Ilkley Pilates

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About Pilates

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a system of exercise that uses precise, flowing movements to help balance the whole body.  By focusing on strengthening weak muscles, stretching tight ones and increasing flexibility, Pilates can help improve posture and movement.

Based upon an anatomical understanding of the body’s muscular and skeletal systems, Pilates focuses on deep muscles to help stabilise the body from the inside out.  Emphasis is put on good body alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance, all whilst placing minimum strain on the joints. Pilates can be taught on the mat, where one’s body weight creates resistance, or on a Reformer, a machine where pulleys and springs create the resistance.

By improving how the body functions, Pilates can help combat injury and common complaints, such as back pain, a stiff neck or aching shoulders.  If taught with precision and practised regularly, Pilates can be a safe and effective way to achieve a more toned and supple body with real inner strength and resilience.

History of Pilates
Pilates may seem to be just another fitness craze but it is far from it.  Instead, it is based upon a system of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates who was born in Germany in 1880.  Joseph was a sickly child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever.  However, he was determined that his illness would not be the better of him and practised a programme of body conditioning to improve his health.  Experimenting with different approaches, (including martial arts, gymnastics, and circus and weight training), Joseph developed an exercise regime which he eventually termed ‘Contrology.’  His aim was to integrate mind and body, with the mind controlling the muscles.

In 1912 Joseph moved to England where he taught self-defence to detectives at Scotland Yard. During his internment in World War One, he further developed his exercise techniques, working in a hospital to successfully rehabilitate injured war veterans.  To help bed-bound patients tone their muscles, Joseph attached springs and pulleys to hospital beds and thus were born the first Pilates machines.

At the end of the war, Joseph emigrated to the USA, meeting his future wife, Clara, on the ship. By the end of the voyage the pair had decided to open their first studio in New York.  The studio Joseph and Clara set up was near the New York Ballet and soon attracted some of its top dancers who had heard of Joseph’s success in helping his clients recover from injury and prevent recurrence.

Whilst he never set up an official training programme, Joseph did write two books.  One of these, ‘Return to Life Through Contrology,’ whilst published in 1945, seems very modern. In it Joseph detailed a number of exercises that he believed balanced strength and flexibility to help people ‘Return to life.’ His statement that, ‘If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young,’ is often quoted and reflects Joesph’s belief that, ‘Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.’

Joseph Pilates continued to teach into his 80s, gearing his teaching to the individual needs of each client. Those clients went on to teach their own versions of Joseph’s methods. Various schools of Pilates have developed from these students.

Whilst the popularity of Pilates grew, it is only relatively recently that the medical profession began to examine the Pilates technique to understand why it works so well to create a strong and flexible body.  Applying current scientific learning and understanding, (from disciplines like biomechanics and spinal rehabilitation), the practice and teaching of Pilates has continued to grow and evolve so that it can now be adapted for the elite athlete or the client requiring rehabilitation following injury.  By focusing on strengthening weak muscles, stretching tight ones and achieving proper alignment, Pilates is now recommended by doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors to help patients overcome their problems.

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