Pilates takes its name from Joseph Pilates (1883-1967), who developed a method of body movement practice named Contrology
in the early 1990s. In his own words, Contrology was developed to achieve “complete coordination of body, mind and spirit”. Thus, it is as much of a movement-based practice as it is a philosophy and a structured approach to integration.
Joseph migrated to the USA from Germany in the mid-1920s and opened his first studio in New York with his partner Clara, where he worked with clients using prototypes of what we’ve come to know as ‘pilates machines’. Back then, these machines looked like deconstructed, hybrid furniture (e.g., chairs, beds, ladders, etc.), although, nowadays, they still retain their simple, unsophisticated looks and focus on functionality. Joseph’s machines were a later addition to his practice, as he continued to develop strategies for facilitating the execution of movements, to cater for all types of conditions and clients (e.g., ballet dancers, opera singers, professional athletes, kids, business men, cancer survivors, etc).
As Joseph continued to work and develop his techniques, many practitioners who experienced Contrology decided to learn and adopt his body of work. Of course, being a dynamic quest, Joseph’s work started to evolve and adapt to context-specific cases. Inexorably, it began to spread across the continents and, eventually, the term Pilates was used to replace Contrology, as the focus shifted from control to a more nuanced framework which sometimes might include elements from other disciplines (e.g., dance, yoga, Feldenkrais, etc.).
Nevertheless, nearly a century since then, the Pilates machines continue to be used and explored with by a wide range of practitioners, myself included. What fascinates me about this plain apparatus (and Pilates, in general) is that it affords feedback, assistance and resistance to the body as it moves consciously and spontaneously. Consequently, Pilates fosters awareness of the body in space and of the spaciousness within the body.
This reminds me, at times, of Contact Improvisation
, a contemporary dance form which focuses on weight sharing, support, grounding, breathing and play as you move with a partner. I see body movement as a creative and organic synthesis of mind and body. I strive to create an environment where my clients can move with fluidity and joy, and activate the body's self balancing potential.
Photography by Tetsuya Tsukamoto