- Clare Lewis
The Power of Pilates
Clare Lewis discusses the history of Pilates benefits it can have on wellbeing.
Pilates was developed by German-born Joseph Pilates, who believed mental and physical health were closely connected, and so developed a workout flow designed to improve overall wellbeing as well as general fitness. Whilst the exercise was originally targeted at those undergoing injury rehabilitation, today we more commonly associate the workout as popularised by celebrities for its long, lean, and sculpted aesthetic. However, the culture surrounding Pilates has definitely shifted in more recent years as our views on fitness have evolved from seeking high intensity, boot camp workouts to finding enjoyment in a lower impact setting such as Pilates.
'The Pilates flow brings a calming sense of self-awareness to your body whilst effectively activating multiple muscle groups.'
With an emphasis on your core, the workout flow allows you to strengthen your muscles whilst gaining flexibility through targeted, gentle and deliberate movements that really force you to focus on nothing but your breath work. In addition, most importantly in terms of popularity, Pilates is affordable and accessible to everyone. The exercise itself requires little to no equipment and with the workouts starting from a short 10 minutes, it is so easy to integrate into your daily routine. I am a firm believer that Pilates is for everybody, regardless of gender, age, race, size, ability, or current fitness level.
For me, practising Pilates is exercising with intent. Unlike other exercise styles that I have opted for in the past, I actually look forward to the time I set aside to workout. I consider it integral to my routine, for positively improving my health as a whole and for relieving the tension and stress of everyday life. This form of exercise specifically forces you to improve your balance and postural alignment all while stimulating a steady release of endorphins. The flow of the movements with the rise and fall of your breath brings a tranquillity and a sense of wellbeing that combats any anxiety that may have built up throughout the week; it truly is a mood booster. From developing this appreciation of how your movements coordinate with the rise and fall of your breath, has introduced me to the concept of body neutrality. Body neutrality is rooted in the idea that we remove aesthetic judgement from ourselves and instead see our body purely for what it is at face value. It is the appreciation of your living, healthy, breathing, mobile body that has so much potential to achieve what you put your mind to. Much like Pilates, the body neutrality movement prioritizes the body’s function and what the body can do; placing emphasis on movement as an intrinsic source of pleasure, nothing more and nothing less.
'Unlike other exercise styles that I have opted for in the past, I actually look forward to the time I set aside to workout.'
Taking this step away from self-scrutiny and unlearning the emphasis on appearance has presented me with the opportunity to exercise more sustainably and simply enjoy it for what it is. Throughout my teenage years and into young adulthood I have always struggled with body self-confidence and feeling the pressure to look a certain way. My relationship with fitness has fluctuated as I would over exercise to reach my ‘body goals’ which, of course, would never be the case as these ‘goals’ were deliberately unattainable. Reflecting upon this now makes me realise how fixated on ‘perfection’ I was. However, leaning into the mindset of body neutrality has allowed such thoughts to plateau and lose the meaning that I would previously cling to. Shrugging of this pressure motivates me to continue practicing Pilates as a means to calm my mind, strengthen my body and teach me to truly appreciate and care for my mental and physical wellbeing.
'Throughout my teenage years and into young adulthood I have always struggled with body self-confidence and feeling the pressure to look a certain way.'
From having difficulty connecting to my body to recognizing the importance of valuing myself as more than just my appearance has taken time and I would say that I will never be able to completely let go. However, I have reframed what exercise means to me and my body, thinking about how movement makes me feel and how it positively affects my mood. The flow of Pilates exercises gives me the power to observe my movements and notice how I evolve overtime. It undoubtedly contributes to boosting my confidence and knowing what I can achieve, positively counteracting the idea of exercise being used as an outlet to punish ourselves for overindulging. Discovering Pilates has empowered me to prioritise doing things that make me feel good and my motivation is knowing that I’m going to feel stronger and more present in my body. So, I urge you to try it for yourself as I assure you whatever your workout personality, there is a Pilates workout to suit.