Updated: Mar 13, 2022
The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning was developed by Joseph H. Pilates, born in 1883. As a young boy, Joseph was sickly. He was a scrawny kid with asthma, rickets and at one point had rheumatic fever. He also had a bit of scoliosis in his spine. It was these physical hardships that made him want to strengthen and develop his body into one that was healthy, robust, and muscularly balanced. At the time, he admired the Roman statues and Gods who were often showing off their bodies, much like the modern body builders of today.
Joseph Pilates studied many forms of movement and exercise from both eastern and western philosophies such as wrestling, body combat(self-defense), boxing, and yoga. But he also had a natural talent for understanding the way the body moves and how to develop not only the larger muscle groups but also the deeper, smaller muscles. Perhaps because of his scoliosis, he was obsessed with creating balance in his own movement patterns.
Because he was the developer of his own system of exercise, he was dedicated to using it in his own everyday life. In addition, he taught his students the importance of using what they learned in the Pilates studio in their own everyday lives. In his book, Return to Life, he writes about using the core, or Powerhouse, while vacuuming or picking up heavy groceries.
Joe explained how Pilates can benefit one’s everyday life and any hobby or sport that you might enjoy. Pilates was designed to make everything else in your life better, from sleep to walking down the street to sex, traveling, and even your mental health. By improving your strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, breathing and posture, Joseph Pilates knew the impact that would have on one’s mind. Even back in the early 1900s, he was aware of this body-mind-spirit connection.
6 Principles of Pilates
After developing this extensive system of exercise, Joe Pilates knew he needed to pass his knowledge down to those who would continue to teach his method and keep it intact. Enter Romana Kryzanowska. She was a New York City Ballet dancer who was sent to Joe’s Pilates class, by George Balanchine, for an ankle injury. She eventually became Joe’s protégée and most talented student. It was Romana who helped codify Pilates’ system of exercise and also who helped to create the 6 Principles of Pilates: Center, Concentration, Control, Breathing, Precision, Flow.
When Joe Pilates first developed his system of exercises, he had the theory of building from the ground up. He originally thought the feet were the most important part of the body because they were the foundation upon which everything else was placed. He later changed his theory to the center of the body or, the powerhouse. He described this area as the 6-inch band of muscles around the waist that begins at the bottom of the ribcage. Every exercise and every movement, from the Hundred to picking up heavy groceries, should be initiated from here.
Joe Pilates knew how important it is to concentrate on what our bodies are doing at the present moment; we know this today as the mind-body connection. Becoming more mindful about how our bodies move is the key that unlocks the door to longevity. Moving with proper form, body mechanics, and balance will allow us to keep moving our bodies and using our sharp minds decade after decade.
Control is perhaps the most integral principle of Pilates. In fact, Joe Pilates named his system of exercises "Contrology", the art of control of the mind over the body. While using our control, we should be able to mindfully move the body exactly how we please. Sometimes the body has a mind of it's own, which is attributed to bad habits and imbalances. Through Joe's series of "corrective exercises" we can work to re-balance, re-form and re-train ourselves in order to achieve strength, flexibility and vitality!
From the very beginning of any workout we connect to our breath in The Hundred. Breathing is sometimes the very last thing we master in Pilates but, it is also the thing that allows us to connect deeper to our center, calms us, helps us to let go of unnecessary tension, and teaches us how to use our abdominal muscles correctly. Joe Pilates said, "Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breathe properly. Our very life depends on it.”
Peter Fiasca, a master instructor, once said, "Minimum effort for maximum pleasure." By being very precise about your movements, nothing is wasted and everything is gained. Do only what you need to do and nothing more. All the extra tension, overworked muscles, and gripping does not serve us. Let it go. And as instructors, we work for decades to become so efficient with our words so that all you have to do is exactly what we say, simply yet effectively. Every cue has a purpose, even when we give you such detailed cues that involve the thumb or your eyeballs - it all has a purpose!
A continuous flowing movement. Not achingly slow, not fleetingly fast. Follow your breath and you will be just fine. As you progress through your exercises, never stop, and never let your energy bottom-out. This is one of the hardest principles to achieve as we learn to use our minds. At first we slow down but, once our minds have trained our bodies how to move properly, flow can be added with great results. And sometimes before we've perfected a movement, flow should be used to get us out of our over-thinking minds and back into our well-trained bodies.
By integrating these 6 principles into the Pilates exercises, we will work towards mastering the control of our own bodies, develop and sustain the sharpness of our minds, and elevate our spirits. It is the key to longevity, happiness, and pleasurable living. In short, by following Joseph Pilates’ system of exercise, we will “Return to Life”.
If you’re ready to put these principles into practice, check out our 6-part series of videos in which we focus on each of the 6 principles of Pilates in depth!