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Mon 4th Sep 2017

A Beginners Guide to Pilates Mat Classes - 5 Things You Need To Know

“The acquirement and enjoyment of physical well-being, mental calm and spiritual peace are priceless to their possessors.”
- Joseph Pilates

Pilates mat classes are a great way to start improving health and well-being whilst strengthening the body and provide an alternative, or complement to, Pilates classes that use studio equipment.

Although some people may think that these classes are similar to yoga, Pilates mat classes are quite different – working the body and mind according to distinct principles, as set out by Joseph Pilates, the founder of this exercise system over eighty years ago.

If you are looking for a way to improve your posture, strengthen your core and improve your flexibility, then Pilates mat classes are a great way of achieving this. But what is it that makes this system unique? And what do you need to know prior to starting a class? In this article, we explore five crucial things worth knowing - before making your Pilates debut.

1. You don't need to be an athlete, dancer or exercise expert

When Pilates arrived in the UK, it was mainly taken up by dancers to help them complement their existing training or recover from injury. Top athletes such as Pat Cash and then Andy Murray also used Pilates to help them recover from injury and prevent re-injury – thus extending the system's appeal amongst those who were already physically fit.

Pilates continues to be popular amongst the elite in sport, however, it's incredibly accessible to newcomers. Whatever your age or fitness level, Pilates' emphasis on relaxed, focused movement and natural progression means that anyone can benefit. The philosophy of Pilates is based on building strength 'from the inside' and it's highly tailored to the needs of the individual – encouraging development that is unforced. For beginners, this means it's not intimidating and most people find it an easy system to feel at home with – free from any competitiveness or pressure.

2. Pilates mat classes are often best when the group is small and classes are term-based

Although the average size of a Pilates mat class in the UK is around 15, smaller class sizes are more beneficial for beginners (and more experienced students) as they allow the teacher to give more individual support and guidance.

When it comes to the subtlety needed to get the benefits of Pilates, having a qualified teacher spend quality time with you during a session is obviously going to help – especially in the early stages when you are getting to grips with the fundamentals of the method. This also helps to build confidence – knowing that each movement is being taught in a way that's relevant to you.

Although drop-in classes may appeal for convenience, a commitment to regular classes in terms means that learning can be a structured and progressive. Learning in this way also provides that extra bit of motivation that comes from making a commitment to your well-being whilst adding group cohesion. It also means you're more likely to get to know the other students – adding a valuable social benefit to the equation.

3. Pilates' Eight Principles Strengthen From Within

Joseph Pilates found that his methods helped people recover more swiftly from injury, were able to build strength from their core, and could improve their mental focus too. He developed his system from eight distinct principles, which guide Pilates classes to this day:

  • Relaxation – through allowing the body to release tension, movement can be optimal and health can improve
  • Concentration – the mind builds the body through developing awareness within each movement
  • Alignment – learning to align the body improves strength and rebalances the muscular system
  • Breathing – breathing into the rib cage (laterally) increases oxygenation of the blood
  • Centring – all the movements come from the core of the body
  • Flowing movements – gradually the body moves in a connected, relaxed way with a clear mental focus
  • Coordination – the different elements within each movement work together
  • Stamina – gradually capacity builds and the body continues to become stronger and more able to perform with increased ability

This approach means classes are taught very clearly and always adopt a 'whole body' system that is beneficial both physically and psychologically.

4. It's not yoga

There's no doubt that some of the benefits of Pilates may be similar to other forms of exercise, but the methods used to teach Pilates are unique.

Firstly, the body alignment approach aims to keep the spine and pelvis in a neutral position – helping to maintain alignment within the body as a whole. Whilst Tai Chi reduces the curves in the spine, and Yoga may even accentuate them, Pilates aims to maintain the natural curves of the spine.

Secondly, with knowledge of good skeletal alignment, muscles around the joints can rest at the right length and be activated correctly for any movement. This encourages the abdominal muscles to work in an optimum way and helps you to develop a strong centre. This was one of founder, Joseph Pilates' key discoveries – something that modern physiotherapy may refer to as 'core strength'. It's quite different from what you might find in most Yoga or Tai Chi classes and has led many to believe that Pilates is particularly beneficial to those with lower back problems.

“Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breathe properly. Our very life depends on it.”
- Joseph Pilates

Lastly, the breathing method employed is quite distinct from Yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi which both emphasise breathing into the navel. Due to the way the centre is gently drawn in, Pilates uses an approach to breathing which emphasises lateral expansion of the ribcage to help improve oxygenation of the blood. When taught correctly (for the individual) this helps many overcome a tendency to breathe with just the upper part of the chest – which inhibits the optimal function of the lungs.

5. Find a properly qualified teacher

Pilates is an unregulated industry (much the same as many other forms of exercise) – so you really need to do your homework and find a teacher that is qualified with a professional training. All of our teachers are qualified through at least one of these reputable training providers:

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It's easy to enrol in our classes and we have a flexible system for class bookings. Have a look here at our class timetable or contact us here for more information and advice.