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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Dawn Salima Gonzalez

Why Pilates?

Have you ever seen a Pilates reformer? That thing looks crazy, right?



Pilates Reformer


The first time I saw one of those was on a friend’s Instagram story. I thought they were at a torture museum. She said it was a workout machine. I remember thinking “oh, same thing.” I’ve changed my perspective since then - continue reading and you’ll see why.


Pilates, pronounced pill-aht-eez, takes its name from its German-born creator Joseph Pilates. Throughout childhood, Joseph suffered from multiple chronic illnesses including asthma and rickets (a condition of improper bone development). Joseph practiced different types of movement along with a combination of Eastern and Western exercise philosophies in pursuit of overcoming these ailments.

During WWI, Joseph was placed in a German internment camp in the United States. He continued studying, teaching, and practicing his fitness program. This program would be strongly influenced by Eastern yoga and the movements of animals, especially the cats in the camp. Joseph wondered how the cats remained agile while undernourished. He observed the cats, “when they had nothing else to do, stretching their legs out… keeping their muscles limber, alive.”


Joseph began creating machines, or apparatuses, to aid in the rehabilitation of the sick, injured, or disabled. After the war, Joseph returned to Germany, denied an offer to physically train the German Army, and moved to New York to open the first Pilates studio in 1926.


Okay, so, what is Pilates? Do you need a reformer to do it?

Pilates, inspired by yoga and cats, uses both the reformer and floor mat work. The purpose of Pilates is to use whole body movements instead of isolated muscle training to achieve strength. Pilates is a very low impact, non-aerobic exercise method used to stretch and strengthen muscles without stressing your joints or overworking your heart. Sequences using the apparatus or the floor mat promote full bodied strength by way of balance and gentle controlled movements.


This exercise method activates muscles that might not be activated otherwise in weightlifting or aerobic exercise. All this muscle stretching and strengthening improves your balance and core strength which may prevent or improve back pain. The breath work involved may also improve body awareness and increased lung capacity.


Pilates could be a great addition to your current exercise routine or be used as your sole form of joyful movement. I use it as my sole form of movement because it’s simply fun for me!


Here are some of my favorite possible benefits of integrating Pilates into your movement routine:

  • Improved mobility

  • Improved posture

  • Intentional movement

  • Improved body coordination

  • Greater body awareness

  • Prevention and rehabilitation of injury

  • Stress relief

  • Improved overall fitness

  • A sense of calm and well-being


Mat Work:

A Pilates mat and yoga mat look interchangeable but a Pilates mat is actually pretty thick (like an inch thick) and less textured. The mat came before apparatuses so naturally there are over 500 different mat exercises that can be practiced anywhere. The beauty of mat Pilates is its accessibility. Mat exercises can be accommodated and modified for different ages, bodies, and fitness levels. Similar to yoga, there are modifications that can be completed in a chair! Indeed, all bodies can complete a Pilates sequence.


Reformer Work:

So the Reformer isn’t the only Pilates apparatus. There’s the Wunda Chair, the Barrels, the Cadillac (Google THAT one), and more. Honestly, as I was doing my research, I’d look up these apparatuses and my fear of Pilates grew stronger but so did my intrigue. So the Reformer is made up of a frame and a platform bed with a whole spring-pulley system with ropes, handles, and a foot bar. I kid you not, this machine is actually for BEGINNERS. It assists your practice by adding small increments of resistance to Pilates exercises you’d do on the mat.



 


Here is a Pilates instructor showing what mat exercises look like in class or online:




Here is plus sized influencer @TheKatrinaNichole demonstrating what Pilates inspired mat exercises might look like in a larger body:


please note Katrina is not a certified Pilates instructor



 

Weight Stigma and Pilates

Joseph Pilates named his fitness philosophy “Contrology.” Joseph defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body, mind, and spirit.” Of course, I was then compelled to do more research. As a Health at Every Size aligned dietitian, the integration of body, mind, and spirit is the foundation and mission of my work– through food! In my work, I’ve seen that integrating the mind, body, and spirit is a central piece in healing body image.


As a fat woman, I’ve always had this idea that Pilates was for the rich, the white, and the thin. A body like mine did not belong in a Pilates studio. A body like mine couldn’t physically do Pilates. I’ve heard many clients tell me something similar when they are embarking on their joyful movement journey. I couldn’t tell you how exactly it happened, but once again, diet culture took its grubby little fingers and messed up a whole type of exercise literally created to accommodate all bodies.


Even in your own research you might see Pilates boutiques that show photos of women that fit the thin ideal. However, there are studios out there that encourage all bodies to partake in the Pilates way. There are also many free videos on YouTube or Pilates video subscriptions to purchase on the internet.


Pilates is for you too.




If you are interested in an exercise method that is low-impact, gentle, strengthening, and mobility improving, I invite you to consider Pilates. Strengthening the connection to your body through intentional and mindful movement can be a great tool in healing body image.


-Alexis


Alexis Dawn Salima Gonzalez





Alexis Dawn Salima Gonzalez is a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorder recovery and intuitive eating. She is excited to share her love of joyful movement with her clients and her community.









References:


“History of Pilates.” National Pilates Certification Program, 2019. https://nationalpilatescertificationprogram.org/PMA/PMA/About/History-of-Pilates.aspx


Kneale, Alastair. “The Surprising Link between the Pilates Physical Fitness Method and Manx Cats.” Transceltic, July 4, 2020. https://www.transceltic.com/manx/surprising-link-between-pilates-physical-fitness-method-and-manx-cats


“Pilates for Beginners Guide.” Pilates Anytime. Accessed March 28, 2024. https://www.pilatesanytime.com/mx/pilates-beginners


Pilates Central: Frequently Asked Questions https://www.pilatescentral.co.uk/faq/

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