What is Pilates?

Whenever I meet someone new and they learn that I am a Pilates Teacher, I inevitably get the question, “what is Pilates?” The Pilates community has been trying to answer this question for as long as I can remember. Personally, I struggle to answer this question because what Pilates is for me is mostly likely completely different than what it is for you. So, I will start with a brief history before diving into philosophical deep end:

Joseph H. Pilates, born in 1883, was a man ahead of his time. He dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength, and translating his understanding of the human body to helping others. Pilates came to believe that the "modern" lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training techniques, engineering all the equipment, specifications, and tuning required to teach his methods properly.

Immigrating from Germany to the United States in the mid 1920’s, Joseph Pilates settled in New York City with his new wife Clara. Pioneering physical and movement therapy, they called their new fitness modality “Body Contrology,” a term which to them implied articulate and fluid physical control. Body Contrology – now known simply as Pilates – is a complete physical conditioning program, incorporating strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance training. The dual emphasis on movement awareness and efficient body mechanics is key to improving posture, alignment and overall body balance. The integrated focus on both extrinsic and intrinsic (core) muscle groups addresses the body as a whole.

In place of exhaustive, tediously repetitious exercises, Pilates involves refined, purposeful movements requiring concentration and physical awareness. The form is precise, controlled, and balanced. The goal: proper body alignment; lengthened, well-toned muscles; flexible joints and increased physical strength, stamina and mental clarity. Once the core musculature is strong and the spine is properly aligned, Pilates becomes fluid, expressive and dynamic.

Pilates can be what you need it to be, and therein lies its brilliance. It brings balance to your body in the form of flexibility and strength, mobility and stability. It’s moving meditation, it’s restorative, it’s a tough workout! Most importantly, Pilates is for every body and everybody.

Injured? No problem! JP developed parts of his method on bed-ridden soldiers.

Elite Athlete? Just Google “Pilates and football/baseball/hockey” and see the pros getting their butts kicked!

Average Jane or Joe? You’ll leave knowing new things about your body and with tips for integrating better movement into your daily life.

In your golden years? Pilates can help improve your balance and, with the right modifications, is safe for osteoporosis.

Pregnant? Exercise has been shown to lead to a more comfortable pregnancy, safer labor, and faster recovery. With its constant focus on breath work while balancing stability with mobility, Pilates is the perfect exercise choice!

When it comes down to it, Pilates can be anything you need it to be - and that’s what makes it so unique.

Katie Donnelly