Pilates has become very popular in the last twenty years, but the deeper side of the practice is still quite unknown, possibly even to those who attend classes.
Pilates is often thought of as something similar to yoga, or a system for dancers and rehabilitation, or even more simply, a lot of stretching exercises. These are all gravely inaccurate definitions. Pilates is a unique system of specific exercises that builds a uniformly developed body—a body that is both strong and flexible, so that it is able to move through all of life’s activities with grace and ease.
I know for those readers who have never tried Pilates, this general definition provides little insight into what the practice actually entails. But it is not the extensive series of exercises on which I wish to concentrate here. Rather, I want to focus on the part of Pilates that happens outside the classes. Pilates is an entire theory and method of movement that should be practiced both on and off the mat. The “off the mat” aspect is key; and when you begin to incorporate Pilates into your daily life, you are truly reaching its potential depths and profound intelligence.
As a child, Joseph Pilates—the creator of Pilates, used to spend hours in the woods, observing animals. He watched their effortless movements, their body control, and their ability to stay injury free. Animals have an innate intelligence for movement. Pilates designed his method to help people develop this same kind of intuition for intelligent movement.
So how is this accomplished? First, Pilates teaches body awareness. When you practice consistently, you become deeply conscious of, even hyper sensitive, to how your body feels. Where are my areas of tightness and constriction? Which parts of me are flexible and move freely? Which muscles are weak and how is this affecting my alignment?
You notice your breath--Am I breathing shallow or deeply? Where am I sending my breath? To my upper chest; to my stomach; or out to my sides and back? How does the way I breathe affect how I feel and my energy?
You continuously observe how you move; for example, the manner in which you stand still--do I put my weight into one leg? Or the way you walk up the stairs--do I lean forward and grip into my thighs, or do I stay tall? Or how you sit at your desk--do I round my shoulders forward and stick out my neck? You notice evenness and balance, or lack there of, in your body--am I always using the right side of my body to accomplish tasks?
Pilates teaches you to work your body naturally throughout the day. You develop an understanding of how to use your deepest muscles—your core muscles—to sit, stand, and walk, so that you continuously move with true strength and agility. Moreover, Pilates trains your mind to wander through your body as you move, checking in on each area to perfect your form and alignment.
Pilates on the mat is great; but if you don’t translate what your body learns there into your daily life, then the benefits of the practice remain limited. When it becomes second nature to move from your deepest muscles and align your body, it is then that you’ve reached the depth and heart of Pilates, as well as attained true health and fitness.
“If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?”
This quote is simple, but profound. It’s an essential truth that too many of us easily forget. In today’s world, it’s easy to become divorced from our body. After all, most of us are hunched over computers throughout our workday, and we continue this practice even when we come home from the office. Much of our social interaction happens online, and our entertainment consists of browsing Facebook feeds and watching amusing You Tube videos. We live in a cyber world where we are out of touch with our present, physical body.
This kind of life, however, is detrimental to the body’s health. It’s a sedentary existence, and it results in weak muscles, poor posture, shallow breathing, and a myriad of other potential problems. For example, computer posture, which consists of rounded shoulders and a forward head, is becoming the norm. And lower back pain, which is often the result of weak core muscles, is epidemic. Yet most people are unaware of their bodies—they don’t notice how they sit or stand, how they breathe, or why they may feel pain in a particular area of their body.
This lack of awareness is why mind-body practices like Pilates and yoga have become such powerful experiences for many people—they make us intensely aware of how we feel in our bodies. After going through twelve hours of the day as disconnected from our body, we get on the mat, begin breathing deeply, and start to consciously move through the exercises as mind and body become linked. Suddenly, we find ourselves moving into awareness. We experience our strong and weaker parts, our tight and flexible areas; we have moments where we move with ease and grace, and moments of struggle and restriction. Ultimately, here on the mat, we come to know our bodies, and thus come to know the place in which we live—the house of the mind, heart, and soul.
At this point, we cannot help but love and take care of our body. It is after all, our home.
Everyone agrees that movement is necessary to be healthy. Sadly, today’s sedentary lifestyle has caused us to move away from what our bodies are designed to do and love--move!
Over time, a sedentary life wreaks havoc on the body. Obviously, muscles need to be used in order to maintain a decent level of strength. Weak muscles, especially weak core muscles, lead to poor posture and alignment, and can cause a host of physical problems and injuries, especially through the back and shoulder area. Common back injuries, such as herniated disks, can often be traced to a lack of core strength.
Movement is also essential in terms of one’s energy levels. Have you noticed that you feel tired and sluggish when there is an absence of movement in your day, whereas when you make time for a physical practice or simply just move a lot, you feel energized and invigorated?
Moreover, movement has the power to feed our minds and souls. Physical exertion calms us, reduces stress, and releases “feel good” endorphins. For many people, their physical practice is also a time to contemplate, work through thoughts, process feelings, come up with solutions, make plans, etc.—all things that are essential to maintaining a healthy, balanced mind.
