26 Mar What to expect in your first Mat Pilates class
Joining us for the first time on the mat? Pilates has its own lexicon & you may encounter some unfamiliar terms & concepts during class. Julia Potter of Sol Space Pilates has prepared this handy guide to help you get the most out of your first class at Clarity:
Breath – The First Principle of Pilates!
There’s a common myth of the ‘Pilates breath’. In reality, there’s no one type of breath; we want to be able to breathe in all conditions & in all orientations of gravity. Breath & movement go hand in hand; Pilates can teach us good breathing habits & how to breathe efficiently, so that we may go about our daily tasks with ‘spontaneous zest & pleasure’. How we cue breath in Pilates depends on the particular exercise being taught & what we want to achieve. For instance, using diaphragmatic breath may facilitate the back & forth motion required in the advanced Pilates exercise ‘Rocking’. Also, we may cue different patterns of breath according to the needs of the individual student. Arm Arcs is a great example of this; typically in this exercise the arm floats overhead on an inhale breath, however if a student is flaring their ribcage, we may suggest reversing the breath pattern – ie, exhaling as the arm moves overhead – to assist in stabilising the torso. Breathing is therefore not rigid or ‘right or wrong’; it’s a tool & may be used in different ways to facilitate particular outcomes.
If, as you go through the class, all this talk of breath & breathing patterns has you confused, don’t worry! The important thing is to just B R E A T H E & enjoy moving in the moment.
Pelvic Floor + Transverse Abdominis Activation
The pelvic floor is a diamond shaped muscular sling that sits at the base of our pelvis & supports our internal pelvic organs. It connects the pubic bone, tailbone & two sit bones, & helps control continence, assists sexual function & forms a key part of our core support. Because the pelvic floor muscles are internal, it can be difficult to understand how to activate them. Visualisation is useful here, as it can help you to picture where the muscles are located & how they relate to bodily functions. Your Pilates instructor will employ a range of visualisation tools to help you better understand & activate your pelvic floor.
The transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle that wraps around the midsection like a corset & works to stabilise the lower back & pelvis. Research has shown that in individuals with healthy backs, the muscle turns on before other muscles when you move. Because the muscle anticipates motion, we can use ‘intention’ or imagery to activate it & keep it functioning properly. A good instructor will have a rich vocabulary of imagery they can call upon during class. We all learn & think in different ways, & what works for one student may not work for another, so it’s a case of finding that ‘light bulb’ moment for each individual.
Imprinted vs Neutral Spine
A controversial topic! I’ll save delving into this one for another day. What’s important to know is that, while there may be different approaches, the overall goal is to keep you safe. If something doesn’t feel right in your body, please let your instructor know!
The modern approach to Pilates is all about layering. I like to use the analogy of an elevator; we start at ground floor – the most basic movement – & then build upon it, adding different levels of challenge. If we have a strong foundation, we can successfully work our way up to full body integrative movement. The brilliance of this layered system is that it is accessible to students of all levels & experience of Pilates. We are able to accomodate the different needs of students in the one class. This is important, also, because the human body is a living, breathing thing that is in a state of constant flux. We may have executed the full Hundred one day, yet the next – for whatever reason – the body may not be up to the challenge. We don’t give up; instead, we modify the exercise. This allows the student to have a positive movement experience which makes them more likely to continue with their practice – always a good thing! As Pilates instructors, we love to see more people making movement part of their everyday.
Slow, Controlled Movement
Joseph Pilates originally called his method ‘Contrology’. That, in itself, gives us an idea of his intention behind what he was creating. There is a great deal to think about during a Pilates exercise; breath, purpose, alignment, sequence of muscle recruitment, movement, rhythm, flow…and this is all while using just the right amount of effort to avoid unnecessary tension in the body. Joseph Pilates encouraged his students to ‘keep your mind wholly concentrated on the purpose of the exercises as you perform them’. You must be focused & have control over each movement. This may mean that you perform an exercise slower or in a way that is different to how you have performed it in the past (the Pilates vs gym chest lift is a good example of this.) However, proper form is more important than repetitions & Pilates is as much of an exercise for the mind as it is for the body. This is why it is so effective!
Hopefully this brief guide will prove useful during your first class. As always, if you have any questions, speak to your instructor after class. We’re a friendly bunch & are here to support you!
Hope to see you on the mat soon 🙂
To book your class with Julia on Saturday mornings, CLICK HERE