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Pilates – History and Principles

Pilates was developed during the first half of the of twentieth century by Joseph Pilates.  His father was a gymnast, his mother a naturopath, and he studied a range of exercise forms from Eastern and Western cultures including Yoga, body-building, and various forms of martial arts including jiu jitsu.  The Pilates method was developed with a variety of equipment designed to advance the stretching, strengthening and body alignment that came from the non-equipment based mat work.  Over time a full complement of equipment was developed including the reformer, cadillac, wunda chair, high ‘electric’ chair, ladder barrel, pedi-pole and spine corrector.  You can (with expert instructing guidance) see and use the majority of these in the Balance Moves Bondi studio.

Joseph Pilates on Reformer

Joseph Pilates on Reformer

In about 1925 Pilates emigrated to the USA from Germany.  He founded a studio in New York with new wife Clara (who he met on the voyage) and he directly taught students well into the 1960’s.  Several prominent New York dance teachers regularly sent students to the Pilates studio for training and as the world of ballet started to actively embrace the Pilates method many New York society women followed.  As the first and second generation of students from the Pilates studio left and traveled the ‘Pilates’ method of physical fitness was born and is now embraced by tens of millions world wide, including many in Bondi Beach!

The first modern book on Pilates, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning’ was published by two students of the late Romana Kryzanowska.  Romana started as a student of Joseph Pilates at their studio on 8th Avenue in New York.  When Joseph passed away in 1968 Romana became the studio director of what by then was called ‘The Pilates Studio”.  Incidentally Renee Scott, the owner of Balance Moves was a student of Romana and gained her first Pilates qualification from Romana in that very same New York studio.  Pilates today includes variations on the ‘Modern’ Pilates method that derives from some of the first generation students and also the ‘Classical’ or ‘Traditional’ method that aims to preserve the original work as taught by Joseph Pilates.

The book mentioned above outlined six ‘Principles of Pilates’.  These original six principles are concentration, control, center, flow, precision and breathing.  These six principles have been an important part of Renee’s Pilates philosophy and are summarised below:

  • Concentration – This highlights that during Pilates you should focus on your entire body to ensure smooth movements.  This is hard. In Pilates exercise technique and how exercises are performed is, in many respects, more important than the exercises themselves.
  • Control – Every exercise in Pilates must be done with control.  Fundamentally its about you being in control of your body.
  • Centering – To effectively control your body you must have a starting place and that place is your center.  You’ll often hear this called the ‘powerhouse’ which is a term that means your center and encompasses the abs, upper and lower back, hips, butt and inner thighs.  All movement in Pilates should begin from your center, your powerhouse and flow out to the limbs.
  • Flow – Exercises within Pilates are intended to flow into each other to help build strength and stamina.  The use of appropriate transitions and economy of movement is highly prized and is one of the key things that differentiates novice and advanced practitioners.
  • Precision – Pilates is not about doing many repetition poorly or with poor technique. Rather Pilates aims for precise and perfect movement.  With regular Pilates and expert instruction this precision will eventually become second nature and carry over into everyday life.  An expert Pilates instructor can tell a lot about a person by simply watching them walk.
  • Breathing – Typically in Pilates you focus on breathing out with effort and in on the return.  Coordinating breathing with movement is an important part of Pilates and good instructors will continually remind you when to breathe in and when to breathe out. Like everything in Pilates you should concentrate on each breathe and feel the engagement of your powerhouse.

Pilates is suitable for men and women in a very wide range of physical condition from professional athletes to out of shape retirees looking to make some life improvements.  Because of its low impact and effectiveness Pilates has fast become the foundation of many peoples physical conditioning including countless celebrities, some of whom can be seen at the Balance Moves studio on a regular basis or when they visit Sydney.

Pilates when done properly and consistently with proper instruction that helps you embrace the key principles will change your life, improve your life style and keep you looking fantastic.