by Tara Gibson
I say to any new client, “It will probably take at least five lessons before you even get a sense of the exercises.” Pilates is a very different experience from other types of exercise. At the beginning, it is normal to not feel the full benefits of the technique. So you should ask yourself what it is you want to gain from Pilates. If you want a firm, flat tummy within a few weeks in preparation for an upcoming trip to the beach, you would probably benefit more from taking a few abdominal classes. However, if you are looking to strengthen, align, elongate, and energize your entire body and your mind (and develop a firm, flat tummy), then you should consider Pilates.
Many people misunderstand Pilates to be solely a regimented series of exercises that is meant to strengthen the core and perhaps the legs, while accomplishing little else. In fact, Pilates is a holistic system of exercise that – over a committed period of time – actually re-trains both the body and the mind to function in an integrated, healthier, more energy-efficient way. It is true that Pilates will strengthen your abdominals intensely, but this is accomplished by activating the deepest muscles of the core in order to support the larger, more visible (6-pack) muscles around them.
The overall benefits of learning to effectively use the “core” muscles in Pilates are often life-changing and very addictive. This is true because, practicing Pilates 2 to 3 times per week over the committed course of a few months will generally change a lot more than your stomach’s appearance. You will feel and look taller, stronger, more coordinated and graceful in movement, and your mind will start to focus in a different way during your daily life. You also gain more energy, while high impact activities like sports – or other physically strenuous tasks – become easier. All of this comes only after committing to practicing Pilates consistently over a period of time.
Here are a few other points to keep in mind if you decide to try Pilates. You may not be sore after the first few lessons. The truth is, the more you do it, the more you feel it. This tends to be true for a couple reasons. One, Pilates requires the mind to connect to the body in order to understand the exercises. There are so many layers of experience in Pilates, and advancing from one “layer” to the next requires the mind/body connection. This results in learning to consciously control your movements – on a very deep level – with your mind. Over time, you will feel how this works. Second, the effectiveness of the Pilates system is found by learning carefully executed, often quite subtle techniques of movement, that usually involve unlearning a lifetime of bad habits and weaknesses. You learn to use your body in the most effective way – which requires focus and precision. Such detail, combined with flow of movement, also takes time to understand and to feel.
So the question becomes, just how much time does it take before you will feel the benefits of Pilates? Depending on the individual and his or her level of fitness and body awareness, it generally takes at least 10 sessions before you start to feel a strong difference in your body. Though after only a couple lessons, you may start noticing your physical tendencies – like slouching, favoring one side, collapsing into your lower back, gripping in your shoulders and neck, etc. Next, you will begin to feel the muscles in your stomach and your back – you start to feel the torso, or trunk, of your body. Most people don’t notice this part of the body, unless it is in pain of course. We tend to notice our tummies, the shape of our arms and legs, or whether or not we have cellulite or sagginess in the wrong places. But the foundation of Pilates is the center of the body, which includes the back, the stomach, and the bottom. After these muscles start to wake up, you will feel and then see the strength and flexibility develop along the extremities (arms/legs), the parts that most people tend to notice. And after about 20 lessons, you often start to look different to those around you – IF you are practicing at least 2 times per week consistently! (Just going to a lesson or class once in a while – or even once a week – will take longer to benefit from and will not yield the maximum results.) After about 30 consistent sessions, you will feel completely new in your body and will look noticeably different to people around you, in subtle but powerful ways. Don’t be surprised if you receive compliments about seeming taller, thinner, and simply more attractive!
Remember, Pilates isn’t just exercise – it truly becomes a new way of moving through your life. But it will take some commitment to reap the benefits. Joe Pilates described his practice as “complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. You first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body, and then through proper repetition of its exercises, you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities.” Pretty deep stuff! But, it is actually very true if you’re willing to stay focused for a few months to find out.