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Pilates (//; German: [piˈlaːtəs]) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. It is practiced in the United States and the United Kingdom, where he lived and taught on various times. As of 2005, there were 11 million people practicing the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.
In his book Return to Life through Contrology, Joseph Pilates presents his method as the art of controlled movements, which should look and feel like a workout (not a therapy) when properly manifested. If practiced with consistency, pilates improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the whole human body. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong powerhouse, and improving coordination and balance. Pilates' system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty from beginner to advanced or to any other level, and also in terms of the instructor and practitioner's specific goals and/or limitations. Intensity can be increased over time as the body conditions and adapts to the exercises.
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist from Mönchengladbach, Germany. His father was a prize-winning gymnast from Greece and his mother a naturopath. He studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga.
During the first half of the twentieth century, he developed a system of exercises which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Pilates believed that mental and physical health were interrelated.
In his youth he had practiced many of the physical training regimes available in Germany, and it was from these he developed his own work. It has clear connections with the physical culture of the late nineteenth century, such as the use of special apparatuses and claims that the exercises could cure ill health. It is also related to the tradition of "corrective exercise" or "medical gymnastics" as typified by Pehr Henrik Ling. Joseph Pilates, like many, was trapped in Britain because of war. On the Isle of Man, he started teaching other trapped Germans about pilates.
Joseph Pilates accompanied his method with a variety of equipment he referred to as "Apparatus." The Apparatus was designed to help accelerate the process of stretching, strengthening, body alignment and increased core strength started by the mat work. The best-known and most popular piece today, the Reformer, was originally called the Universal Reformer, aptly named for "universally reforming the body." Eventually a full complement of equipment and accessories was designed by Pilates, including the Cadillac, Wunda Chair, High "Electric" Chair, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel and Pedi-Pole.
Pilates published two books related to his training method: Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education in 1934, and Return to Life Through Contrology in 1945. In common with early twentieth century physical culture, Pilates had an extremely high regard for the Greeks and the physical prowess demonstrated in their Gymnasium.
His first students went on to teach his methods and open studios, and the most prominent include: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel, and Mary Pilates, Joseph's niece. Contemporary pilates includes both the "Modern" pilates and the "Classical/Traditional" pilates. Modern pilates is partly derived from the teaching of some first generation students, while Classical preserves and promotes the original work as Joseph Pilates taught it.
The method was originally confined to the few and normally practiced in a specialized studio, but with time this has changed and pilates, in whatever form, can now be found in community centers, gyms, physiotherapy rooms, and many other fitness services offered by pilates-inspired businesses who have mixed their own understanding of pilates with other disciplines. A variety of “modern” schools of pilates, heavily influenced by a physiotherapeutic approach to pilates, have adapted the pilates system in different ways for reasons unknown to and unapproved by its creator, Joseph Pilates, and by the contemporary schools of Authentic pilates who continue teaching his method. Joseph Pilates died as sole master of his own method and still controlling the intellectual property of it, including his apparatus: a fact that only changed with a lawsuit in October 2000.
Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, two students of Romana Kryzanowska, published the first modern book on Pilates, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, in 1980 and in it they outlined six "principles of Pilates". These have been widely adopted—and adapted—by the wider community. The original six principles were concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.
Pilates demands intense focus: "You have to concentrate on what you're doing all the time. And you must concentrate on your entire body for smooth movements." This is not easy, but in pilates the way that exercises are done is more important than the exercises themselves.
"Contrology" was Joseph Pilates' preferred name for his method, and it was based on the idea of muscle control. "Nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is so you can be in control of every aspect of every moment." All exercises are done with control, the muscles working to lift against gravity and the resistance of the springs and thereby control the movement of the body and the apparatus. "The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy."
For practitioners to control their bodies, they must have a starting place: the center. The center is the focal point of the pilates method. Many pilates teachers refer to the group of muscles in the center of the body - encompassing the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks, and inner thighs — as the "powerhouse". All movement in pilates should begin from the powerhouse and flow outward to the limbs. This is the main focus of pilates. It does this to strengthen the rest of the body. This can have effects for years to come if you are consistent with the exercise.
Flow or efficiency of movement
Pilates aims for elegant sufficiency of movement, creating flow through the use of appropriate transitions. Once precision has been achieved, the exercises are intended to flow within and into each other in order to build strength and stamina. In other words, the pilates technique asserts that physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate movements of the extremities: pilates is flowing movement outward from a strong core.
Precision is essential to correct pilates: "concentrate on the correct movements each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital benefits of their value". The focus is on doing one precise and perfect movement, rather than many halfhearted ones. Here pilates reflects common physical culture wisdom: "You will gain more strength from a few energetic, concentrated efforts than from a thousand listless, sluggish movements". The goal is for this precision to eventually become second nature and carry over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement.
Breathing is important in the pilates method. In Return to Life, Pilates devotes a section of his introduction specifically to breathing "bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation". He saw considerable value in increasing the intake of oxygen and the circulation of this oxygenated blood to every part of the body. This he saw as cleansing and invigorating. Proper full inhalation and complete exhalation were key to this. "Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation." He advised people to squeeze out the lungs as they would wring a wet towel dry. In pilates exercises, the practitioner breathes out with the effort and in on the return. In order to keep the lower abdominals close to the spine; the breathing needs to be directed laterally, into the lower rib cage. Pilates breathing is described as a posterior lateral breathing, meaning that the practitioner is instructed to breathe deep into the back and sides of his or her rib cage. When practitioners exhale, they are instructed to note the engagement of their deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles and maintain this engagement as they inhale. Pilates attempts to properly coordinate this breathing practice with movement, including breathing instructions with every exercise. “Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”
On October 2000 "pilates" was ruled a generic term by a U.S. federal court, making it free for unrestricted use
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- Return to Life through Contrology, "Bodily house-cleaning through circulation"
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- U.S. District Court – Southern District of NY, Opinion 96 civ. 43 (MGC) October 2000, pilates.com
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