"YOU NEVER KNOW what you can do, until something spurs you to achievement."
This is one of my favorite lines from a marketing brochure written by Joe Pilates. Fifteen years ago I would have never imagined I would be doing multiple variations of sit ups, sidebends, side splits, front splits, twists, backbends, push ups, pull ups, inversions and other gravity defying things using crazy shaped barrels and spring loaded apparatus with all kinds of amazing mechanical moving parts.
Before learning to do Pilates, I had pre-existing strength from a previous career of manual work outdoors cultivating land and managing trees, I also had a very stiff body and all over chronic pain, especially in the low back.
"If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young". -Joe Pilates
Although I had strength, what I didn't have, in terms of a sound body was made very clear as I humbly began my Pilates practice. In the years to come, the corrective nature of Pilates brought the functioning of my body back into a more natural state, my spine became supple, muscles developed evenly alleviating areas of pain which allowed me to interact with the world much differently, with a free-er and happier spirit.
"The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit". -Joe Pilates
It's been a treasure of happiness, a genuine fountain of youth that I found through precise movement. Moving smoothly with control through the distinct exercises that Joe Pilates sequenced together.
But thats just my story, as a teacher here is what I know, that it's good for EVERYONE'S body, and that is exactly what I hope to convey every time I teach and when I hold my studio Open House events. With wine and great food, Open House is a celebration of each others accomplishments, there's demonstrations on the acrobatic looking apparatus with different bodies, different personalities, of various ages and all levels of difficulty- no judgements, no stereotypes just focused students practicing their exercises with strength and clarity. When it comes to Pilates this is how it works, as we move forward with our fitness goals we send a message of positive energy to the body, Pilates changes the way you move through your life, there is ease in the body and and strength in all the right places. The effects of optimal movement spread out far and wide, even the perception of what your physical body is capable of starts to change and your realization becomes "it's so very possible, yes I can do this." What starts to dissolve are all the frustrating thoughts about what afflicts us, "I'm so out of shape I could never do Pilates... I have a torn rotator cuff I can't do Pilates right now... my low back hurts, I'm too old, too overweight, I have M.S., I have pain in my knees, I have a spinal fusion", add in your own issues here and I can tell you with full confidence that Pilates can be of tremendous support for the particular needs of your body and give you a safe workout that will help you to be super strong, more coordinated and feeling good. But it involves work, work that pushes each of us out of our personal comfort zone. Make no mistake, Pilates is not a sympathetic healing session but a tough sweaty workout- safely catered to each persons abilities, designed to correct, intended to raise your physical threshold and acquire enjoyment of physical well being. A value beyond price.
Your Pilates practice begins with commitment and perseverance, these are two of the most important things you'll need to get real substantial changes in the body.
"If you perform your Contrology (Pilates) exersices regularly only four times a week for three months, you will find your body development approaching the ideal, accompanied by renewed mental vigor." - Joe Pilates
We start out with simple movements, putting the focus on feeling your body move and finding your 'center' (there's lots of ways to do this and a whole studio full of Pilates apparatus to help us). It's through movement that we continue to refine the quality of our movement, building self awareness, strength, coordination, confidence. With consistent practice we begin to feel better and here's the thing, we begin to get a deeper understanding of the principles involved and graduate from just 'doing' the exercises to 'using' the exercises to correct our own bodies. Before you know it we are safely and appropriately layering on more difficult exercises in the repertoire.
Traditional Pilates is a method of practice and there is a formal order to the Mat & Reformer exercises that is important to learn, for many reasons, too many to list here in this short article but just for starters, the order of the exercise sequences are a culmination of a lifetime of one man's exceptional work. In fact Joe Pilates intuitive brilliance as part scientist, mechanical genius and anatomist is revealed in the order as each exercise is dependent and built upon the other. However, when we begin practicing this method and more than likely healing from previous imbalances, some exercises may be decidedly left out (your body as it moves will inform the teacher which exercises are appropriate for you to practice) we still work within the general order of the repertoire not because we are mindlessly following a rigid set of rules but because that's where the potency of Pilates gets discovered. It is paramount to learn the order if we are to develop flow in our workout and smooth transitioning from one exercise into the next. We also do well to develop independence as we workout. The benefits of knowing the order, flowing decisively through our workouts, gaining independence and control are invaluable to our mental and physical health and Joe Pilates knew that and that is how he taught his method to all of his clients. "Each student was given as nearly as possible the same regimen, and in kinds and amounts equal to his or her requirements under careful supervision". No matter what condition you started- injuries, weaknesses or not, he expected everyone to learn the order of their exercises, know how the equipment works, the set up of box, poles, straps, how many springs etc., he expected you to move! and learn to flow through your workout independently, decisively, vigorously, with concentration and control. Then hit the shower and scrub yourself clean! (back in the day Joe had all of his clients take a shower right there at the studio after their workout).
Joe's wife, Clara Pilates, who also taught the method and who, by the way, wore a nurses uniform everyday as she taught, remarked, "Of our thousands of students since 1926, each has come with a special handicap to be smoothed out of his or her body". The Pilates Pamphlet: Return To Life Through Contrology continues in response to Clara's remark, "It could hardly be otherwise. For all men are physically handicapped: we differ only in degree of defect. Thus, from merely over-fatigued ballerinas and concert musicians burdened with no other physical handicap, to permanently bed-ridden quadruple-amputees is an unbroken human continuum: physically we are all brothers. And all- all!- have the same unresting need from youth to the very death-bed: to have each living cell revivified by pure rich blood continuously bathing its surface. Hence there is not one of us whom Contrology (Pilates), cannot serve, and greatly".
Let's remember that. Here's to the hardwork and perseverance of EVERYONE who comes into the studio to practice Pilates! And here's to the human spirit as we practice, may your thoughts continue to be "Yes I can do this, and it sure feels good".
The Pilates Pamphlet: Return To Life Through Contrology by Frederick Rand Rogers and Joseph H. Pilates, American Foundation for Physical Fitness, 1957
Juanita Lopez video;