Hidden Benefits of Pilates

THE HIDDEN BENEFITS OF PILATES
by Christine Waterman

The beauty of Pilates is that it can be kept simple or made deeply challenging, depending on your desire and ability to work differently. Many people are aware that Pilates helps to build core strength, builds long, lean muscles for power and endurance, improves strength & flexibility, posture & alignment and decreases back pain.

While these benefits are wonderful and amazing on their own, they just scratch the surface. The real benefits go far beyond what most people know and for those who have persevered with their practice and now ‘GET IT’, Pilates is a lifestyle for them, not just an exercise class to attend once or twice a week.

Here is a more in depth look at some of the deeper benefits you will receive if you commit to the work of Pilates.

Lateral Breathing and Oxygenation Returns One to Health

Let’s start by looking at the basic act of breathing. This simple function alone holds many benefits. In Pilates, we practice lateral breathing ­- meaning we aim to breathe three-dimensionally (using the front, the sides and the back of the body). Breathing in this way enables you to maintain your abdominal (core) connections while still being able to increase your lung capacity. This is important as it improves your cardio function. Who doesn’t want their run, swim, cycle or preferred exercise regime to feel easier just because they are breathing better?
Another important aspect of breathing is oxygenation (oxygen enriched blood cells). With a higher lung capacity, oxygenation to your red blood cells is increased, resulting in the body’s ability to repair tissue that has become damaged through tension or trauma. When good connections are made and oxygenation is occurring, heat is generated in the body. This heat increases our body’s ability to flush toxins and begin healing.

When the client is generating heat in this way, we are shown where the body ‘breaks’ (cannot provide muscular support). As a Pilates teacher, we then coach the client to strengthen the correct, supportive muscles so the client will no longer collapse in these weak areas, thereby improving movement patterns. We aim to teach the client to embody the work; to work at a level where we coach life back into the tissue of the body -­ we work to coach the breath.

Proper Movement Education Facilitates Change Within the Body

Along with improving our breathing technique, movement education is another key benefit to Pilates. Precision is a major component when practicing the Pilates repertoire. The work should be done to find new movement patterns thus changing incorrect patterns that cause tension within the body. Muscle compensations are rebalanced through eccentric contractions (a muscle contraction where the muscle fibres lengthen) and concentric contractions (shortening of a muscle). When this rebalancing is found, the client is learning to decompress their spine and their joints. Tension is relieved and inflammation decreases. Not only are the muscles rebalanced, but the structure of the body is also improved (ligaments, tendons and organs). Everyone has muscle memory and we all have movement patterns. Not all of these patterns are good for us. If an incorrect movement is repeated, a muscle imbalance is created. If this imbalance is allowed to continue, tension is created. Too much tension can lead to strain or injury. This process can happen with an acute injury or take years to develop. A young body can handle a certain amount of imbalance but 10, 20 or 30 years down the road and those imbalances show up as aches and pains and old injuries can resurface. Retraining old muscle patterns is a journey. Learning to break an old habit and replace it with a new, correct one takes time and consistent work.

Improved Mental Health, Awareness and Focus

Pilates is not only good for the body, but good for the mind which, in turn, is good for the soul. There is a challenge in the ability to focus so deeply on oneself without the outside world breaking into our thoughts. This focus provides relaxation and relieves stress while increasing one’s coordination and mind­-body connection, thus returning clients to life. Many of us identify ourselves by our injuries. When a mutual trust between client and teacher is established and a client’s ability to find the work improves, it teaches the client that they are much more than their old injury or ailment. Pilates can be practiced regardless of age or fitness level. While Pilates is gentle enough to be used for rehabilitation, it is also challenging. Pilates is a concept, an idea of perfection. When you get it, you need to work at changing it. This allows us to always stay curious and to never get bored with the work.

This is the journey of a lifetime.