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Pilates for Optimum Health and Fitness

by Ann Crowther(more info)

listed in pilates, originally published in issue 215 - July 2014

Good health and wellbeing are not to be regarded as something of a luxury or some kind of self-indulgence - both are an essential part of a successful, forward thinking and fulfilling lifestyle. There is no doubt as to the link between good health and successful personal relationships.

What Is Pilates?

Often known as the thinking person’s exercise, Pilates is a form of body conditioning with exercises that systematically work the major muscle groups of the body. Unlike other forms of body conditioning where you isolate one muscle using robotic type movements, Pilates exercises employ as many as five muscles together which create a more flowing movement to give you the body you want – balanced, strong and lithe. Great attention is paid to correct breathing, alignment, controlled movements and technique. The very essence of the Pilates’ technique, however, is ‘core stability’. This simply means making your centre, or core, solid and strong. It is the key to the effective training of not only the abdominal muscles but also all the other muscles in the body.

To achieve core stability, you need to have control of three essential areas - your breathing, your pelvic floor muscles and your deep abdominal muscles which play a vital role in correct posture.

Correct breathing is one of the most important aspects of Pilates. Why? First and foremost, because your muscles and tissues need oxygen to work efficiently. Directing more oxygen to the brain improves concentration and co-ordination. Focusing on your breath also helps you to become more centred, giving a whole new mind-body dimension to your exercises. Correct breathing will not only improve your posture; it will also help keep your skin and eyes clear and give you an all-round healthy glow.

Thoracic Breathing

How To Breathe The Pilates Way

Although we breathe automatically, we often don’t breathe efficiently. Most of us use only a tiny part of our respiratory capacity; we often hold our breath for much longer than we should, for example when we are concentrating or exercising.

In Pilates, we practise ‘thoracic’ breathing - taking air deep into the rib cage so that the ribs expand out to the sides. We breathe into the thorax and not the abdomen because every Pilates exercise involves contracting the abdominal muscles. Don’t be alarmed if you feel light-headed or dizzy when practising thoracic breathing; this just means that you are breathing efficiently and that your brain is receiving more oxygen than usual... this is all good!

Try the following exercise for correct Pilates breathing. You can practise it at any time of the day but you might find it particularly useful in the morning when you wake up (to give you a boost of energy and in the evening before you go to bed (to calm you):

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent and slightly apart, and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Keep your head aligned with your spine and do not press the spine into the floor. Place the palms of your hands on your rib cage, with your fingertips just touching each other;
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose. Notice how your diaphragm muscle drops and your rib cage opens and expands, allowing you to fill your lungs with air. Note, too, that your fingertips will no longer meet. Feel the rise and expansion of your rib cage beneath your hands;
  • Exhale through your mouth until you have expelled all the air and your rib cage has contracted so that your fingertips are touching once again. Repeat for eight inhalations and eight exhalations;
  • Now stand upright with your feet hip-distance apart and repeat the breathing exercise another eight times.

Pilates is for everyone, male and female, young or old, at any level of fitness - from the total beginner to the top athlete or sportsperson. If you begin when you are young, you will be giving yourself the healthiest start in life. If you are older and less fit than you would like, Pilates will help to reverse this ageing process, transform the way you look and feel and give you Pilates power in body, mind and spirit.

Resolve to make exercise a genuine constant in your life; Pilates together with cardiovascular exercise will give you very real energies and self esteem, which will in turn manifest itself in an improved practical life performance.

Invest in your health and wellbeing........

“Whatever you can do, or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. BEGIN IT NOW”

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832)

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About Ann Crowther

Ann Crowther trained in Pilates in California, and later in Exercise and Health Studies at the University of East London, followed by specialist training in Kinesiology, Nutrition and Stress Management, Ann draws on over 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and has won extensive praise for the development of her own highly successful Pilates system. She is the author of Pilates for You, Duncan Baird Publishers, and several fitness DVD/book sets. She may be contacted via pilatesplusann@hotmail.com ; www.anncrowtherlifestyle.com.

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