How I Got Into Pilates…

“Patience & persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.” –Joseph Pilates

Unlike many Pilates instructors, I’ve never been a dancer and I did not transition to the field of Pilates from the world of ballet. I never considered myself to be particularly graceful, so the last thing I would have ever predicted eight years ago (when I was first acquainted with Pilates) was that I would end up a complete aficionado of the method – one known for its elegant and fluid dance-like motions. Plus, I was already doing my thing, working in marketing/PR full-time and utilizing my journalism degree to its potential…not at all anticipating taking on another career!

But, that’s life, and I believe I “stumbled” upon Pilates by chance and fortune. My first experience with Pilates was when I decided to spontaneously try a mat class at a nearby rec center. I found the class to be fun, powerfully intense (yet gentle on the body), relaxing, and never monotonous. I was immediately hooked.

Even though I was enjoying Pilates as a form of fitness – and it was the only exercise regimen I’d ever really stuck with regularly – my eyes truly widened when I began using Pilates as a form of rehabilitation a few years later. At a physical therapy clinic, where I had been rehabilitating from major spine surgery, a therapist introduced me to the Pilates reformer and other apparatus (basically modified gymnastics equipment). With diligent practice on these fun, low-impact machines with adjustable spring resistance, my back pain soon decreased and my overall body strength and range of motion increased immensely.

In little time, Pilates became my passion, my sanctuary and my tool to rebuild my health, and this led me to want to learn more. Naturally, I wanted to share my passion with others, and soon embarked on my path toward becoming a certified instructor. During the 1.5  year-long certification process, I realized how much I not only loved studying the Pilates technique, but I also relished learning about anatomy and kinesiology. This zeal that had long lain dormant and undiscovered is now fully awake! 😉

The ceaseless benefits of Pilates continue to greet me, and I am always encouraged by the results. While Pilates is not a panacea for all ailments and conditions, I can attest first-hand that consistent training is conducive to improved health and performance. Whether a person is looking to balance, strengthen or heal their body, he or she will significantly benefit from the life-enhancing gains of Pilates. It is through these gains, and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to reach these gains, that I am gratified and inspired to live, learn and teach. As my mom once told me, “Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” I couldn’t agree more.

Just Breathe

Joseph Pilates once said that “if you don’t get anything right, get the breathing right.”

I often receive questions about breathing during Pilates. People wonder if they are breathing correctly or at the right time. There are many opinions about “proper” Pilates breathing (as far as when to inhale and when to exhale), but, especially with beginning clients, I am personally more focused on just making sure a person is not taking quick, shallow breaths or holding their breath – both which increase tension.

Once a person becomes somewhat familiarized with Pilates exercises, I try to encourage conscious breathing a bit more so as to release any tension and fully relax the body. Even though we all know that breath is the source of life, it is surprising how few individuals breathe properly! By employing full inhalations and full exhalations, we expel stale air and noxious gases from our lungs and replenish our body with fresh air to revitalize our system. This kind of breathing enhances the control of our movement and delivers oxygen directly to the muscles being used…not only in Pilates, but in our daily lives.

The best way to understand Pilates breathing – which is best defined as lateral postural breathing – is to imagine inhaling cool, fresh air (through your nose) when you open and expand your body and exhaling (through your mouth) warm, deep and stale air whenever you close and contract your body. Essentially, you want to activate all the muscles involved in the respiratory process, especially the deep abdominal muscles (mainly the Transversus Abdominis).

When you inhale,  think of a fish breathing through its gills. In other words, feel the air flow through your upper chest and down along your spine, taking air into your lower lungs and expanding the back and sides of your ribcage, like a balloon. Did you notice how your shoulders lifted slightly? Did your back extend and your diaphragm lower as your entire chest expanded? If you lift your arms in the air, so as to stretch, it will likely seem intuitive to breathe in.

The exhale should last longer than the inhale, as you want to force every last drop of air out of your lungs – think of fogging up a mirror. As you do so, do you notice how your diaphragm raises, your chest caves inward and you naturally pull in your abs as your ribcage closes? If you add an exertive movement to that breathing pattern, such as lowering your arms back down, you can imagine how much sense it makes to exhale. Furthermore, if you were carrying weight in your hands, as simulated by the straps on the Pilates reformer, you will naturally be inclined to exhale on the exertion of that movement.

To keep it simpleInhale to prepare for a movement, open your chest, and lengthen or extend your spine. Exhale on exertion and to engage your abs more deeply.