Pilates Fundamentals

The ABC of Pilates 


Correct alignment is essential to Pilates practice. If your body is out of alignment, it places huge strain on your joints, ligaments and muscles which impacts the way you move. Try and work from a neutral position when practicing pilates (read more about neutral position below).


The synchronization of breath to movements is fundamental to Pilates.  Learning the breathing techniques helps us to relax and focus. Try and notice how you breathe and develop breathing that is wide and full.  Lateral breathing is encouraged, this means that the back and sides of the ribs move up and out during the inhalation and the abdominals are not expanded. The “in” breath is taken through the nose and the “out” breath through the mouth.

As you breathe in, focus on the back and sides of the ribcage as the lungs fill with air. Breathe in through your nose and keep the shoulders down and relaxed.

As you breathe out, feel the air being pushed out fully and breathe out though your mouth as though you are fogging up a mirror.

Never hold your breath when practicing Pilates, breathe fully and naturally and your breath will help to facilitate your movements.


Also referred to as “core stability” or “the powerhouse”. Staying centered means using the appropriate muscles to stabilize the core; the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. All pilates movements demand a strong centre. Try to imagine that you are zipping yourself into a pair of jeans that are a size too small or tightening a corset around your middle and hold this contraction throughout the exercises. Don’t tighten too hard or force the contraction by gripping. Keep your buttocks relaxed and your chest and shoulders open.


Basic positions 

Relaxed Position

This is one of the first positions to learn when practicing pilates.

Lie on your back with you knees bent and feet flat on your mat.  Your legs should be hip width apart and parallel. Lengthen your arms at the side of your body with palms facing down and placed on your mat. Shrug your shoulders away from your ears and pull your shoulder blades together down your back to open up your chest.

Lengthen your spine and neck and relax into the mat. Anchor (lightly press) the back of your head, ribcage and pelvis into the mat.  Your lower back should not be fully pressed into the mat, keep a slight curve in the spine that allows the flat of your hand to fit between your back and the floor (this is called neutral spine).

How to find neutral spine

Align yourself in relaxed position and imagine that your lower abdomen is a compass.  Your naval is north and your pelvis is south.  Tilt your pelvis north by moving your pubic bone up and forward. Your lower spine will press into the mat. Now tilt your pelvis to the south by moving your pubic bone backwards and down. Your lower spine will slightly arch. Keep tilting north and south a few times, neutral spine is somewhere between the two positions.

Prone position

Lie on your front and create a diamond shape with your arms; place fingertips together with palms down on the mat and elbows open. Rest your forehead on the back of your hands and focus down with your chin neither tucked nor lifted. Place your legs hip-width apart and parallel. Distribute your weight evenly across the front of your pelvis and neither fatten nor arch your spine.

Four-point kneeling

Kneel on all fours on your mat with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.  Maintain a strong core and avoid allowing your pelvis and spine to collapse down towards the mat.  Lengthen your arms but do not lock your elbows. Keep your chest and shoulders open.  Find neutral spine by tilting your pelvis north and south and once you have found “neutral” then zip your core and hold this position. Image that you are holding a glass of water on your lower back and that you don’t want to spill any of the water.


Check out the webpage below for some great basic pilates tips and rules courtesy of Womens Health magazine.