It is more than clear now that, the negative effects of being inactive are clear. And that there are numerous health benefits of leading a relatively active life, including benefits on ones posture. The challenge for health care providers etc has been to actually get people on board, and involved in activity that they enjoy rather than endure. If people enjoy an activity then they are far more likely to stick with it longer term, rather than treating it like a passing fad diet!
Pilates (perhaps more so than yoga) has been marketed just such an activity (exercise) that is , relatively, enjoyable, sociable and has a number of health claims. It would appear as if Pilates fulfills the requirements for a healthier more active society.
Joseph Pilates was well indoctrinated into the world of physical activity before his internment in a British Camp during World War One. Pilates served in the Hospital at the camp with patients that were confined to their beds.
Joseph Pilates realized that mobility, activity and movement were still necessary even when ill. This concept was against the grain, so to speak, of the ‘wisdom’ of the times. Even I can remember if one was ill or injured then bed rest and immobilization were apparently key to your recovery. While that is now frowned upon, then conventional wisdom now being as much pain free movement as can be tolerated – in general. He adapted the hospital beds, attached springs etc to the beds and adapted them so as to act as an exercise machine. And so was born the Pilates Cadillac and the Pilates Reformer.
It came to pass that Pilates would later boast that the patients under his wing, recovered better than others. He would claim that they were more robust and didn’t succumb to other ailments that occurred elsewhere in the camp.
Pilates was of German origin and had already started developing a system of movements (he didn’t refer to them as exercises). These movements, which would evolve into his Pilates Classical Original 34 Mat exercises, were adaptations of Gymnastic and yoga type movements, that he adopted and adapted.
Joseph Pilates did not refer to his ‘Pilates System’, as Pilates but rather – Contrology. One justifiable criticism of Pilates Contrology was that to perform the movement in the manner that he prescribed, one had to be rather robust, and physically fit!
In the early 1920’s Pilates moved to the USA and brought along and developed further his Contrology and his inventions. Pilates worked with dancers, who took to his challenging system of hard work. The idea of being in control of the body and dictating to the body what the body ‘should’ be doing, rather than the body dictating to us what it does, gelled with dancers and athletes alike.
The Evolution Of Pilates
Since that time the system now just known as Pilates is world wide. It has evolved and developed, so much in some instances that Joseph himself would probably be hard pushed to call it Contrology. There are those that strictly (and not so strictly) endeavor to teach his Original System vs Contemporary Pilates.
It has evolved, or perhaps we should say – come full circle, as it is used extensively in the correction of medical, physical ailments or conditions.
Some of that evolution has involved the ‘damping down’ of most if not all of his movements. Some contemporary Pilates Teachers perform between 20 – 50 straight forward and simple, low impact exercises. They over emphasize the so called core, the abdominal muscles and their endurance, back, hips and bums!
The beauty of the Pilates system is that it requires no equipment. It can literally be performed (almost) anywhere. It can be adapted for the serious hard core athlete, especially if using Pilates reformer, Cadillac etc. Or it can and is used successfully in injury re-habilitation. It offers a strengthening, flexibility, and an improvement in ones’ Posture.
A number of research papers have found that Pilates results in improved posture. I find it interesting that those papers that found ‘no improvement in posture’ but they did find an increase in the participants height, very interesting. As there must have been and adjustment in the spinal column.
Remember, and it is an argument in some Pilates circles, that Joseph Pilates aim was to have a flat spine free from curves (not meant as literal as some have taken it), he was after a flat back. Hence why he performed a number of abdominal movements, in particular with a flat back down on the mat or floor. In architecture (physics) an arch can hold more stress than a Plinth. If we aim to reduce the (exaggerated) curves of the spine and have it more ‘plinth’ like, then it cannot be holding as much stress. The result of a flatter spine is taller height, or rather a longer spine!
So Pilates can be adapted for the trained and serious athlete, or for Mrs Mop who may have medical issues. Whichever – staying true to Joseph Pilates system, it is about Control. Controlling the body, and what the body does. I always stress to my clients, never judge a ‘good’ Pilates training session, by the fact you ache or not afterwards. Pilates isn’t about stripping muscle down and rebuilding it.
Big Muscles or Fine Control
We are, or should be, working postural muscles. They are a different entity to phasic, or big main muscles. They are innervated, activated differently too. They are subject to a fine degree of control, and as postural muscles they can go for days, they have almost no rest. Or they shouldn’t.
From an evolutionary perspective, we are way too inactive and immobile. We sit in chairs with backs to them, this switches off most of those hundreds and hundreds of deep postural muscles that directly attach to our spines. This switching off includes the core muscles too.
Pilates may be viewed more as a neurological exercise rather than developing absolute strength. Our aim is control. To get the spine, in particular, to support itself, then to control its movements, safely in all the directions it can go – much like Joseph Pilates cats!
Much Love from Devon
Paul & Tanja x