Will pilates give me a flat stomach?
I remember my first ever pilates lesson and my pilates instructor giving me a despairing look as she looked at my health screen form. For my goals for pilates I'd written 'to get a flat stomach'.
I didn't really know anything about pilates, but hey, I knew it was exercise and we did exercise to make our bodies look 'better', didn't we?
You see now, after 15 years of pilates I understand that look she gave me. She wasn't despairing that pilates wouldn't give me a flat stomach - it might - it's just it will give you so much more. If you let go of the idea that working out is to make your body look a certain way, and instead open yourself to the idea that exercise will help you feel a certain way (amazing!) then suddenly everything changes.
The despairing look my teacher gave me wasn't despairing about me, it was despairing about the pressure that we are surrounded by, from magazines and media to squeeze our bodies to look a certain way. To the point where sometimes we end up doing things to our body that aren't healthy; that pressure can make us disconnect from our bodies and approach exercise as a form of punishment to change our bodies that look 'wrong'.
Move your whole body
Pilates is different. Pilates is about getting to know your body, about embracing it the way it is, building on your strengths and letting go of things that don't serve you. Pilates is about moving your body as a whole - and working the parts of your body together in harmony. You can lengthen and strengthen your body to make your body work as a single unit. Think of a gymnast. Their body is balanced and co-ordinated. Pilates will bring you balance, aligning your body and mind, increasing your suppleness. Focussing on only one part of your body - your abdominals for example - is a fast route to becoming unbalanced.
A note on getting a flat stomach
In fact, if your stomach is rounded or 'domed', this could be due to such an imbalance. Work to correct this could involve releasing tightness in the shoulders, learning better alignment of your rib cage, pelvis, feet and hips and even learning how to breathe well. Overly focussing on your abs by doing traditional work such as stomach crunches or sit ups, could increase pressure in this area and actually make the issue worse. In fact, this pressure to have a flat 'bikini' body can cause us to subconsciously hold our stomachs in for a lot of the day. Continually artificially creating this 'intra-abdominal pressure' interferes with your natural bio-mechanics and again can unintentionally cause issues in other areas. So let go of the pressure to look a certain way, don't worry about holding your stomach in, and just embrace your body and breathe well. If you are working on increasing your abdominal strength - great! But do this at the same time as strengthening your back, your arms, your legs and your whole body. And do it for you - because you want to be strong, healthy and feel amazing, and enjoy living in your body every day.
So taking a pilates class is a great way to moving forwards to a more supple, balanced and lean body. But as you step onto the mat, let go of your worries about the way your body looks. Enjoy feeling good, being strong and taking care of yourself. Pilates is a great way to learn to love yourself, just as you are.