Five Reasons To Do Pilates

We all have so much choice now when it comes to deciding what activities or sports to take up. I’d like to share 5 reasons why I think Pilates is an excellent choice. 

The Shoulder Roll Down (also called ‘The Sari’) on the Cadillac

1: Pilates is a wonderful compliment to every other activity and is performance-enhancing.

Whether it’s walking, running, swimming, gardening, rowing, playing golf or football, or playing musical instruments, bringing your mind into every part of your body gives you awareness and control over how you move, which rapidly enhances your performance in anything you do. Many hobbies and sports favour one side of the body, or particular muscle groups, more than others. Bodies are clever and make compensations so that we don’t notice the unevenness, often for years, before issues start to arise. Pilates immediately brings these imbalances to our attention and addresses them effectively. 

2: Pilates counteracts the constant pulling down of our everyday lives by lifting and lengthening the spine. 

Our lifestyles and culture often involve sitting for long periods of time, carrying heavy bags around, driving or sitting in cramped spaces on public transport, and using our eyes in short-range for prolonged periods when reading or staring at screens. 

Pilates does the opposite. You learn to lift your whole body and lengthen your spine, giving you a stronger back and abdominals. Your waist becomes leaner and longer, your chest more open, and your mobility improves so that everything becomes easier to do.

3: Pilates gives the body what it needs by breaking the habitual patterns that we develop from our early years, and everything starts to feel easier.

Romana summarised Pilates as “Stretch and strength with control” and it’s exactly that! Whatever body type you have, and whatever issues you have, Pilates aligns and balances the body. If you are tight, it gives you stretch and strength in the right places to improve flexibility and mobility. If you’re hyper-mobile or over-flexible, Pilates ‘reigns you in’ and strengthens you so that you feel more centred and put together. Much like Alexander Technique, Pilates addresses the habits we’ve developed over a lifetime and trains us to become aware enough that we can change these patterns of movement from the inside out. It takes vigilance and commitment, but these changes often bring with them a more positive outlook and much more efficient over-all body function.

4: Pilates can be treated as a meditation. 

Anything can be a meditation when done in the right way. Rather than sitting in a chair without moving, the meditative element of Pilates is the deep concentration needed when doing the exercises to work precisely and consciously, and with flow, just as Joseph Pilates insisted on. When Pilates is practised in this way, there isn’t room for minds to wonder or be distracted, and automatic pilot never happens. Romana’s Pilates is practised without background music in order to keep our attention on our own body. A session can feel as refreshing as having rested for an hour, but instead the body has moved, the mind-body connection strengthened, and blood has circulated around the body.

5: Pilates strengthens the connection of the mind to the body which, as a result, strengthens our connection to the world around us. 

Joseph Pilates created a method that demands full integration of the mind and body. It’s far too easy to live in our heads, to the point where we don’t notice our bodies change, or habits develop that can cause issues later in life. Pilates addresses this by demanding that every movement is made consciously and with complete awareness. This takes time to develop, but the result is an awakening of muscles and joints that haven’t been thought about or used properly in a long time. Proprioception improves and this awareness extends to beyond ourselves and to how we interact with others. In a world where technology does a lot to remove our need to interact with each other, we need all the help we can get to re-establish these important connections. 

There are many more reasons why Pilates is a fantastic form of exercise but, most importantly, enjoying it is what makes it a life-long pleasure. Doing something we love that takes us outside of our everyday activities is important for our wellbeing, but doing something we love that also makes our body stronger, more flexible, more aligned and lifted, really does do us the world of good. 

14th November 2021

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Romana’s Pilates apprentice at Kinetic Pilates in London training with Rebecca Convey

https://www.kineticpilates.com

The Magic of the Pilates Mat

The purpose of this blog is to introduce the Pilates mat to people who are curious about it or would like to know a little more. When Pilates is considered as a form of exercise or new activity, most people think of exercises done on a mat and often compare it to Yoga. The mat, however, is only one part of a very comprehensive and integrated system of exercises that uses apparatus to help the body develop according to what it needs. I’ll be writing more about the full system in a future blog. Pilates is also a completely different discipline to Yoga so it’s not helpful to compare them but, again, more on this another time. 

For now, back to the mat. In a nutshell, the mat is a series of 34 exercises that Joseph Pilates created to be practised routinely and precisely, with flow. It takes time and patience to be able to do the whole mat and benefit from it, so Romana’s Pilates uses the Basic Mat, a selection of 7 exercises from the full routine, as a starting point and an introduction to this wonderful series. As you become stronger and more flexible, and your body begins to change, more exercises are added to develop and ultimately challenge the strong foundation that you’ve built. 

