"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
Much of this country, parts of Canada, Europe, and Pan-Asia are experiencing the explosion in demand for Pilates, a method of exercise and physical movement 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. Widely embraced among dancers for years, the exercises are popping up in fitness classes, physical therapy offices, corporate retreats, luxury spas and wellness centers across the country. 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.
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 benefits. Bone density and joint health improve. Pilates teaches balance and control of the body, which positively influences other areas of one's life.
History of Pilates
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.
Joe's programs evolved slowly. Joe worked at length with his own instructors, allowing them to assist and then finally teach after sometimes as long as 2 or 3 years of training and apprenticeship. He was quoted as saying, "Remember Rome was not built in a day." and "Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor."
In a way, Pilates equipment today is not much different than when it began. The machines incorporate spring tension, straps to hold feet or hands and supports for back, neck and shoulders. The machines are designed to both challenge and support the body as it learns to move more efficiently. These parts of the regime act as a complement to the challenging "matwork" exercises.