The A-Z of Pilates - U for Understanding the Pilates Principles

Phew! This little entry seems to have been a long time coming.....we are already well into our spring term at the time of writing this and time just seems to have flown since I last updated my A-Z of Pilates. I think the gap could have been something to do with the 'U' letter of the alphabet and deciding what would be a good informative and relative topic that associated with it. So after some weeks mulling it over, it came to me that one of the most important elements in being able to do Pilates exercise correctly, and to gain the most benefit, is to be able to understand and apply the foundation principles that support this fantastic exercise method.


Although it is said that Joseph Pilates did not deliberately set out to create a list of set principles when he devised his original exercise programme ‘Controlology’’, each of the exercises he devised and wrote about consistently referred to certain concepts such as centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. Therefore, these concepts have since become widely accepted as the underlying principles of the exercise method, and whilst there may be a slight variation in the names or the number of principles presented (for example, six or eight) they all have the same fundamental concept and meaning. I have listed six of the most widely used principles below:


  • Breathing - Breathing is an integral part of Pilates technique helping in the flow and rhythm of movement and connecting the mind and body when performing the exercises. Joseph Pilates focused on deep, full breaths to help oxygenate the blood and facilitate the calm and focus required during each movement. Usually an inhale of breath will focus on preparing for a new movement, or the next movement in a sequence, whereas an exhale of breath is on centring and control during the exertion of a movement.
  • Control - Pilates exercises are taught to be performed with control, to reduce the risk of injury and develop strength and flexibility. The emphasis is all about the quality of movement rather than quantity. It is important to remember that 'less is often more' and that it is far more beneficial to perform an exercise with quality and to one's own personal ability, rather than match or 'beat' the person on the neighbouring mat. 
  • Concentration - This is about focusing the mind on each movement to increase body awareness and gain the most value from each exercise performed.
  • Centring - In Pilates, focus is brought to the centre of the body – the core - as this is where all movement and energy for Pilates exercises initiate. All of my Pilates exercises start with centring; bringing focus to core engagement, rib to hip connection and postural alignment. This creates the required stability for the pelvis, spine and torso, and ensures the best opportunity for being able to perform the exercises safely and most effectively.
  • Precision - Precision is about alignment, spatial awareness and being able to make adjustments in the placement and positioning of the body and limbs during movement. There are always very precise instructions for the correct placement and positioning of the body within each Pilates exercise, all of which require concentration to apply, and therefore bring focus to the quality, control and detail of the intended movement.
  • Flow – This is about a smooth, continuous rhythm and applying breath control as a key component in creating the flowing movement, grace, control and coordination associated with Pilates exercise. The Breath control determines the 'tempo' of an exercise, and this can easily be seen within a class when all of the class members are performing the same exercise, but with slightly different timing. This is directly related to the depth and fullness of the breathing pattern. Often, when people are relaxed but totally concentrated, their movements will be slower, more fluid, precise and thoughtful. 

If you would like to have a go at a Pilates exercise and applying all of the above principles, take a look at the below instructions for the Oyster exercise. This is a super exercise which strengthens and mobilises the hips, and where your breathing can easily be matched to the two dimensional movement pattern of the exercise. Ensure that you focus on taking nice full breaths and the quality of your technique, and then all the other principles will naturally fall into place!


Click here for your copy of the Oyster exercise.


Remember that if you are in any way concerned about your health or any current medical condition, you should always consult your own GP or health practitioner before taking part in any form of exercise. If you would like to join one of my classes do get in touch via my contact page to check for availability. 


Next time my A-Z of Pilates will be a little piece all about our spine - V for Vertebrae!


In the meantime.....cheerio for now!

This entry was posted on March 19, 2019