Pilates Body Conditioning Techniques (cont.)

Moderator: In your book you say "Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness." What does that mean?

Siler: Pilates believed that it was impossible to -- you know how they say "in corpus sonus mentus" -- that in order to have a happy healthy mind you have to start with a happy, healthy body. That, and the fact that it's actually our minds and our will that control our body. When you work in unison, mind and body, you're able to achieve anything that you need to achieve.

Moderator: What are the mat work principles?

Siler: There is concentration and control and breathing, fluidity. These are all the ideas behind Pilates. When you're working, you're not focusing on only one thing. There are many things happening. Centering, and I added also imagination, intuition and integration. And, in the book you'll see there is an explanation for each. But, essentially, the principles give you a focus. Many people want to know what Pilates can do for them. What is it based on? And, those are the principles that it's based on. And I think many other exercise forms aren't as philosophical per se. And, Pilates really was a philosophy of movement and exercise. He taught people to enjoy and understand the importance of movement and connecting to your body and how good you can feel from moving. Whereas, nowadays, I think we're trained to believe that exercise is not only you "should" do and "have to" do, but it becomes very restrictive, and it's drudgery for many who drag themselves out of bed to get to the gym and they don't know why they're doing it except they're told they should.

One thing I wanted to be very clear was that the models in the book weren't chosen to intimidate or be everybody's ideal, although they are quite ideal, each and every one of them. But, each one of them has worked through their own challenges to get to the point where you see them in this book. When I chose them, I chose them not only because of these beautiful bodies, but I chose them because they were strong enough to be able to endure the days of shooting which were very long and arduous. They were troopers and I can't extol enough credit to them. And you can see in the pictures that they did a beautiful job.

Moderator: What is the "powerhouse?"

Siler: The powerhouse is the foundation of Pilates in the sense that it is the center, it's your abdominals, your lower back, hips and buttocks. So it's the band of muscles that circles your body just under your belt line. If you think of a corset cinched around your waist that goes down around your hips, that sensation of being pulled into a tight center is the foundation of Pilates because you're using your own muscles to create a firm center. With a firm center, all your movements come from a place of control. They happen to also be the target areas which is not random. If you notice, those happen to be the areas that when you tell people that those are the areas that Pilates work they say, that's exactly the area I need to work. And that's because many exercise techniques don't focus on those areas. The beauty of Pilates is that is your initiating focus. However, every single muscle in your body is worked simultaneously. So, you don't develop a firm center and have flabby arms and legs. That doesn't happen in Pilates. If you're taught correctly, you understand that your body works in unison, each part helping the other. When you begin from your center, you have a core because your center is your center, the only part of your body that is on line. Your right arm is on the right and your left arm is on the left, et cetera. So we focus on the center in order to be improved.

Moderator: "Scooping" is another expression. What does that mean?

Siler: Scooping is the act of contracting your abdominal muscles so that they are pulled into your spine without shortening in your back. You don't want to pull in so that you shrink. You stand at your tallest or lie down at your tallest, longest point and contract your muscles down to support the delicate parts of your lower back, which is generally where most people have pain because they let their abdominals hang forward. And most back pain is alleviated in Pilates within the first five to ten sessions. It's just incredible -- when people really learn how to begin to engage their abdominals, they find that nagging back pain disappears and it's not a coincidence.

Moderator: What is the "Pilates stance?"

Siler: If you think about what I was saying before that the right leg is on the right and the left leg is on the left, the way to become stronger in your center is to bring your legs together. And the Pilates stance is a slight turnout so you begin to use the muscles of your buttocks and thighs to draw your muscles into that center. Think of a column. Pilates was interested in thinking of the body as columnar and if you think of it as a column with pieces sticking out left and right, that's the stance you take in order to keep your strength in your center.

albertsantana_webmd: Can you do Pilates without all of the equipment?

marianna251_msn: I was always under the impression that Pilates was used with a machine. Is that not the case?

Siler: As I said before, the essence of Pilates or the essential Pilates comes from the mat work, which is what The Pilates Body is based on. For those who are not able to control their muscles in space, if they're not strong enough, the machines were designed to aid people who needed additional help. So, where most people think the machines are what you build toward, actually what you're building toward is the strength to do it all just with your body. And then, the machines or apparatus become an enhancement to your workout. But, actually, in the beginning, they were meant for people who were not strong enough to do the mat work.

marianna251_msn: Is there any other special equipment needed?

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