It’s gotten to the point where pilates studios are becoming as plentiful as Starbucks. In order to best understand this mind/body phenomenon, it’s helpful to look at the story of Joseph Pilates and how his methods evolved and spread to the masses.
Born in Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates grew up as a sickly child. His father was a gymnast, his mother a naturopath and young Joseph embarked on a self-styled campaign of ﬁtness and wellness. He studied anatomy, Eastern and Western forms of exercise, yoga, zen, boxing, gymnastics, skiing and diving. Anecdotal stories report that he performed in the circus and taught wrestling and self-defense.
During World War I, since he was a German national, he was sent to an internment camp where he developed exercises for the sick and injured, utilizing the springs of the hospital beds. These ﬁrst machines were the
precursors of the expensive pilates equipment you see today.
He met his wife, Clara, on the boat when Pilates came to the United States. He opened a studio in New York City where he hoped to teach his ﬁtness techniques he called “Contrology” to boxers and athletes. However, his studio was located next to several dance studios and rehearsal spaces and the majority of his clients were dancers, ranging from Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis and their many acolytes.
The “disciples” of Joseph Pilates were all dancers. Even though they each had their own style and emphasis, the growth and dissemination of pilates technique has come through the “dancers prism.” This seems somewhat ironic if you study old footage of Joseph Pilates. You can see him move into a handstand, throw martial arts punches, hold one-legged yoga balances and run rapidly in place with plyometric precision. When I ﬁrst saw the footage, I shouted, “Hey! Joseph Pilates is doing Flashpoint Fitness™!”
Joseph Pilates himself was more athletic and dynamic and explosive than the system that has become so carefully concretized, certiﬁed and disseminated. Modern day pilates is certainly an excellent system. The
machines work extremely well to rehabilate injuries, increase strength and ﬂexibility and allow people with limited mobility to train.
The super-popular mat pilates systems are even more exacting when done properly. HOWEVER, pilates as it is taught today is a complementary system. For complete ﬁtness you need to get off your butt or back or side and get on your feet!
Pilates will enhance and support yoga, martial arts, dance and any sport. But all by itself, it isn’t enough if you want comprehensive ﬁtness. Also, Joseph Pilates himself intended it to be a mind/body/spirit system. As taught today, pilates is truly an excellent mind/body system. For the “spirit” element, add in yoga, tai chi or martial arts.
Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967, years before the techniques that bear his name became known worldwide. One can’t help but wonder what pilates would have been like today if his initial clients and disciples were gymnasts, martial artists, athletes and yoga masters. For those of you who are learning Flashpoint Fitness™, you may have the answer.
To your health and happiness.