We asked Vanessa Michielon, Head of Pilates and Yoga Master Coach at Soma.house, to give us the lowdown on all things Pilates, including the different styles of practice, the benefits it brings and how she takes the time to find her own Balance.
What are the core principles and beneﬁts of Pilates?
Pilates is a system of exercises aimed at aligning and sculpting the body through functional dynamic patterns and continuous ﬂow of breath and movement. Based on principles such as concentration, precision and control, this practice strengthens the core and stabilises the joints, improves posture and builds lean and toned muscle, but also expands your range of motion safely. Every action is deliberate and every part of the movement, from the initiation to the completion, is important. A well structured Pilates session leaves you feeling more flexible and spacious, refreshed and empowered.
Will Pilates get me ﬁt?
Yes, Pilates can really change your body and make you ﬁt without creating bulk, because it strengthens, mobilises and stretches all the major muscle groups. Of course, the beneﬁts and results will vary depending on many factors, including the style, approach and level of intensity of the session. In my classes I often fuse elements of contemporary mat pilates and mobility training, and sometimes introduce standing dynamic sections set to music, but others might stick to a slower practice. Recently one of my private students, who has always been very active and enjoys lifting weights, told me “I had no idea these tiny movements could be so hard! I have never felt such an intense burn!”
If you love practicing cardiovascular training and activities that in general tend to overload and hyper-stimulate only certain muscles, Pilates encourages you to explore all planes of movement and strengthens right and left sides, and front and back chains equally, so it can quickly rebalance your entire system. As the emphasis is often on keeping the core and the pelvis stable, you literally train your brain to automatically recruit the protective shield of muscles around your spine, which means you are more likely to save your back the next time you sprint, lift or attack.
How can Pilates complement other types of ﬁtness, such as running or boxing?
Moreover, by learning how to activate the deep musculature, the “stabilisers”, not only you can protect your joints better in high impact activities, but you can ﬁnd much more power, control and range of motion because the mobilisers – the muscles that literally move you – can work more efﬁciently and at their full potential. Pilates also offers you a wonderful opportunity to train your focus and breath, to connect body and mind in motion and to improve ﬂexibility, which are all key to optimal athletic performance.
Where is the best place to start for someone looking to get into Pilates?
I would recommend to sign up for a couple of private sessions with a knowledgeable teacher to assess your current posture, alignment and core strength while becoming familiar with the main principles and vocabulary. If you don’t learn to practice the exercises correctly from the beginning, the work won’t be as effective and safe.
What is the difference between reformer Pilates and mat Pilates? Can a beginner do either?
What’s the most important part of your self-care routine? What else do you make time for?
Even if both the exercises and beneﬁts are very similar between the two, in mat Pilates you use your own body weight (sometimes small equipment such as elastic bands, balls, rings or blocks) as a resistance, while on a reformer your movement is limited or supported by pulleys, bars and springs.
Beginners can get fantastic results from both: typically they are encouraged to keep movements smaller and slower to perfect execution instead of looking at big range of motion and speed. Usually it is recommended to start with mat Pilates, in order to achieve clarity and control of subtle movements and activate the postural muscles correctly, but some newbies or hyper-mobile people might ﬁnd the assistance and immediate feedback from the reformer a very useful tool to improve bodily awareness and precision.
How often do you personally practice Pilates?
I am a strong believer in cross-training, so I practice Pilates once or twice a week, and on the other days I alternate yoga, contemporary dance, TRX or barre.
Movement improvisation is the non-negotiable part of my self care routine: it’s playful, it moves the joints in every possible way, it can make you sweat and completely transform your energy levels. If you have never tried it, you basically play with the body to “solve problems” around tasks or ideas and get where you would never analytically think you could go. Because you are not copying someone else or judging the outcome, it feels extremely liberating, for me the fastest route to meditative states.
I ﬁnd my balance by cultivating an intuitive approach to movement and paying attention to what my body is craving for in terms of training, instead of forcing myself to stick to impossible and highly repetitive exercise routines, which are not sustainable in the long term.
I have been sharing this in my programme “Landscapes of the Body” with people of all backgrounds and it’s magic to see how they transform into more conﬁdent, connected and mindful movers within a few sessions! Other important habits include sleeping 8 hours per night (ideally), journalling, spending time in nature and going to the theatre.
How do you #FindYourBalance?
After 30 years of practicing mindful movement, from dance to yoga, barre to Pilates, I now feel a variety of practices is what works best for me, as this allows me to channel different qualities and energies, and it always keeps me curious! By choosing physical activity as a pleasure and not as a punishment, I have also developed a much healthier relationship with my self image.
Vanessa is a London-based Yoga, Pilates and Dance teacher, and founder of Landscapes of the Body, a project that invites us to discover a more mindful way of inhabiting our bodies and moving with intention. Informed by 30 years of passionate study of movement, from Ballet to Somatic Practice and Community Dance, she has developed the desire to help people cultivate a deeper mind and body connection, with genuine curiosity and self-examination. She is currently Head of Pilates and Yoga Master Coach at Soma.house, and Sweaty Betty Ambassador.
Find out more about Vanessa on her website and Instagram pages