Journey of a Pilates Graduate

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After 4 days of intensive training including lectures, 45 hours of additional training, a written exam, and a practical exam (which was being filmed) I became a pilates graduate!

Pilates certiciateI chose to study with A Life of Energy, co-founded by Australian health expert, Caroline Leon, an incredibly strong woman who I have come to admire. With 2 degrees (Medical Science being one of them), Caroline has been training pilates students since 2002. I’ll never forget the first time I met her, she is extremely beautiful with an amazing pilates-toned physique and upon introducing herself, she apologised for hobbling over due to a recent accident, she didn’t go into details but only during the course, did we realise that this accident could have killed her and here she is, going through multiple operations yet still optimistic and working extremely hard.

Why Reformer Pilates?

I first discovered Reformer Pilates at MK Health in Solihull in 2014, when I moved to Dubai in 2015, I struggled to find a studio to live up to that standard. I tried a few and eventually stumbled across Naya in Motor City, Dubai. The best teachers (for me) were Miriam and Ha, so I committed every Friday/Sunday to Ha’s classes. Soon after I discovered Ha and Miriam were trained by the same woman, Caroline and when the opportunity arose to study pilates, I jumped at the chance to perfect my technique.

For me, pilates is an intelligent form of exercise, it involves constant concentration and full engagement throughout each and every move, resulting in a leaner body. I am 5ft 4 but I do regularly have people comment saying I ‘seem taller’, trust me, I am not. However, once you begin to understand and adopt the six principles, you begin to subconsciously apply them to your everyday life and movement, in the way you walk and breathe. I remember I would find myself holding my breath for long periods of time, for no reason whatsoever, I would be relentlessly typing an email and I would subconsciously hold my breath for the whole time! I only realised I was doing this once I understood the importance of breathing and how to breathe correctly, but before I go onto that, let’s start at the beginning.

Brief overview on Pilates

Invented by a German gentleman Joseph Hubertus Pilates, born in 1880. As a sickly child, suffering from astha, rickets and rheumatic fever, he had no formal higher education but ended up studying Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga, martial arts, zen, philosophy and Greek & Roman regimens. As an avid sportsman (bodybuilder, diver, skier, gymnast), he moved to England and continued his career in sports as a boxer and self-defence instructor. Scotland Yard eventually hired him to help train the police.

Long story short, he ended up in a camp in 1914 where he spent time with inmates developing a conditioning program to help maintain general health. Working with the war-injured who were bed ridden, he experimented with springs attached to the end of the bed allowing patients to exercise against resistance. This led him to the invention of the reformer bed, it’s important to understand that these exercises are an extension of the pilates vocabulary of mat work.

After moving back to Germany, he attracted the unwanted attention of the ‘black shirts’ which prompted his migration to America, where he met his wife en route to NYC. Both being fitness enthusiasts, it was their destiny to set up a fitness studio in New York, working with dancers with injuries and high profile clients where word got out.

In 1967, Joseph Pilates died but his method had gained such a strong following in the dance and entertainment world that his legacy still lives on to this day and no doubt, long into the future.

What does the course involve?

As I already mentioned, the course was 4 days of lectures and training, followed by continuous training in my own time; self-mastery, observation and assisted teaching. There were 2 really hard written exams and a practical exam, where you teach a class and it’s being recorded to be sent to the Pilates team in Australia. I am not usually a nervous person, but the pressure to remember everything AND demonstrate a live class within the allotted time was a huge challenge for me, I know I could have performed much better if I had relaxed a little and slowed down.

I loved the support network, so we could pick the brains of other teachers at any time and Ha was a MASSIVE help and I am eternally grateful. I am summarizing elements of my training mainly for my benefit for my own training, however, I feel that it may be of benefit to other pilates undergrads as well as pilates students like me, eager and hungry to learn more and to perfect techniques.

Now breathe…

As mentioned previously, there are six underlying principles in Pilates. Pilates uses co-ordinated breathing to promote abdominal strength and to reduce tension in the upper body to help with fine motor control and to increase oxygen uptake. So, it’s crucial to perfect the basic principles rather than focus on speed of movement, this is what differentiates pilates for me from gym exercise.

  1. Concentration
  2. Control
  3. Centring
  4. Precision
  5. Flowing Movement
  6. Breathing

I summarise these six principles performed properly as ‘engagement’. We are all able to exert effort and fulfill the above, but to get the most out of your pilates session, engage fully in concentrating solely on your exercise so that you train your mind to allow your body to perform subconsciously, you will also feel your body working harder yet smarter.

Everybody believes they have control, but it is not only a pilates skill but a life skill to learn how to control not only your body, but your mind. My advice which has been passed onto me from my teachers is to focus on doing fewer exercises properly rather than doing all of them at speed.

Joseph Pilates refers to the area from the bottom of the ribcage to the line across the hips as the ‘powerhouse’ or the ‘centre’. Draw your naval into your spine or visualize trying to do up a pair of jeans a size too small. The ‘centre’ or deep abdominals (called transverse abdominals) play a vital role in supporting our back.

The best athletes are experts of precision, my husband was a professional footballer and I recall his discipline when it came to training, actually in everything he does (including disciplining our dogs). By carefully and precisely performing each exercise to perfection (lot of P’s) we are able to achieve poise and refinement.

In pilates, we use range-of-movement stretching, flowing movement. Every pilates move, when performed correctly is fluid and graceful, hence when adopted properly, you’ll notice you will move differently, walk taller, sit and stand up straight.

In Joseph’s words “breathing is the first act of life, and the last”. By inhaling and exhaling completely, the body is revitalized with fresh oxygen and energy.

When I first started pilates, I wasn’t breathing properly, it took time for me to train my body to breathe properly. Breathing is an involuntary action right? Yes it is, and if you watch a baby breathe, they breathe correctly, watch their torso rise and fall. However, due to the strains and stress of daily life, I for one, was not breathing properly by holding my breathe particularly when performing arduous tasks.

Tip: when lifting and carrying heavy objects (or if weight training in the gym), keep your naval drawn to your spine and breathe into the back of your lungs and side of your ribs, this will support your lower back.

So, there you have it! My journey as a Pilates graduate. I have such passion for pilates that I have already enrolled on the Pilates Mat course in September and I CAN’T wait!

Follow @ALifeofEnergy and @Caroline_D_Leon on Instagram.

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