Pilates: The Ultimate Mind And Body Conditioning

By Ashley Fontenot

IF YOU WANT TO ENHANCE YOUR OVERALL MENTAL AND PHYSICAL WELLBEING, MOVEMENTS THAT SIMULTANEOUSLY ENGAGE THE MIND AND BODY ARE AMONG THE BEST TYPES OF EXERCISES.

Pilates was initially used by its creator, Joseph Pilates, to rehabilitate bedridden soldiers.  The focus of this time-tested method was to strengthen the body through controlled movements that initiated directly from the core (body’s center).  Core controlled movements remain the sole focus of what has now been popularized as Pilates. 

The core muscles include the deep abdominal muscles, the muscles around the spine, and even the buttocks.  All of the 500 exercises that make up the Pilates Method of body conditioning focus on the core.  Needless to say, with so much attention being given to the core, with regular practice of Pilates, you can absolutely expect to see a flatter, tighter tummy.  As your core and limbs work in unison to accomplish each Pilates movement, your entire body will become firm.  In fact, Pilates is so effective at working muscles at their deepest level that you are likely to see results you have never obtained with any other form of exercise. 

Pilates is a very special exercise form because its movements require gentle care and focus, prompting the mind and body to work together through specific breathing patterns.  With patience and practice, the mind and body can operate like a well-tuned orchestra, working with grace and precision.  When your mind and body work together, you can expect to develop greater focus and better coordination, resulting in a clearer mind.  When the body participates in harmonious mind-body activities, great things happen at a chemical level.  New synapses (connections) develop in the brain resulting in a sharper mind, improved memory and increased cognition.  Pilates has been shown to increase the production of serotonin, a chemical which acts as a mood stabilizer to relieve depression and anxiety.  Perhaps, Pilates greatest feat is that it prompts the body to relax while exacting a peaceful, overall rejuvenating feeling.  Ultimately, you will feel less stressed! 

If you have not tried Pilates, you definitely should!  If you have tried it and have given up, give it another chance.  Approach it with an open mind, realizing it is a journey where patience and practice are essential to achieve the most bountiful mind-body rewards. 

DOUBLE LEG STRETCH
Using a mat, lie down on your back.  Bring your knees into your chest.  Gently place your hands at your shins or ankles.  Lift your head, neck and shoulders off the ground. 

Inhale as you simultaneously extend your arms and legs straight out.  Your arms should softly sweep from your ankles to beside your ears, while your legs should be straight out, toes pointed, at a 45 degree angle or lower.  Your neck and shoulders remain off the floor through the entire movement.

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Exhale while using your abdominals, pull your legs back into your chest and sweep your arms around and down to your ankles. 

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Using slow and controlled motion, repeat to complete a total of 10 reps.

SINGLE STRAIGHT LEG STRETCH
Lie on your back and lift your head and shoulders off the floor.  Lift one leg straight up to a 90 degree angle and extend the other leg to a 45 degree angle.  Grasp the leg that is straight up at the ankle or calf, whichever you can reach. Take a deep inhale and tug your straight leg to your chest for just one pulse.  

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Continue inhaling and exhaling in rhythm as you swiftly switch each leg through the air like scissors.

 Continue to complete a total of 15 reps. 

CRISS CROSS
Lie on your back and bend your knees up above your hips.  Place your hands behind your head, keeping elbows wide and lift head and top part of your shoulders off the floor.

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In set up position, take a deep inhale before beginning the movement.

Lift your left shoulder and bring it across towards your right knee while you extend the left leg straight out to about 45 degrees.  As you come back to the center, inhale and then exhale to move to repeat the movement in the opposite direction.  Continue to complete 10 slow repetitions followed by 10 fast, but controlled, repetitions.

ROLLING LIKE A BALL
Sitting on a mat, bring your knees into your chest.  Grasp the outer part of each ankle.  Balance yourself on your buttocks.  Keep your feet off the ground. Bring your eye gaze to your knees.  Drop your shoulders away from your ears, widen your back and deepen your abdominals.  Allow your back to form a C-curve

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Pull the lower abs in and up to get yourself going and roll back during your inhale.  Roll only up to the shoulders, but not onto the neck.  Pause and balance for a second. 

Maintain a deeply scooped position with your spine curved.  As you exhale use only your abdominals to return to upright position.  Pause and balance for a second.  Continue rolling like a ball for 10 reps. 

SWIMMING
Lie face down on a mat with arms extended overhead and palms facing down.  

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Draw in your belly button  as you raise your limbs slightly off the floor squeezing your buttocks to protect your lower back.  

Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth in rhythm while lifting opposing arms and legs off the floor in unison. For example, while all limbs are off the floor, lift the right arm and left leg slightly higher, then switch.

Continue swimming, swapping arms and legs in unison, to complete 20 reps.

 

THE BENEFITS OF PILATES
Longer, leaner body • Relaxed state of mind • Better coordination • Increased energy and stamina • Fewer aches and pains  Stronger core/flatter tummy • Better posture • Increased focus • Less anxiety and depression • Decreased stress level

 

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