Everyone and their dog seems to have done a Pilates class at some point. Many of us fall hard in love with it; but others struggle to see the point of it.
“It’s not that hard,” huffs my friend’s mother’s friend. “I just think I get more from a cardio class.”
Perhaps she does. Firstly, that’s her prerogative. Secondly, she feels differently in her body than I do in mine. Save any audible gasps for a truly offensive comment. But if that sentiment inspired something similar to hers in you, or even just curiosity, read on.
Pilates is not about burning calories or pushing yourself to your limit. It’s not about having washboard abs (a ridiculous bar to measure abdominal strength, if ever there were any). It’s not even about doing Hundreds without being in agony.
What Pilates is is a way to re-connect to parts of your body that are often neglected in exercise and forgotten in day-to-day living. There’s breathwork, alignment, stability, articulation. There’s core control, isometric movements, weight bearing and focus. There’s so much that Pilates unlocks about our understanding of our bodies in movement and in stillness.
Whether you take a beginner, intermediate or advanced class, whether it’s traditional (as Joseph Pilates taught with his many self-invented contraptions) or it’s modern, whether it is a general class or warm-up or down to different movement. There are so many ways for Pilates classes to flow, but the fundamentals stay the same. My personal training is being undertaken through Polestar Pilates, though there are many other reputable Pilates styles. Differences are generally minor, such as always keeping the spine neutral (Stott-style) or alternating between neutral and imprint based on the exercise (Polestar-style.) There are so many options, all with modifications readily available for whatever your skill level.
Pilates takes your mind and asks of it to be accountable for your body. At times, you might experience frustration, perhaps for example in trying to balance on one raised calf while the other foot wobbles perilously in space. Other times you might be delighted by the same challenge. If you’ve ever attempted airplane, where you first raise from on all fours onto an opposing arm and leg, and then onto just the one leg, attempting to hold your arms outstretched and one leg off the floor, you are left laughing your head off while you avoid faceplanting into the mat before you. It seems ridiculous that we could ask our bodies to do a pose so unnecessary, and yet there is so much to be gained by doing so. Our stabilisers work overtime to keep us upright; our core tightens to minimise the large flailing movements our airborne limbs wish to perform; and the smiles on our faces loom large and grand.
The best instructors are the ones who make no two classes the same. Over the hour they take you on a journey, visiting each part of your physical self and testing it in various ways. They may seem cruel at times — I know one of my pet exercises is the Hundred and Plank, two of the most despised by classmates and clients alike — but instructors have your best interest at heart. I think often of my favourite classes taken when I am designing my own. Those classes all share the instructor’s attitude in common: that doing exercises that are available to you, no matter how small or “easy”, will never be a waste of time.
Asking yourself to tap into your senses is a meditative experience. If you are feeling the tips of the fingers brush the mat as you hang forward of your hips, upside down, the unique feeling invites you to explore the space of your body in that moment. It’s thirty-minutes to an hour of time for you to spend in your body and experience strength in a plethora of ways. It’s a way to learn about how movement influences our thoughts and attitude. It’s seeing your own physique as a powerful and curious blessing. So if you do decide to try Pilates (or try it again!), go with a smile and enjoy the show that is your mind and body working in tandem.