The Pilates Method (or simply Pilates), is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates. As of 2005 there are 11 million people who practice the discipline regularly and 14,000 instructors in the United States.
Pilates called his method Contrology, because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles. The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
According to practitioners, the central aim of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it the body will move with economy, grace, and balance. The end goal is to produce an attention-free union of mind and body. Practitioners believe in using one's body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. The method requires that one constantly pay attention to one's body while doing the movements. Paying attention to movement is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of the movements.
Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood so that it could awaken all the cells in the body and carry away the wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, he maintained, it has to be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through proper breathing. Full and thorough inhalation and exhalation are part of every Pilates exercise. Pilates saw forced exhalation as the key to full inhalation.
Pilates called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” All energy for Pilates exercises begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities. Physical energy exerted from the center coordinates one’s movements.
Pilates demands intense focus. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be assessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps. Beginners learn to pay careful attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing.
Joseph Pilates built his method on the idea of muscle control. That meant no sloppy, uncontrolled movements. Every Pilates exercise must be performed with the utmost control, including all body parts, to avoid injury and produce positive results. Pilates emphasizes not intensity or multiple repetitions of a movement, but proper form for safe, effective results.