“it is the MIND that shapes the body” – Joseph Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born in Monchengladbach in Germany in 1883. His mother was a Naturopath and his father a Gymnast. He was a very sickly child and at one point was not expected to survive. He battled rickets asthma and then rheumatic fever. As he grew he used the influences around him gymnastics, martial arts, dance, yoga and ballet to work on getting over all his physical difficulties. He especially focused on breathing and training outdoors. He went on to over come his illnesses and became a Skier a boxer a diver and a gymnast. At 19 years old he went to England and was employed by Scotland Yard to teach self defence. At the outbreak of the first world war he found himself in an internment camp on the Isle of Wight due to his German nationality. Whilst there he worked on the german soldiers captured and injured in the war. He took springs from the hospital beds and created strange new resistance machines to work on their broken bodies. His unusual mind was decades ahead of his peers and his work put him at the cutting edge of physiotherapy and innovation in the field of rehabilitation. This new and developing science being challenged by the huge influx of returning war veterans.
Once free he returned to Germany and began to work with dancers.
Just before the start of the 2nd World War he emigrated to the USA and on the voyage over he met his future wife Clara a nurse. Together they opened a Fitness Studio in New York City and began to work with George Balanchine of the NYC Ballet rehabilitating his injured dancers and even teaching the young dancers. It wasn’t long before he became both famous and much sought after. Some of the injured dancers he rehabilitated went on to become 1st generation instructors and masters adding their own special influences and spreading his method across America and then the world.
In the beginning it was called Contrology and focused on the breath, core strength and spinal alignment. Engaging the Mind – Body – Spirit all together in every workout. These foundations of Contrology remain in todays Pilates and the evolving method was later named after him.
Joe died aged 83 years still active and teaching until the end, as do many Pilates instructors. Pilates like ballet is a discipline, the benefits are multilayered and far reaching, you never arrive or finish learning
When Joe said the mind shapes the body he was in fact expressing the concept of Neuroplasticity, way before Neuroscience had even discovered it. The science of Neuroplasticity shows that when you work on one part of the brain the WHOLE brain adapts and is benefited, even the body is affected positively. The brain has a remarkable plastic ability to change and adapt, as demands are made on it. It is perpetually regenerating itself and therefore has the ability to CHANGE. The body is the same. Your brain directed by your MIND affects your entire body. The brain is your control centre and your mind is the controller.
Joe created amazing machines that are still light years ahead of the machines you will find in the gyms. The way he saw bodies and movement was inspired and unmatched among his peers. He said that movement created healing. He understand that the MOST important movement of all was BREATH unseen yet vital to life. He saw that using your own body weight connected to your mind and spirit was healing and calming. That it created bodies that looked more like dancers than bodybuilders. An aesthetic I once aspired towards but now no longer. He sought to teach people to be the best version of THEMSELVES. That blueprint is already written into your genes. Not to be a mediocre version of someone else.
Lithe beautiful unique pain free functional flexible in our minds AND our bodies. He connected the breath to the movement teaching us how to be natural human beings. And being outside even better! He loved to be outside. You will find images of him wearing the smallest of shorts in the snow exercising, very much a German ideology!
He understood way back in the early 1900’s that the mind NOT the brain (which is just an organ) was the real YOU and that it needed to be in a healthy body to thrive. That these things are inseparable.
Joseph Pilates wasn’t a softie by any means he was very ” Germanic” in personality and I suspect a very hard taskmaster. He believed in effort, hard work, applied thought, structure, discipline and pushing the boundaries. He called his method Contrology which tells you a lot about his ethos. He knew that it brought a sense of achievement and contentment – that the healthier the body the lighter and freer the spirit feels. It’s not the whole story of course we are FAR more than muscles fascia and bones but that is a subject for another blog!
Dr Carolyn Leaf a Cognitive Neuroscientist and author of Switch on Your Brain says Any brain ( maybe here interchange the word to BODY) “Any brain at any age no matter what has happened to it can be made to function at a higher level because of the higher nature of Neuroplasticity “
The mind shapes the body – changes in the mind change everything in your body. Joseph Pilates was a lot cleverer than even he knew!