In 1912 Joseph Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defense instructor. During the First World War, he was interned with other German nationals. During this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the War, he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients' limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the 'Cadillac'.
Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s with his wife Clara, and together they developed and taught the method that they called "Contrology" in their 'body-conditioning gym' in New York in 1926.
While Joe is the man behind the method, it was his wife Clara that became the real teacher in the studio and allowed the method to be passed on to apprentices. The 'Pilates Elders' (the handful of people who trained directly in the first NY Studio) talk of Clara being the nurturing force behind the man; Clara established the tradition of evolving and adapting the Pilates method to suit the individual needs of clients.
Not much was spoken in the original studio (English was not Joe's first language), so Joe and Clara relied heavily on hands-on corrections to teach the method. "They wouldn't talk, they would sculpt you" is how Pilates Elder Mary Bowen describes being in the studio.
The 6 principles of Pilates tie together the theory, practice and philosophy of Pilates. It is by following these principles and letting them guide you that you can keep true to the aim of Pilates as a complete body conditioning exercise system which, as Joseph Pilates wrote, will “give you suppleness, natural grace and skill.”
Concentration promotes the mind-body connection. As you focus and become mindful of each body movement, Pilates states you will receive optimum physical value from each movement as well as enhance your body awareness.
According to Pilates' precision principle, executing one exercise with deliberate exactitude is more important than completing more repetitions with sloppier form. For this reason, good Pilates instructors provide detailed instructions to their students on all Pilates movements.
During your Pilates workout, you should consciously bring your focus to the center of your body. As you focus within, this Pilates principle suggests you will bring calm to both your body and spirit. Pilates called the center of your torso the “powerhouse,” from which all energy for exercise is derived.
Deep, controlled, diaphragmatic breathing activates blood circulation and awakens cells and muscles. Pilates recommended visualizing the lungs as bellows as you bring air in to the fullest and release it in the same manner. He wrote that breathing is the most integral part of exercise, and even if one follows no other recommendation, learning to breathe correctly is the most important thing.
Pilates' method is based on mindfulness, including proper, safe and complete muscle control. With proper control, you utilize the exact and correct form, leaving no part of your body unattended. In your mindful awareness, you direct each and every movement.
Pilates routines are completed through a gentle flow. Grace, ease and fluidity are the intention Joseph Pilates applied to all exercise. Continuous, smooth and elegant movement as you transition from one pose to another will bring strength and stamina according to this principle.