What is Pilates?
Pilates is an exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility and improve overall health. Exercises are performed on a mat and on specially designed equipment. The Pilates method includes exercises for every part of the body and applications for every kind of activity. Created in the early part of the 20th century, over 10 million people are now practicing Pilates in the United States and the numbers are growing every year.
Why is Pilates so popular?
Pilates focuses on engaging the mind with the body to create exercises that involve the whole body. Every exercise is performed with attention to the breath, proper form and efficient movement patterns. Pilates strengthens the core, improves balance, increases coordination and decreases stress. The exercises are relatively safe, low impact and appropriate for anyone from 10 to 100. Pilates focuses on learning to move better so the benefits are felt in everyday life.
Pilates is used in fitness centers, private studios, rehabilitation clinics and hospitals to improve the health and well being of clients from the recently injured to the super fit. As more and more people participate, Pilates continues to grow and evolve to meet the needs of anyone wanting to improve their ability to move with strength, ease and grace.
A Brief History of the Pilates Method
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany around 1880. He had rheumatic fever, asthma and rickets as a child and was plagued by a weak respiratory system. In order to improve his own health he began exploring ways to strengthen his body and his mind. In pursuit of this goal he participated in boxing, fencing, wrestling and qymnastics. as well as exploring yoga and zen meditation.
Joe was in England touring with a boxer when World War 1 broke out. He was held as a resident alien in an internment camp near Lancaster for the duration of the war. While in the camp he took it upon himself to lead his fellow detainees in a daily exercise program. According to Joe, when the influenza epidemic of 1918 - 1919 broke out, none of the inmates who followed his regimen got sick.
Based on his success, Joe was given the job of an orderly at a hospital on the Isle of Man. His exercises helped his patients get better faster and helped them to fend off muscular atrophy, loss of aerobic capacity, and a weakened immune system, all consequences of the extended bed rest required for their treatment. During his time as an orderly, Joe came up with the idea of attaching springs to the patient's bed frames and thus the first Cadillac was born! Now the patients could exercise themselves under Joe's supervision.
After the war ended, Joe returned to Germany but soon fled to America after being approached by the Nazis to train their police force. On the boat passage over he met his soon-to-be-wife Clara. Clara was a nurse who became a true partner for Joe, working beside him in the studio every day.
When Joe and Clara arrived in New York in 1926, they rented a small studio in the same building as the New York City Ballet on 8th Ave. and started teaching what Joe named "Contrology." Joe worked with clients from all walks of life but he made an especially strong impression on the dance community, working with Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis, George Balanchine and many others who sent their injured dancers to Joe for rehabilitation following injuries.
Joe was an inventor who was always working on developing new exercise equipment. He designed the Universal Reformer, the Wunda Chair, the Cadillac, the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector and many other wonderful inventions during his lifetime.
Joe haddream of introducing his vision of mind-body fitness into every aspect of life, from elementary schools to military training, and, had he not been so far ahead of his time, it might have happened. Instead he taught a small group of devoted teachers and students, a few of whom went on to continue the work and keep it alive until the rest of the world caught up with his revolutionary thinking.
Joe's studio was destroyed by fire in 1967 and he died soon after that from complications of smoke inhalation. His wife Clara carried on the work until her death in 1977.
Pilates has now become a household word thanks to the work of the first generation teachers who kept the method alive after the death of Mr. Pilates. They include: Romana Kryzanowska, Eve Gentry, Ron Fletcher, Carola Trier, and Kathleen Stanford Grant (all deceased); and the two remaining "Pilates Elders" who are still with us: Lolita San Miguel, and Mary Bowen.