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The 5 Key Elements for Pilates Mat Exercises

I absolutely love Pilates and feel it has complimented my yoga asana practice and core strength. I’ve been teaching Pilates Matt work and combining it with my yoga classes since I became a certified teacher in 2006 in the UK.

What is Pilates? Pilates is an exercise aiming to strengthen the body in an even way, with particular emphasis on the core. Similarly to yoga it is performed on a mat. It is available to all ages and abilities.

Benefits of Pilates It is said regular pilates can improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension. It helps isolate different body parts to develop a strong core, lower back, and pelvic floor.

"Pilates teaches us to breathe better, be more aligned, centred, and grounded.” - Paramjit Pam Anand

In this blog you will find the 5 foundational elements you need for pilates that can be done on your mat, as well as the set-up for a good posture.

Posture First and foremost, good posture is extremely important in pilates (and indeed in everyday life). Here is a written 7-step set up to achieve good posture (or head over to my membership section for a guided Pilates class where I teach this):

  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart

  2. Soften knees so they are not locked out

  3. Find your neutral spine

  4. Stack your rib cage above your hips

  5. Roll your shoulders forward, up back and down

  6. Imagine a cord pulling you up from the crown of your head

  7. Breathe in deeply, exhale completely, and enjoy the good posture!


Practice 1: Lateral Breathing Though Pilates you will learn the correct and natural way to breathe which will improve your breath pattern and depth. This is vital in order to get sufficient oxygen to working muscles to rid the body of waste products and delay the onset of fatigue. Many people only use a fraction of their lung volume and deny themselves the benefits of correct and efficient breathing.

Exercise: From a neutral standing position, place your hands across the lower half of your rib cage with the tips of your fingers slightly interlaced, relax your shoulders. Breathe in and allow your ribs to expand width ways (let your fingertips draw apart). Breathe out and allow your rib cage to sink inwards and downwards (your fingertips may interlace slightly as you empty your lungs).

Focal Point: Imagine the back of your rib cage spreading wide and relaxing on the mat beneath you.

Practice 2: Centering & Stabilising Pilates aims to develop a strong central core of abdominal, lower back and pelvic floor muscles. These postural muscles support the spine, pelvis and abdomino-pelvic organs all day long. Exercise: Find your neutral spine position. Place your thumbs on your belly button and your fingertips on the pubic bone to make the shape of a 'pelvic diamond'. Now imagine you have placed a marble in this diamond. Tilt your pelvic diamond away from you to exaggerate the curve in your lower back, the marble will drop to the fingers (base of the diamond), then tilt the pelvic diamond towards you to flatten your back (the marble will move to your thumbs). Continue to repeat these gentle tilting movements and settle your position of the pelvic diamond in the middle of these two positions, so the marble rests in the middle of the diamond. This will be your 'neutral spine' position. The point you will begin each exercise from.

Practice 3: Rib Cage Placement Ideally your ribcage should be aligned directly above your pelvis however many people tend to flare their ribcage forwards or depress the rib cage forwards and down, both lead to poor posture and in time will produce stiffness, muscle tightness and pain. Exercise: In standing, find your neutral spine and set your centre. Breathe in to prepare and then breathe out and lift your arms slowly overhead as far as you can while keeping the back of your ribcage flat, see the left hand photo. Common problems with rib cage placement include a flaring of the rib or a depression of the sternum, the right hand photo shows the rib cage/sternum depression. Focal Point: Imagine a set of springs from your ribcage to your pelvic bones, the tension in these springs should remain constant as you raise and lower your arms.

Practice 4: Shoulder Blade Placement We need excellent stability around our shoulder blades for movement of our arms and neck. Exercise: In standing, find your neutral spine position and set your centre. Float your arms upwards towards the ceiling. Imagine you are holding a helium balloon between your fingertips, allow your arms to lift further upwards and glide your shoulder blades gently apart. Breathe out and gently draw your shoulder blades back together without pinching them together. Focal Point: Imagine your collarbones are opening wide and your shoulder blades are wide and relaxed, the crease at your elbow will be pointing forwards when you get the shoulder blades flat against your back.

Practice 5: Head and Neck Placement Our head and neck experience a lot of strain due to poor posture and placement. We need to be able to relax our deep neck flexors and work on lengthening the muscles at the back of the neck. Exercise: In standing, slightly tuck your chin towards your chest to lengthen the back of the neck. In sitting position try for a few moments retracting your chin to make a double chin posture to stretch the muscles at the back of the neck. Focal Point: Imagine you are being gently lengthened upwards from the crown of your head.

Head over to my Practice Online Membership Section to find guided Pilates classes! If you found any of this useful, let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.



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