The Origins of Pilates

Offered By Walnut Grove Clinic

Most people have heard of Pilates but where does it come from?

Joseph Pilates was born near Düsseldorf, Germany in 1883. He appears to have been a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His drive and determination to overcome these ailments led him to become a competent gymnast, diver and skier.

In 1912 Pilates was living in England and working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. In the First World War he was interred and worked with other internees and patients from the war making machinery out of beds and springs to help recovery.

Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s with his wife Clara, and together they developed and taught the method in their 'body-conditioning gym' in New York.

Principles of Pilates

Joseph Pilates based his work on three principles: Breath, whole-body health and whole-body commitment; with the whole-body encompassing mind, body and spirit.

The principles are much the same 100 years later:

  • Breath
  • Concentration
  • Centering
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Flow

Pilates is a series of exercises aimed at improving muscle strength, joint movement and balance of the whole body, not just the back.  Strength, mobility and balance are needed when doing sport and leisure activities, as well as everyday living such at washing, dressing, shopping, working and being able to sit/stand with ideal posture.

People with back pain sometimes avoid moving and doing exercise due to the fear of making things worse, which can quickly result in the loss of muscle strength and joint movement. This in turn will have a negative impact on their overall health and wellbeing.

Pilates exercises can start at a very low level, for example: concentrating on the breath whilst holding a static position, and progress to a much higher level of exercise requiring repeated maximum muscle contraction and combined balance work.

Walnut Grove Clinic run physio led Pilates for those with higher needs or injuries – but often patients can move on to a standard class as they improve. For those who struggle with balance or getting to the floor we run physio led seated classes.

Being able to move more easily will help people to do activities to maintain and improve their overall health and wellbeing, for example prevent/treat cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Our mat-work at Walnut GroveClinic, well-qualified and experienced teachers run classes with only 8/9 patients so allowing careful observation and correction. We also run a machine based class for 4 as well. Don’t think the machines are harder, in some ways it’s easier or more accurately it helps your body position or movement with springs, pullies and resistance so surprisingly you can achieve more and can help you improve your mat-work.

Remember Pilates, Yoga, Feldenkrais, adult ballet, Alexander teaching Tai Chi, Qi gong – are all trying to do the same thing in slightly different ways – they are trying to teach your brain to work your body more efficiently. You need to find out what works for you as an individual.


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