Contributor: Kari Skaflen
Photographer: Taylor Balding
What is Pilates?
You’ve no doubt heard of Pilates, but most people don’t know exactly what it is or how it differs from Yoga. Pilates is a series of exercises that focus on strengthening the core and muscles of the back to create a long, lengthened posture. It started with Joseph Pilates, a 20th century fitness devotee who created his own exercise method, while in an internment camp during WWI. He called this method Controlology. Pilates’ Controlology emphasized the importance of the connection between the mind and the body, created long, lean muscles with increased elasticity and mobility, and resulted in improved strength, balance and coordination. Pilates later brought his method of exercise to New York where head of the New York City Ballet, the legendary George Balanchine, asked Pilates to work with his ballerinas. Several of his prodigal students spread his gentle but challenging methods, and Pilates gained mainstream popularity after Hollywood discovered its benefits. It’s now a widely practice exercise discipline.
How does Pilates help change posture?
Pilates is renowned for its ability to create ballerina-esque posture.
Pilates focuses on the deep core muscles of the body, including the transverse abdominus, which wraps around the low abdomen like a seat belt, connecting to the fascia in the back body, which in turn connects to the multifidi (a group of small muscles that run along the spine) which are strengthened and stretched as the core is worked. A strong spine is important to counterbalance the hunching and rounding of the spine as we find ourselves leaning forward over computers, cell phones, and tablets with greater frequency. Another important feature of Pilates is that it emphasizes a neutral spine, which maintains the natural curves in the spine—this allows the muscles of the limbs of core to function most efficiently. Finding a neutral pelvis is a great way to know if you are in a neutral spine alignment.
Try these 5 simple exercise to lengthen the spine, strengthen the core and grow taller.
- Toe Taps— To activate your transverse abdominus, first find a neutral spine. While lying supine, knees bent and feet flat, place the base of palms of the hands on the hip bones, and the fingertips on the pubic bone. The palm and fingers should be on the same plane, level in space. From here, lift the right leg and then the left leg to a 90° angle from the hip and the knee (tabletop position). Keep your neutral spine. Begin to lower the right toes towards the mat and then up again, switch sides and continue. You will feel your transverse abdominals light up. Repeat 10 times for each leg.
- Roll Up— Lie on your back, legs stretched out long and feet together, arms overhead. On an inhale begin to curl forward, nodding your chin to chest. Once at the tips of the shoulder blades, exhale and continue to roll up your spine, pulling the abdominals in as you go. Stretch forward with a rounded spine over the toes, and then exhale and roll back down your spine using the abdominals to lay each vertebra down like a strand of pearls. Repeat 6 times
- Double Leg Stretch— Lying supine, bring your right knee into your chest. Let your left leg hover long over the mat. Curl up to the tips of the shoulder blades, hands reach for the right shin pulling the leg gently toward the chest, then switch legs, and repeat 10 times each leg.
- Bridging— This exercise is great for spinal articulation, waking up the muscles of the spine, and getting the vertebrae to move sequentially. It is also a killer workout for the glutes. Lying supine with your feet planted hip distance, scoop in with the belly, exhale, and begin to lift the hips towards the ceiling. Keep the body in one long line (as opposed to pushing the ribs towards the ceiling in yoga). Stand firmly in the heels, reach the fingertips long towards the hips. Inhale and on your exhale, engage the abdominals and slowly roll back down through the spine, tailbone coming down to the mat last. Repeat 6 times.
- Extension Work— Lying prone bring the hands under the forehead. Draw the shoulders down the back and lift the navel toward the spine. Inhale, lift the head keeping the hands connected to your forehead and peek up out from underneath the hands, exhale as you lower down. Repeat 6 times.