Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard of Pilates (pronounced “pih-LAH-tees”). You may have read that it’s popular with celebrities like Madonna, Jodie Foster, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Sharon Stone, and others. If you live in a small town, you might still have trouble finding a class based on Mr. Pilates’ work. But in larger cities, group mat classes are being offered in numerous health clubs, and private lessons are available in exclusive exercise salons. In addition, Pilates-based exercise videos are currently available through mail order catalogs and online, and there are numerous websites featuring information on the Pilates Method and updates on teacher certification. So if you haven’t heard of Pilates yet, it’s certainly time to become educated!
The Pilates Method of body conditioning was first conceived by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s; later, in the 1940s, it caught on with dancers and people in the performing arts. In contemporary times, its emphasis on the mind-body connection has awakened a renewed interest in this type of fitness training among people from all walks of life.
There are over 500 different exercises described in the Pilates Method, performed either on a mat or on special equipment using springs for resistance. The core concept of Pilates is strengthening of the “Powerhouse” — the central muscle groups engirdling the abdomen, back, and pelvis.
So put quite simply, Pilates is a form of exercise that’s for everyone — men and women, celebrities and everyday people, young or old, fit or flabby. Like many other kinds of exercise, Pilates increases metabolism, promotes respiratory and circulatory function, and improves bone density and muscle tone. And like Yoga and martial arts, it can help you to “get centered” and calm your nerves.
Unlike many other forms of exercise, however, Pilates balances out muscular asymmetries, streamlines your silhouette, and improves your balance, coordination, and breath control. Pilates does all this because the exercises work to simultaneously develop your muscular flexibility and your strength. The exercises also help to awaken a new body awareness, or what we call your “inner eye.”
Wake Up Your Body
Now more than ever, Pilates is pertinent to the way you live your life today. Think about your work and recreation habits. They both probably involve sitting still for extended periods of time. The result is a constant state of oxygen deprivation and disproportionate muscle development. Getting up for a short stretch or a drink of water feels great, doesn’t it? That’s because you’re satisfying your body’s natural instinct to move — and moving around works the muscles and pumps more oxygen into your brain and body. Your body craves motion, so why deny it?
Pilates is all about breathing and moving more fully — both of which we need to do more often. Over the past half-century, our “civilized” lifestyle in the West has become increasingly sedentary; while our bodies, which evolved in nature and were built for action, have not changed one iota in design. The Pilates Method puts action back into your life — natural, controlled, healthful, fluid, and graceful action.
Pilates: Yesterday and Today
So who was this Pilates character, and what makes his approach to exercise so popular?
A native of Germany, Joseph Hubertus Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever as a child. Determined to overcome his ailments, he began to study anatomy as well as Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including Yoga, weight training, wrestling, and acrobatics. He was particularly enamored of the ancient Classic Greek “ideal man” who was equally schooled in cognitive thinking, philosophy, and history, but also maintained a finely tuned, athletic body.
Pilates developed a series of floor routines that demand balance, flexibility, strength, power, agility, and acute mental focus in order to execute them correctly. He then took things one step further by combining his engineering skills with his knowledge of health and anatomy to design specialized exercise apparatus using springs, pulleys, and movable platforms to create variable-resistance workout routines.
Between the two World Wars, Mr. Pilates moved to New York, where his unique approach to fitness quickly caught on as an “underground phenomenon” with the city’s professional dance community. Significantly, most of the “Master Teachers” (original students of Joseph Pilates who went on to assimilate and teach his work) were professional dancers. Still, it is completely inaccurate to believe that one must be a dancer to benefit from Papa Joe’s work!
As often happens with true genius, Pilates’ body/mind approach to working out was about 50 years ahead of its time, and it has only begun to achieve widespread popularity in the past decade. Fitness in the New Millennium is first and foremost a search for the more balanced approach Pilates originally taught back in the 1940s.
Today, people everywhere (not just in Hollywood!) are discovering the benefits of the exercises and innovative apparatus designed by Joseph Pilates. Professional athletes and dancers, pre- and post-natal women, senior citizens, weekend warriors, and couch potatoes alike are enjoying his unique method of attaining physical fitness. And with its emphasis on mental focus and concentration, the mind is refreshed as well as the body.
More good news: With the Pilates approach to a balanced body, it isn’t necessary to do scores of mindless, boring, repetitive, and exhausting exercises to achieve spectacular results (you might as well them “vexercises”!). With Pilates, you’re not likely to suffer undue muscle strain, so there’s little risk of injury.
What you can expect is a longer, leaner line to the musculature — think of a beautiful ballet dancer or finely sculpted racehorse. Other improvements include better posture, higher energy levels, and increased coordination, balance, flexibility and strength. Regular practitioners also boast better body awareness, which carries through into improved practical function in all daily activities, including playing sports. One precisely executed Pilates session is worth more than several hours at the gym — and afterward you’ll feel invigorated, not exhausted.
This website offers a treasure trove of free Pilates information, so please feel free to browse to your heart’s content and learn a little more about the subject. If you like what you see, we hope you take the next step and begin incorporating Pilates into your regular fitness regime. It may very well change your life.