Most of you yogis have probably heard of Pilates, and some of you may have even tried it before. Perhaps you have no idea what it is! Well, not only is Pilates a fantastic form of exercise all on its own, but it can also improve your yoga practice.
So don’t be in the dark or on the fence about it any longer. Be a Yogilati!
First of all, you may be asking, what is Pilates? Pilates is a form of exercise that aims to build strength, particularly in the core, and to bring balance to the body. It was developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates, who studied many forms of exercise and practices, including yoga.
Like yoga, there is a strong focus on connecting the mind and body to create the movement; however, the exercises themselves are for the most part very different.
Pilates incorporates a series of exercises, each one requiring a number of repetitions, that are done mostly sitting or lying down. Unlike yoga, which primarily holds each pose, most Pilates exercises could be described as a controlled flow of movement.
Stronger Core, Better Posture
Pilates strongly emphasizes the proper use of the core to support the spine and create stability through the center. The core muscles are the deepest layer of lower abdominal muscles – two major ones being the pelvic floor and traverse abdominus, and the deep lower back muscles closest to the spine.
Correctly activating these muscles enables the spine and rest of the body to move safely without causing pain or damage and to also improve the strength & flexibility in other areas of the body.
I like to think of Pilates training to be like the construction a large building… you can’t build a skyscraper that will stand tall & strong, even under extreme conditions, without first having strong and solid structural support.
In addition to building a strong core, Pilates exercises are also designed to improve posture and correct imbalances in the body. They aim to strengthen the weaker, more unused muscles and release the tighter ones.
Pilates also leads you to become aware of and work on differences you might have between both sides of the body. Bringing this balance to the body is extremely important as incorrect posture and imbalances are the cause of many aches and pains throughout the body, as well as joint problems and headaches.
Why should yogis do Pilates?
Pilates is not just a great overall workout. It can also have huge benefits for your yoga practice.
A stronger, well-engaged core will help you hold your balance with more ease, particularly in those trickier yoga poses like Half-moon, tree pose, and headstands. You’re then able to bring your mind to a calmer state, allowing you to really enjoy the benefits of each pose physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Engaging the core when holding poses also prevents unnecessary strain on the joints. Simply just sitting into poses like Pigeon pose or even Child’s pose might feel like a great stretch, but it can put too much stress on the hip joint and intervertebral discs that can lead to injury.
A little thought about the core can change this and give you an even better stretch in the muscles where you should be feeling it.
Whilst many yoga asanas improve flexibility, having stability in the joints and strength in the muscles are just as important for overall wellness of the body and integrity of the joints.
Bringing these two practices together is therefore ideal to prevent injury and to feel a greater sense of overall well-being.
Get started with this easy Pilates move.
Okay, so after all this talk about correctly engaging and building a strong core, you might be asking, so how do I actually do this? The answer is easy, but of course it takes practice!
Here’s a simple exercise, known as a Kegel exercise, that you can do to find and start strengthening your core. We will focus on one of the main muscles of the core, the pelvic floor. By activating this muscle, you naturally use other muscles in the core, too.
First of all, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure you are completely relaxed, especially your lower back muscles. You shouldn’t be forcing your lower back flat on the floor, nor forcing an arch.
The next step is to imagine you are on the toilet and you want to stop the flow of urine halfway through. But don’t overdo it. Make sure you are not tensing the muscles in your bum, thighs, or abs. They should still be relaxed and you should still be able to breathe normally.
Hold for 3 seconds, then release. Repeat ten to fifteen times doing up to three sets a day. As you build strength, try to gradually work up to holding the contraction for ten seconds.
Many people who do this for the first time often find that they can’t feel any sensation of the muscle working. That’s perfectly fine. As the pelvic floor muscles strengthen, then sensation will become stronger. Just keep the image in mind and the pelvic floor will be working.
It’s better to start with less feeling than to overdo it by working the outer layers of your abdomen, like the obliques and the six pack muscles.
The great thing about this exercise is that you don’t have to be lying down to do it. You can be sitting, standing, walking, running, doing almost anything. Even sitting at your desk at work, and no one will know you’re doing a workout!