Does Pilates give me wings?

…And the reason why Pilates makes you feel taller

Have you ever walked out of your Pilates class feeling like you are floating on air, your head suspended off off your shoulders as if it were filled with helium?

Now it’s not in your imagination, it’s actually in the fibres of your muscles, the communicators within your ligaments and joints. The feeling indicates that your proprioceptors are being stimulated and that your body is receptive to the movement you are enjoying.

Proprioception comes from a Latin word meaning unconscious perception of movement. 

‘Proprioception is the sense through which we perceive the position and movement of our body, including our sense of equilibrium and balance, senses that depend on the notion of force’ (Jones, 2000).

Improved proprioception decreases your chance of injury, improves injury recovery and is associated with dynamic stabilisation – sounds like a Pilates conversation right!

Everything we resonate with in Pilates: correct joint placement, controlled movement, an awareness of what we are doing and how we are doing it is the role of our proprioception receptors. So when you practice what we preach you are stimulating your proprioceptors. It’s a match made in Pilates Heaven. 

Do you ever watch an elite athlete and think to yourself how easy it looks? I’m a surfing fan and I love watching the pros make wave riding look so effortless, as if they are floating on the green, dancing ahead of the white water as it peels across the ocean, when in fact, I know that surfing is one of the toughest activities to master and takes more effort and power than anything I had ever tried.

Also referred to as ‘being in the zone’, you really do have this moment of effortless movement, as if you are walking on water, floating in space, and the whole experience is fulfilling of mind, body and spirit. This is the moment you ride the green, feeling one with the ocean, when time stands still and you flow with grace. It’s the most amazing feeling in the World and it’s what keeps us going back for more, putting in the effort, pushing through the struggle, looking for the zone, when you perform so perfectly, your body moving serendipitously.

‘Proprioception encompasses three aspects, known as the ‘ABC of proprioception’. These are: agility, balance and coordination. Agility is the capacity to control the direction of the body or body part during rapid movements, while balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium by keeping the line of gravity of the body within the body’s base of support. Coordination is the smoothness of an activity. This is produced by a combination of muscles acting together with appropriate intensity and timing’ (Houglum, 2001).

You may notice as you age that proprioceptive exercises become more challenging, your balance and co-ordination ability is impaired which results in a risk of falling or just being ‘clumsy’.

The beautiful thing about Pilates is that we focus on the finer movements, in a controlled environment and as with every cell in your body, even your proprioceptors are continually rebuilding, albeit at a slower pace. So, with regular practice you can improve your proprioception, improve your skills and benefit from that feeling of weightless joy. 

So next time you leave your Pilates class walking on air, know that the sensation is real and the benefits are far reaching, and ‘extremely important in motor learning, smooth motor learning, and preventing injury’ (Verhagen et al., 2004).