‘Intelligence in motion’
Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) developed his method in the first half of the 20th century. He first did so in Germany, against a historical background of growing attention for the physical condition. Later, as from the 1930s, he started to mainly work with professional dancers in the United States. He developed a system of exercises to correct posture, enhance body awareness and the proprioceptive capacity based on mental focus, and to improve general toning of the body. His method has meanwhile become one of the most ‘lasting’ methods in body work worldwide. He himself referred to his exercise system as the ‘the art of Contrology’. In addition to a series of mat exercises, which are to be performed with (anatomic and biomechanical) precision and attention, he developed a set of equipment that was far ahead of its time considering its ingenious mechanical operation. The equipment was helpful to both develop people’s physical condition and to assist people with dysfunctions and injuries. It was not until long after his death that his method was given the true recognition it deserves. Meanwhile, Pilates is recognized around the world for its exceptional results. Pilates provides a safe training environment for young and old people, for persons with disabilities and for top athletes. Pilates challenges body and mind in the strive for balance. Meanwhile, physiotherapy has also started to pay considerable attention to this method. In view of the constantly evolving insights into the functioning of the human body, the method is being further developed in an ongoing manner. Joseph Pilates had a great vision and ambitions. He wrote down his philosophy in ‘Return to life through contrology’ (1945) and was convinced that the disciplined practice of his method leads to better health and greater personal awareness, which in turn contributes to the world becoming a more pleasant place with less physical suffering.
Joseph Pilates himself always started from the specific individual. There is not a single exercise system in which all exercises perform miracles for everyone, at all times. The result of the exercises depends on the quality of performance and the extent to which the capacities and limitations of the individual are kept in mind. Pilates lessons provide an optimal environment to evolve towards a growing body awareness, a better posture, and a stronger and more flexible body. By doing the exercises in a concentrated and very precise manner, the body will acquire greater balance. Time and again we start from the centre of the body, the area around the centre of gravity, which Pilates called the ‘Powerhouse’, i.e. an interplay of deep abdominal muscles and back muscles, pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm. The combination of this starting point with conscious and deep breathing ensures a stable basis from which every movement begins. Through the mental focus, we evolve towards more balance, balance between body and mind, balance between different muscle groups, between the left and right half of the body, balance within myofascial chains, … And, in the end, towards a controlled, natural quality of movement. The method offers a chance for both technically more challenging exercises for people who can handle this challenge and for a more in-depth understanding –in layers- of the exercises. This means that Pilates is suitable for both persons with significant limitations and for cross-training of athletes.
Using Joseph Pilates’s (1945) own words:
‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.’