Introduction to Principles of Pilates

Kazia Marsden , graduate of Pilates For Real Bodies Teacher Training 2011

Pilates is an exercise system first created in the 1920’s by Joseph H. Pilates. It is a series of functional exercises designed to create an evenly conditioned body through using 10 main principles. They are:

  • Awareness/Alignment
  • Achieve Balance
  • Breathing
  • Concentration
  • Centering
  • Control
  • Efficiency
  • Flow
  • Precision
  • Harmony

*Note: principles in no specific order This assignment look at how we can incorporate the benefits and principles of Pilates into modern day life and daily living, by examining each principle. Each individual principle serves as a guide to Pilates. They make up the basis of the method. The correct blending of all 10 principles creates complete and perfect movement in the body, working from the inside out. These principles become the keys to assist in the training of the “Core Muscles”, also known as the “Muscular Corset” or “Powerhouse”. Strengthening these muscles is the main purpose of Pilates. The “Core Muscles” are made up of the:

  • Transversus Abdominas (TVA)
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Internal Oblique
  • Diaphragm
  • Multifidus

Principle 1: Awareness/Alignment

Description: Awareness means to thoughtfully combine attention and movement, with an acknowledgement of muscles recruited, muscles relaxed, body position and body placement

Benefit: It builds a self-awareness of one’s body and how it works. This acts as an “owner’s manual” to one’s physical and mental being. It adds to a greater freedom in movement, prevention of injury and release of pain. Example:

Standing in a Queue – Standing in a queue can be a great time to practise awareness/alignment. Try the following to correct posture through awareness/alignment.

  • Draw awareness to current posture
  • Move feet hip width apart with an even body-weight distribution
  • Melt shoulders down into your back
  • Adjust pelvis – tilt to find neutral
  • Engage “core” muscles
  • Turn thoughts to changes that have occurred
  • Be aware of correct standing position as long as you can.

Principle 2: Achieve Balance


  • An even focus between all areas of the body. Achieved through using:
  • a variety of movement patterns (ie: push/ pull, bend/extend)
  • a variety of movement planes (i.e. supine, prone, seated, standing, side-lying, 4 point kneeling).

The addition of equipment/props may also help achieve balance. Furthermore this principle incorporates the balance of the mind. Pilates trains the mind to feel, think and see the body, resulting in holistic wellbeing.


The achievement of balance allows a complete exercise method. Working a variety of muscles simultaneously in correct alignment results in all muscles strengthened equally. It avoids the over-use of the muscles and joints. Balance permits the body to follow its natural movement-pattern design. This feeling of balance can also create a sense of calm in the mind.

Example: Adding Exercise to your day – After sitting at work, sitting in the car (or other transport) and then sitting on the couch at home, you may have lost some balance in your day. Incorporating exercise could renew this.
Principle 3: Breathing

Description: Deliberate and conscious breathing assists in controlling movement, focus and also muscles recruitment. It aids in correct exercise performance through the proper engaging of the “core” muscles.

The Pilates method of breathing/ Lateral Thoracic Breathing:

In Breath through the nose – prepare for movement

Forced Exhalation through pursed lips – execute movement The main reason for breathing this way is the bio-mechanical action that occurs when it’s preformed. Because the diaphragm is a member of the “muscular corset” set, it is automatically enlisted through the style of breathing (see below).

Benefit: Drawing air into the lungs assists with maintaining abdominal contraction through-out exercise. This can then establish and steady the torso. This style of breathing also provides a rhythm base for movement. It improves circulation, relaxation and skin tone.

Example: Trouble falling asleep -Trying to relax and ‘switch off’ from your day can be hard. This style of breathing can help. Lay supine on the bed with hands resting on belly button. Preform the breathing pattern as stated above. Fill lungs deeply expanding front, side and back. Release stress with every forced exhalation. Continue for 3 – 4 minutes.
Principle 4: Concentration

Description: Concentration is the cousin of Awareness/Alignment (see page 3). If Awareness is the consciousness of movement, concentration is the understanding of movement. It’s an understanding of where and why a specific muscle set is recruiting or relaxing with the knowledge of how to make it happen.

Benefit: By concentrating on a specific muscle or muscle group during an exercise the body is able to recruit them with more accuracy and at a higher intensity. This allows an optimal execution of an exercise. It is not a forced or strained concentration that creates tension or a restriction of flow.

Example: Lifting something heavy – By using concentration, the lifting of a heavy object can be smooth and successful.

  1. Concentrate on the movement required as you bend
  2. In bending position, understand which muscles need to ‘fire’.
  3. Mentally be aware of the muscle recruitment and feel it take place
  4. As you lift continue to concentrate on that feeling plus the load movement required

Principle 5: Centering

Description: Centering is a physical feeling of focus concerning the inside of the body, mainly directed toward the “Muscular Corset”. It also involves centring the mind to the present moment and an awareness of one’s being at that time.

Benefit: This allows a mind/body connection to a movement or exercise that supports the execution of it. This helps the achievement of the purpose of the exercise. The true intention of Pilates is to prefect centering.

