Explaining the Method

You are taught to align your body perfectly before starting an exercise, and then to focus on individual muscle groups and work them without putting strain on other areas. If you are used to the pumping rhythm of an aerobics class or the ache in your muscles after lifting weights, you will be astonished by the gentleness of Pilates. The exercises are deceptively simple, even minimal, and so effective that you needn’t perform more than ten repetitions of each at a session.

Within weeks of starting you will notice that your stomach is flatter. Your muscles will feel more toned and your joints will be looser and more supple. Some people even claim to get taller as their spine is stretched and straightened. Your posture in everyday life will improve as you strengthen the body’s central core muscles, helping you to stand straight and hold your upper body correctly.

Those with back problems will learn to build up their weaker muscles while protecting the spine and relieving strain on injured areas. Once you understand why you have been suffering back pain, and that postural misalignments have been contributing to your problem, you will have the tools to alleviate and prevent any future trouble yourself. Those who are already fit will discover new and effective ways of exercising and toning their bodies.

Pilates requires total concentration, as you breathe to enhance the effectiveness of the movements and focus on the feelings in your muscles. Joseph Pilates liked to quote Schiller: “It is the mind itself which builds the body”. Others have called Pilates “the thinking person’s exercise system”, because you learn how your body works and what you need to do to keep yourself healthy.

Can anyone do Pilates?

The plain answer is ‘yes’.

If you have an injury or chronic complaint for which you’ve been receiving medical treatment, I will ask you to bring a letter from your doctor or physiotherapist outlining the problem, so that we can work hand in hand. No matter how severe the condition, there is always a way that Pilates can help. I have worked with amputees, clients who are wheelchair-bound, MS sufferers, and others who are partially paralysed after a stroke, as well as those recovering from surgery.

Pilates is especially beneficial for dancers. Many dance movements involve holding the body out of alignment, thus putting muscles and joints under strain, so dancers risk serious injury if they don’t take good care of themselves. Actors, singers and TV presenters have found the Pilates posture and breathing techniques help them to use their voices more effectively while they are working, and athletes can use Pilates to enhance their performance levels.

Pilates is ideal for relieving back problems in office workers, or those whose jobs require heavy lifting or repetitive movements. And I know there are some people who come to the studio simply because they want to look the very best they possibly can – which is fine by me!

Who was Joseph Pilates?

Joseph Pilates was an extraordinary character. Growing up in Dusseldorf in the 1880s, he suffered severe attacks of asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever which left him with a stunted bone structure and twisted limbs. Rather than accept the limitations of his body, he decided to overcome them, and he worked systematically and tirelessly to create a system of exercises that would correct his disabilities. These formed the basis of his renowned matwork exercises, which he called ‘The Art of Contrology’.

During World War I, he had a chance to develop his system further while he was working with fellow ‘enemy aliens’ interred in a camp on the Isle of Man. He helped them to regain mobility while lying in bed by supporting their damaged limbs with bedsprings attached to the bedframe, so they could move safely and keep their muscles toned. These early mechanisms were the prototype of the machines you find in Pilates studios today.

In 1926, Pilates moved to New York and celebrity clients like dancer Martha Graham and choreographer George Balanchine became regulars at his studio. Before his death in 1967, he had trained several other instructors to teach his method, ensuring that it would continue to develop and gain popularity in the succeeding decades.

The boy with the twisted body trained himself to be a boxer, circus acrobat, gymnast, diver, skier and self-defence instructor, but the most important legacy he left to the world was a revolutionary approach to exercise that allows anyone to achieve the very best body they can. No matter what your starting point, Pilates puts the power to create improvements in your own hands.