Pilates and the Sensory Systems

Something that people have fed back to me in my time teaching Pilates is that they love how they feel afterwards! My Body Control Pilates ® students recognise that the classes give you a whole body workout in a way that other forms of exercise does not.

So, what about Pilates makes it so successful when it comes to movement and conditioning?

In the early twentieth century, when Joseph Pilates was developing his new rehabilitation programme, the foundation of his technique was “Breath, whole-body health and whole-body commitment; with the whole-body encompassing mind, body and spirit.

He drew upon his knowledge of both western and eastern health and exercise to create a rounded approach to exercise and fitness, as represented by Friedrich Schiller’s quote, “It is the mind that builds the body.”

It’s important that we recognise and understand the foundation that healthy sensory systems create, in order to get the maximum benefit from Pilates and create the well-rounded health that Joseph Pilates championed.

8 icons representing the 8 senses - an eye for sight, an ear for sound, a tongue for taste, a hand for touch, a nose for smell, a hand waving for propreception, a person balancing 3 spinning plates for vestibular and a stomach for interproception

What Are the Sensory Systems?

Do you remember being taught about your five sensory systems in school science lessons? Sight (visual), sound (auditory), taste (gustatory), touch (tactile), and smell (olfactory). In actual fact we have eight sensory systems: the three you may not have heard of are movement (vestibular), body awareness (proprioception) and internal sensations (interoception).

It’s these last three are systems that we usually find out about as adults, for example, if we’re studying movement and sensation, working with people with impaired sensory systems or if something goes wrong with our own senses.

Why Are Our Sensory Systems Key in Pilates?

When our sensory systems are organised and working well together, we’re able to carry out coordinated, controlled and flowing movements. Our sensory systems gather information from sensory receptors located throughout the body. They send that information to the relevant part of our brain, which uses it to develop our sensory awareness and thus how we feel about a particular movement.

It allows our brains to create a body schema – an awareness of where our body is in space and how our body parts are connected. Having an effective and accurate body schema allows us to have good control of our core strength, the ability to maintain an upright posture and a sense of balance when we are moving.

Everyone’s body schema changes across the course of their life according to factors such as growth, activity, experiences and physical ability. We also benefit from moving our bodies in ways that are out of the norm for us, carrying out movements that our body schema may not have experienced often. This allows our brains to broaden their understanding of our bodies and make the most of our senses.

My beginner students often laugh when they are asked to carry out a completely unfamiliar movement in a class or have to stop to try and work out how to do something that is new to them!

Pilates is for everybody, regardless of their sensory experience.

It’s important to note that Pilates is for everybody, regardless of their sensory experience, their body schema or their sensory processing ability. Pilates can support people to slow down their internal stressors and enable them to exclude external triggers or distractions by focusing on their breathing, body and movement.

Pilates also helps us to develop our breathing, concentration, precision and flow. These are the foundational principles underpinning all Pilates movements. It’s a wonderful form of exercise to promote sensory integration, due to the focus on the slow and repeated patterns of movement required.

Through my Pilates classes, my goal is for my students to begin to tune in to their sensory systems and learn more about how their bodies can move as effectively as possible. The aim isn’t to measure against one another or an arbitrary yardstick, but to note the changes that occur as we learn and grow through movement.

It brings me great joy when a student feeds back that they feel calmer and less anxious after a class, or when they send an email telling me that a physical problem, they have been trying to manage has resolved itself through the block of classes they’ve completed.

If you’ve been to one of my classes, I’d love to hear from you about how you found it. Was there anything that has made a huge difference to your body? Or maybe there was a movement that you found difficult? Drop me an email at hello@pawprintspilatescake.co.uk.

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