con­trol of your trunk.

For us this means that you have the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of stiff­ness for the an­tic­i­pated load de­pend­ing on the ac­tiv­ity. So, if I am go­ing to throw a ball I need a cer­tain amount of stiff­ness to be able to gen­er­ate torque to throw the ball with my hand. The mis­un­der­stand­ing comes when peo­ple think they have to con­sciously con­tract a mus­cle – think­ing they’re hold­ing their core to be stronger. In re­al­ity they’re in­ter­fer­ing with the body’s nat­u­ral way of in­ter­act­ing with load. If you have good align­ment and good mo­bil­ity, load will dic­tate core con­trol.

Can strong abs help peo­ple with lower back pain?

Re­search shows that there is no cor­re­la­tion be­tween bet­ter back health and the abil­ity to pre­vent back in­jury by hav­ing a stronger core. If any­thing, it in­ter­feres with nor­mal mus­cu­lar de­vel­op­ment. We would do bet­ter to cre­ate play­ful move­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple with lower back pain and teach them how to re­lax, breathe, move ef­fi­ciently and how to use as lit­tle mus­cle as pos­si­ble in their move­ment; how to dis­trib­ute the mo­tion from ar­eas of pain to other ar­eas. But most im­por­tant is that they have an ex­pe­ri­ence that they be­lieve is go­ing to give them hope and they can shift their par­a­digm. Their per­cep­tion is by far the big­gest pre­dic­tor of out­come – much more so than any kind of phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion. Strength, range of mo­tion, co­or­di­na­tion, these are im­por­tant fac­tors. If you be­lieve you are go­ing to get bet­ter, you will get bet­ter. To in­flu­ence that we need to cre­ate pos­i­tive move­ment ex­pe­ri­ences with­out pain.



Do you have any per­sonal sto­ries of great changes you’ve ob­served in peo­ple who prac­tise Pi­lates?

Too many to count. In Pi­lates we re­quire peo­ple to be present, we en­cour­age them to move with the breath and be aware of what their body is do­ing. When you bring at­ten­tion to how the move­ment feels for a per­son – and it makes them feel lighter, more mo­bile, like they’re us­ing fewer mus­cles for the same thing – they can get to a state of en­light­en­ment. There’s a great say­ing, “When one achieves mind­ful­ness of them­selves, they achieve mind­ful­ness of how their ac­tions in­flu­ence oth­ers and then they get their first glimpse of re­al­ity”. This aware­ness changes peo­ple in the most beau­ti­ful way.

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