Pilates

An Exercise in Balance: The Pilates Phenomenon

"I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."

- Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965, age 86

Well, maybe not the whole world, but certainly much of this country, parts of Canada, Europe, most of Asia are experiencing the explosion in demand for Pilates.  Pilates is both a method of exercise and a belief system.  The movements designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body. With systematic practice of specific exercises coupled with focused breathing patterns, Pilates has proven itself invaluable not only as a fitness endeavor itself, but also as an important adjunct to professional sports training and physical rehabilitation of all kinds.  

Another fad? A cult for the over-privileged? Think again. With the aging of our population and the increasing trend toward mindful, moderate health practices, Pilates is more likely to find itself with a wait list at the YMCA, and in your local public schools--shaping the fitness ideals of our next generation.

Practiced faithfully, Pilates yields numerous benefits. Increased lung capacity and circulation through deep, healthy breathing is a primary focus. Strength and flexibility, particularly of the abdomen and back muscles, coordination-both muscular and mental, are key components in an effective Pilates program. Posture, balance, and core strength are all heartily increased. Bone density and joint health improve, and many experience positive body awareness for the first time. Pilates teaches balance and control of the body, and that capacity spills over into other areas of one's life.

Joseph Pilates, demonstrating the importance of his unique exercise equipment

Around 1914, Joseph Pilates was a performer and a boxer living in England and, at the outbreak of WWI, was placed under forced internment along with other German nationals in Lancaster, England. There he taught fellow camp members the concepts and exercises developed over 20 years of self-study and apprenticeship in yoga, Zen, and ancient Greek and Roman physical regimens. It was at this time that he began devising the system of original exercises known today as "matwork", or exercises done on the floor. He called this regimen "Contrology." A few years later, he was transferred to another camp, where he became a nurse/caretaker to the many internees struck with wartime disease and physical injury. Here, he began devising equipment to rehabilitate his "patients," taking springs from the beds and rigging them to create spring resistance and "movement" for the bedridden.

In a way, Pilates equipment today is not much different than that of yesteryear. Spring tension, straps to hold feet or hands, supports for back, neck and shoulder are as important now as it was then. Because of the remarkable nature of the equipment to both challenge and support the body as it learns to move more efficiently, the inimitably designed pieces truly act as a complement to the challenging "matwork" exercises.

Joseph Pilates, on Pilates

While Joe was the outspoken force behind his method, his wife Clara, a trained nurse, quietly incorporated his concepts and exercises in ways that benefited more seriously ill or injured clients. Her approachable style and special techniques spawned a dedicated lineage of teachers whose work flows through and uniquely colors the landscape of the Pilates method today. It is perhaps because of Clara that Pilates is clearly recognized as a positive form of movement-based exercise that truly can be tailored to any level of not just fitness, but also of health.

Go to the next page on Pranic Healing.

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Last modified: 08/06/08