In order to understand the Pilates Method and how it works one must look to the history of Pilates then the principles thereof.
The Beginning of Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born prior to the turn of the nineteenth century, in the beginning of the 1880s. As a child he was a survivor, having contracted rheumatic fever, asthma, and rickets. He frequently found himself convalescing – not what an active young man enjoys.
Joseph responded by finding ways to improve his being through really challenging his body and his mind. He became a Renaissance Man. What I mean by that is he was a voracious reader of philosophy, science, yoga, and Zen meditation. In addition he also fenced, wrestled, did gymnastics and calisthenics. A well-rounded fellow indeed!
While touring in England with a boxer, WWI began. Because they were clearly from Germany, the pair was arrested, resulting in internment in a detention camp. From there Joseph, not being one to idle, led exercise classes for the other detainees, resulting in better health and morale. This did not go unnoticed by the English.
Eventually Joseph was made an orderly on the Isle of Man. Here he was given the responsibility of 30 patients in need of “physical therapy” ( before the phrase was coined). These wounded warriors needed movement and motivation. They received both from Joseph Pilates.
Joseph was able to devise basic Pilates exercise equipment utilizing bed springs and cot frames to facilitate movement for his patients without he himself having to move them. As a result of his inventiveness, all Joseph had to do was supervise their exercise regimen – Hoorah!!
Interestingly, the basic construction fundamentals of the Cadillac (the aforementioned Pilates equipment) are still used today.
There is more, much more to his story and we will cover that at another time.
The Principles of Pilates
As noted, Joseph Pilates was one of the first westerners to really regard Body, Mind, and Spirit as being a valid way to approach movement and healing.
Let’s look to his Principles of Pilates:
- Breathing – All begins and ends with the breath or breathing. Mindful breathing allows one to focus, uniting body and mind. Hence we integrate the rhythm of breath to our movement during Pilates exercise.
- Concentration by definition is attention and focus to the task at hand. One needs to be mindful – not mindless – in the execution of anything of worth, especially movement. Joseph felt it best to do 5 movements perfectly rather than 20 without paying attention.
- Control is very important. In order to understand the movement and maintain proper form, one must control the movement by engaging your brain and body as you move.
- Centering or focusing from the core or center of your being as you move during Pilates exercise is key. The energy should move from the center of your being radiating out to the extremities. This kind of awareness of movement and breath integration can prevent injury.
- Precision is the result of efficient movement. This result can only come with practice and utilizing the first four principles: proper breathing, concentration, control and centering.
- Balanced Muscle Development comes with developing correct alignment and form while executing Pilates exercise. Thus one becomes long, strong, straighter, and comfortable in his or her skin; confident as well.
- Rhythm and Flow are the essential ingredients in doing Pilates. Once in the “flow” of things, movement becomes more functional, smooth, and graceful. When in rhythm, additional stress on joints is somewhat lessened, thus allowing for both integration and pleasure in movement patterns.
- Whole Body Movement is about integrating the body-mind experience that allows for greater flow, balance, purposeful movement, clarity, and awareness of where one is in space and time.
- Relaxation between movement and effort is very important in the rhythm of life and exercise as well. It’s about pacing your effort, efficiently using just the correct amount of energy to complete the task, then allowing your body to release tension prior to the next movement or simply rest.
Think about that… mindful breath and movement… being really present in the world and confident in your being.
Anything is possible!