What Is Pilates?
The Pilates® method of body conditioning is a unique system of stretching and strengthening exercises developed over ninety years ago by Joseph H. Pilates. It strengthens and tones muscles, improves posture, provides flexibility and balance, unites body and mind, and creates a more streamlined shape.
At a time when the fitness industry is tripping over itself to create new, innovative trends, the Pilates method, with more than nine decades of success, stands out as a tried-and-true formula of wisdom and unwavering results. Pilates was developed to create a healthy body, a healthy mind, and a healthy life, and people are ready to heed its message of balance.
Whether because of a new consciousness or an intense dissatisfaction with the results of trendy exercise programs, in the past five years there has been a tremendous surge in the mind-body focus movement. People are beginning to realize how inefficient the exercises of the 1980s really were. We may have bought into the no-pain-no-gain mentality, but ultimately that led us to spend too much of our precious spare time chained to the gym. We now realize that while exercise should be an important part of our lives, it should add to and not take away from our enjoyment of a full life. With Pilates, specifically the matwork, we can minimize the amount of time spent in a gym or in front of an exercise video, but maximize the results achieved from a full-body workout. The matwork teaches us that the body is the finest and only tool necessary for achieving physical fitness.
Our old exercise regimes are failing us for another reason: They are based on isolating muscles and working each area of the body individually rather than treating the body as the integrated whole it is. The poor physical condition many of us are in today comes from the imbalance of engaging in complicated, inefficient exercises that isolate certain body parts while neglecting others. If our goal in exercising is to balance our bodies, improve circulation, reduce stress, improve endurance, look better, and feel great, then wouldn't it stand to reason that we should utilize the one method that for over nine decades has proven its ability to achieve all these things?
The Pilates philosophy focuses on training the mind and body to work together toward the goal of overall fitness. Although born in a completely different era, Joseph Pilates understood the physical and mental pressures of a busy schedule. He sought to reeducate us to work our bodies with the efficiency of performing our daily tasks in mind. Pilates believed that his method would propel people to become more productive both mentally and physically. For this reason the Pilates matwork is designed to fit into the physical and time constraints of the individual without diminishing its comprehensive elements.
Pilates began developing his exercise system in Germany in the early 1900s. Plagued by asthma and rickets as a child, Pilates' method sprang from his determination to strengthen his frail and sickly body. He called his method "The Art of Contrology," or muscle control, to highlight his unique approach of using the mind to master the muscles. Interned during the First World War, he taught his method to fellow internees and successfully maintained their health through the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918. During the latter part of the war Pilates served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man, where he began working with nonambulatory patients. He attached springs to the hospital beds to support the patients' ailing limbs while he worked with them, and he and the doctors noticed that the patients were improving faster.
These spring-based exercises became the basis for the apparatus Pilates would later design to be used in conjunction with the matwork. That is why the Pilates name is often associated with antiquated-looking machines, but the matwork is the original movement system that Joseph Pilates created and is just as effective as the work done on the machines. This book shows the entire matwork sequence and has the advantage of being completely portable. The movements of Pilates matwork need no accoutrements and can be performed anywhere a normal human body can fit comfortably when stretched out at full length.
Joseph set up the first official Pilates Studio® in New York City after immigrating to the United States in 1926. Since its introduction to American culture Pilates has maintained a steady and devout following. It has been the secret of dancers and performers since the late 1920s; Martha Graham and George Balanchine were big fans. In recent years it has been discovered by athletes, models, and actors who say they owe their strong, lithe bodies to the Pilates method.
Joseph Pilates authored a book in 1945 called Return to Life. That title epitomizes the very nature of the Pilates method. Through concentrated and creative effort you too will reap the myriad benefits that this unique method of conditioning has to offer, reawakening your body through movement and your mind through conscious thought. The combination results in the extra plus of the Pilates method: a revitalization of spirit that is a crucial factor in maintaining good health and a sound mind and body.
"Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles." Joseph Pilates believed in the power of our minds to control our bodies. He proved his theory time and again through years of research and training, and his legacy has been passed down through his students.
I have been involved in health clubs in one form or another since the age of fifteen and have tried all that they have to offer. I spent years as a personal trainer using weights and machines and sincerely believed that I had put all the strength into my body that it might need. I was wrong. What I had done was create a bulky, stiff set of muscles in a young, active body. I spent hours in the gym daily trying to create a feeling of well-being that was eluding me at every turn. I continued to have aches and pains that no amount of training would alleviate, and worst of all . . . I was bored!
And then I discovered the Pilates method of body conditioning. Within a matter of weeks I began to feel the internal strength that I had craved. My movements became more controlled and responsive. I was standing straighter and feeling more energized than ever before. After a few short months my bulky muscles began lengthening and my flexibility increased tenfold. I felt as graceful and lithe as a dancer. Subsequently my aches and pains vanished and I found myself enjoying my activities more. Most important, I felt empowered by my newfound knowledge. I was interested. I was in control. I was hooked.
Two and a half months after discovering Pilates I enrolled in the certification course, and in the years since, I have enveloped myself in the world of Pilates as both student and teacher. I have trained for thousands of hours and have watched the magic of this method unfold before my eyes both in my own work and in the work of my clients.
I continue to study under the master tutelage of Romana Kryzanowska, who was chosen by Joseph and his wife, Clara Pilates, to carry on his work. I bring you The Pilates Body in the effort to further expound upon the brilliance of this method in a clear, concise, and creative way. For each movement I have provided visual and verbal cues that will stimulate your mind to action. With patience and perseverance your body will follow, allowing you to experience the efficiency of the Pilates method.
The beauty of Pilates is that once you understand the core of its philosophy, its movements can be translated into any format. Each exercise is an important movement in and of itself and can be used as a way to stretch and move correctly in the course of one's day, but it is not a limited exercise regimen. Many people use the essence of the exercises to enhance other activities; athletes, for example, employ the movements and philosophy of Pilates in their sports. But whether you're an athlete or a couch potato, young and limber or old and inflexible, the Pilates method can and does change the way you relate to your own body and the way you carry it in the world.
The power each of us holds to take control over our own well-being is startling. It begins by becoming aware of our bodies as an integrated part of our creative minds. We were all born with that power. We were all children with active imaginations that continue to live inside us. Sometimes we only need reminding. This book is that reminder. Instead of giving your power away, you will learn to harness it and use it for your very own. This book will teach you to creatively blend the power of your mind with the movement of your body in a way that is both efficient and extremely enjoyable. It is important that you understand the role you play in all of this. It's all about you. What you put in is what you'll receive, no more and no less.
Remember that with the power of your mind you can bring anything to light, so see your goal and then work to achieve it. This book will serve as a tool to help you along the path, but remember that it is your dedication to yourself that ultimately makes it all possible.
Good luck, and above all else . . . enjoy yourself!