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Superpower Pilates

Swimming Wide

Gym buffs and yoga students will be all too familiar with the importance of core strength to relieve stress on your muscles, joints and ligaments, however did you know that children with a weak posture can end up using extra energy to maintain their balance? This affects how they function at school as well as other areas of life, as their ability to sit still, focus on tasks and pay attention during class is depleted.

In this post OjO caught up with celebrity-Pilates-trainer Sara Dixter from Hampstead, London to learn how a few simple Pilates exercises can transform children’s physical stability and provide a solid foundation for listening in class. We learnt that when it comes to Pilates, there’s no such thing as starting too young!

Sara, firstly can you tell us what exactly is Pilates?

Pilates is a system of movement that incorporates strength, flexibility and mind-body coordination.  It looks to properly align the skeletal system so that the musculature can work in a balanced way.

The six principles of Pilates, when properly integrated, enable movement that is balanced, graceful and easy. I always tell my students that we work tremendously hard to make it look like we are not doing very much at all!

The six principles are:

  1.  Concentration – Full attention is paid to the exercise in order to obtain maximum value from each movement.
  2.  Centering – Physically bring focus to the centre of the body, which is defined as the “powerhouse” – between the low ribs and pubic bone.
  3.  Control – The practitioner’s muscular control and an understanding of which muscles to recruit, lends to very deliberate movement.
  4.  Breathing – Deep exhalations are used to improve the exercises performed through an understanding of breathing anatomy and awareness.  The diaphragm is actually part of “The Core” and facilitates the recruitment of the “powerhouse”.
  5.  Precision – It is critical to place the body in its appropriate alignment in order to recruit the right muscles and maintain good balance.
  6.  Flow – Movements should be slow and graceful. Fluidity, ease and grace are always  emphasized!

Is Pilates a safe activity for young children to participate in?

I think with a few teaching cues, Pilates is a very safe activity for young people to practice.  Not only is it a good physical activity, it also fosters an understanding of one’s body.  From observing and helping my own clients, I understand that many injuries that occur in young adults are the result of poor body placement and postural awareness. In school, we aren’t taught how to sit or walk.  Sometimes I play a little game with my own daughters (aged 7 and 9) where I have them locate the body part (that I subsequently name) that is activated as we do certain activities.  For instance “What are we working as we march up this hill?”  In sum, Pilates extends beyond the six principles I just shared.  The exercises are meant to create a pattern/awareness of the body that can be recalled when performing daily activities.  My work is successful when my clients apply what we do in the studio to their daily lives.

Is Pilates a recognized activity for children?

Recognition is a tough one.  I am not aware of a current body that regulates Pilates for children.  I do however think there is a gap in the market.  Pilates really is for everyone!  Young, old, male, female, injured, football pros! So with the correct emphasis, why not children?

How does Pilates support development in children?

Physically, Pilates makes us strong and aware of our bodies. Specifically improving our posture and the way we move.

Emotionally, Pilates builds confidence and promotes maturity.  There is something attractive about a person who can stand up straight from their center and take control of a situation in a focused way.  The thinking and self-awareness that goes into Pilates also helps to harness awareness for the world around us.

Are there specific exercises to help children develop better posture, calm and confidence?

There are certainly exercises that can help with all of these issues. Depending on the child’s needs, every principle lives in almost every exercise. Pilates is about setting the stage for longer-term wellness benefits as opposed to a quick fix.  For instance, I wouldn’t prescribe three exercises to help a child sitting the 11+ school assessments deal with current stress levels.  The view should always be long term.

OjO recommends:

This Ted Talk. Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy argues that “power posing”—standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident—can boost feelings of confidence, and might have an impact on our chances for success.

London Children’s Pilates

Further reading:

Pilates for Our Children
How Sitting on a Ball Helps Kids Focus and Do Better in School

We’d love to see your favourite pilates poses! Tag OjO on social media with @learnwithojo.

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