“I believe the best workouts include the mind and spirit as well as the body, Pilates is really just simply exercise, but it is done with precision, control and awareness and is practised in our body’s most natural state – motion”
Interview with Karin Hagberg
Karin emphasises the connection of body, mind and soul as the key to overall wellbeing through her Aspire Pilates DVDs, articles and book – “Body Awakening – Balance your Body, Mind and Spirit through Pilates and an Active Lifestyle”.
Q. Sport and Fitness seem to have been with you from an early age – what made you choose Pilates as your favourite activity to keep fit?
A. I was introduced to Pilates in the early 90’s when I started working at a gym that had Pilates Reformers. I was taught Pilates by the Physiotherapist and then got to work with clients myself. I hadn’t realised that I had been practising some of the Pilates principles without knowing. It was something that I thought was very important to incorporate in your exercise program and, at that stage, decided to learn more about this exercise method.
I started practising both Matwork and Reformer Pilates myself, attended further courses and later started my own matwork classes.
Q. What motivated you to take this passion further and teach others?
A. I thought Pilates was something so important to incorporate in any training program as it produces wonderful results. I love the principles and I am especially fascinated by exercises performed using your own body without equipment.
Q. Did Pilates develop from a theory or did the theory evolve from the practice?
A. Pilates (which is pronounced Pil-ah-tees) was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s. He suffered many health issues such as asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. This motivated him to find ways of overcoming his own disabilities. He decided the only way to accomplish this feat was to strengthen his body. Pilates tried many different forms of exercise and eventually became an accomplished sportsman. He practised yoga, martial arts, skiing, boxing, gymnastics, bodybuilding and diving. His body became very well-developed; at one point he was asked to be a model for anatomical charts. He developed a great interest in the human body and frequently studied an old anatomy book given to him by his family doctor. Pilates completed his formal education by the time he was 14 but he continued studying the human anatomy and this moulded his future beliefs. Pilates’ unique exercise method grew a reputation in the 1940s and soon he built up a wide clientele amongst New York’s dancers and actors. Many world-famous people and celebrities still use Pilates’ methods, including world-class athletes who use them to improve or correct physical imbalances imposed by rigorous training. Pilates’ work was based around creating excellent health and physical strength although he also believed this should complement a broader approach to life and its goals. He thought it was important to work on the mind as well as the body. Joseph Pilates died in 1967.
Many of his students became very knowledgeable about his methods and opened their own Pilates studios. Each Pilates teacher, even to this day, gives their own interpretation to the basic exercise programme that was originally created by Joseph Pilates.
Q. Do Pilates and Yoga overlap in their theory and practice?
A. Pilates and yoga are very complimentary practises, yet they are also very different. Pilates works the entire body and focuses on six principles – concentration, control, centring, breathing, flow, and precision.
Yoga is more therapeutic in nature and incorporates things such as meditation, study, and reflection. It also focuses on coordinating breathing with movement. Pilates gives the body a long lean look, much like a dancer rather than a bodybuilder. It is for this reason that it is very popular among movie stars and celebrities who want to have an overall toned look rather than an overly muscular look.
Yoga does not accomplish this to the same degree but can complement Pilates by enhancing the mind-body-spirit awareness of the individual.
Q. Are there different types of Pilates and if so can you outline the key aspects and target audience of each?
A. There are different ways to practise Pilates. Pilates is most often performed on a mat or a Reformer. A Reformer is a resistance-based piece of equipment with a moving carriage that slides along a wooden or metal frame. In Matwork Pilates – you only need a mat and your own body to create resistance. You can also use other equipment such as the Cadillac, Barrel, Circle/Ring, Ball, Resist-a-band and so on. Pilates is used by a wide variety of people from general Physiotherapists to elite sports people as a great way to “treat” or improve injuries and weaknesses.
Q. In your experience what are the main motivational factors for the uptake of Pilates as an activity?
A. The main motivating factor for taking up Pilates seems to be the development of core strength (abdominal/back strength). I meet a lot of clients that suffer back pain and by practising Pilates their pain levels decrease or even stop. I also meet women who want to improve their strength after having a baby and athletes (i.e. surfers, footballers) who want to improve their performance.
Q.How many times per week, and for how long, do you need to attend/ perform Pilates to see fitness and tone changes?
