While yoga gets the majority of press and word of mouth, another quality alternative exercise sits in its shadow. But it probably deserves a share of the spotlight.
Pilates is a system of stretching and strengthening exercises, and also the last name of its German inventor: Joseph Pilates. He created this unique way of conditioning the body and the mind and brought it to North America in 1923. Pilates was reportedly first used as a way to rehabilitate soldiers injured during the First World War. Following this, his technique became popular with professional dancers and athletes.
Pilates focuses on the body’s central muscles that keep you balanced and support the spinal column. Exercises help strengthen deep muscles in your back, hips and abdomen. The physical goal is to lengthen and strengthen these deep muscles, and to make them more flexible and mobile. The mental focus of Pilates is to improve movement efficiency and muscle control. Specialized breathing techniques both focus the mind and help shape muscles.
In the late 1980s, Pilates started to get noticed in North America. The reason: it gained popularity among some Hollywood stars. Now, more than six million people practice Pilates in the U.S., not to mention more than 11 thousand Pilates instructors in the country. Just like yoga, its numbers are increasing each passing year.
Pilates can help people who need any of the following:
— Specific guidance for their exercise programs
— Recovery from injury
— Specific physical rehabilitation
— Improved sports performance or dance technique
— A gentle, effective exercise regimen
— More stretching and strengthening of their muscles
— Help with low back pain and other musculoskeletal problems
— An injury prevention program
— To reduce mental and physical stress
— To enjoy a better sex life
— A unique way to get fit and enjoy a healthier, more energized body
To begin, it is best to try Pilates workouts in a class setting. They may be group sessions of exercises performed on a mat, or the use of specialized Pilates equipment. The mat exercises are callisthenic-style resistance exercises and stretches that somewhat resemble yoga exercises. These are usually best learned in a group class, starting out two times per week and gradually tapering to once per week. Also part of Pilates exercises is a large ball used for various stretching exercises. There is also a growing collection of Pilates instructional videos to choose from for home use as well.