‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness’ – Joseph Pilates
The benefits of Pilates
Pilates is a wonderful method of total body conditioning. Focusing on the powerhouse of the body (the core muscles of the abdomen, lower back and pelvis), its aim is to strengthen and improve the muscular structure around the base of the spine. Most of the exercises are designed to strengthen and balance these core muscles, to keep them working in a consistent manner. It is based on the theory that if the powerhouse is being used appropriately, with the spine fully supported, then the limbs will be able to move in a more co-ordinated and connected manner.
This focus brings with it a whole host of benefits to the body and mind including:
•Increased strength, flexibility and range of motion
•Improvement in balance and posture (Pilates exercises work to strengthen and lengthen muscles, without building bulk, resulting in long, lean muscles)
•Heightened body awareness and body control (which is useful not only in sports, but in everyday activities too)
•Releasing tension and promoting relaxation (through concentration and breathing)
It is suitable for all levels of fitness, and for the young and old, as the complexity of the exercises can be increased as muscle strength and flexibility improve.
A brief history of Pilates
Joseph Pilates (born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1883) was a sickly child, suffering from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. As the son of a gymnast and naturopath, he was determined to improve his own physical strength, and threw himself from a young age into many forms of exercise (including body-building, gymnastics, wrestling and diving). He educated himself in anatomy and by the age of 14 had achieved such an ‘anatomical ideal’ that he was posing as a model for anatomy charts.
He went on to study Eastern and Western philosophies and had particular interest in Greek and Roman exercise regimens. He passionately believed in the connection between mental and physical health and came to believe that ‘modern’ life-style, poor posture and inefficient breathing was the root cause of many health problems.
Joseph Pilates developed Contrology (the unique system of physical exercises we now call Pilates) over the course of the early 20th century. During WW1, whilst interned with other German nationals on the Isle of Man, Joseph taught and practised his health and physical fitness programme, devising equipment to help the disabled and sick. He is credited with helping many recover from wartime disease through his programme.
He and his wife set up their first studio in New York City in 1926 and attracted many influential followers, including dancers, circus performers, gymnasts and athletes. He dreamt of seeing his work embraced by the masses and being taught in schools, believing children should be given knowledge of the body from a young age. He was very much ahead of his time in his thinking and believed Pilates offered a path to total health – in mind, body and spirit.