Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

What is Pilates? 



What is Pilates?   

…Jeanne Davis interviews Anoushka Boone, a Pilates instructor and member of The Pilates Foundation UK Ltd.,

Jeanne Davis:  Anoushka, Pilates is one of the hot buzz words in fitness circles and articles these days. But what is it?

Anoushka Boone:  Pilates is a an exercise system, a mental and physical conditioning programme, with a focus on developing strength in the abdomen and lower back. 


JD:   How long has it been around? Who founded it?  

AB:  A man named Joseph Pilates (Pill-ah-teas) born in Germany in 1880. He was a sickly child who suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. He was determined to overcome these illnesses and developed his own set of  exercises to give his body the perfect balance of strength and flexibility. He came to the United States after the first World War. Early devotees who flocked to his New York studio included such dance legends as Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and George Balanchine.  Pilates is still very popular with dancers and athletes. 

JD:  I know through my classes with you that we work through a series of exercises with the emphasis on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.This is supposed to help change the way you look, the way you feel and the way you move. How does that happen? 

AB:  These muscles are attached to the spine and strengthening them strengthens the spine. And straightens you. I found that I grew a half inch practising Pilates. And that was simply due to correcting postural alignment and strengthening the spine. Pilates has been very helpful for people with both sacro-iliac (low back) pain, thoracic (mid-back) pain and neck pain as well.    

JD:  Laterlife is a website for people of 50 plus. As we age, the body develops certain problems. The spine shrinks, gets less flexible. We are prone to more back pain. Women, in  particular, develop a rounded back known as “the widows’ hump” partly due to osteoporosis. From your previous answer, Pilates seems to be made for us. Are there other ageing problems that Pilates helps to correct

AB:  You breathe better, your circulation and your respiratory system improves. And your balance. For menopausal women toning your muscles helps prevent  middle-aged spread. 

JD:  I notice quite a few men in our Pilates class. Why do they come?   

AB:  They really like the abdominal work. It’s harder for them and they really sweat. They can take the postural awareness that they learn into sports - women too, of course. A lot of sports professionals use Pilates. They find it reduces injuries. 

JD: There was recently an interview with novelist Martin Amis who has become a devotee of Pilates. He says he has learned to use the pelvic floor strength to his advantage.  “If I am on the beach and a pretty girl walks past, I don’t suck my stomach in as I used to –I just engage the perineum (that’s the area between the anus and the scrotum or vulva). 

AB:  Martin works with special equipment for his Pilates. We’ve been doing mat-based work. Either is just as effective. But it is important to remember that before you join a Pilates class—or any other fitness class—ask the teacher whether they hold a recognised qualification and how long their training programme was. A good course takes months, not days.

JD:  How do I find a qualified teacher or class in my area?.  

AB:  Contact the Pilates Foundation UK Limited.  Tel  07071 781 859. 


Also PO Box 36052, London SW16 1XQ

(Anoushka Boone can be contacted on 07711 571 249 or 0208 746 1199 or email )   

JD:  Could you describe one of the exercises for laterlife? 

AB:  I’ll be happy to. But remember it is always wise to consult your doctor, if you have specific problems, before you take up a new exercise regime. And to learn the correct positions and breathing it is more effective if you join a class or work with an individual instructor first. 


This particular exercise involves abdominal, hamstrings, gluteus support. At the same time you are working on flexibility of the spine. 

Starting position:

        Lie on your back on the floor with your knees together (you could put a small cushion between the knees), your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. A thin rubber mat to lay on is a basic Pilates accessory.                                                                       

        Your arms are by your side, your forearms and palms of the hands flat on the floor, fingers stretching towards your heels.

        Your head rests flat on the floor, your neck in line with your spine. Your shoulder blades are flat and open. Become aware of your neutral spine position, a natural curve of the spine. Bottom of the rib cage and base of the spine are in contact with the floor, maintaining a natural arch in the small of your back. 

        Breathe into your middle back, wide and full  

        Breathe out, focus on a point just above the pubic bone and draw that point up and in towards your spine, contracting the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles you need to use when you desperately need to pee and there is no toilet in  sight) and the deeper abdominals (traverse abdominus) as if you want to fit into a pair of trousers a size too small.

        As you continue to breathe out, lift up from lower back, shoulders still on floor.  Peel each vertebrae one by one off the mat, gently squeezing the inner thighs, bringing the sitting bone towards your tailbone, coming up as high as you can (onto your shoulder blades if possible ) keeping the spine concave.

        Make sure you don’t overarch the lower back. If you look up towards your knees, there should be a straight diagonal line from knees, to hips, to ribcage, to shoulders. Back of the neck stays long throughout the movement.

        Breathe into your middle back and pause.

        As you breathe out, slowly with control peel each vertebrae one by one back onto the floor, starting from the upper back, middle back, lower back, hips and finally tailbone.

        Repeat five times.


To view previous articles  - see the laterlife-interest index page



laterlife interest

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also regular columns of a more specialist nature such as healthwise, reports from the REACH files, and a beauty section called looking good in later life.

Also don't forget to take a look at our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT by IT trainer and author Jackie Sherman.

To view the latest articles and indexes to previous articles click on laterlife interest here or above.  To search for articles about a certain topic, use the site search feature below.




back to laterlife interest

Site map and site search


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti