There are a number of fundamental exercises that make up an effective Pilates routine. Throughout any of the postures, it's always important to use the core and breath to maximize effect.
A good warm up is essential to having a safe practice so try some of these before getting started:
-Imprint your spine on the mat. Lay flat with knees bent, arms at your side. Moving with your breath, gently rolling your tailbone up away from the mat and back into it again. Focus on deep inhalation and exhalation to help warm the body internally. Imagine the mat is cradling each of your vertebrae as you gently roll the tailbone up and down. Repeat at least four times before moving on.
-Roll like a ball on the mat. Using the core as the powerhouse for this exercise, place your hands behind your knees as you lay on your back on the mat. Begin rocking gently with your breath, working toward lifting the shoulders off the mat in a seated position. Continue rocking, rolling back onto the spine, tucking the chin and lifting the glutes off the mat. Repeat at least four times before moving on.
These two exercises help "wake up" the spine and increase awareness of the core.
A third warm up exercise is the swan. It encourages use of the muscles surrounding the spinal cord, and it helps warm the gluteals, hips and core.
-After rolling like a ball, stop in a seated position. Gently move onto all fours and lower your body onto the belly on the mat. It is important to imagine lengthening the body from head to toe in Swan. With this in mind, use the core to lift the shoulders and chest off the mat. The legs may lift as well, as long as length is maintained. The hands hover above the mat and are not used to press the body up off the mat. It may be helpful to imagine that the mat is freezing cold, and you must pull the abs up away from it. There are many variations depending on strength, so work on the fundamentals of Swan before adding a greater back bend to the posture.
These are just a sampling of the warm up exercises found in a Pilates workout. Every body is different, so adjustments can be made to compensate for your needs on any given day. The best part of Pilates is that it uses your own body as resistance, and can be done without any fancy props.
I'll have more workouts later in the week, so stay tuned!
All images from Pilates.about.com.