My latest book acquisition is one that I'm really excited about, and I won't judge you if you're not equally bursting. It's called Pilates Anatomy by Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger. I've not only been very anxious to study more anatomy to aid my sharing of Pilates, but I was also thrilled to see Karen Clippinger's name as co-author. When I was a student at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, she worked closely with the dancers in the company, and I had the privilege of having a private kinesiology session with her. She is now a sought-after presenter in the areas of Pilates, dance, anatomy, and biomechanics while also being an anatomy professor and a teacher of Pilates certification programs.
The first chapter, before delving into the land of anatomy, is focused on the six foundational Pilates principles: breath, concentration, center, control, precision, and flow. I'm going to summarize each briefly and how each contributes to the mind/body connection, according to Isacowitz and Clippinger. (You may have heard that Joseph Pilates did not call his method "The Pilates Method", but actually named it Contrology.)
Breath is the "fuel of the powerhouse", and integrates all parts of the system: the body, mind, and spirit. "In this view breath can serve as a common thread that runs through all the foundation principles, in a sense sewing them together," the authors state.
Concentration is the focus directed to perfecting a Pilates exercise. It should include a focus on the alignment of the body as well as the stabilization of the muscles that one plans to use for that exercise.
Center relates to a person's center of gravity, "the point at which the body... would be totally balanced in all directions." Since every body is unique, each one will have its own center. Center also has to do with the core, or powerhouse, as Joseph Pilates named it: the muscles that provide greatest support for the lower back such as the lower abs, glutes, inner thighs, and the back muscles themselves. A third reference for center is a general feeling of balance from within one's self.
Control is based on the refinement needed to master an exercise. So as one progresses and skills improve, greater control can be seen through "fewer and smaller errors, exact alignment, greater coordination, greater balance, and greater ability to reproduce the exercise successfully over multiple attempts, using less effort and avoiding excessive muscle tension," Isacowitz and Clippinger explain.
Precision is the exact way an exercise is performed. The authors explain that the movement may not be so unlike other forms of exercise practices, but the execution of the exercise is different. I myself can think of several yoga and Pilates exercises that may appear alike at first glance by someone who is not aware of the intricacies of each, but as one explores them further, the differences become apparent, such as the yoga Plow vs. Pilates Roll-Over, or the yoga Candle vs. Pilates Jackknife. "Precision can be associated with the activation of isolated muscles and at the same time with the integration of the required muscles to create movement," they continue. Isacowitz and Clippinger state that precision is a primary key to achieving one's goals in a particular exercise.
Lastly, flow is something to aim for, and may only come after extensive practice and understanding of a movement. Not only should the individual exercises flow, but the entire session should do so as well. The authors quote Pilates protege Romana Kryzanowska as describing this method as "flowing motion outward from a strong center." I love that statement, and feel that I can almost visualize flow as something emanating from my core as I perform an exercise.
So there you have them, the six elements that work together to hone your Pilates technique as well as help you live a healthier life through their use in regular daily activities. Whether you use Pilates as a method to create the physique that you desire, or you use it as a de-stressor mentally, or a combination of both, these fundamental principles are the stepping stones to help you achieve your goals. After all, Joseph Pilates himself stated in his book, Return to Life Through Contrology:
"The acquirement and enjoyment of physical well-being, mental calm, and spiritual peace are priceless to their possessors... [and] it is only through Contrology (a.k.a. Pilates) that this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained."
What a great quote to focus on as we enter into a new week of Pilates classes and a new week of life, with refreshed bodies, minds, and spirits. And a special thanks to Pilates experts Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger for their literary collaboration that, I'm sure, will have a positve impact on many.
I hope to see you all in class soon!
Find Pilates Anatomy at these websites: