“The Art of Contrology” was Joseph Pilates’ preferred name for his method and it is based on the idea of muscle control. Nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. To be in control of every aspect of every movement you need to concentrate thoroughly. Every Pilates exercise is done with complete muscle control.
No body part is left to its own devices. In every exercise, the muscles work to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs, thereby controlling the movement of the body and the apparatus. The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy.
Regardless of the Pilates exercise being performed, total muscular control is utilized over every body part. We do not let wrong movements, gravity, or habit take over the control of our body.
The energy used for performing Pilates exercises is believed to be drawn from the center of your being. Joseph Pilates called this center your “Powerhouse.” The Powerhouse includes the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and the inner thighs – or the gladiator belt.
All movements in Pilates should begin from the Powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs of the body. The Powerhouse has a center line which lies behind your navel, the core area between your hips and lower rib cage. Two lines also run through the body – shoulder to shoulder, and hip to hip. We call this the frame or the box. Stabilizing the box allows us to move freely from the center.
Each Pilates exercise was created to achieve a precise goal. To fulfill the benefit of each movement, there is an appropriate placement, alignment relative to other body parts, and trajectory for each part of the body. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Eventually, this precision should become second nature, carrying over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
It is the mind that guides the body. Maximum benefits are believed to be derived by fully committing to and concentrating on the exercise at hand. The five parts of the mind that we use to achieve this are: intelligence, intuition, imagination, will, and memory.
All exercises are done with the rhythm of the breath. Joseph Pilates advocated thinking of the lungs as the bellows using them strongly to pump the air fully in and out of the body. Most Pilates exercises coordinate with the breath, and using the breath properly is an integral part of Pilates exercise. Pilates saw this as cleansing and invigorating. Proper full inhalation and complete exhalation are key.
To achieve the correct rhythm, one must inhale on the effort to send fresh oxygen to the muscles when they need it, then exhale completely, wringing air out of the lungs. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation. He advised people to squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry. Pilates breathing is described as posterior lateral breathing, meaning that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back and sides of his or her rib cage.
Pilates aims for elegant sufficiency of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions. Romana called this minimum of motion and it is something for which we all strive. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina.
The Pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements of the extremities: Pilates is flowing movement outward from a strong core. Fluidity, grace, and ease are goals applied to all exercises. The energy of an exercise connects all body parts and flows through the body in an even way.
Pilates equipment, like the reformer, are very good mirrors of one’s flow and concentration as they tend to bang around and suddenly become quite machine-like is one loses one’s control and flow.