The Power of Pilates: What is It?

How many times have you heard the name Pilates? If you’ve been anywhere on earth in the last decade, chances are you’ve not only seen the word, you’ve met someone who teaches Pilates, you’ve tried some Pilates moves, and you wonder what makes Pilates exercise so insanely-popular with such a wide range of people.

It’s simple. Pilates is one of the few exercise methods that can accommodate any body type and every person’s unique physical abilities.

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Low impact, yet providing cardiovascular effects, performing Pilates reduces stress, improves mental focus and creates a deep sense of well being, long after the workout is over. It was created to improve body strength without overdeveloping muscles, and to increase flexibility, balance and coordination, good posture and a gracefulness to be a natural part of life.

Unlike many fitness disciplines Pilates is not exercise for movement’s sake or a random choice of particular exercises thrown together. Founded on principles of breathing, control, centering, precision and flow, Pilates is meant to be a process of continual growth and a journey towards mastery of the method over time. It’s one of the few physical disciplines where the way you do an exercise is more important that the exercise itself.

So how does a little known form of exercise with a small loyal following in the 1920’s explode into a mainstream fitness phenomenon worldwide, with over 10 million active participants in the US alone by 2006?

Maybe it’s because its namesake and creator, Joseph Pilates, kept refining his dream of a real exercise system for all until the end of his life. And in his own words, he was “… 50 years ahead of my time.”

“Physical fitness is the first prerequisite for happiness”- Joseph Pilates

Growing up near Dusseldorf, Germany in the 1880’s, Pilates suffered from asthma and illness as a child. He was also bullied about his name, losing an eye in such an attack when still a young boy. Determined to change his appearance, his health and wellbeing, he threw himself into gymnastics, bodybuilding and yoga, creating a series of exercises that he hoped would one day be taught throughout schools and heralded by the masses along with health care professionals.

Joseph Pilates lived to the robust old age of 87. He didn’t live long enough to see his system embraced by the public, even with the growing number of dancers, actors and socialites that were lining up out the door of his NYC studio for 40 years, looking to get their bodies, “fixed by Joe.”

Without leaving behind specific instructions for future teachers, the Pilates method we know today is a combination of information found in the archival material left behind: photographs, film and text as well as the two short books that Pilates wrote. But the main way his work was passed down was by word of mouth from the first generation of teachers, only those who were taught directly by Pilates and his wife, Clara.

“Physical fitness can neither be reached by wishful thinking or outright purchase”- Joseph Pilates

Whether athletic or rehabilitative in style, Pilates helps develop core strength, teaches the individual postural alignment, and can correct muscle imbalances throughout the body.

The method’s precise, continuous, deep body conditioning produces such quality movement that most exercises are just 10-12 repetitions. The extensive repertoire starts with foundation exercises on the mat or on a piece of Pilates equipment, progressing toward the most advanced movements as the student improves.

With the emphasis on Pilates being a physical system of mental conditioning, many different approaches have evolved to focus on either the physical aspect or emphasize the benefits of focusing the mind while working the body. In its original form, Pilates saw his system integrated into every facet of life, a way of being in the world: strong yet flexible, energized yet relaxed; focused while staying open to change or flow.

In a life where we’re all so busy, Pilates is the perfect way to workout, knowing that you’re getting what you need each day and more- a little good energy to take with you and out into the world.

“It’s the mind that shapes the body”- Joseph Pilates