What exactly is Pilates and what can it do for me?

(And why you shouldn’t expect a short answer anymore)

I get asked this a lot. My answer always used to be Pilates will help you build stability, improve your core strength, blah, blah, blah – you know the standard response. Recently, though I’ve been having a good think about this and now I’ve changed my answer, and here’s why.

Jill Robinson (@organicpilatesandholistics)

Let me start at the very beginning.

I was born with a bad hip, a thing called hip dysplasia - very simply, it means my hip doesn’t properly fit into my socket. I was never really a problem until I started dancing. Then I became incredibly painful and my leg used to collapse for no apparent reason. I was always falling over (non-alcohol induced, I promise!).

I started to practice Pilates many years ago to help build strength in my own hips, which it did. I also became completely pain-free, something I realised I’d never really been. I noticed that my posture was vastly improved and I walked differently - lighter on my feet and taller somehow.

That’s when I thought, hmmm perhaps there may be something in this Pilates malarkey, and I decide to train to become a teacher, something which I’ve done now for many years and I now have my own Pilates studio.

The true definition of Pilates as defined by Joseph Pilates in his book Return to Life through Contrology (his original name for it, only after his death did it take on his name), presents his method as the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout when properly manifested.

If practised with consistency, Pilates improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the entire body. It emphasises alignment, breathing, core strength, improving coordination and balance.

That’s the official version. But...there’s something else, something that you can’t really weigh or measure, but something that’s critical and often overlooked.

Yes, a Pilates instructor will look closely at your alignment, posture and joint stability, all of which are incredibly important for your physiology and health. But, what I think is much more far-reaching and important that Pilates will give you is freedom, hope, independence, confidence and a greater awareness and appreciation of your own body.

I’ve been teaching Pilates for many years now, and I see people coming to me broken. They’re in lots of pain, they are scared - they’re scared of the future, they’re scared they’ll not be able to work anymore and they’re scared to move in case they do more damage.

When in this situation you can’t focus, all you can focus on is the fear and the pain. Pain takes over your life, you can’t sleep, you can’t think, you can’t enjoy your life. There’s nothing else there, just desperation for something to help them apart from increasing doses of painkillers.

I heard this quote recently and it really resonated with me; ‘A person who has their health has a thousand dreams.

"A person without their health has only one".

Being able to help give these people hope and just some small glimmer that there might be a different path, that they may be able to help themselves is one of the absolute privileges of our job. Seeing people who previously were unable to move or lift themselves up, suddenly being able to do stuff that they never thought they’d be able to, well it’s unbelievably rewarding as an instructor. And that’s our job!

Your body is designed to feel good, not like some rusty decrepit push bike that needs a good oiling and hasn’t been used properly for years. You’re supposed to be able to walk without pain, stand up without the fear that something is going to pop out of place, or pick up something from the floor without getting stuck there.

As an instructor it’s not only our jobs to teach a safe and effective exercise system, but we have to empower our clients to enable them to move, help them understand that they can take control of their own health and be there to support them and catch them if they fall (metaphorically and physically). Pilates instructors are so much more than teachers of an exercise system, they’re your ray of light.

This system has proven to work countless times over the years, and of course, each teacher will have honed their method and developed their own teaching skills, so not all Pilates teachers are necessarily the same.

One of my clients once said, ‘A good Pilates Instructor is worth their weight in gold’. It’s true. A good instructor will help you to get your body in shape, and more importantly, give you your life and independence back. You can’t put a price on that.

Being a Pilates instructor is a personal lifelong learning experience, we’re continually learning about our own bodies and honing our teaching and instructing skills. We help build people back up from the inside out, and without sounding too dramatic – we do give people their lives back.

Every day I get messages from folks have come to me in pain;

‘I literally think you’re a superhero. Almost a year pain-free. You cured me. I’d rather give birth again than have back pain’ - Beth

‘Hi Jill, Just to let you know got a new hip 3 weeks ago and now walking on my own no aids. I thank god that I did Pilates and strengthened my muscles hence the quick recovery. Anyone going for this op should do Pilates.’ - Julie

When you’re looking for a good Pilates instructor make sure you have a look at their qualifications (a good instructor will have many, not just Pilates qualifications too – but probably a few other disciplines such as massage, fitness etc), check their website and social media for testimonials, talk to the instructor (it’s so important that you like and trust them – it’s your body after all), and try a few different instructors if you’re not sure. We’re all different, so don’t be afraid to talk to an instructor before parting with your hard-earned cash.

I hope that I’ve convinced you to give Pilates a try, if you’ve never tried it before, and I hope that I’ve persuaded you that Pilates is so much more than an exercise system that was developed many years ago and is outdated and not relevant anymore?

Personally, Pilates has not only given me the pain-free, ability to move well element. It’s also given me the freedom to step off the hamster wheel of life, it’s allowed me to make a living doing what I love and helping others, and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful. It’s allowed me to open my own studio, and have a job of my dreams.

We’ve all been given this space suit...let’s look after it, nurture it and continue to develop it. Helping yourself is not only better for you, but you’ll become a stronger, more interactive human - which is better for other humans you come into contact with but it’s also better for the planet – the effects are far-reaching.

If you should ask me in the future what can Pilates do for me, don’t expect a short answer!