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The Six Principles of Pilates

by Mark Seeto on Tuesday 26 December 2017

Is your Pilates practice truly holistic? 

‘Contrology’ as it was originally named, was developed by Joseph Pilates in the first half of the 20th century. He was greatly influenced by his father who was a gymnast and his mother who was a naturopath. After suffering a number of different health conditions as a child, and the influence of his mother’s belief that the human body can be cured without medication, Pilates dedicated himself to healing his own ailments.

He studied many forms of exercise, even studying animals as a way of understanding movement and believed in a strong correlation between mental and physical health.  

The six principles of Pilates which have developed over the years have their roots in Joseph Pilates’ original holistic approach to mind and body health. They are essential to the practice. 

Pilates is not just purely a core class where whoever does the most repetitions wins. It is essential we incorporate all six principles and practice ‘quality over quantity’ to be truly practicing Pilates as it was intended and to ensure a holistic state of wellbeing.

Regardless of whether you are practicing Pilates Mat, Pilates Reformer or participating in a one-on-one practice, the principles outlined below are crucial in achieving the optimum and most well-rounded results.


Just like Yoga, Pilates is designed to be practiced mindfully. Joseph Pilates believed that mind and body were perfectly interconnected and that you couldn’t achieve health and balance without one or the other. You must concentrate on smooth and controlled movements, focusing the mind on the areas each exercise is targeting. 

Mindlessness is performing 100 glute bridges without ever switching your glutes on. Without concentration, you might be enhancing poor biomechanics. Being mindful allows your brain to send the right message to the right muscle at the right time to perfect a movement.  


Most of what you do on any gym floor or in any studio requires control. Even outside the club, most movements in life require control in order to stay safe and avoid injury. So it’s essential that control is practiced in all Pilates movements.

Whether you are contracting or relaxing the muscle, lengthening or strengthening, control is necessary in all directions and for all types of muscle activation. Pilates will enable you to move with grace and efficiency and help you to take control of your own body.  


Pilates starts with a group of muscles sometimes called the ‘Powerhouse’; the abdomen, lower back, hips, inner thighs and glutes. This is where control and energy for movement originates and Pilates teaches you how to engage with this area so you can perform safe and effective movement.


Fluidity during dynamic movement and also between exercises is an important tool in building strength, control and stamina. Pilates is not practiced in a rigid, stop-start fashion. Instead, the energy created in the Powerhouse is used to create graceful and efficient movement from the centre out toward the extremities, creating long and lean muscles and better range of movement.


As a Pilates teacher, I will always prefer that you practice just one precise movement with grace and control, rather than ten with slightly poor form. Each movement, exercise, muscle and breath has a specific purpose and the class has been designed with intelligence to elicit a certain change or outcome. Therefore precision is crucial in creating graceful and efficient everyday movement in and out of class. 


Not only is it important in carrying oxygen to muscles, but breathing correctly can create better core activation and control and also help in creating a sense of calm and relaxation. Joseph Pilates saw deep (full inhalation / full exhalation) and focused breathing as a way to cleanse and invigorate. During Pilates we inhale during opening and lengthening and exhale as we contract and come towards the Powerhouse. Keeping this as a focus during your practice will assist in accomplishing the five other principles of Pilates. Each exercise has a time to inhale and exhale, and it’s going to take some practice before it becomes second nature, but the importance of this principle is paramount, so make it a priority. 

Pilates in all its forms is a wonderful and holistic practice. It’s been around for the good part of a century, proving its effectiveness and it continues to be developed and refined. So next time we see you on the mat or the reformer bed, keep the six principles at front of mind and practice Pilates in its truest and fullest form so you can reap all the benefits of this amazing practice. 

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