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The Pilates Method (or simply Pilates), is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. As of 2005 there are 11 million people who practice the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.
Pilates called his method Contrology, because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles. The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
Pilates was formed by Joseph Pilates during the First World War with the proposal to improve the rehabilitation program for the many returning veterans. Joseph Pilates believed mental and physical health are essential to one another. He recommended a few, precise movements emphasizing control and form to aid injured soldiers in regaining their health by strengthening, stretching,and stabilizing key muscles. Pilates created “The Pilates Principles” to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.
Joseph Pilates wrote two books concerning the Pilates method, Return to Life through Contrology (1928) and Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education (1934).
Pilates claimed his method has a philosophical and theoretical foundation. It claims not merely to be a collection of exercises but a method developed and refined over more than eighty years of use and observation. One interpretation of Pilates Principles: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breathing, and Flowing Movement, is similar to yoga.
Mind over matter:
According to practitioners, the central aim of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it the body will move with economy, grace, and balance. The end goal is to produce an attention-free union of mind and body. Practitioners believe in using one’s body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. The method requires that one constantly pay attention to one’s body while doing the movements. Paying attention to movement is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of the movements.
Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, he maintained, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation are part of every Pilates exercise. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation. "Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring a wet towel dry," he is reputed to have said. Breathing, too, should be done with concentration, control, and precision. Breathing, not only oxygenates the muscles, but proper breathing reduces tension in the upper neck and shoulders. Pilates breathing is a posterior lateral breathing, meaning when inhaling you breathe deep into the back and sides of your rib cage. At the same time as you exhale you feel the engagement of your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as you inhale. It should be properly coordinated with movement. Each exercise is accompanied by breathing instructions. Joseph Pilates stated, "Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly."
Pilates called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the "powerhouse." All energy for Pilates exercises begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities. Physical energy exerted from the center coordinates one's movements. Pilates felt that it was important to build a strong powerhouse in order to rely on it in daily living. Modern instructors call the powerhouse the "core".
Pilates demands intense focus. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be assessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps. Beginners learn to pay careful attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing. In 2006, at the Parkinson Center of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, the concentration factor of the Pilates method was being studied in providing relief from the degenerative symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Joseph Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. That meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements. Every Pilates exercise must be performed with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. Pilates emphasizes not intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, but proper form for safe, effective results.
Every movement in the Pilates method has a purpose. Every instruction is vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise. The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Eventually this precision becomes second nature, and carries over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
Many exercises are contra-indicated for pregnant women and the use of Pilates in pregnancy should only be undertaken under guidance of a fully trained expert.
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This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Pilates. The Official Guide to Pilates is Aliesa George.
Aliesa George established Centerworks® Pilates in 1994. She received her initial Pilates training & certification through The Pilates Studio, New York, NY. Additional Matwork & Concentration 101 certifications were completed though The Physical/Mind Institute in Santa Fe, NM.
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