Six Principles of Pilates and How they Help you Move Better

blog post mondays Feb 06, 2023
Women doing Pilates on Pilates equipment in a Pilates studio in Mission, San Francisco

One characteristic of Pilates that differentiates it from other types of exercise methods is that it follows six overarching principles. Understanding these principles helps Pilates practitioners connect deeper to how the method serves the mind and the body. 

Let’s dive right in!

  1. Breath:

    The founder of the Pilates method, Joseph Pilates, famously said, “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.” Of all the muscles in the human body, only our breathing muscles are absolutely essential to keeping us alive. Think about that. Therefore, it is imperative that we connect to our breath and all that it gives us – life, laughter, expansion, the core, support, relief. A good Pilates practice will always emphasize breath. Currently experiencing low back pain? Breathwork can help with that.   
  2. Concentration:

    The Oxford dictionary defines concentration as: the action or power of focusing one’s attention or mental effort. Why is concentration important to movement? Most movement occurs unconsciously. Think about when you’re at work and you want to get up to grab a glass of water. All you really have to do is recognize that you’re thirsty and your mind and body do the rest. You don’t have to think about what muscles need to fire in your legs to get you standing and walking. You don’t have to think about how firmly to grip the glass so that it doesn't slip as it fills with water. You could get up and get water and sit back down while watching TV, scrolling on your phone, and baby-talking to your cat all at once. Pretty amazing. But, the issue is that unconscious movement can sometimes run on old, inefficient “code” that’s been stored in your brain since childhood and that’s when aches and pains start to creep in. By concentrating on our movements, we can update our movement code, ridding ourselves of compensatory movement so that we can move with ease and comfort.    
  3. Centering:

    This principle gets a little science nerdy, but we’ll try our best to put it simply. The concept of “centering” typically refers to moving with respect to the body’s center of gravity. Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger, authors of “Pilates Anatomy,” describe the body’s center of gravity as: “...the single point about which every particle of its mass is equally distributed–the point at which the body could be suspended and where it would be totally balanced in all directions.” Why does this concept matter? Well, if our center of gravity is off kilter, this means certain parts of our bodies are essentially supporting more of our body weight instead of the weight being equally distributed. Do you ever notice that one of your shoes wears out sooner or in a different spot than the other? If we can’t find and move from our centers, the same thing happens in our joints–those that support more of our mass wear out sooner. Simply put: moving from our centers helps all of us support all of us!    
  4. Control:

    Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? Pick any physical activity that you can remember learning. At first, movements are uneasy. Perhaps you fell off of your bike or slipped while ice skating or flung your baseball bat into the field on your first day. And now? You probably never fall off of your bike or slip on the ice and you most likely can hit the ball with your bat. What leads to this shift in competency or mastery? Control. As we practice and learn a physical skill, we gain more control and hence mastery. A greater inherent sense of control allows us to concentrate on finer details, allowing us to make adjustments in real time as necessary. We like to say that Pilates helps you live your life better. Learn control in your Pilates practice and take it with you to the field, stadium, rink, pool, stables, mat, bench–you name it.     
  5. Precision:

    If you’re a virgo reading this, you’ll love the definition of precision. Precision is: the quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate. A good Pilates teacher will guide you through exercises with precision. Why? Moving with precision helps us get the most juice from our squeeze. For example, we know that the rectus abdominis (your six-pack) flexes the spine. However, just because you’re flexing the spine does not mean you’re using your rectus abdominis. You could very well just be hinging at your hip joints or leveraging into your low back. By being specific in how we teach and cue exercises, we help our clients get the most out of every movement which is why Pilates doesn’t typically focus on reps but instead on quality and precision. Precision is also an aspect that adds to how Pilates can be customized for an individual’s particular needs. A client with low back pain needs different programming from a person looking to get in shape for ski season.     
  6. Flow:

    If you listen to podcasts in the 21st century, we’re sure you’ve learned about the flow state. In such a state, an individual can partake in deep, meaningful work effortlessly with joy and satisfaction. Pilates strives to find such a state through movement. When in a Pilates flow, practitioners move within an almost meditative-like state of mind which sheds tension, reduces stress, and diminishes anxiety; they finish their session feeling less stiff and more mobile. When we can reach flow in a Pilates practice, it shows us that we’ve mastered breath, concentration, centering, control, and precision. Flow is the Pilates version of nirvana. 

By: Destinie Slavich