Pilates is an exercise discipline developed by Joseph Pilates (1883–1967), a boxer and performer who believed in the importance of daily exercise to develop the body and mind and that “physical fitness is the first requisite to happiness.” Joseph Pilates based his work on six guiding principles: Concentration, Centering, Control, Breathing, Precision and Flowing Movement.
Pilates authored Return to Life through Contrology in 1945, outlining his philosophy and method of what we today call “matwork.” These original 34 exercises follow an order and sequence that results in a full body workout. Pilates Mat classes in the classical tradition adhere to this structure, even when using modifications, variations or props. Students of all levels can benefit from matwork routines that, while honoring the structure of Joseph Pilates’ regimen, can be adapted to suit each body.
Joseph Pilates was also an inventor who developed “apparatus” to provide students with the opportunity to change the relationship to gravity when exercising. Pilates’ original inventions were developed to assist patients whose conditions required them to remain in bed but who could benefit from assisted movement. The outline of a hospital bed can be seen in today’s apparatus known as the Cadillac or Trapeze Table. The use of springs and pulleys with straps or ropes can both assist and challenge movement. Joseph Pilates invented many other famous apparatus including the Reformer, Wunda Chair and Ladder Barrel.
Generations of Pilates students have followed the dancers and choreographers who first studied with Joseph Pilates, who are referred to as the Elders. Whether trained in the classical or contemporary tradition, many certified Pilates instructors can trace their “lineage” to those first students.