Principles of pilates

The concepts taken from Joseph Pilates’s extraordinary work have been summarized by his successors in what’s called the Pilates principles. They refer to various body awareness issues that provide the basis for the technique of pilates moves. They should be considered as a group of principles that work together to create safe and effective movement patterns. There is no concrete agreement within the Pilates industry as to the number of Pilates principles, their order or terminilogy used. Initially the principles may seem too general and vague, but it is the application of these concepts within each exercise that makes Pilates unique!


To increase body awareness, conscious control and to get the most out of each exercise it’s vital to establish a connection between body and mind before every move. Without concentration we can’t apply any of the other Pilates principles and our movements become sloppy and uncontrolled. There are many important data to focus on within each exercise, which is why it takes a long time to perfect Pilates.

Concentrate on …

  • your body alignment – it will help you recruit the correct muscles and avoid unnecessary strain on your body
  • your muscles you want to recruit – it might be surprising, but simply by concentration on a particular muscle prior to the action, you can motivate it to fire more accurately
  • your breathing – it will help you maintain a good rhythm for the movement and keep your mind focused.

… but avoid the concentration to become tension! Such level of concentration becomes counterproductive, leading to tightening of the muscles, restrictions in breathing and halting rather than flowing movement.

To be able to fully concentrate on the movements, try to block out unnecessary thougths that might be taking your mind elsewhere. Try closing your eyes when performing the exercises. This will take the visual stimulus from around the room away making your brain more receptive to different sensations within the body, enhancing your body awareness.

Become aware, present in the movement with mind and body! Without body awareness it’s impossible to address misalignments, to which we become accustumed over time (…recognize the feeling when a bent leg feels straight?).  The less aware we are, the more severe these misalignments can become. Awareness is a foundation for change!


Breathing is the first and last act of life, it’s the link between body and mind. It is the engine that drives all movement and it lies at the source of the Pilates method.

Pilates uses breathing to foster the great benefits of controlled breathing shared by many cultures for centuries ranging from enhanced relaxation and decreased stress to lowered blood pressure, improved focus, activation of specific muscles, better circulation and respiration.

The key way to control breathing in Pilates is lateral (thoracic, intercostal) breathing, expanding the ribcage to the side and to the back when breathing. In throught the nose, out through the mouth, same length of breath. Wide and full breath (rather than deep, to avoid over-breathing). Besides drawing air into the lungs, lateral breathing facilitates the maintenance of consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles during both in and out breath, allowing us to maintain the abdominal contraction while performing Pilates exercises, making them safe and effective. Lateral breathing also helps to improve mobility in the ribcage and intercostal muscles and decreased stress in the neck.

(This is in contrast to “diaphragmatic breathing” which emphasizes the lowering of the diaphragm during inhalation with the abdominal muscles relaxed, allowed to push outward. This by no means implies that diaphragmatic breathing is undesirable or that the diaphragm muscle does not still play a vital role in breathing, only that lateral breathing is the preferred mode during the practice of Pilates.)

Many Pilates exercises have a set breath pattern. Breathing in during one phase of the movement, breathing out during another phase. One of the reasons is to avoid holding your breath, which creates excessive muscle tension and potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure. Breathing out during the exertion phase can prevent tensing and holding the breath.

Whilst the breath pattern also influences the muscle being recruited and helps establish the dynamic flow or rhythm of the Pilates exercises, I would always encourage everyone, especially people new to pilates, to just breathe instead of holding the breath due to the concentrated effort of co-oordinating a difficult task. Muscles tense up when we hold our breath, which only encourages poor posture.

All that said, if you are a pilates beginner, the only wrong breath is no breath. It will all come with more and more practice.


In pilates, centering yourself means more than finding your center of gravity. It means uniting body, mind and spirit. In functional terms it means working from the centre, from the inside out! It’s all about the body’s ability to fire the right muscles in the right order – stabilizing muscles to stabilize, squeeze and hold (e.g. transversus abdominus does not move any joint, it stabilizes our core) before the mobilizing muscles move the joints.

It’s said it takes 300 reps for the movement to become automatic & 3000-5000 reps to re-learn and correct. Let’s focus on working from the inside out and get it right first time to spare us the additional thousands of reps!


Apart from referring to the well-being of the whole individual (balance of body, mind and spirit) a pilates workout should be balanced, well designed working the various muscle groups in different planes of motion, as opposed to often excessively weighted towards abdominal work, especially in forward flexion.

Looking at balance from another angle leads us to focus on correcting muscular imbalances that affect body allignment. There are multiple reasonas for muscular imbalances – dominance on one side, postural deviations, lack of or excessive flexibility. Over time, some muscles can become overactive, while others are inhibited, which results from the muscles reacting to protect the body from harm or to reduce pain or from repetitive movement patterns.

Each person have different needs. Identifying and addressing these needs is the first step on the path to achieving balance.


Let’s “honor every movement” as Joseph Pilates used to say! Every Pilates move has a goal and a purpose. Great deal of precision is needed in the execution of each movement and in the activation (and relaxation) of correct muscles. Without precision pilates work becomes almost meaningless.  Precision is the basis of the corrective apporach to working the body.


Joseph Pilates called his method of body conditioning “Contrology” or “The Art of Control”. Every movement in Pilates requires complete mind body connection, complete control over our body. Any move without awareness and control can potentially lead to injury.

Performing each movement with the utmost control, with attention to detail, minimises risks of injury and produces effective results. The emphasis in Pilates is on quality, not the quantity of the movement. Carefully controlled instructions to each individual body part contributes to the overall success of the whole movement. Gaining control incorporates all the other Pilates Principles.

How beautiul and inspiring it is to watch athletes and their immaculate control over their movement, their grace and effortless quality! Achieving control of movement is a conscious process, ocurring through practice, practice and more practice.


Concentrate on flow, the graceful continuous motion within each exercise as well as within the pilates sesssion as a whole.During each individual movement, concentrate on correct and timed muscle-recruitment (muscle-firing pattern), avoid jerky, fragmented movements. Flow in terms of seamless transitions from one move/exercise to another, in its full sense, where the muscles are constantly working, can usually only be achieved in a small pilates class with regular students. In most classes, the teacher need to correct, explain or demo which requires stopping the class perodically. Concentrating on flow within each individual movement with regular practice will eventually bring flow to the pilates sessions as a whole.


Focus the work where it’s needed, use the required amount of energy, no more and no less. The rest of the body stays relaxed and calm. Be efficient not only during your pilates practice but also in terms of transferring what you have learnt and practiced in the pilates session into your everyday life. Make mental notes matched to your needs – keep the chest opened, collar bones wide, head centred, align your spine, use your core, relax … move effortlessly!

Constantly scan your body and focus on integrating all of the principles of Pilates:

awareness, concentration, breathing, control, centering,  balance, flow, precision & efficency.









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