What is Pilates?
Before we answer "what is Pilates" lets answer the question "who was Pilates"? Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880 to parents of Greek ancestry. As a child, he suffered from a number of ailments including rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. His life therefore became a dedication to health and wellness of the body, mind and spirit. While he was interned in England during WWI as a German National while touring as a circus performer, he started working with injured soldiers. This was the birth of the Pilates Method (originally called Contrology) as we know it today.
In 1926, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the U.S. On the ship to NYC he met his future wife Clara. Clara was a nurse and had a great influence on him regarding health. Joseph and Clara opened their first Body Contrology studio on 8th Ave in Manhattan. They quickly became known in the dance community helping to rehab injured dancers. From there Pilates fame spread to include a broad spectrum of students. They kept their studio until his death in 1967 at age 87. Joseph used to say that he was 50 years ahead of his time. Given the current popularity and profundity of the Pilates Method, I would say his comment was most prescient.
In order to better understand what Pilates is, let's build a framework of some "core" Pilates principles. Joseph was fond of quoting "it is the mind itself which builds the body." The mind/body is critical to understanding the depths of the work. When the mind is continually integrated with movement, there is a greater development of concentration and neuromuscular connection. Each exercise demands full attention to the complexity of what is happening to the body.
Breathing is another principle that is, literally, key
to life. Breathing improves circulation, helps oxygenate the muscle tissue and helps relieve muscle tension. We begin to feel each movement as a dance with our breath. The movement then becomes more fluid, free and connected. Try any exercise holding your breath or with minimal breath. Now try it with a deep, focused breath. Which one feels better?
How often do you go to a gym and see someone haphazardly, or worse, incorrectly doing an exercise? This leads me to another Pilates principle: precision. When we are precise and slow with a movement we are taking a joint to its full, safe range of movement. We are making sure the muscles and bones are balanced and that the body is properly aligned. We are focusing on quality of movement rather than quantity of movement.
Have you ever heard someone say "we are as healthy as our spines"? This is a wise statement leading me to my last, but not least, of our Pilates principles. I will always remember my master teacher, Michele Larsson say "Always teach the four food groups of the spine". They are flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation. This Pilates principle is based on axial elongation of the spine. Through a host of "core" muscles, we are able to prevent some of the ageing spinal challenges such as kyphosis and scoliosis. A healthy, balanced spine is truly a gateway to a healthier life.
There is so much more to say about Pilates! The spectrum of Karina's and my clients is so wide. They range from young people, to fitness-minded, post-rehab patients and from privates to groups and have made our jobs here at the JCC a real joy. We work on both the mat and machines allowing for a broad vocabulary in which to best facilitate our clients' needs. Every day, through Pilates, we are helping people along the road to health and wellness with a more attuned body/mind connection.
Thanks for tuning in again, Scott Meyers, Pilates Instructor