For some people, it’s also a time of creative and self expression, which can be clearly seen in practices like yoga, dance and martial arts, just to name a few. But really, any time dedicated to movement can be an opportunity to come deeply into oneself and access the more buried, untapped parts of our being. Physical practices can be a gateway to the inner world, which is why so many people feel they are exquisitely powerful. Why has yoga become so popular in the West in the last twenty years? Because it not only transforms people physically, but transforms their inner world, their mind, as well.
Yes, I know that in reality, not everyone has time for a regular physical practice. But even if you’re crazy busy, you can still incorporate movement throughout your day in very practical ways. Clean vigorously, use the stairs, and take hourly breaks from your desk to walk for five minutes.
Give your body what it needs and loves. Movement is essential.
The core is a misunderstood word. People often think it refers solely to the stomach muscles. This is only part of the core, however. The core also includes the back muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and diaphragm. Moreover, the core is connected to the legs, so the butt and thigh muscles also play an important role in core strength and stability.
Another common misconception is that the “six pack” equals a strong core. The six-pack muscle, or rectus abdominis, is the most visible of the stomach muscles, so it gets all the attention. However, real strength comes from the deeper muscles, like the transverus abdominis (stomach muscle), which you can’t see, but which is continuously engaged during a properly executed Pilates practice. When you “scoop” your stomach, or pull your navel in and up towards the spine, you are engaging this deep muscle.
It’s important to understand that exercises such as ab crunches and sit-ups will not strengthen your entire core. They will strengthen a section of your core—the superficial muscle, the rectus abdominis, as mentioned above. The best core exercises are those that work the entire core—front and back— including the deeper muscles, simultaneously.
So why is it so important to build and maintain core strength?
The core is the sturdy, central link connecting the upper and lower body. When strong, the core muscles stabilize the entire torso and create a strong base of support. As a result, one is able to move well—powerfully, freely (with a good range of motion and flexibility), and with balance and control.
Therefore, when you build a strong core, you will notice a difference in all physical activities in your life; even the simple ones to which you never gave much thought, such as standing, walking, bending down, etc.
Core strength also promotes better breathing. The diaphragm is part of the core muscles, and when you work on inhaling and exhaling fully, as you do in Pilates, the increased amount of oxygen improves the body’s overall performance.
Ultimately, a weak core is detrimental to the body’s health. It results in poor posture, lower back pain, and makes you more prone to injuries.
Pilates is undeniably the most effective exercise for strengthening the core, which is why it has become so popular in recent years. When you build a strong core, your body is transformed (and that’s not overstating it!). You sit and stand taller, you’re free of common back and shoulder pain, you’re stronger in all physical activities, and generally, you just move better! I speak from my experience with my own body, as well as from my experience with my students and fellow Pilates instructors. In order to have a healthy body, everyone needs to do core-strengthening exercises on a regular basis!
Although very popular in the West, Pilates has yet to hit the Asian fitness market with a force. The concept of “the core,” and the importance of keeping this area of the body strong, is mostly an unknown idea in this part of the world. Of course this is unfortunate, since core strength is essential for maintaining good posture, having a healthy back, and supporting the entire body during movement.
So what about Pilates in Chiang Mai?
There’s quite a bit of yoga to be found in Chiang Mai, but when it comes to Pilates, the options are minimal. A couple Pilates studios have popped up recently in Chiang Mai, but they are Thai speaking and do not cater to the expat population and foreign tourists. Moreover, because these studios include the very expensive Pilates machines, the high fees for these classes often discourage many from giving Pilates a go.
This is where I come in! I offer affordable private and group Pilates mat lessons.
Joseph Pilates, the inventor of the Pilates method, created routines on the mat, as well as on machines, which he designed and built himself. The Pilates machines are great, but basically, you can accomplish everything on the mat that you can on the machines. And there is also something very rewarding about using only your body to build substantial strength and flexibility.
Give mat Pilates a try in Chiang Mai!
My yoga practice
I often get the question, “What is the difference between Pilates and yoga?” This is a difficult question to answer, firstly, because there are many different types of yoga, ranging from a gentle practice, to an incredibly physical “Oh my god, I’m going to die” Ashtanga practice, to a more spiritually focused practice. There are also different schools of Pilates, although the differences between them are less dramatic than in the yoga world.
Although not professionally certified in yoga, I have been intensely practicing yoga for a couple years, and have made it a core part of my life. Personally, I see yoga and Pilates as dramatically different from one another, although there are some shared principles between the two.
*Yoga and Pilates are mind/body exercises, combining body movement with mental focus. The result is that these practices add to an overall state of physical and mental wellbeing.
