When I tell people I teach and practice Pilates, the response I get is “Oh, that’s like Yoga right?” Yes, Pilates and Yoga do have many similarities. They are both Mind-Body forms of exercise with flexibility components to their repertoire. That being said, there are a few differences. I will preface this by saying I am not a Yoga instructor, and can’t speak expertly on the practice of Yoga. What I will do in this blog post is explain Pilates, it’s history, and it’s main principles to the best of my ability.
Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that was created by a German gentleman named Joseph Pilates. Growing up, Joe was a sickly child who struggled with many illnesses including asthma. To combat these illnesses, Joe turned to exercise to improve his health. He studied various forms of exercise to expand his knowledge of fitness and it’s effect on the human body. This time of study became the basis of the form of exercise we know today as Pilates.
When World War 1 began, Joe had been working in England teaching self-defense techniques to Scotland Yard. Shortly after the start of the war, he was put in an internment camp because of his German Nationality. While interned in this camp, an influenza epidemic broke out in England killing many people. Guards at Joe’s internment camp found that the people in his cell block were healthy and unaffected by the epidemic. When asked why this was happening, Joe explained how he had been using his exercise regimen, even with bedridden individuals, to strengthen their minds, bodies, and spirits. He would attach springs on hospital beds to use as resistance for bedridden patients to strengthen their muscles. He would lead other students throug calistentic style movements on simple mats on the floor to strengthen large and small muscle groups, and improve their flexibility and coordination. Joe also found that you could use various forms of breathing to teach clients to engage their core muscles. When a person had stronger core muscles, they were able to support their spine in a neutral position. Through teaching his students to keep their body in correct alignment and strengthen their core to support a healthy neutral spine, Joe was able to help his students move their bodies with precision and fluidity. These techniques helped prevent injury and illness in his students.
Fast forward 20 years, Joseph and his wife Clara begin working with dancers in New York City to rehab them from various injuries. Those initial students have kept Joseph Pilates Principles alive today. For more information about the life and work of Joseph Pilates, read through the litany of articles in the Balanced Body Pilates Library.