Today, I am going back to the basics and learning about the mat and floor routines that Joseph Pilates brought to this country more than 100 years ago. Donna Parsons of Pilates of North County is introducing me to how just 34 exercises can take you to an entirely different depth of exploration physically and mentally.
But at the root of my desire to stretch and strengthen my body and mind is the not-so-obvious (at least, maybe not to beginners) connection that Joseph Pilates had intended. When I review the core principles: breathing, concentration, control, centering, precision, balanced muscle development, rhythm/flow, whole body movement, and relaxation—it’s clear to me that this is a lot more than just a powerful, core-strengthening workout. Pilates is about finding your peace, reducing your stress, being present, performing at an optimal level and with true concentration throughout your exercise and ultimately throughout your life.
Just like with some other workouts, yoga, tai chi, karate—to name a few—there are also principles that impart a good lesson for living well. The problem is, many people forget about those core principles and instead hurry through a workout. So, for instance, making use of the breath in exercises such as yoga and Pilates is often an afterthought (if even a thought at all). Yet, those all-important breaths can gently guide you through difficult exercises. Those all-important breaths throughout the day can help you avoid internalizing stress. They can create space, peace, and genuine moments of relaxation in an otherwise chaotic and uncertain world.
From the core principles of Pilates, we can learn a great deal about living better including how to develop and maintain better posture. Concentration talks about the focus you put on what your body is doing while you are performing the exercise. This translates to being present in the moment and conscious about how you are living your life. All too often, I, like many people, find myself lost in another moment—one that was long ago or one that is still to come. When we intensely stay in the now, without other distractions, life and all its rich flavor come to life. We can fully experience life—the good and bad. Pain is felt and dealt with—not, suppressed for decades, waiting to be unearthed in some therapist’s office. Happiness is experienced in a more meaningful way and without the distractions that come from a lack of concentration.
Centering and rhythm/flow are more solid principles that express that life is to be lived fully, harmoniously, and in a flowing form. Struggling through life, resisting the downs is like believing you can escape death. The lows of life are inevitable but the centering of our inner being, the healthy rhythm that we develop in everyday living gracefully takes us effortlessly from one moment to the next. Creating this moment the way you like and stringing together moment after moment lived as you wish—is the way to an everlasting balance and rhythmic flow.