About the Method
The Pilates Method of body conditioning is a vigorous, yet mindful total body exercise system that was designed by Joseph H. Pilates in the early 20th Century. Mr. Pilates created over 500 exercises that work the entire body from head-to-toe. Many Pilates exercises require only a mat. There is also a diverse array of Pilates equipment that was designed by Mr. Pilates himself. You may have heard references to these pieces including the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Electric Chair, Ladder Barrel and others. BodyTonic Pilates Gymnasium has the greatest collection of Pilates equipment based on Mr. Pilates’ original designs to be found in Brooklyn and most of New York City.
The Pilates technique is comprised of movements designed to balance mobility and stability, much like a gymnast might train, but more tailored to the everyday person. It has a progressive nature built into the system so there is a definite beginner level that with practice, lends itself to the intermediate level and so on. In the beginning, much focus is placed on your center, or abdominal and low back area and the balance of this central musculature, side to side and front to back, so that for instance, even when you are doing a standard movement like a push up, you are thinking about the muscles supporting your torso and pelvis. We do not sacrifice healthy form to a number of reps or added resistance. At BodyTonic our motto is “good for the body.” We want all of our clients to live long, healthy lives, with strength and vitality at every age.
About the Man
Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1883-1967) was a visionary—to many of his peers a genius and to others likely, a lunatic. It just takes one look inside BodyTonic Pilates Gymnasium to get a sense of the ingenuity of Mr. Pilates. His unique equipment and methodology speak of his prodigious skill and innate understanding of the human body.
Mr. Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach [near Düsseldorf], Germany. Like many children of his era, he was unwell as a child but with a strong determination, he devoted himself to learning about the body and building up his strength. The son of naturopath Mother, and a gymnast Father he had a desire to be healthy through physical work and nature. Through holistic practices of fresh air, healthy eating and a rigorous self-study of physical fitness he left his childhood of weakness behind and by 14 was posing for anatomy posters as a prime example of health.
In 1912, he left Germany to train as a boxer in England. While there, he trained detectives in the art of self- defense, and he worked in a circus. But as a German national in England at the outbreak of World War I, Pilates was incarcerated as an “enemy alien” and sent to the Isle of Man. This place operated much like it's own town and with his enthusiasm for good health Joe had a small population to share his ideas with. Wanting others to feel as great as he did, Pilates taught his fellow inmates his exercises. His efforts were credited with helping many of them maintain their health through the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918.
Shortly after World War I, Pilates returned home to Germany to perfect his regimen. But the German government wanted him to train the new German army. Pilates wanted to heal, not train others to harm. So in 1926, he packed his bags and left for the United States. On the ship, he met Clara, a nurse, who later became his wife and life-long professional partner. The two opened a studio at 939 8th Avenue in New York City and by the 1940's his work, which he termed "Contrology" caught on with the New York elite as well as professional dancers and company directors such as George Balanchine and Martha Graham.
Throughout his adult life, Joe was compelled to create a vast array of equipment for use in his studio and in people's homes along with this system that any person could not only practice, but enjoy. While many "physical culturalists" of his day built equipment of similar fashion--with springs and pulleys--two elements helped perpetuate his work, his equipment was better, and there was an order to the exercises. While vacationing in Beckett, Massachusettes and teaching at Jacob's Pillow, Joe documented his work and love for the invigorating effects of the outdoors through writing, photographs and moving images. He had some grave concerns about where our society was headed. Improvements in industry were limiting our movements and adding mental strain, causing a demise in our health. He made an impassioned plea in his seminal work, “Return to Life Through Contrology” (1945). It’s part manifesto, part exercise manual and a huge call to action.
He operated a studio until his death in 1967 at age 82. He died in a New York Hospital of emphysema without much money or fame. Clara continued his work until she left the studio in the hands of Romana Kryzanowska, along with a handful of other teachers to perpetuate the Pilates technique. These are affectionately known as the "Pilates Elders", but Ms. Kryzanowska stands out as the "keeper of the flame" as she did the least to alter his original method. She died August 30, 2013.
In each visit to Pilates at BodyTonic, you should expect to move within your healthy range of motion and try new things that are challenging. You may or may not break a sweat, but it is certainly within our goals to get you moving with an element of challenge. Barring any injuries, or physical limitations, you should expect to forward bend, side bend, back bend, twist and invert within a range that is appropriate for you. This can all feel really good, new, refreshing, fun and invigorating. There will be articulation of the spine, deep breathing and postural awareness. If you want to “check out” while you exercise, that is not going to happen in your Pilates session! Your teacher will give you a path to get to know your own body—what powers you have, some weaknesses to strengthen – and you will begin to experience how incredibly good your body can feel. Some teachers push a little more than others and chemistry between teachers and students is always a factor in settling into your training routine and schedule.
Some clear results you can expect from practicing Pilates are:
- Increased strength and muscle tone
- Greater flexibility
- More comfort in trouble spots like your neck and low back
- Improved coordination
- More efficient breathing
- More efficient digestion
- Greater body awareness
- Better posture and alignment
A Pilates session is like exercising, going the chiropractor and getting a massage all in one. You will look better, feel better and it’s possible your whole quality of life will improve because of it.