A. You can gain tremendous result by practising Pilates 2 – 3 times a week, although it is very individual and depends on your start level experience. The most popular quote from Joseph Pilates himself was;
“In 10 sessions, you will feel the difference. In 20, you will see the difference. And in 30, you’ll be on your way to having a whole new body.”
Maybe this gives an indication of elapsed time before you notice a difference in your body, but remember we are individuals and of course this will vary.
Q. Do you advise home Pilates if someone doesn’t have a Pilates studio nearby?
A. I think home Pilates is a great alternative if you do not have a studio nearby, although I do recommend that you either see a qualified instructor to learn the principles and moves and to make sure that you have a suitable program. You can also follow Pilates DVDs, but again, make sure you choose one that is suitable for you fitness level.
Q. For individuals already attending gyms or fitness classes what alternatives does Pilates offer as an activity?
A. Pilates can be an excellent alternative for people who attend the gym. Pilates can prevent and heal back pain, improve posture and technique and build long, lean muscles instead of creating bulky, heavy muscles. It will improve stamina, coordination, flexibility and joint mobility. It will also relax the mind.
Q. Pilates can be seen as a female dominated activity? From you experience is this true and does it offer different things to both genders?
A. Pilates is often seen as a female activity but is becoming increasingly popular amongst men. Pilates can be very challenging and this often surprises male clients as they decide to give Pilates a go. I get a variety of people coming to my classes and have a lot of men as well as women attending both individual sessions and classes. Pilates continues to attract men as this exercise method becomes increasingly popular.
Q. What part does the mind play in Pilates?
A. Exercise that is performed with focus can transform your body. Pilates exercises require concentration and mental focus. Make sure your mind is present during the workout and concentrate on doing the exercises properly.
It is important to focus on the body while you perform the exercises and don’t let your thoughts wander. Put all your mental focus on the exercise or move you are doing, concentrating on each detail. This will enable you to perform the move correctly and gain the most benefit. Most movement control occurs at an unconscious level but we can learn correct movement patterns and retrain insufficient patterns by using our conscious awareness. The more often we practise a particular exercise the more ingrained the pattern becomes. As you become comfortable with your moves, you can then start to relax your mind and focus a lot on your breathing pattern to relax your mind.
Q. How important is breathing in Pilates?
A. Breathing plays a very important part in Pilates. Correct breathing will assist in muscle control and revitalise the body with fresh oxygen to give us more energy. There are many different breathing techniques but in Pilates we practise “lateral thoracic breathing” while exercising. This means that you breathe into the lower ribcage and upper back to make maximum use of your lung capacity. This action will also create greater flexibility in the upper body and work the abdominal muscles. To learn lateral thoracic breathing you can sit, stand, or kneel with your pelvis in neutral position and your spine lengthened.
Place your hands on your ribcage. When you breathe in you will feel the ribcage expand and as you breathe out you will feel the ribcage narrow. Make sure you keep your shoulders down and relaxed while you practise this breathing technique. When you become more comfortable with it, focus on engaging the pelvic floor and your transverse abdominis as you exhale and then release only a little bit as you inhale. You might find the breathing hard to get used to as you start practising Pilates and perhaps the hardest to perfect. It is thought to be the most important principle in Pilates to master. To breathe correctly can be the difference between straining to complete an exercise and performing the move easily.
This is a typical way of breathing through a Pilates move:
Breathe in to prepare (wide and full into your back). As you begin the movement, breathe out and contract your abdominal muscles. Breathe in as you return to neutral position or before you start the next stage. The main rule is to breathe out on the greatest effort or the hardest part of the move.
Q. You mention setting achievable goals in your book ‘Body Awakening’. What could be an easy way to encourage a more active lifestyle in a sedentary individual?
A. I would suggest you take a little step forward at a time. Set yourself a little goal and take action towards it every day. Praise yourself every time you take action towards your goals but remember the taking of action is the most important element even if it is something small. Visualise yourself having achieved your goals, see yourself and feel how it feels. Then bring yourself back into now and enjoy every step on the way.
One step at a time!
Q. If someone is interested in learning more about Pilates, what would be the next step?
A. Anyone who reads this is welcome to contact me personally if they have any questions and I will assist as best I can.
They can also find information at karinhagberg.com