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The Three Higher Principles of Pilates

Despite the complexity and scope of the Pilates method, three themes remain constant. World-renowned Pilates practitioner and teacher Rael Isacowitz calls these themes higher principles, or guides that help people navigate the lifelong exploration of Pilates. “The way we define certain elements of the work and describe the movements may change as new research is conducted and modern terminology is created,” he explains. “But these are only words, the glossary of the system. The philosophy encompassed in the higher principles never changes; it is the essence of the system itself.”


Isacowitz details the three higher principles in the second edition of Pilates, the most respected and comprehensive guide available on the Pilates method with more than 60,000 copies sold:


1. Completely coordinate the body, mind, and spirit. Isacowitz calls this goal the method's driving force. “Without recognizing this principle and integrating it into your work, you will feel that your body lacks its life force,” he says. Although the relationship between the body, mind, and spirit is in a constant state of flux, these components are present throughout our lives. “With the practice of Pilates we become aware of them. Finding the balance between them is a lifelong journey.”


2. Achieve the natural inner rhythm associated with all subconscious activities. Isacowitz points out that the highest level of motor learning you can attain is when you practice an action to the point of having it become subconscious. “This does not mean that you do it without concentration or awareness,” he stresses. “Instead, as the movement pattern becomes imprinted in your muscle memory, it becomes intuitive, and you can focus on fine-tuning as opposed to being consumed with learning the action itself.”


The founder of Body Arts and Science International (BASI Pilates) acknowledges that mastery cannot be achieved in a short time; rather, it is the reward of consistent training over a long period, sometimes years. As with any skill, such practice requires discipline and commitment on every level, as well as patience and endurance. “This is the type of dedication to the practice of Pilates that leads to mastery of the system and ultimately to well-being,” Isacowitz concludes.


3. Apply the natural laws of life to everyday living. Isacowitz reveals that Pilates founder Joseph Pilates greatly admired nature and the animal kingdom. He often wrote about the graceful and efficient movements of animals and considered them far more evolved than humans in terms of movement and muscular development. Isacowitz believes many of today's human ills and ailments are a result of people losing touch with the natural laws of living. He points out that sitting at computers for many hours a day, watching television for many more, eating far in excess of needs, consuming unhealthy foods, and choosing to drive rather than walk are just some of the lifestyle changes of the past few decades.


He says we can learn a great deal from observing animals—their movements, their instincts, and their habits. “I have learned much from watching Shiloh, my little Jack Russell Terrier,” Isacowitz admits. “He stretches his spine hundreds of times a day, usually doing what Pilates practitioners call an Up Stretch, and he definitely knows how to relax, despite his very spirited nature.”


In addition to popular mat exercises, Pilates, Second Edition, offers in-depth coverage of classic apparatus including the universal reformer, cadillac, wunda chair, step and ladder barrels, ped-a-pul, arm chair, and magic circle. Exercises include full-color photo sequences, ratings for level of difficulty, recommended resistance ranges, and explanations of how to perform the movements and why.