The 6 Principles of Pilates

It is important to note that Joseph Pilates did not directly set out the Pilates principles. They are concepts distilled from Joseph Pilates’ work by later instructors. Because of this, there is not always agreement in the Pilates community about the order of the principles, the specific words used for certain concepts, or the number of principles. Nevertheless, you will find some version of the Pilates principles–similar to what I present here–to be part of almost any Pilates training program you pursue.

Joseph Pilates originally called his work “contrology.” He considered this to be a body/mind/spirit approach to movement founded on the integrative effect of principles such as centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. Whether one is working out on a mat or using Pilates equipment, like the reformer or cadillac, these basic principles infuse each exercise with intention and fullness of expression:

Centering: Physically bringing the focus to the center of the body, the powerhouse area between the lower ribs and pubic bone.

Concentration: If one brings full attention to the exercise and does it with full commitment, maximum value will be obtained from each movement.

Control: Every Pilates exercise is done with complete muscular control. No body part is left to its own devices.

Precision: In Pilates, awareness is sustained throughout each movement. There is an appropriate placement, alignment relative to other body parts, and trajectory for each part of the body.

Breath: Joseph Pilates advocated thinking of the lungs as a bellows — using them strongly to pump the air fully in and out of the body. Most Pilates exercises coordinate with the breath, and using the breath properly is an integral part of Pilates exercise.

Flow: Pilates exercise is done in a flowing manner. Fluidity, grace, and ease are goals applied to all exercises. The Pilates principles may sound a bit abstract, but the integration of these principles accounts for the balance, grace, and ease that one can experience as a result of practicing Pilates.


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Today a new client had her second Pilates session.  She is a former dancer and was excited to feel that she had found “those” muscles again, the muscles of the innermost core that dancers use to maintain their center.  Several days later, I was thrilled to hear another client, who had never before danced, describing a feeling in her abdominal area – something that she never before had felt that was “a lot different” from abdominal work she had done before.


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