*Breath is essential to both yoga and Pilates, as it improves circulation and highly oxygenates the body. However, one breathes differently in each of the practices. In yoga, you inhale and exhale through the nose. In Pilates, you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Pilates also concentrates on lateral breathing—air is directed into the sides and back of the ribcage. Yogis, however, tend to concentrate on the chest and belly when breathing.
*The two practices aim to increase both flexibility and strength, so as to create a uniformly developed body that is less prone to pain and injury. However, yoga puts much more focus on deep, static stretching than Pilates.
*Movements: Many of the movements in yoga differ from those in Pilates. Yet there are some exercises in Pilates that were inspired by yoga postures.
*Origin: Yoga originated in India over 5,000 years ago. A German athlete, Joseph Pilates, started Pilates in the mid-twentieth century.
*Spirituality: The ultimate goal of yoga is spiritual, and the physical practice is meant to make the body strong and flexible so that it can sit comfortably in meditation for hours. Yoga can be an entire way of life that encompasses diet, meditation, breathing techniques, and a moral code.
Pilates, on the other hand, has no spiritual aspect. Its goal is to make the body strong and flexible so that it can move through this world, through daily life, with grace and ease.
*The Core: Pilates emphasizes strengthening the core, the deep abdominal and back muscles, which greatly improves posture and alignment, and stabilizes the entire body throughout movement.
*Mat vs. Machines: Yoga is done completely on a mat. Pilates has a full routine of mat work, but also incorporates machines.
*Length of postures: Yoga postures are held for a longer period of time than Pilates postures. In Pilates, you truly flow—moving from one position to the next quite quickly.
*Positioning: Pilates is done mostly lying down on the back. This defies gravity and works the body by engaging the deep abdominal and back muscles to lift off the ground. Yoga, in contrast, has many standing postures.
Yoga does not have the same emphasis on these muscles. Today, however, there is an increased awareness among yoga teachers on the importance of strengthening these muscles, and therefore it is becoming more common to have core-centered exercises in yoga classes.
Ultimately, after practicing both Pilates and yoga heavily, I believe their differences compliment each other in the best of ways. The two methods combine to create the ideal physical practice, making every part of your body strong and flexible, as well as improving your breathing patterns and overall state of mental wellbeing.
Private Pilates Lessons:
Pilates is truly done best one on one, where the instructor can closely watch the student’s movement and alignment. In teaching private Pilates lessons, I give full attention to my student. Because it’s one on one, I can focus entirely on how someone executes the exercises, so that I can assure he or she is moving effectively and safely.
I always advise those who are new to Pilates to start with at least a few private lessons. This will give beginners a foundation—a basic understanding of the Pilates principles, how to move through exercises, and the things on which to focus. Moreover, those who have injuries or special physical needs should do private lessons as opposed to group sessions.
Advanced students, and even professionally trained Pilates instructors, such as myself, benefit from private lessons from time to time as well. It is impossible to constantly see and be aware of our bodies through every movement and position, and therefore having a professional “eagle-eye” our Pilates practice is always advantageous.
Contact me for more information on Pilates in Chiang Mai, Thailand, including rates and location
Taking a group Pilates lesson as opposed to a private lesson is quite a different experience. As a student, you won’t get the one on one attention of a private class, but what you will gain is the collective, shared energy and experience that a group class gives, which can be so wonderful and special!
Although I am a certified Pilates instructor, I still attend group classes at times. I love my own self-practice—I can challenge myself, be creative and explore movements and sequences, and get into a very meditative state as I flow through my practice. Yet sometimes I need that energy and inspiration that only comes from doing Pilates alongside fellow instructors and students.
Ultimately, I think a combination of private and group Pilates classes is the ideal!
Contact me for the Pilates Chiang Mai group schedule and class location
I have been practicing Pilates on my own for years, but it wasn’t until the teacher training that I understood how marvelous this system of physical conditioning truly was. During the intense period of study, I delved deeply into the method—both physically and mentally—and experienced the profound benefits of Pilates.
Firstly, Pilates has the power to transform your body—to build substantial strength, increase flexibility, and greatly improve posture and alignment.
Secondly, Pilates teaches you about your body—it makes you aware of your strong and weak parts, your flexible and tight areas, bad habits (i.e.- slouching, tensing up shoulders); the way in which you sit, stand, and walk; your posture and alignment; basically, everything to do with your body and its movement.
One of the greatest rewards in practicing Pilates, however, goes beyond the physical, and that is the significant growth in mind-body awareness. Personally, Pilates has taught me to be fully conscious of how I move throughout the day. “Am I sitting tall? Are my shoulders relaxed? Am I leaning too far forward and gripping into my hip flexors as I walk?” Ultimately, Pilates is an entire system for intelligent and healthy movement, and truly knowing one’s body.
When people are greatly connected to their bodies, it positively affects other core parts of their being, and I genuinely believe that people feel their best both physically and mentally. It is thus my goal through Pilates Chiang Mai to help individuals discover a deep awareness of their bodies, all while vastly improving their strength, flexibility, and alignment.