Archive for the ‘Joeseph Pilates’ Category

13 November

Joseph Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology, Part 1

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As discussed earlier in this blog, Joseph Pilates was a man ahead of his time.  He witnessed the industrial revolution from its’ birth to seeing factories erected in every major city.  He saw factory workers standing doing repetitive motions all day.  He noticed the air quality because of those factories become polluted.  Although it was the general consensus that industrialization was good, Pilates had reservations about it supporting a healthy lifestyle.  The following excerpt is taken from his book Contrology and it is titled, “Civilization Impairs Physical Fitness.”  I hope you enjoy it.

        Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.  Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.  To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limit of our ability.  This very rapidly progressing world with its ever increasing faster tempo of living demands that we be physically fit and alert in order that we may succeed in the unceasing race with keen competition which rewards the “go-getter” but by passes the “no-getter.”

        Physical fitness can neither be acquired by wishful thinking nor by outright purchase.  However, it can be gained through performing the daily exercises conceived for this purpose by founder of Contrology whose unique methods accomplish this desirable result by successfully counteracting the harmful inherent conditions associated with modern civilization.

        In the Stone Age and onward man lived mostly outdoors with practically little shelter from the elements.  He has not yet lived long enough indoors with protection against the elements to be able le to successfully withstand the daily strains and stresses imposed upon him by our present mode of “fast” living.  This explains why both you and I and all the rest of us are compelled in our own interest to give constant thought to the improvement of our bodies and to spend more time in acquiring and maintaining that all important goal of physical fitness. 

        All in all, we do not give our bodies the care that our well being deserves (you may want to read that sentence again).  True, we do stroll in the fresh air whenever out whimsical spirit moves us, or whenever necessity compels us to do so, with the result that on these occasions we do, in spite of ourselves, exercise our legs to this limited extent, accomplished, however, at the sacrifice of the rest of our body which after all is much more important to us from the viewpoint of our general health.  Is it any wonder then that this haphazard and wholly inadequate body building technique of the average person fails so miserably in the acquirement of physical fitness!

        Admittedly, it is rather difficult to gain ideal physical fitness under the handicap of daily breathing the soot-saturated air of our crowded and noisy cities.  On the other hand, we can more quickly realize this ambition if we are privileged to breathe the pure fresh air of the country and forests without the accompaniment of the traffic roar of the city, which constantly tends to keep our nerves strung taut.  Even those of us who work in the city and are fortunate enough to live in the country must counteract the unnatural physical fatigue and mental strain experienced in our daily activities.  Telephones, automobiles, and economic pressure all combine to create physical letdown and mental stress so great that today practically no home is entirely free from sufferers of some form of nervous tension.

        Because of the intense concentration demanded by our work and despite the real enjoyment our work may bring some of us we, nevertheless, gladly welcome any additional relief in the form of diversified and pleasant recreational activities, preferably outdoors, in our constant attempts to offset the effects of increasing cares and burdens so common today.  To ease mental strain and relieve physical fatigue we must acquire a reserve stockpile of nervous energy in order that we may really be able to enjoy ourselves at night.  Hobbies and all forms of play tend materially to renew our vitality with accompanying moral uplift.  Play is not necessarily only confined to indulging in conventional games.  Rather the term “play” as we use it here, embraces every possible form of PLEASURABLE LIVING.  For example, simply spending a quiet and pleasant evening at home with our family chatting with congenial friends is, according to our interpretation, a form of play, that is delightful, pleasant social entertainment as distinguished from our daily work.  This finds us cheerful, contented, and relaxed.

        However, many of us at the end of our daily work lack sufficient energy at night for recreation.  How many of us simply spend the night routinely reading the evening newspaper?  How many of us are entirely too exhausted to read, even occasionally, an interesting book, visit our friends, or see one of the latest motion pictures?  When some of us occasionally spend a weekend away from our usual city haunts and environments, instead of receiving the immediate benefits of that desirable change in the way of complete revitalization (without fatigue) as the result of our experience outdoors in the bright sunshine, we are more often than not likely to find ourselves only recovering from the shock of our disappointment about the middle of the following week.

        Why?  Because our previous mode of living and the consequent neglect of our bodies has not prepared us for reaping the beneficial results of this diversion.  We lacked the necessary reserve energy to draw upon for this purpose and the fault lies only with us and not with nature as most of us like to think.  All that any normal body should require is a change from whatever it has previously been subjected to.

