Pilates takes its name from its inventor Joseph H Pilates, who was born in Germany 1883, but settled in New York City in the 1920’s where he lived with his wife Clara until his death in 1967, impressively strong and fit at the age of 83. He suffered from several illnesses in his early life such as rickets and asthma but overcame his challenges using natural methods to become a champion boxer, weightlifter and highly regarded self-defence trainer. He had a colourful life and left his mark on the world with his contributions to health and fitness not just in the content of his teachings but the amazing machines and tools he incorporated into his methodology.
Pilates, often affectionately known as ‘Uncle Joe’ defined the principles of a unique holistic approach to physical training which he named ‘Contrology’. Put simply his method sets out to practice and enhance full mental control over the whole body. The benefits of this method include; improved movement skills, better breathing habits, more natural muscle balance and healthier spinal mobility and postural alignment. However he was not only a visionary in the field of exercise and anatomy but he was also a genius inventor.
His method incorporated the use of a range of large apparatus or ‘machines’ of his own patented designs which use the mechanics of springs, pulleys, moving bars and pedals to create closed-chain feedback to the nervous system, greatly enhancing body awareness. The Universal Reformer, Trapeze table or Cadillac, the Wunda-Chair, etc allow for unprecedented precision and effectiveness of mind and body training.
According to his book ‘Return to Life’ -1945 Mr Pilates’ main goal with his method was to respond to the health challenges of modern life and the resulting dysfunctional habits that contemporary work and leisure produce. He believed that modern lifestyles were driving physical pain, disease and poor mental health. The first chapter in the book is boldly titled ‘civilisation impairs physical fitness’. He makes the case for a regime of mindful and anatomically precise style of physical exercise that promotes a more natural and harmonious physique.
“I don’t personally like to define what Pilates is for anyone else, its meaning will be unique to everyone. What I can tell you is that for me it really was the return to life Mr Pilates wrote about. Those who have lived with prolonged pain will understand how inspiring that idea is and hopefully the simple philosophy of Pilates can offer hope of change to us all.
Personally I see the idea return to life as much as a return to nature, as Pilates describes it is by looking to nature as our blueprint for a healthy lifestyle we can work to undo whatever it was that lead us to where are.
In our Pilates practice we can produce real change in every repetition, we can start over every session. With this method we seek to truly understand our challenges and rebuild ourselves compassionately. It is for you, me and everyone to take control and work with this method. We should never give up on a better quality of life