Despite Portland’s laid-back vibe, it is hard to escape stress. Some who arrive at the Pilates studio are contending with demanding work, traffic congestion, and many personal demands and not enough time. When people walk through the door, I strive to create a quiet, thoughtful retreat to clear the mind, even out the breath and bring their focus inward.

Distilled from Joseph Pilates’ 1945 pioneering work Return to Life Through Contrology there are the six principles of Pilates that should guide us in our practice:

  • centering
  • control
  • concentration
  • precision
  • breath 
  • flow

All are equally important but I’m firm believer that we can’t find flow without establishing concentration and centering first. If the mind is still lingering somewhere outside the studio, it’s impossible to perfect these principles.

I keep a dialogue going with students by asking them where they feel the movement and how they feel it. These questions cannot be answered and these cues cannot be felt if we’re rushing through the exercises. I remind people to slow down. To hold a position. To breathe into it. Reminding people to breathe into their movement may sound funny, but we often times hold our breath for too long during exertion or fail to breathe deeply

This isn’t an approach that is easily grasped or accepted by some. Understandably, most fitness routines are about speed and we’ve been conditioned to think of exercise in quantifiable terms. (How many crunches or push ups can you do?)  And while it makes sense for a runner to strive to cut her time, a Pilates student can be better served by slowing down — not speeding up.

And how many times have you taken a walk or ran on a treadmill with your mind wandering around about work, stressful conversations, or worries about future events that may or may not come to pass? Moving with intention can help us stay focused on what is happening in our bodies and open us to a new wellness possibilities.