Many people assume the mat to be the simplest and easiest way to practise Pilates because, rather than navigate springs, straps, pedals, bars and handles, all you have is a mat on the floor. Sounds simple, but with only the floor as a reference point, the mat demands the greatest physical awareness in order to maximise its potential. What the mat lacks in ease, it makes up for in practicality. If you can find a space of floor the size of a large beach towel to work on and have a mat or flooring that cushions your spine, you’re all set.

The purpose of Pilates, or Contrology as Joseph Pilates called it, is to change the body using the six fundamental principles that he founded the method on. These are; Concentration, Centring, Control, Precision, Flow and Breathing. Pilates developed his sequence of 34 mat exercises to flow from one to the next in a particular order, and he demanded that every exercise be done using his six principles. This quote by Pilates gives you an idea of the scope of his philosophy and the importance and value he placed on his method. 

“Concentrate on the correct movements EACH TIME YOU EXERCISE, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value. Correctly executed and mastered to the point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities. Contrology exercises build a sturdy body and sound mind fitted to perform every daily task with ease and perfection as well as to provide tremendous reserve energy for sports, recreation, emergencies… Be certain that you have your entire body under complete mental control… Good posture can be successfully acquired only when the entire mechanism of the body is under perfect control.” Joseph Pilates (Return to Life Through Contrology)

The secret to a lifelong love of Pilates is to enjoy the process and not concern yourself with end goals. Unlike other forms of fitness and exercise, nothing is measured. Reps aren’t increased the stronger you get, and no position is held for any length of time to intensify an exercise, and stats aren’t recorded and monitored. Instead, more exercises are added, and the work becomes internally deeper the more you progress. Also, Pilates insisted that his exercises be done in silence so that concentration can be completely on the body and not elsewhere. 

Becoming aware of our body, feeling our alignment and integrating every part of us so that day to day life is easier is a true joy. Why is the mat magic? Because when the Pilates method is practiced with guidance, knowledge of the system and in full concentration, magic happens!

The ‘Rocker’ at Kinetic Pilates, London during my apprenticeship

I am a Romana’s Pilates trained instructor having completed over 1000 hours of apprenticeship with Rebecca Convey at Kinetic Pilates, London, and teach one to one sessions and mat classes in Ewell, Surrey.

If you would like to come and try a Basic Mat class with me, email me at nadine@pianoandpilatesstudio.com or just turn up to Ewell Hall, London Road, Surrey on any Monday evening at 8.30pm. No experience or fitness level required. Mats are provided however if you’re bringing your own, make sure it is at least 5mm thick so it can support your spine sufficiently.

Classes are pay as you go and £15 on the door, or email me at nadine@pianoandpilatesstudio.com to book a place.

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1st November 2021

As a pianist, why Pilates and why Classical Romana Pilates?

Pilates lesson with Jane Allan at Kinetic Pilates, London

This is an introductory blog about how my training and experience as a working classical pianist has lead me to embarking on one of the most comprehensive and demanding Pilates teacher training programmes in the world. 

Firstly, I’d like to clear up any confusion that this blog might cause. I am definitely NOT giving up music! Several people have been asking me that, and I have no intention of stopping teaching or playing the piano professionally. The plan is to use my Romana’s Pilates instructor training to enhance both my teaching and my own body. Developing a deep understanding of body mechanics, and strengthening myself, will enable me to educate other musicians, so that they too can improve their performance by strengthening their own bodies and becoming more physically and mentally integrated. 

I am a professional pianist. From the age of 5, playing the piano has been an important and consistent part of my life and the conviction that I needed to pursue music as a career came to me in my mid-teenage years. After graduating from the Royal Northern College of Music in 2005 with a Master of Music in Performance, I did what professional musicians usually do and built a portfolio career of teaching and performing. Today, I continue to perform as a soloist and chamber musician and teach piano and chamber music at three institutions, one being the junior department at the Royal Academy of Music in London. 

I frequently meet musicians who suffer from injury or ongoing physical issues that prevent them from playing their instruments freely. In some cases, people who have dedicated their whole lives to music have to stop playing altogether. I find this incredibly frustrating and, until recently, I have never come across a method of therapy or exercise that is truly rehabilitative and that can address and fix the cause of these issues.

Don’t get me wrong, therapy sessions are great! They can be physically restorative, alleviate pain and improve wellbeing, however, it is rare that these sessions get to the very root of a physical problem and deal with fixing the issue in the WHOLE body, not just the isolated area. If the therapy does treat the whole body, the effects often wear off and the issue returns. 

