How the 6 Principles of Pilates can make you a better business leader

This week I am talking at a couple of conferences, namely The Europas and Startup Extreme on the merits of how to keep healthy in the startup world. It got me thinking – apart from the obvious benefits of having a healthier lifestyle, what can the specific Pilates principles of strength, flexibility and quality bring to the way you do business...

joseph pilates

I lead a double life. In one, I am the MD of a successful startup PR company, growing our business in the Berlin office. In the other, I teach Pilates.

I first became interested in Pilates as an antidote to my lifestyle in the startup world. Long hours, poor diet, endless hours seated at a desk, each stressful email forcing my shoulders further northward. My only workout was regularly lifting glasses of wine (although granted, I was nearing Olympic proficiency at this). I was overweight, unhappy, had RSI and various postural issues. My back always ached, my head often thumped. 

It’s no secret that employees, CEOs and indeed most human beings benefit from regular exercise, so I’m not going to prosthelytize or patronise by telling you that you need to make time to get healthy. You know this already.

Counterbalance becomes complement
The trick is finding something you love (or at least initially don’t hate), and scheduling time for it. And for me, that’s Pilates. The funny thing is, what began as a counterbalance to my business life ended up being a complement to it. Just as my business experience meant that I could built up a nice little identity for my Pilates business, so my Pilates experience started to subtly inform the way I act in my “day job”. I am (hopefully) a nicer colleague, I can focus and prioritise much more effectively, and overall my sense of perspective is healthier, my decisions stronger.

Strength is nothing without flexibility
For those who think that Pilates is “yoga lite”, “something that ladies do”, or any other such balderdash, think again: Pilates is f****ing tough. It conditions you using strength and endurance exercises that were originally formulated for professional athletes and dancers. You will *know* after you have had a Pilates session. But it also teaches you that strength is nothing without flexibility.

Developed in the first part of the 20th century by Joseph Pilates – a boxer, dancer, diver, prisoner of war and self-defence expert – Pilates operates on a  set of six principles. And just as marathon running or mountain climbing are popular with CEOs for endurance and meditation is the practice du jour to teach mindfulness in a corporate environment, I like to think that the six core Pilates principles can offer the best of both worlds:

1. Concentration
In Pilates, it’s important to maintain an overall awareness of your body during exercise. Similarly, in business, it’s important to not let your concentration slip or for distractions to creep in. Prioritise your tasks, focus.

2. Precision
Following on from that point, every movement in Pilates has a purpose. It’s about quality over quantity. Better five excellent movements than 20 middling ones. The same goes when conducting business. Focus wholly on the task in front of you, give it your best, don’t just try to get it off your desk. Fulfil it well, move on to the next.

3. Centering
In Pilates, centering means strengthening the “Powerhouse” – your core abdominals and pelvic floor. In business, it’s about focusing on your core business objectives. There are so many opportunities daily, that you need to pull back sometimes and remind yourself your key business objectives, and make sure that you’re haven’t strayed too far from these. And if you have, do you need to re-assess.

4. Flow
Movements should be smooth and graceful in Pilates. Similarly, in business it pays to be highly adaptive – you have to roll with the changes, keep it holistic, but also ultimately keep your equilibrium (see above).

5. Control
In Pilates, this is about utilising total muscle control. being strong, maintaining your position. The endurance needed to maintain some of the trickier Pilates movements can translate directly to the stamina you need to keep going in the business world. You need to be strong, you need to accept that it will be tough, and not to fold at the first challenge.

6. Breathing
All exercise in Pilates should be co-ordinated with breathing. And I think the same is true in business – don’t forget to breathe. Take a break, enjoy the moment, breathe into your challenges. Use that breath to reach further. And enjoy.

Linsey Fryatt is Germany MD for Clarity PR. Before that she was a journalist in the tech and business world. She is also founder of Pop-Up Pilates and helps the startup world to find their balance again.