The principles of Pilates – concentration

I am passionate about teaching mat-work Pilates because I believe that it underpins and provides a foundation for all our movement patterns. Of course we can can move without understanding the key principles of that Pilates is based on, but we are able to move more freely once we incorporate them into our everyday lives.

For me, Pilates isn’t about doing the Pilates exercises for the sake of doing them; Pilates is the gateway to developing a better insight into how our body moves, how everything in our body is connected and how our body connects to our environment.

The principles of Pilates

Joseph Pilates created 6 principles of Pilates, but over time these have been added to and there are now deemed to be 8 key principles:

  1. concentration
  2. centering
  3. breathing
  4. control
  5. precision
  6. flowing movement
  7. isolation
  8. routine

Although each one may be simple to grasp, trying to combine all of them into each exercise can be tricky so I suggest that you focus on 1 or 2 to start with and gradually introduce aspects of the others as you progress. Over time, a simple movement can become more challenging simply by focusing on several of the key principles at once.

Why do we need to know the principles of Pilates?

When we understand & learn to apply the principles behind Pilates, we can get the best results from practising the exercises.

With Pilates, the way in which the exercises are executed is of more importance than the number of repetitions completed or the exertion used. Mastering a simple exercise with control is often far more complicated than producing a larger movement!

I’m going to cover each of the key principles in separate posts, so that you can pick them up whenever you’re ready. I think the best way to develop your practice of using the principles, is to not to try to master them all at once. Start with what you can do, be patient and remember that with some exercises it may be harder to master a particular principle. Just keep coming back and revisiting these posts as you need to.

Our first Pilates principle is concentration:

Concentration:

‘Concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value’ J Pilates

With some forms of exercise the mind can switch off but in Pilates it will ideally remain focused to ensure that the body stays in alignment and that the breathing is controlled. This ‘mind/body’ connection not only enhances the physical execution of the exercises but also distracts a busy mind, thereby promoting relaxation and a feeling of well-being.

The first part of concentration is becoming aware that the position of every part of the body is important and that all movements and positions are interconnected. In order to walk, many different interactions take place in the joints and muscles of the body so that for example, the position of your foot influences the position of your knee, hip, spine, shoulder & head. In order to achieve optimal alignment throughout the body (and thus an efficient movement pattern) we need to first become aware of these interactions through concentrating on how we are holding ourselves and how we are moving.

Obviously it is hard to stay aware of every part of the body at once, but the more you practice the more you will be able to ‘tune in’ to what is happening in different places at the same time. Over time you will also get better at tuning-in when a specific area of the body is not in alignment or is holding unnecessary tension.

'wherever you are, be all there' Jim Elliot

Improved concentration not only leads to an improved physical performance but also offers wide-ranging mental benefits:

  • clarity of thought
  • increased mental energy
  • mental calmness in stressful situations
  • enhanced ability to tackle problems in a fresh way

Think of your Pilates practice as time for yourself, time to leave behind what you have come from and where you are going to. Focus on each exercise in turn and pay attention to how your body feels as you move.

In the next post I’ll be talking about ‘centering‘ but until then have fun bringing concentration to your posture and movement patterns.

(Here’s another article I wrote about a classic Pilates exercise – ‘The Hundred‘)

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