According to the founder of Pilates, “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” During his time at an internment camp in World War I, Joseph Pilates enabled bedridden patients to exercise by rigging springs to the hospital beds for resistance; these rudimentary machines led to later innovations in Pilates machines. Thus began a new trend in exercise.

For decades now, many athletes and dancers have incorporated Pilates’ practices into their training. In more recent years, Pilates has gone mainstream. We spoke with local Pilates instructor Tehila Marks on why starting a program can be life-changing.

One benefit is a greater awareness of the body’s balance. Tehila says that in doing day-to-day tasks, we all have a tendency to favor one side of the body, whether it’s from toting a purse on the same shoulder or leaning to one side while driving. Learning to pay attention to balance can alleviate or prevent pain and injury.

A good Pilates instructor will work on balanced muscle development. This type of exercise promotes the building of long, lean muscles. With an emphasis on stretching as much as strengthening, Pilates can help to create a leaner look, and strengthen muscles without bulking up.

Even if you’ve never taken a class, you’ve probably heard that Pilates is “good for the body’s core.” What exactly is this “core?” It is composed of the abdominal, lower back and pelvic floor muscles. Enhancing its strength and balance provides a strong frame for the body and keeps other muscles and joints relaxed. But it isn’t all physical. An enhanced connection between mind and body is also developed. Joseph Pilates calls this concept “contrology.” He says that its result is “gaining the mastery of the mind over the complete control of the body.” A focus on breathing also encourages mental health. According to The Pilates Method Alliance Study Guide, “Full consistent inhalation helps the circulatory system nourish all the tissues with oxygen-rich blood while carrying away impurities and metabolic waste. Pilates referred to this cleansing mechanism as the ‘internal shower’ which results in mental and physical invigoration and rejuvenation.”

Click here for more information about Tehila and her upcoming classes at Riverside’s newest Pilates studio.

Although she recommends working closely with an instructor when first learning Pilates, Tehila says that anyone can benefit from becoming more aware of the spine and the chest. She suggests that on a mat at home you can start by, “doing a forward bend, a backward bend, a side bend…just to get that movement in your back.” The other important step to a healthier physique is to stretch and “open” the chest. “Opening the chest is very important,” she says. “Just putting a pillow behind your upper back or a small ball will help to stretch the chest.”

Tehila has practiced Pilates for nine years and taught for eight. She began her training in Israel where she was born and raised. “I went to a free class through work and fell in love.”

Although Pilates has the potential to be transformational, Tehila cautions that it is very important to be patient with the results. Quoting Joseph Pilates she says, “In ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty, you will see the difference and in thirty you’ll be on your way to having a whole new body.”