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The Six Pilates Principles

The Pilates Principles: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow.

The application of these six key principles is the basis of the Pilates method of body conditioning, and is what sets it apart from other forms of exercise.  Joseph Pilates did not dictate these principles himself, they have been extrapolated from his works by other instructors. Your instructor may use alternative words for the concepts or sequence them in a different order, yet most Pilates instructors will incorporate these key ideas into their teachings.

Joseph Pilates worked from a body/mind/spirit approach to movement, originally calling his body conditioning method “Contrology”, and whether you are performing a mat workout, or on the Reformer or Trapeze Table, the six Pilates Principles form the intention of each exercise.

  1. Centering: All Pilates movements are initiated from the centre of the body, often called the “core” or the “powerhouse”, located in the trunk area between the lowest rib and the pubic bone.
  2. Concentration: Most instructors will support the concept of bringing full awareness and attention to each exercise performed, with intent to perform the exercise as correctly as skill will allow. A mental check list of points to focus on for each exercise should include the breath pattern, as well as the muscles used to perform the movement, the alignment of the entire body and maintaining that alignment and stabilisation throughout the execution of the exercise.
  3. Control: Every Pilates exercise is completed with absolute control, with a consciousness of all body parts. Control, rather than intensity or repetition is the focus of performing Pilates exercises correctly.
  4. Precision: There is an appropriate placement, alignment and trajectory for each body part during a Pilates exercise. Precision can make the difference between activating a muscle or not, and between achieving a stabilisation/strength goal or not.
  5. Breath: Joseph Pilates emphasised using the breath for each exercise to coordinate with the movement and fuel the “powerhouse”, believing it was a vital action to help eliminate the body of toxins and was an important factor in binding the body/mind/spirit thread.
  6. Flow: Pilates exercises are smooth and fluid. Energy is found throughout all body parts and flows through the body resulting in graceful movements. Mihály Csikszentmihályi stated, “flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

The integration of these six principles reflects the balance and grace that can be achieved from practising Pilates. These six key Pilates principles highlight that it is the execution of each exercise and the practice of the system as a whole that is important, not just a careless imitation;  a process focused on learning how the exercises are executed and applying the principles in accordance with your current physical and mental acuity.