What is Pilates?

Pilates is an extremely effective method of exercise to improve strength, stamina, coordination, and effectiveness of both mind and body. Building strength from within, replenishing oxygen through effective breathing and establishing a well coordinated, aligned and functional way to move provides a huge number of health benefits and as such Pilates is now widely recommended to all ages all abilities.

There are some very important elements to that which we work on in class and which form the basis of what Pilates is all about:

  • Alignment

    The force of gravity can play havoc on our bodies, and so we begin looking at the structure of our skeletal system and how best to align ourselves to maximise our strength in movement and to oppose the forces working on our body as we move and therefore achieving more control of the movements we undertake with the least amount of wear and tear on the joints as we move.

  • Release

    Its wholly important to establish which areas hold tension and to learn to let go. To prepare our mind and body for movement and to enable us to recruit the muscles needed to work efficiently and build tone, we first need to release.

  • Breathing

    ‘Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breathe properly. Our very life depends upon it’. Joseph Pilates

    Its important to learn how best to breathe in Pilates to maximise the control and stabilisation needed, as awell as active mobilisation as we move. We cannot breathe abdominally in pilates as we would lose the connection between the ribcage and the pelvis. Its all about breathing without disturbing the support structure needed to move well.

    Its important not to force this, but realise that as you get used to the exercises you will develop this organically.

  • Support

    Establishing where and what the core postural muscles are, how they feel when we recruit them is cruicial. It is these muscles which support the frame in both standing, sitting and in our day to day movements.

  • Powerhouse

    The powerhouse forms the ‘‘centre’ of the body which, when strengthened, creates the foundation for all movement.

    All movement begins from the powerhouse (centre) and moves out towards the limbs.

  • Functional Movement

    This combines movement of the limbs whist the frame of the body is fully supported by the Powerhouse.

  • Opposition

    ‘For every action we undertake there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Newtons 3rd Law

    Pilates Opposition is used to further intensify the Powerhouse in movement. When we engage the core muscles of the powerhouse, complete with the correct method of breathing lengthening the spine in ‘opposition from the tailbone to the crown of the head, the moving muscles are able to move and work freely in their lengthened state.

Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, & elevates the spirit.

Joseph Pilates and the history of Pilates

Pilates takes its name from Joseph Pilates, the German-born emigrant to the UK and the USA, who devised it as a new approach to exercise and body-conditioning.

Joseph Pilates was born near Dusseldorf in the late 1800s. He was a frail and sickly child who was determined to make himself strong and healthy and overcome his fragility. He researched and practised every kind of exercise he could, ranging from classical Roman and Greek exercise regimes to body-building and gymnastics, alongside the the Eastern disciplines of yoga, tai chi, martial arts and Zen meditation. He was perhaps the first influential figure to combine Western and Eastern ideas about health and physical fitness.

In 1912, he left Germany for the UK, where he became a professional boxer, an expert skier and diver, and taught self-defence to Scotland Yard detectives. On the outbreak of World War I he was interned in a POW camp in Lancashire. He used this time to start developing a new approach to exercise and body-conditioning; the start of what is known today as Pilates. Returning to Germany after World War I, Pilates worked with pioneers of movement technique such as Rudolph Laban, who created the basic system of dance notation still used today.

In 1923, Joseph Pilates moved to America, where he opened his first studio in New York, along with Clara, his wife and assistant. His new method was an instant hit, particularly among dancers such as Martha Graham and George Balanchine. Gradually, a wider audience got to hear of it. Joseph Pilates called his technique Controlology; only later did it become known by his surname.

The Pilates Method did not return to the UK until 1970, when it was brought back by Alan Herdman. However, Pilates remained essentially unknown to the general public, until 1995 with the advent of Body Control Pilates.

Pilates today is taught in several forms, directly reflecting the legacy of Joseph Pilates. He did not lay down a formal training programme, with the result that, on his death, his ‘disciples’ continued teaching by adding their own variations to the core principles and philosophy. This flexibility in approach is one of the reasons why Pilates has been so successful.