Joseph Pilates, a boxer and gymnast, originally devised the fitness method as a series of twenty-two mat exercises that build abdominal strength and body control. He created the exercises at an internment camp during World War I, helping sick prisoners gain strength and vitality. Early on, Pilates emphasized the importance of the mind in “controlling” muscles; engaging the brain has always been central to his method. His exercises also focused on awareness of breath and spinal alignment, factors that shape the strength of our abdominals. To enhance his repertoire of exercises, Pilates devised several machines, including the cadillac and reformer.
Pilates also wrote books on his method. In these, he explained that his exercises are united by Six Principles: powerhouse, breath, concentration, flow, control, and flexibility. Joseph Pilates described the Principles as pillars to his method – concepts that propel his exercises and that stimulate our bodies and minds. In my experience, every successful Pilates practice hinges on the incorporation of the Principles. With a grasp of these, Pilates works wonders in the achievement of sound body and mind.
When I began practicing Pilates in earnest, I also began to absorb the method’s Principles into my daily life. These are principles that work holistically, their implementation meant both to improve our workout sessions and our lives. And they did work: by concentrating on my breathing and flow, I coped with my anxiety; by strengthening my powerhouse, I felt more centered in my personal relationships. The mental and physical strength I gained from Pilates transcended the hour I spent engaged in the method. The principles followed me throughout my day, into my interactions with others, and to my interactions with myself. Slowly, life just became easier to live. I felt happy; Pilates had transformed me holistically.
One of the joys in teaching Pilates is watching clients learn how to apply the method’s principles to their own lives. It just feels so darn good to gain strength, to work on flexibility, to reduce back pain, to become fitter day by day. It’s the kind of good feeling that spreads into other parts of life, that makes you want to work out more, and that eventually, without even meaning to, makes your body more limber and lean. And poof: the Pilates body in all its glory.