My Full Story
The Full Story
I was introduced to Pilates when I was about 17 years old. Like many people, at first I thought Pilates was boring and pointless, however my opinion changed and I am going to explain the benefits of Pilates and why I think Pilates is important for everyone, no matter their age or circumstance.
When I was 16 years old I was incorrectly diagnosed by the NHS and was extremely ill for 18 months, I was unable to go to school and finish my GCSEs. I was bed-bound, was issued with a blue disability badge and if I wanted to go shopping had to use a wheelchair.
Before this period of time I was very active, I danced every night after school for 3-4 hours and also dedicated most of my weekend to dancing. My dream was to become a professional dancer, perform on cruise ships and travel the world.
All this and more was taken away from me when I became ill. I lost a lot of weight and strength. I had been dedicated to dance and had always been one of the top in the class. Mentally this made it difficult for me to return to dancing when my health started to improve as I was no longer ‘one of the best’ but in my opinion the worst dancer and I did not have the stamina to take part in a full class. I therefore gave up on my dream.
A year later an opportunity came up at the dancing school I used to go to. It meant that I could dance 4 times a week for 5-6 hours a day and gain a BTEC Diploma (equivalent of 3 A-Levels). This course allowed me to go back to basics and regain all of my strength and technique that I had lost whilst I was unwell.
This is where Pilates comes in. We started every day with 45-60 minutes of Pilates. We moaned every morning before class because we were tired and cold and the last thing we wanted to do was lie on a mat and do exercises that looked like nothing but actually required a lot of concentration and effort, not forgetting to mention – strength!
The strength I gained from Pilates not only helped me with my return to dancing but also in general life too. My core was stronger than it had ever been before, my mobility and flexibility improved and I began to find all those little muscles that had been forgotten about when I spent all day in bed.
When we had shows or exams we often didn’t have time to do our class every morning and that’s when I realised how important Pilates was within my training. My core didn’t feel as strong, my technique dropped and injury/aches and pains started to develop.
Pilates may feel like small basic movements but if you do it correctly it is actually very difficult. It looks like nothing, but feels like something. The more you practice Pilates you are able to adapt, modify and progress the exercises and before you know it you’re doing something you would have never been able to do a couple of weeks prior. Saying this, even if you’re at advanced level, it is never a bad idea to re visit the basics.
A small piece of history
Joseph Pilates is the man behind ‘Pilates’ – originally known as Contrology. During the First World War he helped those who were injured in the war to recover from their injuries. He rigged up hospital beds with springs and straps and created exercises using the resistance from the springs to improve the muscular strength, endurance and flexibility of his patients. In 1926, Joseph moved to the US and opened a studio around the corner from the New York School of Ballet on 8th Avenue. It was in this studio that dancers flocked to him for advice on conditioning exercises and techniques to overcome their injuries. A few of his advocates are Martha Graham, Rudolf Von Laban and George Balanchine, these are very well known names in the dance industry.
The 6 Pilates Principles
The traditional Pilates method encourages ‘lateral breathing, which involves inhaling into the lower back and lateral area of the ribcage. When breathing laterally the abdominals remain engaged which is an important factor in Pilates. Lateral breathing is also believed to reduce tension in the neck and shoulder region.
“Breathing is the first and last act of life. To breathe correctly you must completely exhale and inhale, always try very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth.”
All Pilates exercises have a mental and cognitive element to them; concentrating on the movement, bodily position, active and inactive muscles. When the mental components of movement are applied correctly, efficient and quality movement is created.
Pilates was originally named ‘Contrology’ because of the level of control required. Control is about ensuring that the right muscles are used at the right time to create the desired movement.
Core centring. The core is often referred to as the powerhouse of the body and is where all movement originates. In pilates, each exercise begins with concentrating the movement from the core and then allowing it to flow outwards to the limbs to complete the desired exercise.
Just like dancing, all Pilates exercises are performed with great attention to detail. Careful attention is given to the joint and limb alignment at the start, middle and end of each exercise to ensure the right muscles are being used.
All Pilates exercises should be performed smoothly and with fluidity and grace. Each exercise should be executed slowly and with control.
I continued to do Pilates when I attended SLP College for three years of professional training. Every morning before we began 6-9 hours of intense training we did a 20 minute choreographed Pilates routine. Our head of dance brought this into the curriculum when the college was experiencing a high number of injuries. Doing Pilates before we began our day actually decreased the rate of injury by 90% – that says it all really!
The one tip I would give to anyone is that Pilates isn’t just for someone with back problems or an injury.
Doctors and physios recommend Pilates to help with various physical aches, pains and injuries – which I agree with, but Pilates is way more than just a fix! If you add it into your workout routine once or twice a week and commit to it, I guarantee it will help you in everything that you do, whether it is just daily life, feeling more comfortable, more confident, or part of your exercise routine.
My clients are always telling me they can’t believe how much stronger they feel each week. They feel better within themselves, have less aches and pains, stand taller and feel more confident.
Try it for yourself, you won’t regret it!