Joseph Pilates, the father of the Pilates exercise program, began his life in Germany as a scrawny, sickly little boy. This weakling-of-a-child grew up to become a bodybuilder, professional boxer and the founder of one of the best-known physical conditioning programs.
Believing that physical health could be effected by controlling the mind, Joe Pilates developed a series of movements based on yoga, gymnastics and kung fu, that emphasized the importance of breath control and core muscle development.
Pilates originally called his physical regiment “contrology” and wrote about it in a now-famous book called “Return to Life Through Contrology”, first published in 1945. The Pilates method eventually took on the name of its founder. Joseph Pilates taught many students who carried on his work, with Romana Kryzanowska being one of the most celebrated Pilates disciples. Two of Roman’s students, Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, wrote a book in the early 1980’s called The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, that outlined 6 key principles of Pilates including concentration, control, center, flow, precision and breathing.
Concentration: Pilates poses are not easy. They often require that two different muscles be doing two different things at the same time. This requires intense focus and concentration. It is now believed that mental concentration, when combined with physical exercise, can actually improve brain functions such as memory and problem solving.
Control: Pilates movements require complete control of the entire body at all times, thus the original name “Contrology”. Every movement and pose is carefully considered and choreographed, so there are no extraneous movements or breaths.
Center: The Pilates method teaches that all movement begins in the center, or core, of the body, which includes the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs. The energy used to fuel each Pilates movement comes from the core and then spreads through the limbs.
Flow: Pilates movements are designed to maximize the efficiency of energy, with one movement flowing into the next.
Precision: Every movement in the Pilates method requires precise execution. There is a great emphasis on form, in the belief that it is more effective to execute one movement perfectly than to perform many imperfect movements. This idea of excellence in every action is expected to take root in the subconscious mind and carry into all aspects of life.
Breathing: The emphasis on correct breathing is so important in Pilates, it should probably be listed as the first principle. Pilates understood that oxygen intake and blood circulation have the ability to improve almost all physical conditions. In Pilates, to breathe properly means to forcibly exhale in order to more fully inhale.
As each generation of Pilates practitioners has worked to practice and perfect Joe Pilates’ program, the method has undoubtedly changed a bit. But the underlying principles of Pilates remain in place, with generations of followers continuing to benefit from this time-tested method of physical and mental conditioning.
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