The Pilates Method is much more than just a fitness regime; it is part of a broader philosophy that includes creator Joseph Pilates' thoughts on adequate sunshine, right livelihood, and even the types of furniture one should sit on. These philosophies will be the subject of an upcoming post, so today I will focus on the more familiar aspect of the his work, the physical practice.
Originally called Contrology, Pilates is best described as a dynamic system of full-body exercises performed on a mat and on specially-designed equipment, created almost 100 years. Joseph Pilates' exercises help to integrate breathing, alignment and movement while uniformly toning your body's muscles. Using the resistance of springs and pulleys, or just gravity in Pilates mat practice, Pilates works to enhance your range of motion, improve your coordination, increase your flexibility, and build core strength.
Joseph was born in 1883 in western Germany. His father, a native of Greece, was a competitive gymnast and his mother worked as a naturopathic doctor. From the time he was a young boy, Joseph suffered from rickets, asthma, and rheumatic fever. Determined to heal himself, he dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength; his regime included skiing, body-building, yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics. He observed the movements of animals in the wild: their efficiency, freedom and natural range of motion, and came to believe that lack of movement, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor human health.
During World War I, the British authorities interned him along with other German citizens in an internment camp, where he taught self-defense and wrestling. It was here that he began to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he labelled "Contrology." It is said that the people he trained survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to their good physical shape. Later, attempting to aid soldiers who were injured and bed-ridden, he had the idea to take springs from their hospital beds and rig them to create resistance so they could recover by doing gentle corrective movements. Upon moving to New York City in 1925, he perfected these simple designs to create equipment such as The Reformer and Cadillac, which remain the mainstays of Pilates practice today. Watch a one-minute video of archival Pilates footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1g3dPWBuOQ8