// Take a deep breath - refresh your Pilates sessions

by Kayla Duke

One of the great aspects of Pilates is that it is for everybody. People of any age, shape or level of health and fi tness can learn and benefi t from its movements. All exercises start with Pilates breathing and correct spine alignment. Once this has been learnt, the abdominals and muscles of the core can be activated and felt working by doing no more than lying on the back in a natural spine position and breathing in the Pilates-style.

When we add movement, the breath remains a vital and integral part. Although each exercise can have progressions to stronger levels when needed, they are all still effective at the easiest level.

Correct breathing is a key part of Pilates. It helps us perform our exercises more easily, creating better fluency of movement. It increases the absorption of oxygen by the blood and assists in focus and concentration. In Pilates lateral breathing in used. Starting by inhaling through the nose, aim to breathe towards the back of the ribcage, expanding outwards. As we exhale through the mouth we want to defl ate the abdomen and gently flatten the centre, activating all the muscles of the core. Once the breath is mastered we will start to gain the full benefits from our Pilates exercises.

While breathing correctly can work the mid section on its own, when we incorporate movement the breath is used to initiate and support all Pilates exercises. When we inhale and exhale through an exercise it helps us to flatten the abdominals and also release unnecessary tension. I always prompt my clients to exhale when the exercise is hardest for them, as that is usually the time when the neck, shoulders and jaw can start to tense up (especially for first timers). The tension is released along with the breath.

Traditional Pilates exercises, such as hundreds, teaser and rolling like a ball, are generally well known to instructors and their regular clients. These are all great exercises and can improve one’s body, health and wellbeing – but have you ever tried to go outside the square? Adding extra arm movements, leg extensions and more can make Pilates exercises more interesting, and the workout a lot more challenging.

For example, consider the exercise illustrated in the photos. Firstly, start with a teaser (photo 1), and then add a single arm and leg extension (photo 2).

Next, take the arm to the side, lightly tap the floor (photo 3) and return to the teaser (photo 4). This makes the body work harder, the centre in particular.

The position is not only held for longer by adding the side tap, but the body also needs to work harder to keep perfect posture and alignment as the arm reaches away from the centre line.

Be sure not to lean to the side with the arm. Then move on to using both arms and both legs (photo 5). This is an interesting progression as it makes the exercise stronger by adding double the weight for the abdominals to hold, as both legs are now extending, but it is easier to stay centred as the movement is balanced with both arms lowered evenly to the sides (photo 6). The arms are then raised again (photo 7) and the teaser position returned to (photo 8). Have a try and experiment with this exercise, then you can choose the option that is best for you and/or your clients. If the exercise seems a little too advanced, place both feet on the ground and slide the heel(s) along the floor when extending the leg(s).

Group Pilates classes tend to attract clients in a broad range of shapes, sizes and of course age and ability, and we need to cater to them all.

When teaching a mixed group, it is good to present at least three levels for each exercise. Keep reminding the participants to work at the level that is best for them, as it is much better and more eff ective for the body to do level 1 well than to struggle with level 3.

The focus of the exercise is to work the centre and this may change to tension in the neck and/or stress on the back, so it is very important to educate your participants on this. If you know the members of your group well, you can instruct them on who should do which level. Remind them to be conscious of their breathing and to keep all movements slow and controlled.

As long as we always incorporate the six Pilates Principles (Centring, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath and Flow) to all exercise, there is no rule to say we should not experiment and try new variations. This is my belief and the way I teach all my clients.

However, as an instructor it is of great importance that you fully understand the exercises you are creating and do not get too carried away. Always think about what you get out of the exercise and the benefi t it is doing to your own or another’s body. Apply the six Pilates Principles throughout your creative and class planning process, as well as when you are teaching your class, and the benefits of Joseph Pilates’ traditional method will be achieved.


Kayla Duke
Currently working with Asia’s leading fitness company, California Fitness, Kayla is assistant group exercise manager for Singapore. She instructs, choreographs programs, trains and assesses instructors, and presents regularly both nationally and internationally. Prior to her fitness career Kayla accrued 17 years of dancing experience, including classical ballet, providing a movement quality which gives a special edge to her presentation style.