The purpose of this blog is to introduce the Pilates mat to people who are curious about it or would like to know a little more. When Pilates is considered as a form of exercise or new activity, most people think of exercises done on a mat and often compare it to Yoga. The mat, however, is only one part of a very comprehensive and integrated system of exercises that uses apparatus to help the body develop according to what it needs. I’ll be writing more about the full system in a future blog. Pilates is also a completely different discipline to Yoga so it’s not helpful to compare them but, again, more on this another time.
For now, back to the mat. In a nutshell, the mat is a series of 34 exercises that Joseph Pilates created to be practised routinely and precisely, with flow. It takes time and patience to be able to do the whole mat and benefit from it, so Romana’s Pilates uses the Basic Mat, a selection of 7 exercises from the full routine, as a starting point and an introduction to this wonderful series. As you become stronger and more flexible, and your body begins to change, more exercises are added to develop and ultimately challenge the strong foundation that you’ve built.
Many people assume the mat to be the simplest and easiest way to practise Pilates because, rather than navigate springs, straps, pedals, bars and handles, all you have is a mat on the floor. Sounds simple, but with only the floor as a reference point, the mat demands the greatest physical awareness in order to maximise its potential. What the mat lacks in ease, it makes up for in practicality. If you can find a space of floor the size of a large beach towel to work on, and have enough cushioning for your spine, you’re all set.
The purpose of Pilates, or Contrology as Joseph Pilates called it, is to change the body using the six fundamental principles that he founded the method on. These are; Concentration, Centring, Control, Precision, Flow and Breathing. Pilates developed his sequence of 34 mat exercises to flow from one to the next in a particular order, and he demanded that every exercise be done using his six principles. This quote by Pilates gives you an idea of the scope of his philosophy and the importance and value he placed on his method.
“Concentrate on the correct movements EACH TIME YOU EXERCISE, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value. Correctly executed and mastered to the point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities. Contrology exercises build a sturdy body and sound mind fitted to perform every daily task with ease and perfection as well as to provide tremendous reserve energy for sports, recreation, emergencies… Be certain that you have your entire body under complete mental control… Good posture can be successfully acquired only when the entire mechanism of the body is under perfect control.” Joseph Pilates (Return to Life Through Contrology)
The secret to a lifelong love of Pilates is to enjoy the process and not concern yourself with end goals. Unlike other forms of fitness and exercise, nothing is measured. Reps aren’t increased the stronger you get, and no position is held for any length of time to intensify an exercise, and stats aren’t recorded and monitored. Instead, more exercises are added, and the work becomes internally deeper the more you progress. Also, Pilates insisted that his exercises be done in silence so that concentration can be completely on the body and not elsewhere.
Becoming aware of our body, feeling our alignment and integrating every part of us so that day to day life is easier is a true joy. Why is the mat magic? Because when the Pilates method is practiced with guidance, knowledge of the system and in full concentration, magic happens!
I am a Romana’s Pilates trained instructor having completed over 1000 hours of apprenticeship with Rebecca Convey at Kinetic Pilates, London, and teach one to one sessions and mat classes in Ewell, Surrey.
If you would like to come and try a Basic Mat class with me, email me at email@example.com or just turn up to Ewell Hall on any Monday evening at 8.30pm.