The best way to get to know Pilates is to dive into the history. Joseph Hubertus Pilates, born in Germany in 1883, was plagued with childhood asthma and rickets. It was said that he was given an anatomy book as a child and so began his self-study in anatomy and movement. Joe created contrology (the art of control) in his thirties while interning at a German nationals’ work camp. He was said to have created his first apparatus to help rehab an injured soldier. It was from here that he gained a reputation for building strength and rebuilding injured bodies. Joe quickly gained a reputation among athletes with his unique strength training method. He then moved to New York to pursue his connection with the boxing industry and quickly became known as the man to see to rehabilitate injured athletes. It was here that he and his wife Clara built the pilates system. Joe’s unique innovator-meets-engineer approach allowed him to create equipment to further his system. The legacy of Joe and Clara was carried on by many, but Romana Krizanowska became Joe and Clara’s choice to spread the work of Contrology. Romana, a former Balanchine dancer, connected with Joe in her early teenage years to rehab an injury. The work of Pilates had her stronger than ever and brought her back to dancing. She continued with her pilates training and began to teach in the studio. Romana is the reason that the classical work of Joe Pilates spread in popularity. She worked very hard to hold true to Joe and Clara’s system. Pilates was booming and therefore many contemporary forms were created from Joe’s original work. My mentor, Alycea Ungaro, studied under Romana at the height of her Pilates career, and was also a dancer who found pilates as a modality to rehab an injury. Much like Romana and those before her, she found great strength in the system and was instantly hooked. Romana was said to have handed her a list of mat exercises and threw Alycea into the fire to become a teacher. Much of the classical legacy today is preserved through these second-generation teachers. It is important to know this because without the legacy of those teaching under Romana and Joe the work can deviate from the origin. Alycea is beyond respectful of the lineage to carry on and preserve the work. We at Grace Pilates honor that legacy, and are beyond proud to be so tied to the lineage. We will take the utmost care in preserving the original work, and that is how we will forever teach it to our students. That being said, it is a beautiful body of work. You will feel your entire body, and will SWEAT!!!! (The Big Book of Pilates, Siler 3-5).
This leads me to the next topic: the misconceptions of Classical (Romana) Pilates. Now having two comprehensive certifications in classical Pilates, I realize there is a common misconception that there are no modifications in Romana-style. However, the system has many modifications! It is meant to be accessible, yet challenging. There has been this shift towards the belief that Pilates is akin to physical therapy. There is a natural propensity to think this because the number one focus in Pilates is alignment. This, however, is not physical therapy. We are often the next step, and are known for strengthening after injuries. I have found that there are very few situations where a client would be turned away. The broken, overweight, inflexible, and injured clients will be able to find movement safely. The modifications are given when needed, and only when needed. This is exercise, and to rebuild the body’s strength one must work the muscles. You are meant to sweat. I love to say that if you are not sweating, you are not doing Pilates.
Pilates has withstood the test of time. It is alignment-based resistance training. In order to build strength the muscles require resistance; movement with resistance, focusing on control, centering, breath, precision, flow, and concentration. These principles guide the body’s movements as a whole. The focus on alignment is how we get our clients to correct the postures that are not serving them. This concentration on your body is life-changing. It is the mind-body connection of true physical fitness. My clients leave Pilates with the understanding of how to listen to their bodies, how to hold the body in proper alignment, and take care of the body that carries our life. It is essential to overall health.
I discovered Pilates in a tumultuous time in my life. I was grinding out many work hours in the medical industry, a mother of two small children, and I was burnt out. I was blessed to stumble into a classical program and the traditional set exercises allowed me to go beyond the mentality of what is coming next and truly focus on my body. With consistent practice I was able to use the set order of exercises to see marked improvement in my body. I started to understand what a mind-body connection meant. This to me was the ability to feel my body in present space. I began to understand what my body needed and, more importantly, what was not serving it. I started to listen to those internal cues. If I overate, drank too much, slept too little, or was holding myself in poor posture I could feel the signals in my body. Again and again I would return to my practice, and escape my monkey mind for an hour. I became addicted to the hours where I was able to self-focus, to escape my to-do lists. I felt my body getting stronger over time. I have found after reflection with Alycea that there is indeed a spirituality associated with Pilates. There is a reason we house our spirit, heart, and mind in this body. The lack of care to our physical self directly connects with mental and spiritual sickness. The body is very connected to the spirit and the mind. Proper care of it is essential for overall health. Pilates allows us to know our bodies and all of its individual nuances. My husband was diagnosed with late-stage cancer when I first found Pilates. I was beyond anxious. As the mother of two small children, with the added weight of his illness on my shoulders I could not find peace. Pilates allowed my anxiety to rest for the hour I was working out. To move my body with precision took great concentration. I could not think of anything but what the teacher was telling me. My mind was quiet. It was heaven. I could feel my strength. I began to respect my body, instead of giving constant criticism, I listened for the cues my body was giving on how to live. My body just needs me to listen, and when I do it is always good to me. Through our journey in the cancer world I began to respect the human body immensely. I began to understand how much we take our bodies for granted, and how poorly we treat them. My mission in this world is to strengthen bodies and teach my clients mind-body connection to develop true health. I hope that connection to our life, and gratitude for the miracle of movement and health will lead to better lives, less cancer, less stress, less illness, and more happiness and peace. I wish you connection to body, life, and spirit. I honor Joe for his method which brings true health. I am here to help you keep it classical, New Orleans.