What is Pilates?

Pilates is a health and wellness program that was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates. He was born in 1883 in Germany and was actually quite ill as a child, suffering from rheumatic fever, rickets and asthma. He explored different ways to overcome the symptoms of his illness, and in the process developed a holistic health program that emphasized balance of the body and mind. He came to the United States in 1923. He and his wife, Clara, a nurse, opened a fitness studio in New York City, and their exercise style became very popular in the 1960’s. Although he is most well known for his exercises, they are just one component of the holistic approach to health and happiness that he taught.

The three guiding principles of his work are: Whole Body Health, Whole Body Commitment and Breath. In his book Your Health, published in 1934, Pilates wrote about the importance of exercise, proper diet, good hygiene, restorative sleep, fresh air, sunshine and a balance of work, relaxation and recreation. His other book, Return to Life through Contrology, published in 1945, contains 34 classic mat exercises that Pilates developed and practiced as part of his wellness program. In this book, Pilates states, “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.” He also writes, “We don’t feel old until we lose our flexibility.”

Pilates for Rehabilitation

Pilates exercises are increasingly being integrated into conventional rehabilitation programs. Physical therapists and other health care providers worldwide are recognizing the benefits of Pilates’ approach to health and fitness, and are becoming educated about how to use Pilates’ mat and equipment exercises as part of a rehabilitation program. Pilates, like yoga, emphasizes coordinating the breath with mindful movement which allows the body to develop more efficient movement patterns. Deep diaphragmatic breathing increases the circulation oxygenated blood as well as the removal of toxins and metabolic waste from the tissues of the body. Pilates referred to the cleansing effect of the breath as an “internal shower,” which results in mental and physical rejuvenation. Pilates movement principles are beneficial for any rehabilitation program. They include breathing, concentration, control, centering, precision, rhythm, balanced muscle development and whole body movement. Many Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat or on Pilates equipment that supports the body in a way that allows a person with neuromuscular challenges to perform movements that may otherwise be difficult or impossible. The equipment also allows a person to perform movements in positions that eliminate the force of gravity and provide and “unfamiliar environment” that may be easier for the body to move in. Once a movement becomes easier in that unfamiliar environment, a person may then progress to performing the exercise in a more functional position. In this way, Pilates exercises are very helpful for learning new ways of executing everyday movements and tasks or helping a person to rediscover the freedom of full, active motion that may have been inhibited by structural changes from injury or illness and the fear of experiencing pain.

Pilates for Fitness and Wellness

Pilates exercise programs are a great way to develop and maintain physical fitness balanced with mental and emotional well being. Joseph Pilates believed and taught that the balance of the mind and body was the way to achieve health and happiness. He referred to this science of mind-body control as “Contrology.” In his book, Return to Life, he writes, “Contrology is complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit. Through Contrology you first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body and then through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your mental and subconscious activities.” Pilates’ exercises quickly became popular among dancers, and are now commonly used by athletes, physical therapists, fitness instructors and the general public.

Benefits Of A Pilates Exercise Program:

  • Increased mobility, strength and coordination
  • Efficient and flowing movement
  • Restoration of natural animal movement
  • Increased self awareness and self confidence
  • Mental and spiritual rejuvenation
  • Integration of mind, body and spirit
  • A sense of well-being
  • Enhanced quality of life