The Pilates movement is turning out many styles of training, not unlike yoga. But unlike yoga which is 1000s of years old, Pilates is only about 80 years old. Therefore, we can go right to the inventor of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, and read (English translation) his philosophy of movement, without having to sift through various translators. Because there are many definitions of Pilates floating around out there, all of which are probably true to one extent or another, please allow me to share some of Joseph’s thoughts with you. This will start the first of a three part series discussing Jo’s, the founder of Pilates, ideas on health and wellness.
There is a growing consensus amongst the health and wellness community (fitness professionals, medical doctors, naturopaths, health educators, physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, body workers, dancers, recreational enthusiasts, etc.) that Pilates is the fitness our bodies’ need. Jo would agree saying, “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” (instead of zest and pleasure, I would say ease). Let’s break these ideas of Jo’s down.
Attainment & maintenance
Attainment and maintenance of a developed body and sound mind happens through Jo’s set of many exercises which he called contrology. The science of contrology works to balance the body and mind according to natural laws that govern the body like proper breathing of fresh air, sweating and clean skin, proper spinal alignment, functional use of muscles and bones, fun and play, feelings of revitalization and connectedness, self-confidence, and finally, happiness.
Uniformly developed body
A uniformly developed body is realized as one works to develop a balance of strength and flexibility around joints on both the left and right side of the body. It is “the conscious control of all muscular movements of the body. It is the correct utilization and application of the leverage principles provided by the skeletal (bones) framework of the body, as well as, the principle of equilibrium (equal muscular development) and gravity (simple floor exercises) applied to movement.” A strength and flexibility program should not create tension or over-fatique. Exercise should be done thoughtfully, with limited repetition, and with a variety of movements.
A body freed from nervous tension and over-fatique is the ideal shelter for a well-balanced mind that is fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living. Personal problems are clearly thought out and calmly met.
Performing daily activities with ease
Shouldn’t this be the ultimate goal of any exercise program? Jo goes onto to actually say that life should be performed with spontaneity, which comes from self-confidence, and zest. I think the main piece of teaching Jo offers his students with respect to daily performance is in the idea of good posture. Whether sitting, standing or walking, good posture will only expend 25% of your energy and leave 75% as surplus energy to be able to meet the needs of other activities like housework, social events, brainstorming sessions, attending to children, emergencies.
I think that we need to understand that Pilates is more than just a set of exercises, in its essence, it is a whole body wellness strategy. I hope that you will embark on learning the Pilates principles unto the development of a sound body, mind and spirit.