Pilates is such an important part of my practice. Interesting fact is that more than half of my acupuncture patients also do Pilates with me. Why? Right off the bat, Pilates is an integral way to get a patient who is coming for pain due to dysfunction, back to being more functional. Ultimately, It allows me to help strengthen the area of weakness. That’s the obvious example. Then there are the more subtle reasons why Pilates is so beneficial. Very often than not, I’ll hear statements like these at the end of the session: “I feel less anxious, more balanced”, “ I can breathe differently”, “I feel happier”. It is in these subtleties that the magic of Pilates truly exists. Why? I truly believe Joseph Pilates was very much ahead of his time. Yes, he knew that using diaphragmatic breathing, he was able to improve the lung capacity and assist the client into getting out of the “flight or fight” of one’s sympathetic nervous system. And yes, he believed that strengthening the abdominal, core, and smaller intrinsic muscles brought a greater health to the cells of the body and muscle.
What I don’t think he realized (or maybe he did and just never qualified it by name) was that a lot of the movements, coupled with the breath work, works on something called primitive reflexes. When diving into how a Pilates session is able to produce these outcomes, I see so many similarities between movements to integrate primitive reflexes throughout the body and Pilates’s original mat-work of 1934. In Bonnie Brandes’ book, The Symphony of Reflexes, she explains this topic beautifully. Primitive reflexes develop when we are in utero, assist the body during the birth process and are integral to our development. These reflexes are complex signals that go from our nervous system/brain to specific areas of our body to perform a specific movement/processing/behavior. A block in this communication blocks the reflex from integrating thru the body and quite possibly may cause cognitive and learning challenges. When we invite particular movements (flexion, extension, rotation, unilateral, oppositional) into our body, those physical and emotional symptoms of imbalance improve. Anxiety, lack of focus/poor mental acuity, and obsessive compulsive type behaviors to name a few decrease with regular movement therapy. There are even some examples of how reflex movement therapy is useful for Parkinson's patients.
There is an old adage that you don't have to reinvent the wheel when developing a concept or business plan and I definitely adhered to such an adage. While I may put a modern approach to my Pilates instruction, it is still very much based on classical theories and science. Over the years, I have witnessed why the many benefits of Pilates is so important to my practice. It is so much more than getting washboard abs (although that is nice too). Pilates is healing, restorative and an integral part of brain health. I feel extremely committed and humbled that I get to be a vessel in this special discipline. A very heartfelt thank you to Mr. Joseph Pilates!
Blog postings by Natalie Maddox Rougie, DOM, AP owner of Palm Wellness in Tampa, FL.