Why is Pilates so good for me? All the benefits of mat pilates
As a Pilates teacher, I have clients who tell me how much more energized they feel after a session on the mat or who notice how much stronger they have gotten since they started practicing. But I also have friends who are hesitant to even try Pilates, because they think it will be “boring”.
They’ll complain that they don’t have time to do Pilates. If they have a weird window available, they want to spend it doing something that gets their heart pumping for a “proper” workout.
Now, that’s fair enough if, after a day of staring at a screen, you’d rather run outside than do a Zoom Pilates session indoors. We all have different needs and goals for our exercise regimens. But I can’t help but wonder why so many people dismiss pilates as boring or too low intensity.
The way I feel after a Pilates class is unbeatable. I feel stronger, more relaxed and calm – in awe of my body’s ability to move in a rapid stream, push through an excruciating burn, or work through a tremulous jolt. I feel like my cells are tingling with the benefits of mat practice. I am fortunate, as a newly qualified pilates instructor, to be able to share the overwhelmingly positive impact this has had on my body and mind with others – including the very deep burn that often occurs 20 seconds after an exercise.
My buddies are not to blame for their anti-pilates stance; their mindset is a product of the general cultural awareness that surrounds exercise. Despite the pilates and yoga boom, we’re still told that a practice isn’t “real exercise” unless you have trouble breathing at the end. Exercise isn’t simply defined by how much you sweat. This can mean improving your flexibility, improving your mobility and improving your balance – all of which can be done through Pilates.
Jumping on the mat regularly will strengthen and lengthen your muscles – and that’s a huge bonus. But Pilates offers more than physical benefits; its founding principles include concentration, breathing, centering, precision, fluid movement and control, with three other principles including awareness, endurance and relaxation. These are the elements that make pilates so good for the body and the mind, and that have made the most difference in my own life.
Take concentration, for example. I have struggled with my mental health in the past, but committing to this principle of Pilates has helped me endlessly. When I train, I have to focus fiercely on what each part of my body is doing, make sure I have a neutral spine, engage my pelvic floor, retract my shoulders, make sure my alignment is correct no matter what. whatever the movement. I’m playing. Add a burn and a jolt (with The 100 exercise, for example, where you lie on the mat and raise and lower your arms 100 times while lifting your head, shoulders, and legs off the floor) and I’m completely immersed in my body. It is a form of mindfulness.
I am much more mobile and flexible than I was before Pilates. I’ve always had really tight hip flexors – if I take a long walk I’ll feel it in my hips long before I feel it anywhere else – but doing the One Leg Circle (where you lie on the mat and circle your leg sideways and back towards the body) helps engage my hip flexors and gives them some much-needed release.
When you factor in the amount of focus you need, the control and precision of the movement, and how well the exercise strengthens the abs, the benefits of this simple movement continue over and over again.
Others might feel that much-needed mobilization in their shoulders, neck, knees or spine – whatever the area, Pilates will get the blood flowing and the body moving, mobilizing the joints and working the muscles; and you’ll also get a stretch at the end, increasing flexibility and releasing tension.
I’m not saying give up your weekly runs or stop going to that solid cardio class that makes you feel amazing every time. There should be room for everything in exercise – and we all have different styles and intensities that work best for us and our bodies – but I strongly believe that more women should try Pilates.
If the only reason you’re not doing it is because you think you’d be better off training somewhere else, come talk to me after a 45 minute session. I guarantee you will walk away feeling mentally and physically stronger than ever.