Have you ever watched a dog or cat wake up? Our pets always stretch their spines and limbs prior to proceeding with any activity. Even the promise of a walk or the vision of food does not override this instinct.
But we humans have lost this innate connection to our skeletal function and the need to prepare our bodies for movement. A few generations of sitting (in cars, on sofas, and at desks and the dinner table) have contributed to a less than optimal experience of our physicality and led us to stiff spines and weak support muscles. In other words, our bodies are becoming less adaptable to the demands of mobile life. Pilates can fix it.
Pilates is effective at all ages, as it is both safe and challenging. Done correctly, a good Pilates mat workout will leave you feeling vibrant, strong, and energetic. I like to compare Pilates to taking your car to the mechanic for a tuneup: You get the filters cleaned out, the oil replaced, and everything restored to an optimal functioning state, so you can get out on the road and trust your car will not break down.
Ask yourself these questions:
What exercise can I do to reduce the experience of waking up achy and stiff?
What could contribute to my longevity and well-being?
What sort of workout would be safe for me?
Before you answer these questions, think about the elements for a youthful body that apply at any age:
1. Flexibility: You can easily pick up something off the floor.
2. Strength: You can lift groceries or grandchildren without straining your back.
3. Stamina: You can keep up with the people you want to do things with.
4. Reflexes: You can regain balance when you slip or catch what you drop.
5. Posture: You can stand up straight; your head and feet are in a plumb line.
Basic Pilates mat work addresses all of the above.
In basic Pilates, you always start on your back with your knees bent to allow overworked back muscles to relax and lengthen. Then you recalibrate the front body by working on core strength to support the elongated spine. Once this foundation is established, the regimen exercises the joints while keeping an optimized trunk position in order to restore a full range of motion.
Pilates then progresses to sitting and standing exercises, while maintaining all the elements practiced on the back. This progression retrains the body to hold a more optimal shape and support for its own weight and facilitates the elements that contribute to vibrancy and strength.
Niedra Gabriel is a California-based Pilates instructor who does personal coaching, holds teacher trainings, and teaches private classes. To learn more about Gabriel, read our story and go to niedragabriel.com.