By Diane Adams-Strickland
"Be certain that you have your entire body under complete mental control."
-Return to Life, Joseph H. Pilates
I have a confession to make...I don’t always follow this rule. In all honesty, this is my current obsession in my own practice.
It is easy to think Joe just meant the actual muscles you needed to employ for a certain exercise; but he also meant the muscles that you didn’t need to employ. What does that mean? Well, Joe was all about efficient movement. He didn’t want you to overuse your muscles or bring tension into the body. Although every exercise in Pilates is a full body exercise, you need to use your muscles correctly. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched my feet do something funky during The Rollup, seen my fingers think that they control the lifting and lowering of my legs, felt my shoulders raise to my ears during Spine Stretch Forward, or heard an instructor tell me to relax my face. Using the wrong muscles (making a duck face does not make Stomach Massage easier) or overusing muscles can cause fatigue, cramping, and pain. So when Joe told us to have complete mental control of our body, he meant that you also needed to control and turn off extraneous muscles. This is the genius of Pilates: learning to use the correct muscles while unlearning the use of incorrect muscles.
In Return to Life, Joe told us (in all capitalized letters): "IDEALLY, OUR MUSCLES SHOULD OBEY OUR WILL. REASONABLY, OUR WILL SHOULD NOT BE DOMINATED BY THE REFLEX ACTIONS OF OUR MUSCLES." In short: work smarter, not harder. And I’ll start working on my duck faces.