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Pilates: Return to Life through Contrology

Most people are familiar with the name Pilates and know some details about Pilates exercises, however there are some things that are not quite so well known about Pilates, especially some of the advice laid out by Joseph Pilates himself. This month I thought I would share with you some of his quotes and philosophies which mostly date from his book published in 1945 but are surprisingly still relevant today:

Pilates was originally called Contrology.

Joseph Pilates spent decades of his life studying movement and various styles of exercise. Over a period of 43 years Pilates created what he called Contrology, a complete exercise system for coordination of body, mind and spirit. A system where you acquire complete control over every muscle of your body. Joseph Pilates published his short book called “Return to life through Contrology” which documented the fundamental 34 mat exercises along with his theories of maintaining but also attaining good health. Pilates is often heralded as being ahead of his time with his philosophy on movement and the fact that so many people are still practicing his exercise system to this day is testament to that.


Pilates is for every body.

Pilates created his exercise system for everybody, men and women, because he believed “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness”. His aim was for everyone to be able to benefit from his accessible exercise system “You may derive all the benefits of Contrology in your own home.”.

The benefits of Pilates comes from consistent practice.

Joseph Pilates knew that “Physical fitness can neither be acquired by wishful thinking nor outright purchase” he encouraged people to make the effort to benefit themselves. Pilates encouraged regular practice of his exercises “Make up your mind that you will perform your Contrology exercises ten minutes without fail. Amazingly enough, once you travel on this contrology “Road to Health'' you will subconsciously lengthen your trips on it from ten to twenty or more minutes before you even realize it.”. He knew that over time people would feel the benefits of his exercise system, reminding them that “ ''Rome was not built in a day” and that patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.” . Pilates really is a practice. The more you do it the more you will refine your movements and be able to focus where your efforts are best felt in your body. Thus even experienced pilates students will reap much benefit from revisiting fundamental movements as do new students.

Pilates deliberately works every muscle of the body

“Developing minor muscles naturally helps to strengthen major muscles. As small bricks are employed to build large buildings, so will the development of the small muscles help develop the large muscles.”


Nature provided inspiration for Pilates exercises

Joseph observed animal movements, noticing how: “animals acquire this ideal rhythm of motion because they are constantly stretching and relaxing themselves”. Movements contrology exercises were then designed to mimic.


Pilates goes beyond exercise in his philosophy to attain good health.

  • Sunshine and fresh air are cited as important. We continue to know this to be important today, nature bathing is known to have a calming effect on the mind and we also know the benefits of sunlight in obtaining adequate vitamin D levels.

  • Pilates talks about eating to fuel our bodies and refreshingly he doesn’t mention calories or specific diets just balancing our body's need with the amount of food we eat, considering how active we are or are not.

  • Adequate sleep is referenced as important in attaining good health and his advice for when you can’t sleep, get up and do his exercises for: “It is far better to be tired from physical exertion than to be fatigued by the poisons generated by nervousness while lying awake.”

  • Body brushing with a stiff brush (without a handle so we must “twist squirm and contort ourselves in every conceivable way in our attempt to reach every portion of our body’) is also part of a complete Pilates routine to stimulate circulation, clean the pores and remove dead skin allowing our skin to fully breathe.


Pilates observed a lot about how modern living even in the mid-late 1940’s was affecting people's health. The impact of a rapidly progressing post world war world with it’s faster tempo, economic pressures, rise of sedentary office jobs, increasing use of technology with telephones and cars meant that even then Pilates believed no home was “entirely free from sufferers of some form of nervous tension”. Pilates concluded “accordingly since we are living in this modern age we must of necessity devote more of our time and more thought to the important matter of acquiring physical fitness.”


It was in response to this that Pilates wrote his book “RETURN TO LIFE” to explain how people could in their own homes, with commitment attain physical fitness at a nominal cost.


Now in today’s modern world 77 years on from when Pilates published his book surprisingly so much of it is still relevant, although some of Pilates more blunt comments and tunnel vision may jar with some of our more modern knowledge and sensibilities his 100 page book really does offer us all some real gems of advice to live by.


I believe it is very true that he was a man way ahead of his time and I for one love his legacy of Pilates exercises. I hope that if you haven’t tried pilates yet or want to try it again, one day soon you may join me on line or in person to experience it first hand.



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