Body Cleansing the Pilates Way

By Marguerite Ogle

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This piece by Marguerite Ogle was published in her blog . We loved it so much we decided to share it with you. If you are intrigued to practice the below try this class by Amy Alpers; which has a strong focus on breathing and the “Internal Shower”.

Internal body cleansing has become almost a mainstream idea in the past ten years or so, but there is nothing new about it. People have engaged in detox and purification practices throughout history. Fairly recently, in 1945, when Joseph Pilates published his book Return to Life Through Contrology, it is clear from his writing that he was very interested in promoting internal cleansing and rejuvenation through his holistic approach to fitness. In fact, a section of the book is entitled Bodily House Cleaning with Blood Circulation.

There is an effect of Pilates exercise that you may have experienced, or will if you stay with it.  It is a special feeling of flush through your body that happens as a result of doing the exercises as they were meant to be performed – rhythmically, with deep full breaths and a coordinated effort of body and mind. Joseph Pilates calls this the internal shower and describes it as the effect of the exercises having “discharged through your bloodstream the accumulation of fatigue products created by muscular and mental activities”. He goes on in a more inspirational way in Return to Life Through Contrology:
As the spring freshets born of the heavy rains and vast masses of melting snows on mountains in the hinterlands cause rivers to swell and rush turbulently onward to the sea, so too will your blood flow with renewed vigor as the result of your faithfully performing the Contrology [Pilates] exercises.

This quote from Joseph Pilates is a clear reminder that it is a fullness of motion and dynamic pumping of the breath that gets the blood moving and gives us that internal shower. Joseph Pilates was adamant that people learn the art of breathing fully. He thought that “every last atom of old air should be squeezed from the lungs” so that fresh, invigorating oxygen could flood the body by way of the circulatory system. Exercise helps pump the oxygenated blood all the way through the body to the furthest capillaries, nourishing them and carrying away old debris.

Other bodily systems are cleansed by exercise as well. The lymphatic system, which is part of our immune system, is pumped by the action of our muscles and dependent upon the blood to carry away toxins. The organs too are massaged and stimulated by full breathing and movement. Finally, as we exercise we develop internal heat which leads to cleansing sweat and helps activate enzymes in the body that are essential to our life systems.

Tips for Getting a Body Cleansing Internal Shower:

Here are some basic ideas you can apply to your workouts to help you take advantage of the full body cleansing potential of a Pilates workout as gleaned from Joseph Pilates writings:

  • Aim for a sense of flow in your movements and in the overall workout. Breathe. Big inhales and complete exhales. Learn more about Pilates Breathing
  • Limit the repetitions of exercises
  • Keep a steady, upbeat tempo
  • Use your rolling exercises -  Rolling and unrolling stimulates the circulation and massages the internal organs. It also cleanses your lungs by driving out impure air, says Joseph Pilates.
  • Keep a constant workout schedule
  • Move fully – use control but don’t hold back
  • Apply all of the Pilates principles in your workouts

Keep in mind that Joseph Pilates view was that toxins accumulated in the body by way of fatigue which he believed should not be part of an intelligent exercise program. This is part of his philosophy that is often overlooked but is integral to the method. The fact that there are very few repetitions of any one exercise reflects this ideal; as does his emphasis on exercises done in a reclined position so as not to strain the heart and to allow the organs to be as close as possible to their more normal positions. This is not to say that there is anything lazy about Pilates, It’s just that exercise is not pushed to a truly fatiguing level whereby toxins accumulate faster than they are cleared. That would be counter productive to the vigorous, energetic life that Joseph Pilates envisioned for all who practiced his method. Other topics Joseph Pilates taught about in order to support cleansing and avoid fatigue included sleep, weight loss, and bathing with a skin brush.
Many people think of body detox in terms of cleansing diets but consider now what a powerful body cleansing process you have available to you all the time through exercise or better yet, the combination of a healthy lifestyle and properly performed Pilates exercise.