The History of Pilates
Pilates is actually the surname of the man who invented Pilates. Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, and as a child suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. From a young age, he spent his life focused on improving his health and body condition and overcoming his frailties by experimenting with many different physical activities such as gymnastics, yoga, boxing and martial arts. He used aspects of each of these activities to develop his own body. By absorbing these and selecting the most effective features he was able to find the perfect balance of strength and flexibility through his training. There are photos of Joseph Pilates looking fit and strong, skiing and doing Pilates exercises well into his 70’s.
Joseph was way ahead of his time viewing the body holistically and not just looking at the specific problem areas. He also explored the mind and body connection through using specific breathing techniques.
In 1912, Joseph Pilates moved to England from Germany, training further as a boxer and self- defence instructor. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he was put into an internment camp with other German nationals in Lancaster and then later on the Isle of Man where he trained other inmates, a lot of them war veterans. Many had been horrendously wounded and these injuries had, in some cases, resulted in amputations. With the knowledge he had acquired, Joseph was able to help these men by developing training techniques and rehabilitation programmes, with amazing success.
After the war, Joseph returned to Germany to train the Hamburg Military Police in self-defence and fitness. In 1926 decided to emigrate to the US at the age of 45 to start a new life. He met his wife-to-be Clara, a dancer, on the Atlantic crossing. Both shared the same views on health and fitness and when they reached the US, they decided to set up a studio in New York. Although the studio on 8th Avenue in Manhattan was open to everyone, his exercise regime attracted and became closely associated with dancers as there were a number of dance studios in close proximity. Again, just like he had done during the First World War with the inmates in the internment camps, Joseph was able to help the dancers not only with training but with conditioning and rehabilitation from injury. Many of these dancers became students of Joseph Pilates and then in time became teachers themselves, passing on to others what they had learned from him.
Today Joseph Pilates great legacy remains his classic exercise programme called ‘the Pilates Method’.
What is The Pilates Method?
Originally, Joseph developed a series of mat exercises designed to build abdominal strength and body control which he called “Contrology”. This has since become known as the Pilates Method.
The Pilates Method is not just a set of exercises but rather an approach to mind-body training, a thoughtful movement method. Joseph Pilates drew inspiration from many disciplines including martial arts which focuses on slow, controlled, flowing movements performed with thoughtful awareness.
The basic philosophy behind the Pilates Method consists of 8 fundamental principles:
We generally hold a lot of tension in our bodies and the starting point of any class is to begin to relax, stand in alignment and drop the mind into the body with the breath. We also learn how to recognise areas of unwanted tension such as in the back of the neck and shoulders, and how to release this tension through the Pilates moves.
Good alignment is essential, and you are checked while performing the moves in class to make sure you have the correct position, whether standing, sitting or lying down. Each part of the body should be in line while exercising. You then reduce the possibility of injury and in turn through better body alignment improve your posture and movement patterns.
Whatever level you are working at, all the exercises need to take place from a stable centre using “core” muscles which are a set of deep muscles found in the pelvis, abdomen and lumbar area of the back. Centring is achieved by activating these tonic holding muscles in this area in the required static position at a low level, and it’s important to do this in order before carrying out the moves. “Core Stability” should control and stabilise the position of the pelvis, spine, torso as well as the shoulders, neck and head and allows the Pilates movements in class to be initiated safely from a stable base.
We often use just 50% of our lung capacity when we breathe holding our breath without even knowing it. We rarely use the many muscles linked with breathing in the body fully, which can lead to problems such as shortened painful muscles and bad posture. Focused Pilates breathing through class not only strengthens the “core” muscles needed for good stability but maximise the body’s ability to stretch, relax and open, particularly around the chest, neck and shoulder area.
As with yoga and Qigong, consistent but relaxed, deep breathing is essential to allow flowing movement and in turn proper muscle balance. Correct Pilates breathing is something we work on through the term. Deep, rhythmical breath while moving is not always easy to do, but when you get it you feel great and improve not only your posture but your general health and well-being.
Pilates is a series of flowing movements. Slow continuous movement, lengthening the muscles and mobilising the joints from a strong centre, training the body to move smoothly in alignment and evenly through full range of motion. People often start the classes with limited, restricted movement and after time a fuller range is achieved.
Focusing the mind on each and every movement will develop your body’s sensory feedback and will enhance your ability to perform the movements correctly and safely in class.
Through focused concentration we look at proprioception which allows us to understand where the body is placed in space when stationary or moving and is something we concentrate on in class. It’s amazing how unaware we are of how we stand and move through our day, and how movements repeated repetitively many times a day can get us into trouble and lead to pain if done incorrectly. Through the classes we aim to improve our awareness of where our body is in space through concentration to help us move our bodies more safely and freely.
Through the classes we progressively challenge our stability and build strength and endurance through repeated slow, quality movements. Through time, our stamina will increase tenfold, giving us more energy and preparing us to use our bodies correctly with improved movement patterns while carrying out our daily activities.
It’s important to coordinate your alignment with your breathing, your centring and your movement. Learning this is excellent mental and physical training (the mind and body connection), stimulating the nervous system and movement patterns of the body in the correct sequence through the exercises.
Coordinating these repeat movement patterns regularly through the class, will start to change the way you move for the better in daily life. We start off slowly in the beginners class, and build up to more complex movement patterns often using resistance and load in the intermediate, advanced classes.
Is Pilates for everyone?
Pilates can be enjoyed by everyone irrespective of age, gender, fitness level, ability or experience. The online Pilates classes are particularly beneficial to people who have to sit and stand most of the day and need relief from related movement dysfunction. Sports people such as marathon runners and golfers can gain an added variety to their training and seek to improve form and enhance performance whilst counteracting sporting injury.
Why do Pilates?
There is good scientific evidence that Pilates is effective in the treatment of lower back pain. It is commonly used for rehabilitation, maintenance and injury prevention. Pilates focuses on lengthening and strengthening muscles, improving alignment and core stability. Practising Pilates facilitates better health (particularly back health) and good body awareness through the development of the mind and body connection using breathing techniques. Here are some of the many benefits:
Benefits of Pilates
- Better mind/body connection
- Core strength and greater muscle tone
- Increased muscle and joint flexibility and mobility
- Improved alignment and posture
- Deep breathing
- Improved concentration
- Stress relief and relaxation
- Better balance and proprioception
- Reduction in back pain
Pilates can help with
- Neck pain
- Lower back pain
- Joint and muscular pain
- Knee pain
- Calf strains
- Hamstring strain
- Chronic pain
- Shoulder pain/ rotator cuff issues
- Hip pain
- Repetitive sprains and strains