Joe Pilates applied his method (originally named Contrology) to clients based on their individual needs. His approach was to give the body in front of him a workout balanced in mind and body; strength and stretch; control and ease of movement. His choice
of exercises and apparatus were based on what he saw in each client:
- How did they move?
- How did they breathe?
- What parts of the body were unbalanced (top and bottom, front and back, right and left, trunk and extremities)?
- What parts of the body were injured and thus avoided during the workout?
- What organic ailments existed, i.e. high blood pressure, heart conditions, etc.?
- What was the client's lifestyle and choice of activity that would need to be enhanced or balanced?
Regarding injuries, we understand that Joe did not attempt to fix injuries. Indeed, Pilates lore tells us that clients would explain their ailments and injuries to him, and they were never spoken of again. His belief was that when the body was brought to (or toward) ideal physical fitness that the body would heal itself; overall increased circulation would aid with healing; joints balanced with muscular strength, coordination and flexibilty helped avoid future injury; improved posture would help the internal organs function properly (for example, lungs compressed by a hunched forward rib cage would not be able to fully expand, witholding from the body the full amount of nutrient-rich oxygen it requires to function to its ideal); and not to be understated is the mental and emotional wellness that comes with not being treated as sick or injured, by focusing not on the problem area but working everything healthy enough to exercise.
Many of us are familiar with the mat exercises published in Joe's book Return to Life Through Contrology, but many of us are not aware of the apparatus he designed, or the purpose for it. Although the matwork is the work, the apparatus "helps us get there", by:
- Helping us find where our bodies are in space (i.e. is my arm in line with my shoulder, or wandering out to the side?)
- Supporting the weight of our limbs to promote ease of movement in the joint, thereby improving range of motion, releasing tension and increasing circulation
- Increasing leverage to enhance an exercise (or make it possible)
- Creating mental awareness of the muscular connections necessary to improve faulty movement patterns
- Providing resistance to strengthen muscles
- Teaching us how to coordinate and control our body by coordinating and controlling the apparatus (thus why the equipment is not referred to as a machine; whereas a machine does work for us, we work with the apparatus as a tool)
In a nutshell, the apparatus generally increases our understanding of and ability to execute the matwork by performing similar movements with tactile feedback, support and resistance. Much like a computer system is comprised of many parts that, when put together, create a whole to serve a certain purpose, likewise Joe's matwork, when combined with his apparatus, creates an exercise system with a singular goal of improving our overall health and wellness through physical fitness, balancing mind and body. It is this exercise system and Joe's method of applying it to individuals that became legendary for changing bodies.
Among other things, dedicated Pilates practitioners have described: improved strength, flexibility, stamina, posture, coordination, balance, breath control, circulation, mental focus, body awareness; reduced stress, tension, joint and muscle pain; injury recuperation (as previously described) and prevention; increased confidence, uplifted spirit and an overall sense of well being.