In order to answer the question "What is Pilates?", one must consider all of the important facets of the discipline. The Joseph Pilates method of training was developed in order to create an exercise program that not only gives excellent strength and flexibility results, but also disciplines those who practice it in a similar way to yoga.
Answer to What is Pilates?
Pilates assumes a few basic philosophies in order to make a sport that produces optimal results. The philosophy is that the following things are of ultimate importance:
What these elements refer to are the basic philosophy of Joseph Pilates, the man who invented the exercise program. Just like in yoga, the breath is very important for optimizing workout results; in fact, many of the basic ideas of Pilates are similar to yoga. However, there are several differences between yoga and Pilates. For example, breathing is central in both disciplines, but in yoga, both breathing in and breathing out are done through the nose whereas in Pilates, one should breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Concentration and control are also important in both disciplines; however, precision is more important in Pilates than in yoga. Pilates does not demand poses like yoga does (yoga poses can sometimes be unattainable, and therefore the yoga practitioner has to accept the version of the posture that he or she can comfortably do). In Pilates, the exercises are, for the beginner, seemingly more attainable. The best results are received from exercising extreme precision and control over one's movements.
This precision and control should not interfere with the flow from one position to another. In order to achieve optimal results, Pilates movements should flow smoothly. A good example of this is the exercise called the one-hundred. In this exercise, one lies on his/her stomach and makes movements with their arms and legs while keeping the core of the body firmly rooted, unmoving, on the ground. This requires precision of movement, but the best results will be obtained from a smooth flow from one position to the other; jerking the arms up and down from the lower to the higher position has less of an effect than flowing, controlled movements will produce.
Finally, the philosophy of Pilates is to concentrate and center one's physical practice around the 'core' of the body, the muscles of most importance in Pilates. The core is a focus of Pilates because this is the region of the body where all muscle groups come together -- it's the coordinator of the physical body just like the brain is the coordinator of the mental being.
Taking up Pilates
Now that you could answer the question "What is Pilates?" yourself if asked, you might think it sounds like a profitable exercise regimen for yourself. If you think Pilates might be something for you, there are a few different ways to get started.
Classes vs. Home Practice
Many gyms and health centers offer regular Pilates classes. This can be ideal for the beginner who wants an instructor to actively look at their technique so that they can be sure to learn how to perform the moves correctly. For other newcomers to the exercise, Pilates DVDs, which can be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home, are a better option.
In addition to a DVD or two, you can purchase a Pilates mat (yoga mat), as well as some basic accessories to enhance your practice. However, the great thing about Pilates is that you don't need a bunch of expensive, and space-consuming, equipment to get a good workout. A few accessories, like foam bricks and a stability ball can enhance your Pilates practice, but they are not necessary.
Begin practicing Pilates and you'll start seeing the physical benefits of Pilates (and feeling them!) quite quickly. You may also notice the mental calm that good practice can bring, although this may take longer to achieve.