I’ve amassed so many questions about this over the years… 

Is playing the piano with ease really this difficult? 

Is practising the particulars on your instrument for endless hours really the best way to achieve a perfect state in performance?… Apparently not. 

Is there a form of exercise or therapy that can truly change the body, from the inside out? 

Is there a form of deep and comprehensive training I can do that isn’t medical that will enable me to help my fellow musicians? (I don’t have the money for that, and I don’t want to have to give up music.)

Is there a way of learning to be more integrated, where the mind can become much more closely connected to the body, but that also strengthens it? (I’m a huge fan of Alexander Technique and have had years of lessons, but it doesn’t address muscle weakness.)

After mulling over different possibilities and trying different forms of therapy and exercise to improve my own body, I have finally found what I believe is the perfect solution. I make this sound like I’ve given it the occasional thought… far from it. I’ve agonised over this, had sleepless nights on occasion, questioned my identity as a teacher and struggled with dealing with my own physical pain for years. This is a decision that I arrived at when several aspects of my life converged into one moment. Corny though it may sound, it was indeed an epiphany (and happened at about 2am last Summer).

I discovered Pilates almost 6 years ago and I loved it. I received expert tuition from Sonja Fitzpatrick in Epsom, and once I’d had my light-bulb moment and decided to teacher train, Sonja encouraged me to do my research and try different methods. I knew that I wanted to train as true to Joseph Pilates’ method as possible and researching this lead me to Classical Pilates. 

It was in February this year (2019) that I came across Kinetic Pilates in north London, and discovered that Rebecca Convey is THE UK teacher-trainer for Romana Pilates. I did some digging and found out that Romana was a devoted student of Joseph Pilates’, working closely with him and his wife Clara for years on his method which he called Contrology. After his death, Romana set up a teacher training programme with Clara that would ensure future teachers of his method stayed as true to his system and approach as possible, and they named it Pilates in order that the method remain true to Joseph. It seemed that this was as close as I would get to learning Pilates as it was meant to be learnt. 

I booked a lesson with Rebecca Convey to see what the difference was. It was expensive so I went along with the thought that unless there was a significant difference, I’d stick to what I’d known so far. As soon as the lesson commenced I noticed a big difference. The focus on my body and what it was doing went much deeper than what I’d been used to, and Rebecca taught me more about what was going on physically with my body in one hour than I’d learnt in the past 5 years, and I’d been taught a lot! What I learnt didn’t always come from what Rebecca said, but from how she said it. The way she used her voice would directly affect the impact of my movements and therefore change the intensity of the exercise. There was also a wealth of information that came through where she placed her hands, which seemed to have a very close association with Alexander Technique; it was all about directing and lengthening. All of the studio equipment was at her disposal, and there was always a reason for moving from one piece of apparatus to another. Everything was integrated, and it immediately felt clear to me that Pilates had designed his equipment for very specific reasons. Pilates in its truest form deals directly with the internal mechanics of the body and addresses issues long-term by realigning, strengthening, rebalancing and reintegrating.

I walked away from the lesson feeling several inches taller and a lot stronger. I remember walking up the escalators at Victoria station and it feeling like the easiest thing in the world! I was convinced. Rebecca’s teaching wasn’t just about expertise, it was intuitive, sensitive, and she had a deep knowledge of Joseph Pilates’ method. 

After several weeks of lessons with Rebecca and James Palmer, another fantastic teacher at Kinetic Pilates, I noticed my piano playing start to change. My hands felt much lighter, my pelvis more stable and my whole body was more powerful. The technical issues I’d been dealing with for decades were melting away and I was playing with much greater ease. I knew that this was my path and felt certain that this teacher training method would help me fulfil my desire to help others. 

Seven months I made the commitment. I even bought a Gratz reformer to practice on, which will eventually be the first piece of apparatus in my teaching studio. (Gratz have maintained Pilates’ original designs without making any modifications to the dimensions, angles or materials he specified.) I’m now two months into the apprenticeship and am preparing for my first exam in February (of 3 practical and 4 written exams in total). I’m extremely excited, if a little apprehensive, about completing 1000+ of apprenticeship while continuing to teach and play professionally but I know it will all be worth it.

If I can help musicians have a better relationship with their instruments, playing pain-free with improved endurance and control for many more years of their life than they might otherwise, and enjoy this longevity myself, then my work in this lifetime is done. 

Visit the Kinetic Pilates Teacher Training website here

Visit the Romana’s Pilates website here

Visit the Gratz website here

Nadine André

1st November 2019