Example: Hanging out the washing –can be a good practise ground for centring. Normally you preform two actions:

  1. Flexion (picking up the item)
  2. Extension (place on the clothes line).

As you do each, try and focus the body to its “Muscular Corset” which will support the back and the overall action.
Principle 6: Control

Description: Precision in movement, with a deliberate action equals control.

Each exercise has a start, middle and end. They are to be a conscious contraction and retraction of the muscles. Limbs and overall body position are to be controlled through the recruitment of the “Core”. However, execution is not robotic, but preformed with flow (see page 9). The Pilates method as created by Joseph H. Pilates was originally named “Contrology”, suggesting that a controlled movement was of significant importance.

Benefit: Control gives the individual power of their body’s movement pattern. It is like being “in the driver’s seat”. It determines how a movement takes place. This enables the prevention of injury, corrects posture and muscular alignment and can results in sleeker body shape. It is aiding the body to function at its best.

Example: Getting in a car – This task can prove difficult for some with back-pain but we can use the principle of control to assist. There is a start, middle and end in the movement of getting in a car. START – Open the door and then face away from the inside of the car MIDDLE – Still facing away, keeping in neutral spine as you lower yourself into a sitting position END – Lift legs together and turn your body as a whole, avoiding twisting your spine, into the car.
Principle 7: Be Efficient

Description: There are two categories for efficiency.

In terms of energy use: the goal is to work the body efficiently through prioritizing muscle groups with a focus on essential movement. The emphasis is on achievement of perfect execution, rather than repetition.

In terms of movement: the goal is to have the body trained to always recruit correct muscles as it moves.

Benefits: Efficiency provides a better quality action during Pilates exercise and in regular movement. The body is able to work more effectively as it avoids unnecessary energy use therefore preserving vitality. This in-turn leaves an individual with a greater sense of wellbeing and a finer body. Example: Carrying a heavy object – can put strain on the body. The body works harder and incorrectly when out of alignment. Having correct posture and using your body efficiently can reduce risk of pain and injury. Working from the ‘inside out’ by engaging your ‘core’ will greatly assist.
Principle 8: Flow

Description: Flow is achieved through steady and continuous movement, reached when the individual is fully absorbed in the action. It is the perfect timing of movement, muscle recruitment, breathe and body positioning when accompanied with an optimal exercise sequence.

Benefit: It allows optimal coordination – the mind is more connected to the action of the body. Flow causes a natural movement-pattern that can give a feeling of control and calmness. It ensures the body works evenly and is not overloaded. Props and equipment can be a good indicator of the individual’s ability to perform an exercise using the flow principle. Example: Sports specific exercise – Once this principle is acquired, it translates very well into other sports, by achieving a greater smoothness in co-ordination. This would benefit in sports such as swimming, cycling, running and dancing.
Principle 9: Precision

Description: Precision in movement requires executing with exactness and accuracy. It involves a more detailed approach to movement and is achieved when particular muscles ‘fire’ correctly. Continuous practise and knowledge are needed to master this. The use of ‘Real Time Ultrasound’ can also greatly help an individual understand how to perform action with precision.

Benefit: Joseph Pilates’s designed and taught his exercises with great exactness. Therefore the true purpose of Pilates and benefit of the exercise will be realised through using precision. It trains skill in muscle control and alignment. Precision is a key to learning how to correct one’s posture and alignment.

Example: Weight lifting: bicep curl –

  • Correct positioning – Neutral pelvis standing. Palms facing forward.
  • Performing action – Lift weights from thigh to clavicle maintain correct body position. Elbows kept near torso. Return to starting position.
  • Recruitment – Core, Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis

Being precise in these areas will aid in lifting and help to avoid injury and overuse.
Principle 10: Harmony

Description: The culmination of elements in an agreeable manner is harmony. It is the result of separate aspects joining together, making a whole. The combination of….

  • 10 main principles
  • Posture
  • Muscle recruitment
  • Appropriate exercise selection
  • Alignment
  • Knowledge
  • Meditation

…all ensue harmony. It arrives through the practise and mastering of many specific areas that naturally combine. It is the pinnacle of the Pilates method.

Benefits: Ideally, at the conclusion of a Pilates session there is a feeling of harmony within oneself. It can create a feeling of centring and rejuvenation. It is the ultimate reward.

Example: Sitting at a desk – is a common area for loss of harmony. During your work day, on the hour, take a minute include harmony at the desk.

  1. Feet flat on the floor, hip width apart
  2. Locate neutral spine, seated
  3. Melt shoulders down into back
  4. Engage “core” muscles
  5. Practise lateral thoracic breathing and become aware of your body

Conclusion: The Pilates method is able to restore, improve and create an optimal body through the use of the 10 main principles. All 10 are needed and work in sync with each other.

When followed correctly they are the keys to good posture and wellbeing.
References: Jayasuriya A, Pilates for real Bodies Teacher Training Manual, 2011

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