Celebration of Controlled Movement: Pilates is Much More Than Stretching
Mar 02, 2017 07:48PM
● By Ariana Rawls Fine
Increased stability, flexibility and balance. More body awareness. Easier movement. Better focus. Improved posture. Individualized challenges. These are all phrases associated with the Pilates exercise system. In a simplified definition, the modality is described as a mind-body exercise that utilizes floor mats and an assortment of specialized equipment.
Pilates follows the principles established by Joseph Hubertus Pilates, a German-born self-defense and exercise instructor who eventually made his way to the U.S. in 1926 after World War I. During his internment in England during the war as an “enemy alien”, Pilates refined his system of exercise, including rigging hospital beds with springs that enabled bedridden patients to use resistance in order to exercise. This provided inspiration for the equipment designs we are now more familiar with, according to Balanced Body, a California based company offering Pilates and mindful movement equipment, information and education.
The Pilates exercise system gained popularity over the years, especially with dancers and athletes because of its focus on the body’s core and its ability to help them optimally build their strength and flexibility with specialized equipment. There are currently more than 11,000 Pilates studios in the U.S. alone. With an emphasis on breath awareness, balance and coordination, some of the benefits of Pilates can include increased self-confidence, improved posture, quicker rehabilitation from injuries and/or surgeries, and enhanced strengthening for performances or injury prevention. Boosting immunity by reducing stress is an added bonus.
“One of the big misunderstandings is that people think Pilates is all about stretching; it is more about learning how our bodies move. It is so rewarding as an instructor to have people coming in with injuries, body issues and posture problems who are then able to line up their body so it can function better,” explains Laura Pennock, owner of The Black Rock Pilates Studio (BlackRockPilates.com) in Bridgeport.
Pennock relays a story about a client several years ago who had broken her back and was prompted by her orthopedist to try Pilates. Within six weeks, Pennock says she was doing a full class after not being able to do a “bridge” pose in the beginning. “She was taking the time at home to sit better, she was walking, and she was working with her body. ‘Make your body a place where you want to live,’ a saying goes. So we needed to make her ‘house’ better.”
Pennock was introduced to the practice of Pilates as a dancer in New York City. After she finished professionally dancing and teaching dance, an injury prompted her to begin exploring Pilates again as a teacher 16 years ago. While she learned the classical Pilates at first, she was more drawn to the practice of “contemporary Pilates” and also became involved with Balanced Body four years ago. She opened her Black Rock studio in 2005. Situated in the same building as Black Rock Physical Therapy, Pennock collaborates with owner Tara Collins, PT, IMT.C, CSCS, who shares a similar philosophy and offers more holistic physical therapy to patients.
While running was important to Marion Cooper, frequent bouts of back pain were curtailing her ability to enjoy the activity. Now the owner of Mind-Body Connection Pilates (Mind-BodyConnection.com) in New Milford, Cooper found through the practice of Pilates that her pain issues were actually attributed to weaker core muscles and limited flexibility rather than the strain of running. She began teaching the modality in 2010, leaving behind many years of working in a corporate environment to become certified through the Balanced Body University program.
There are different styles of Pilates, similar to other modalities, with different workouts, equipment setups, individual services and environment. An instructor’s focus and background—such as in dance, boxing, injury recovery or surgery preparation—are also important components in figuring out what makes sense for individual systems, bodies, needs, levels and temperament.
“Everyone finds a connection mentally to heal better and be active; to breathe deeper; and to be taller, stronger and more open,” Cooper explains. “A low-impact repertoire enables people to connect directly to their bodies. That is a really unique beauty about Pilates.” When movement becomes painful—such as with arthritis and fibromyalgia—people often stop moving, she says. Pilates is controlled, low impact motion, working with different amounts of resistance to isolate muscles or use the whole body, so it is ideal for those suffering from autoimmune conditions.
For someone who is very fit, Pilates can be athletic. For those with special needs, instructors can adjust to meet the current limitations of the client. That’s why it is key to learn the background of a potential instructor and understand whether their expertise is in classical, fusion or another variation that best fits a person’s needs, Cooper says.
“It is frustrating because while anyone can teach Pilates, it needs to be taught well and taught individually in order to be truly effective for each person,” Pennock says.
Simona Cipriani, director of The Art of Control (ArtofControl.com) and the educational director of The Art and Science of Contrology Pilates Training Program, agrees. She is a second-generation Pilates instructor who studied with Romana Kryzanowska and became a certified Authentic Pilates Method instructor in 1993. Cipriani travels throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia teaching Pilates seminars and workshops in addition to offering Pilates, massage therapy and Feldenkrais services at the Stamford-based Synergy Health & Fitness.
Working in collaboration with her husband, Dr. Joe Muscolino, DC, the certifications Cipriani offer also focus on the art and science of control, on the mechanics behind the movement, and on the medical aspects of what is happening inside the body during Pilates. To address the need for qualified teachers, she focuses her certificate program on teaching the teachers in studios that represent The Art of Control school in Singapore, Sydney, Amman, London and other cities.
In addition to dedicated studios, Pilates classes can be found at fitness clubs, wellness centers, rehabilitation clinics and even recreation centers such as a local YMCA. Based on a person’s need, time availability and funds, group and individual sessions are offered by most practitioners.
Ariana Rawls Fine is editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County/Housatonic Valley, CT and Natural Awakenings New Haven/Middlsex. She resides in Stratford with her family.