1. Not breathing:
Many of the exercises in Pilates are meant to flow and coincide with your breath. The movements of the spine and sequence of the exercises are worked around this concept. The new oxygen nourishes the muscles and the blood while exhaling clears out old stale air.
You should also be able to breathe while using the muscles in your abdomen, because breathing happens in the lungs. It’s not about “sucking in” or hardening your stomach, it’s about stabilizing your pelvis and breathing in alignment. In the beginning it really helps to practice a gentle lift of the lower belly and a deep breath into the entire ribcage (even the back, bottom ribs.) l often teach this to new students with them lying on their back, knees bent, feeling the inhale in the sides of the ribcage while allowing the back ribs to gently expand into the mat.
Pilates is about the health, integrity, strength and flexibility of the spine. While in the same supine position described above, some people new to breath awareness find it helpful to feel the very subtle movements of the spine as they inhale and exhale.
You might sometimes be just trying so hard that you don’t even realize you haven’t been breathing. My students sometimes chuckle when I have to remind them to breathe. Don’t worry if this happens to you, it’s normal. Luckily, your body knows and you will eventually breathe, but try to take note if this happens to you. Just noticing this pattern can be helpful for changing it.
2. Trying too hard
(looking for strength in all the wrong places):
It just never works the way we want it to. Overdoing the muscular effort cheats us out of working deeper stabilizing muscles. Sometimes less effort allows the right muscles to work and other muscles to soften and release tension. For example, you might not realize you are trying to power through teaser or with your arms…until one day you feel the strength in your core and let the arms just assist. Somehow it’s easier – yet more challenging – at the same time.
The idea is to let the core do what it’s meant to do…which is stabilize and provide a foundation for other muscles to rely on so they don’t have to over-work.
Any muscular tension, knotting, gripping, or cramping is a good sign you are trying too hard in one particular area. The key is to let go, regroup, and reconnect with your core and purpose of the movement, and then proceed more mindfully.
With practice comes the trust that it’s okay and possible to relax and yet still strengthen your body at the same time.
3. Expecting to get it right away
Pilates is a practice and often involves “undo-ing” old habits and patterns that are not serving us (and what may have brought us to Pilates in the first place.) Try to have an open mind and give it a chance! The beauty of a practice is that it evolves and changes over time, but is always consistent.
The idea of Pilates is to control with your muscles, which is the opposite of momentum. “Contrology” is actually what Joe Pilates used to call his method. He taught the art of mindfully controlling movements. The movements can be done as quickly as one can control them. Do your best to not swing, fling, or jerk into any movement. On the Pilates apparatus the springs encourage you to control the movements. With the mat work it’s different because you need to create your own imaginary sensation of resistance. Hold on with the core as you extend away from it with control, as with the side kicks or leg circles.
Try to keep distractions to a minimum so that you can get the most out of your session, whether at home by yourself or with an instructor. Don’t try to watch the news, read a newspaper, or talk on the phone, these things do not mix well with Pilates. Do them before or after your workout! Also, if there is anything stressing you out, or you have a list of things that need to get done, or you are worried you might forget something, write your thoughts or tasks down and try to forget about them for your Pilates time. Come back to it after with a new perspective.
6. Forgetting what the core really is
Your core is not just your belly. It’s the deep muscles of your abdomen, your ribcage, back, shoulder blades, hips, buttocks, and pelvic floor. Just because someone has a “six-pack” does not necessarily mean they have a strong core. Your core is the foundation and “base” for other movements. Joe Pilates called it the “powerhouse” for this reason. Having strong core promotes good alignment which in turn prevents peripheral muscles from overworking.
7. Leaving what you learn at the studio
Do Pilates not for the sake of doing Pilates, (although that is of course a perfectly acceptable reason) but because of what it can help you do in your life.
For me, it’s improved my yoga practice, my running, and relieved my back and joint pain. Pilates also helped me through 2 pregnancies and births. Whatever activity or sport you enjoy, Pilates only enhances your body to do it more efficiently. Let your instructor know what you do outside of the studio so he/she can help to tailor the workout to your needs.
Even if you sit at a desk all day long, the principles you learn in Pilates can help you to sit (and stand) with more strength, balance and alignment.
Think about how your are standing while waiting on line at the supermarket, how you lift your child, how you carry your shoulder bag or briefcase. Each time you use your body to do any of these things throughout the day it’s an opportunity to connect to your core and find your alignment. And when you are connected and aligned….only good things happen, in ways way beyond your workout!!