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History of the Method | What is the Pilates Method?

History of the Method

The Pilates Method was developed by Joseph H. Pilates in the 1920s. He was born in Germany in 1880, and, as a frail and small child, he gained a fascination with exercises that would make him healthier, stronger and more physically attractive, making him become an accomplished gymnastic, skier, boxer and diver during his youth.

During World War I, Joseph was placed under forced internment together with other German nationals in England. During his internment, he taught fellow camp members the concepts and exercises of his "Contrology", or "Pilates Method" as it is known nowadays, which he developed after 20 years of self-study and apprenticeship in Zen, Yoga, Roman and Ancient Greek disciplines.

Nevertheless, Modern Pilates has modified and adapted many exercises to make Pilates more functional for our lifestyles today.

The "Contrology" or traditional Pilates Method consists of a series of exercises on the floor on mats ("matwork"), designed to improve flexibility and strength for the total body without building bulk. It is not just exercise, but a series of controlled movements engaging your body and mind.

A few years later, Joseph Pilates was transferred to another camp where he took care of the internees suffering from wartime disease and physical injury. It was at that point that he started designing complex exercise apparatus using springs from beds and rigging them together to create spring resistance and movement for the bedridden. With this equipment, he soon started to rehabilitate injured war victims.

This new style of exercise and specialized equipment formed the foundation of his method of body conditioning, which, in 1926, he brought to New York when he opened his first studio together with his wife Clara, in the same building as several dance studios and rehearsal spaces.

This proximity made Joseph´s "Contrology" become an integral part of many dancers' training and rehabilitation sessions. George Balanchine, the famous choreographer, studied with Joseph and recommended him to many of his dancers for strengthening and "balancing" as well as for rehabilitation, as did Martha Graham, another famous dancer and choreographer.

Later on, other dance masters such as Jerome Robbins became devoted to his method. The method also gained immense popularity among professional dancers, Broadway stars and movie celebrities (Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt, Goldie Hawn, Mathew Broderick, Jeniffer López, Liv Tailer, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Madonna, Demi Moore, Julia Roberts, Juliette Binoche y Sally Field are only a few of the famous Hollywood stars dedicated to the method).

Currently, the Pilates Method is used internationally by individuals at all levels of fitness as well as by dance companies, Broadway shows, students at performing arts schools and universities, sports teams, spa clients, and fitness enthusiasts at private health clubs and gyms.

The success of this method is due to two main reasons: The Method has a COMPLETENESS which other traditional systems lack, being anatomically-based, addressing the body’s entire mechanics with each exercise and focusing on CORPORAL RE-EDUCATION. It also meets the recent trend towards more HOLISTIC EXERCISE, offering psychological as well as physical benefit, and developing mental as well as physical fitness – As Joseph quoted: “It is the mind itself which builds the body”.

What is the Pilates Method?

The Pilates Method is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th Century by Joseph Pilates. It is based on a set of principles and exercises engaging the mind (over 500 controlled exercises) which work the whole body in balance, coordinating the upper and lower musculature with the body's center in order to re-align and strengthen the full body, as well as toning muscles and balancing muscular force at the joint level.

Joseph Pilates called the method The Art of Contrology, which refers to the way the method encourages the use of the mind to control the muscles.

What makes the Method different from other body conditioning systems is that it takes a balanced approach so that no muscle group is overworked and the body works as an efficient, holistic system in sport and daily activity. Therefore, Pilates is a balanced blend of strength and flexibility training that improves posture, reduces stress and creates long, lean muscles without muscular bulk.

Based on proper breathing, good posture and intense concentration, the exercises are performed on a mat or with specially designed equipment and work several muscle groups simultaneously through smooth, continuous motion and with a particular concentration on strengthening and stabilizing the core or "Power House" (the abdomen, back and pelvic girdle region).

Focusing on breathing and support from deep within the abdomen, the practitioner develops a new way of standing and a more graceful way of moving "flowing motion outward from a strong center."

As we've said, the regular practice of the Method stretches and strengthens the muscles uniformly resulting in long, sleek muscles rather than muscular bulk. In addition, by learning the proper stance and correct body alignment through the practice of Pilates, one soon feels and looks taller and leaner and, as the focus in Pilates is on quality of movement rather than quantity, a Pilates session makes one feel invigorated rather than exhausted.

As both a rehabilitation and a wellness program, Pilates is a wonderful complement to physical therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy and many other therapeutic or physical fitness systems.

Pilates exercises stimulate circulation through facilitating muscular flexibility, joint range of motion and proper musculoskeletal alignment. In addition, the Method promotes new neuromuscular patterns, heightened body awareness, and more precise coordination which help prevent future re-injury and reduce - even in some cases alleviate - chronic pain altogether.

In particular, Pilates is used to rehabilitate spine problems. The method strengthens, lengthens, and balances spinal musculature, thereby aligning and decompressing injured vertebrae and helping to relieve nerve and disc pressure. This decompression also facilitates and stimulates healthy circulation to the damaged spinal tissue. Furthermore, the pelvic and spinal stabilization work also helps prepare the body for rehabilitation of other weak or damaged areas more effectively.

The effects of practising the Pilates Method start to be noticed in the short term, there is no need to spend a long time working out at the Gym. As Pilates stated:
"In ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty sessions you will see the difference, in thirty you'll have a whole new body." Joseph H. Pilates.

Joseph H. Pilates at the ripe old age of 60.

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