        Accordingly, since we are living in this Modern Age we must of necessity devote more time and more thought to the important matter of acquiring physical fitness.  This does not necessarily imply that we must devote ourselves only to the mere development of any particular pet set of muscles, but rather more rationally to the uniform development of our bodies as a whole – keeping all our organs as nearly as possible in their naturally normal condition so that we may not only be in a better position of earn our daily bread but also so that we may have sufficient vitality in reserve at night for the enjoyment of compensating pleasure and relaxation.

        Perhaps with some feeling of doubt you ask, “How can I realize such a utopian condition?  At night I am much too tired to go to a gymnasium.”  Or, “Isn’t it too costly to enroll for a conditioning course in some good gymnasium or club?”  RETURN TO LIFE fully explains how you can successfully achieve your worthy ambition to attain physical fitness right in your own home and at only nominal cost.

        Return to Life is what Joe Pilates called his book.  The full title is Return to Life Through Contrlology.  It was originally published in 1945.  The part you have just read comes in the beginning of the book.  It has a little bit of a sales pitch to it at the end, but Pilates’ really had a passion for wanting people to becoming familiar with their physicality.  He felt it was one of the most important things in life that one could accomplish.  I find this article on physical fitness and society particularly interesting because even though it was written over sixty years ago, it still has a message for us today. 

4 September

A Brief History of Joseph Hubertus Pilates

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A picture of Joseph Pilates and his studio at 939 Eighth Street in New York.  His wife Clara is at the right in a nurses uniform

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born on December 8, 1880 in Monchengladbach Germany, near Dusseldorf.  He was a sickly child who had asthma and rickets.  By the  the time he reached the age of 14, he was posing as a model for anatomical charts.  This demonstrates Pilates’ desire and acumen for physical exercise and rehabilitation.  At a young age he knew how the body worked and how to support it through exercise in order to enhance ones physical condition.  His father was a prize winning gymnast and his mother was a naturopath.  These two factors also may have contributed to his sense of the physical body.

There are many versions of the Pilates’ story.  Some say that Pilates left Germany to study with a boxing expert, and others that he left Germany to be in a circus.  In either case, we know that he was in England  when World War I broke out in 1914.  He was interned during the war at an enemy alien camp first in Lancaster, England, and then on the Isle of Man.  On the Isle of Man he worked in the hospital ward helping patients rehabilitate.  During his stay the influenza pandemic of 1918 swept through Europe.  It is said that none of the patients under his care died of the disease.

After the war, Pilates went back to Germany for a short time and then travelled by ship to New York.  On his trip across the Atlantic, he meet his soon to be wife Clara.  It is not known whether Clara was a nursery school teacher or a nurse.  What we do know is that she wore a nurses uniform in the studio they started at 939 Eighth Avenue.  The studio was housed in the same building as George Balachine’s new ballet company and Martha Graham’s rehearsal space.  This is how the Pilates’ work became an integral part of many dancers’ training, and how many dancers became Pilates’ instructors. 

During this period, Pilates wrote two books: Your Health, in 1934 and Return to Life Through Contrology in 1945.  In his book Contrology, Pilates’ talks about how people living in the city and working all the time need to devote more time and thought to their physical well being.

Since we are living in this Modern Age we must of necessity devote more time and more thought to the important matter of acquiring physical fitness.  This does not necessarily imply that we must devote ourselves only to the mere development of any particular set of muscles, but rather more rationally to the uniform development of our bodies as a whole – keeping all our organs as nearly as possible in their naturally normal condition so that we may not only be in a better position to earn our daily bread but also so that we may have sufficient vitality in reserve at night for the enjoyment of compensating pleasure and relaxation (Contrology, 1945).

Pilates was always to have said that he was fifty years ahead of his time.  He died in October 1967, at the age of 87.  He died very disappointed and angry that his system of exercise never received the success he felt it deserved.  His wife Clara worked a few more years in the studio and then retired in 1970.  She lived mainly on the generosity of her students.  She died in 1976. 

Pilates left as his legacy a sense of working with the body as a whole.  His exercises that are still used today in studios, health clubs and hospitals really do help support the body to maintain it’s natural and playful state.  His exercises support the body to do any physical activity with pleasure.

Resources

0. Pilates, Joseph. Return to Life Through Contrology. Presentation Dynamics Inc. Incline Village, Nevada, 1998.

0. Lessen, Deborah.  Pilates Method Alliance Study Guide.  Pilates Method Alliance Inc. Miami, Florida, 2005.