Team rider Karen Mirlenbrink's blog: Athleta Chi: Pilates for Life
A great blog post from Team Rider Karen Mirlenbrink, reprinted from www.Athleta.com.
When you first think of Pilates, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I believe that most people see it as simply exercises that work your abs. Maybe some people think of it a little more broad, like core-focused fitness, but I have found that little is known about the foundations and history of the method.
In brief, Joseph Pilates created his method of exercise in the early 20th century. Originally called Contrology, it was designed to help people connect the body to the mind. He believed that with practice, a person could control exactly how they are moving by becoming aware of their movement patterns. His method of exercise brought mindfulness into the realm of fitness, and with that mindfulness, he brought his clients into the “now.” The Pilates system not only accomplishes physical benefits like improved posture, increased core strength, and improved stamina, but also helps improve attentiveness, coordination, and centeredness. Unlike Yoga, Pilates-style workouts do not involve conscious meditation, however, the work does connect the mind and the body by bringing you into the present moment through the mindfulness of controlled movement.
As a practitioner of Pilates for the past 20 years, I have personally experienced the vast array of benefits of the method. For me, the mental benefits of Pilates have been just as important as the physical ones, and I’ve learned to apply the principles of Pilates to every aspect of my life. Joseph Pilates developed eight basic principles within the system, all of which apply to every exercise he created. He outlined them in his book titled, “Return to Life Through Contrology.” The principles also apply to the Pilates lifestyle, allowing us to connect to the moment and rejuvenate the mind. I have found that these principles can apply to daily life, and I’d like to share some examples of how you can apply the Pilates principles into your daily life.
A mindful Pilates practice will help connect the mind to the body. When we practice Pilates, we are thinking about our breath, our movement, what muscles are moving, how the equipment is working, all the way down to every last detail. We can apply mindfulness to our lives by focusing on the small details of life around us. For example, the next time you walk outside, become mindful of how your feet feel on the sidewalk. Breathe deeply, and feel the air enter and exit your lungs. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and listen to the sounds of the birds singing in the trees. This kind of mindfulness will bring you into the now, allowing you to focus, alleviate stress, and bring positivity into your life.
Balance is the key to everything, and we practice balance in Pilates. Not only do we practice our exercises in near-perfect posture where our core is engaged, but also strive for muscular balance. We ensure that our bodies are strengthened evenly, from font to back, side to side, and all around. Our goal is to create a well-rounded, strong and flexible body. However, balance is also applied to life in a wellness perspective too. In order to live a healthy, happy life, we have to balance the health of the mind and the body. Balance, in a wellness frame, is quite challenging because, as people, we tend to become enthralled with responsibility, causing us to prioritize things over others, throwing our mental and physical balance off. A really good example of balance is the concept of work–life balance. Does your work–life balance seem a little off? Are you working more than you are living? It’s important to work, but it is also important to allow your mind to rest, otherwise you will burn out. An easy way to establish balance is disconnecting. Give yourself a time of day where your phone turns off and your computer powers down. This will allow you to get away from the screens of responsibility, and spend more time with the people, things, and activities that you love.
The Pilates method works from the inside out. Before any exercise, we find breath and we engage our core muscles to find strength and stability before we move. It’s from our core that all energy of movement is found. Centering is an applicable practice in daily life, as well. Joseph Pilates believed that centering would bring calm to your mind and spirit. For example, when you come across a challenge, be it physical or mental, use breath to bring you back into your mind, into your body. Inhale and become mindful of your breath, and of the challenge you face. Use the breath and your core to breathe out confidence and strength, and to prepare you for what you must face next.
In Pilates, our workouts are designed to flow from one to the other. This causes our breath to align with the movements, the workout to become a fluid, non-stop challenge, and our workout to be seamless from start to finish. By flowing through our movements, we build strength and stamina. We can apply this principle to our lives by flowing through life. Of course, not aimlessly flowing, but taking each day and its challenges as they come. Tackle each obstacle head on, successful or not, then roll on, ready to face the next challenge behind it. Regretting the past or worrying about the future will only slow your flow, and, eventually, stop the flow.
These are just four examples of several principles found in the Pilates method. How you decide to apply them to your life is up to you, but they can make a big difference when you do make a practice of applying them. With practice, you will find yourself living mindfully in flowing balance.
Photo Credit: Dennis Navarrete, 1440 Photography.