Pilates is a system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength especially of the core of the body, flexibility, posture and enhance mental awareness.
In 1912, the German-born Joseph Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. He had been a sickly child with rickets and his determination to improve his health resulted in him becoming a gymnast, skier and diver. His father was a gymnast and his mother a naturopath so he had a good grounding in the mind-body connection. During the First World War, he was interned with other German nationals on the Isle of Man. During this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. Later, he worked in the hospital with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients' limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the 'Cadillac'. Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today.
Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s with his wife Clara, and together they developed and taught their method in New York. Their studio featured much of the apparatus designed to enhance his rehabilitation work. It soon became very popular, particularly with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury. Contrology was Joseph Pilates' preferred name for his method, and it was only after his death that it became known as Pilates.
Pilates aims to strengthen the body in an even way, with particular emphasis on core strength, to improve general fitness and wellbeing. Pilates exercises are done on a mat or using the special equipment, invented by Joseph Pilates, such as the Reformer, the Cadillac and Wunda Chair. With its system of pulleys and springs, handles and straps, the apparatus can provide either resistance or support. Pilates improves flexibility, builds strength and develops control and endurance in the entire body. It puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core and improving coordination and balance.
Apart from being a good work out for healthy living and wellbeing, Pilates is popular with elite athletes, including dancers and gymnasts, and also musicians who require good stamina. Pilates can complement their training by developing whole body strength and flexibility and help reduce the risk of injury. It is known to be excellent for pelvic floor management and core strength. It is also an excellent balanced method for recovery from sports injuries. Regular Pilates practise can help improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension.
There is no single UK governing body for Pilates - various organisations certify teachers, and their courses vary.