Principles of Pilates - Part 1

Concentrating: a principle of Pilates

When you have done mat classes or private sessions with me you will have heard cues like 'with control', 'work from your centre', 'use the breath as a count', and 'now more flow' most probably. They are not made up by me but all form part of the Universal Principles of the Pilates Method.

There are six principles universally acknowledged within the Pilates community as fundamental to the Method.

  1. Control

  2. Centering

  3. Concentration

  4. Breath

  5. Precision

  6. Flow

Each of those principles will and can be used in every exercise and on every piece of apparatus. In two blogs I will explain each principle and how they work together.


Joseph Pilates called his method Contrology or better the 'Art of Contrology'. According to the man himself: 'Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit'.

When we do Pilates we should aim to get a mind-body control over our muscles, paying full attention to all details of positioning and sequencing. By acquiring this control, we can then erase poor habitual movement patterns. Influenced by countless factors such as weight, height, type of work, eating habits we are most likely to develop our way of standing, walking and sitting. And not always the best way. To get that fixed can take months up to years.

But to be able to erase a poor movement or body position we need to switch our mind on. Just turning a foot out is a short-term movement and doesn't necessarily make you do that in a controlled way. But if you turn your foot out whilst lengthening the foot plus keeping your leg into the hip joint it requires you to use your mind.

Control of both the mind and body.


Imagining a line over your body from the crown of the head all the way to your feet, that line we call the centre line. In Pilates we need to work from there. It prevents you from flaring up arms and legs all over the place which is uncontrolled movement.

The centre of the body is a stable source. If you are cycling and you indicate with your arm to the right, your body might lean towards the right. As soon as your arm is back in its original position your body will come back again as well. You are temporarily out of balance and if you wouldn't pay attention you could fall over. But if you would do the same movement out of your center, ie. only your arm would stick out whilst focussing on your keeping your center stable (straight) it would be much harder to fall over.

In Pilates we are always moving because it is meant to be a workout. We are not supposed to finish one exercise, wait and then do the next position. However, movement creates instability so you will need to stabilise yourself. The best way to start is to anchoring yourself and finding your boney parts such as hip bones, shoulder, palms of hands, big toe knuckles and heels. It is the art of stabilising the body from a stable source when you start moving it. Then when you are moving you will notice that limbs might go in opposite direction to create even more imbalance. And again you need to create balance by going back to your own stable source ie. your center.

Centering = stablising


When one would come to Joseph Pilates' studio in New York he expected his clients to be present and pay attention. No need for chit chat, worries or moans. You came there to work and the best way to do that was to listen, do, repeat. He required the utmost concentration.

The third principle is concentration or in more detail; mindful intent and focus. You need to leave your 'other' world behind and really be on your mat or apparatus. If you don't concentrate you will not perform the exercises with precision, know where your center is or do the movements with control.

When the mind wonders the body will collapse. I see that quite often with new clients who are not used to switching their mind on. They may be used to teachers demonstrating so they only know how to perform an exercise when they repeat the teacher. Followers don't usually concentrate because someone else does that for them. Whereas in Pilates a client should be able to take him/herself through the routine.

But I also notice that some regular clients don't pay attention anymore because they think they know the routine. The mind drifts of to the children, cooking dinner, the groceries and there is no control anymore. Mind you, a Pilates routine is hardly ever exactly the same and if you think it is, deepen your work by centering more and doing the exercises with more precision.

'A disciplined mind does not waiver'.


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Marco Dingemans is a qualified Classical Pilates instructor

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