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Pilates

The Pilates Method (or simply Pilates) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. As of 2005 there are 11 million people who practice the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.

Pilates called his method Contrology, because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles. The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso muscles, which are important to help alleviate and prevent back pain.

Principles

Pilates claimed his method has a philosophical and theoretical foundation. It claims not merely to be a collection of exercises but a method developed and refined over more than eighty years of use and observation. One interpretation of Pilates Principles: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breathing, and Flowing Movement, is similar to yoga.

Mind over matter
According to practitioners, the central element of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it the body will move with economy, grace, and balance; using one's body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. The goal is to produce an attention-free union of mind and body, the method requires that one constantly pays attention to one's body while doing the movements. Paying attention to movement is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of the movements or the method...

Breathing
Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. Full and thorough inhalation and exhaltation are part of every Pilates exercise. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation. “Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry,” he is reputed to have said. Breathing, too, should be done with concentration, control, and precision. It should be properly coordinated with movement. Each exercise is accompanied by breathing instructions. Joseph Pilates stated, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly”.

Centering
Pilates called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” All energy for Pilates exercises begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities. Physical energy exerted from the center coordinates one's movements. Pilates felt that it was important to build a strong powerhouse in order to rely on it in daily living. Modern instructors call the powerhouse the "core".

Concentration
Pilates demands intense focus. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be accessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps. Beginners learn to pay careful attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing. In 2006, at the Parkinson Center of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, the concentration factor of the Pilates method was being studied in providing relief from the degenerative symptoms of Parkinson's disease .

Control
Joseph Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. That meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements. Every Pilates exercise must be performed with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. It's not about intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, it's more about proper form for safe, effective results.

Precision
Every movement in the Pilates method has a purpose. Every instruction is vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Eventually this precision becomes second nature, and carries over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.

Drawbacks
Pilates instruction can be costly. Instructors justify these costs due to their expensive education, cost of studio rentals, and equipment. Sometimes a new trainee will be given close, personally tailored supervision until his or her instructor believes the trainee has developed sufficient knowledge to continue training in a class or group.

Another less obvious drawback to Pilates is that while it can tone the rectus and transverse abdominis muscles, when performed wrongly or too often, certain exercises can also cause over-development in the external and internal oblique muscles of the abdomen, resulting in a flat stomach but occasionally, a wider waist. This is because much of Pilates is practiced through flexion with the torso moving in a linear, forward fashion.

Exercising during pregnancy is important for maintaining muscle strength and preventing musculoskeletal problems and Pilates in pregnancy is well-recognized as having many benefits both in physical and mental well-being. Yet, many exercises are contra-indicated and the use of Pilates in pregnancy should only be undertaken under guidance of a fully trained expert.


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