Pilates History | Facts & More Detail
Joseph H. Pilates was born in Germany, in 1880. A sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, he dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger. Joe studied body building and gymnastics and by the age of 14 was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. In 1912 he moved to England earning a living as a boxer, circus performer and self-defense trainer. During World War I he was interned with other German citizens in a camp near Lancaster where he trained other inmates in fitness and exercises. It was here that the beginnings of his system of body conditioning began to take shape.
After the War, Pilates immigrated to the United States. On the ship to America he met his future wife Clara. Clara was a nurse who became a true partner for Joe, working beside him in the studio everyday and taking care of any clients Joe didn't want to work with. Joe and Clara Pilates called their method of exercise "Contrology", training clients from all walks of life. From their point of view, "Contrology" is the complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit. Pilates made an especially strong impression on the dance community working with Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis, George Balanchine and many others who sent their injured dancers to Joe's for rehabilitation following injuries.
Joe was also an inventor who was always working on developing new exercise equipment. He designed the Universal Reformer, the Wunda Chair, the Cadillac, the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector and many other genius inventions during his lifetime. Pilates practiced what he preached and lived a long healthy life. He died in 1967 at the age of 87. Joe had a dream of introducing his vision of mind-body fitness into every aspect of life from elementary schools to military training, and, had he not been so far ahead of his time, it might have happened. Today Pilates is practiced around the world by athletes, dancers, fitness professionals as well as the general public.
No matter who we are or what shape we are in, we feel how Pilates enhances the everyday activities of our lives - whether it's just bending over to pick up the newspaper or running a 26-mile marathon. And by becoming ingrained in our thought process it can move beyond the physical realm - essentially teaching us to effectively manage our entire being while providing a positive connection to our sense of self.
Pilates truly is an amazing, complete, and corrective system of exercise.
Facts & More Detail
Gravity & Opposition
Most of a Pilates workout takes place with the spine laid flat, either on the back or stomach. Joseph Pilates purposely used gravity in this way to correct the imbalances that make us slouch and shrink from being upright. Once the body is stretched out on the floor, the method then challenges the muscles that support the spine by lifting the legs, pumping the arms, rolling up, rolling down, twisting, arching, bending, etc. - As a student of Pilates, the key is to anchor your body to the floor where it touches and to stretch away from it everywhere else. You’ll create opposition in your muscles to make them strong and lean.
Pilates is different for everyone
Joe taught his method very specifically according to the client and would change the way an exercise was taught depending on what that body needed. Therefore, there is no absolute right or wrong way to perform a Pilates exercise, it depends on what your body needs.
Increased brain function
Pilates is different than many other forms of exercise because it requires the mind to pay attention to what you are doing. So instead of zoning out to a TV show on the treadmill, you focus on your body. Research shows that when required to think about how you are moving, your brain cells grow at a faster rate and your nervous system creates better connections throughout your body. Your mind and body become one; which is what Joe intended.
Grace and control
Joseph Pilates based much of his method on the powerful grace and efficiency that animals exhibit. Pilates will improve coordination and awareness of the way you move, until one day with regular practice, you’ll find yourself able to move with natural ease and control without thought. This is the ultimate goal of the Pilates method.
Reduced back pain
When the muscles of the spine strengthen and lift the vertebra away from each other, many people find their aches and pains simply disappear. There are many reasons behind this - less pressure on nerves, better lubrication of the joints and an increased awareness of the habits that lead to pain in the first place.
Pilates substantially improves circulation in the body, especially to the vital organs. The first exercise in the series, The Hundred, acts like a water pump flushing the blood through the body like an ‘internal shower’. This flush cleans the toxins, bacteria and other 'bad stuff' out of your body on a regular basis. Joe said it’s like the Immune System is a team of Firemen in the body. If the Firemen are always busy putting out small fires all over the place, when a big fire starts they’ll either be too tired or too distracted to get it out. You want your Firemen to be rested and ready to put out the big fires.
Since Pilates brings vital strength and circulation to the torso and pelvis, it preserves and even increases function to sex organs.
Beyond the physical benefits, one of the most rewarding changes gained with Pilates is confidence. One might begin taking Pilates with the wish to ‘fix’ something about your body that you don’t like. Along the way to the fix, you forget what it was you were unhappy about and begin to appreciate how good it feels to fully inhabit the body you were born with. It’s exciting to be able to use your body to it’s fullest potential and when you’ve got vibrant health, looking great is simply a bonus.