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.
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.
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.
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.