The Principles of Pilates

By Stephanie Muir

Pilates PrinciplesPrinciples act as guidelines to activities performed. They can also been seen as the core focus of an activity. When in doubt check in on the principles and see if your actions are aligned with them. Methods of training and businesses have principles to give you direction and assistance when a system or person deviates from its true purpose or core values. In Pilates we have principles that can be easily identified when doing a class.

The principles below are an amalgamation of those cited in the writings and teachings of Joseph Pilates and the principles that have evolved from the BASI approach to this work. *

Awareness, balance, breath, concentration, centre, control, efficiency, flow, precision and harmony are all important principles identified in the BASI Pilates training method. In the article we are going to elaborate on each of these principles and how they work in perfect synergy with one another


The mind body connection is an integral component of Pilates. The exercises are performed in such a manner that the mind commands the body. This requires one to tune inwards and place any external thoughts or distractions out of their mind. Awareness’ twin brother is focus. Being able to become more aware and focused on the task at hand acts like a form of active meditation. An antidote to our modern day busy lives.


In Pilates we aim to create uniformity in the body. A body out of balance is prone to injuries and inefficient distribution of energy. Ever wonder why you feel so tired at times? Believe it or not imbalances in the body require a lot of energy. A tight or weak muscles does not move efficiently therefore more energy is required to move. In Pilates we aim to strengthen the weak muscles and lengthen the tight ones. This brings the body into a healthy equilibrium that allows for the efficient distribution of energy.


Joseph Pilates was obsessed with creating a healthy body from the inside out. All of the exercises either wring out the lungs and/or give your internal organs a massage from movements such rotation. Oxygen is life and as long as we fully exhale the “stale” air and inhale healthy fresh air we are replenishing our bodies healthy reserves. Secondly efficient breathing and use of the diaphragm muscles is vital to engaging our “core”. A calm smooth breath aids one in de-stressing and unwinding. Stressed and short breath cycles do not involve the whole body and are inefficient. JP viewed the breath as one views water. Stale and still water collects mold and algae, flowing water does not.


Much like awareness, concentration forces you to disconnect from the world outside and focus inwards on the exercise at hand. This brings one attention to the present and helps with the attention to detail required for the correct execution of an exercise. Much is lost without technique and inward focus.


Every movement emanates from the “Powerhouse” also known as the centre. Here we can pull in the principles above on concentration, breath and awareness to ensure all movement is propelled first from the centre. The energy begins inward and travels outward towards the extremities to move the bones. This principle ensures all movement is controlled from your Powerhouse and  not out of the joints. One of the many reasons Pilates helps reduce injuries. Stability from the centre first and then movement.


Every movement is to be executed in a controlled manner. This means being deliberate with the force your body creates when moving. You press out and pull in from your centre with balance and awareness which means you control both the initiation and return of a movement. For example your leg does not just bend and extend out of nowhere, you control it from the centre. In Pilates we teach you to control the movements first by creating awareness, then concentrating on where to focus to finally control from the centre. There are a lot of principles linked together in that sentence. As we go forward it gets harder not to link them all.


Moving efficiently means using the least amount of energy necessary. As mentioned already, a body that is out of balance is inefficient energy wise. Many people comment on how good they feel after a Pilates class. Comments such as “I feel more energized” are common. This makes sense since the method is about bringing balance and uniformity to the body as a whole. Correct alignment of the skeleton and muscles means every part of the body performs its job as it’s supposed too. No part is over or under working. For example: Imagine a bird trying to swim and a fish trying to fly. It would be very hard and exhausting for either of these animals because they were not designed to do what the other does. Our body is much the same. Every part has a role to play and is best doing what it’s designed to do.


Visualize water flowing down a stream. Its smooth and effortless. This is how we want our bodies to move, with flow.


Awareness, concentration, centring and control are all perfectly lined up to create the precise movement that is Pilates. The slightest deviation out of alignment can upset the very purpose of a movement. Every movement in the repertoire has a purpose attached to it. For example: Roll-up on the mat has spinal articulation as one of its main purposes. If one simply uses momentum and force to propel themselves forward the purpose, which is spinal articulation has gone. Being precise in the movements will get results because the purpose is linked to the precision of the movements.


Harmony can be defined as it pertains to music, “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect”. Translate that to movement of the body and we have ALL of the principles listed above working together simultaneously to create beautiful movement that is working in symmetry, balance with co-ordination as a whole.

In summary the principles above cannot be singled out. Instead they all work together like a dance or song. Bring your awareness inward, breathe and concentrate on moving from your centre with control and balance, moving with efficiency and precision that creates flow and harmony.

* Comprehensive Course Study Guide, BASI® Pilates 2013. 


Pilates Principles

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