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Principles and Theories of Pilates and Modern Day Modifications

Pilates was developed in the 1920's by a German born fitness fanatic called Joseph. H. Pilates. During his childhood Pilates is suffered from many illnesses and is believed to have been a frail child suffering from ailments such as Asthma and Rheumatic fever and it is this that led to his determination to overcome these through his drive for fitness work (Robinson and Thomson, 1999, pg 14). He first came across fitness work after moving to England and being placed in confinement due to his nationality at the outbreak of the First World War (Robinson and Thomson, 1999, pg 14). Whilst he was incarcerated he developed a fitness programme for his fellow prisoners to improve their health and fitness levels. It wasn't until he moved to America that he opened his first fitness studio in 1923 in New York that became popular with dancers and performers due to the individual programmes that were geared towards the individuals needs. This quickly became known as 'The Pilates Method' (Robinson and Thomson, 1999, pg 14). His main intention at this time was to work the mind and body simultaneously through a unique sequence of movements (www.pilatesinsight.com). The following quote is further evidence of what Joseph Pilates set out to achieve with his exercise technique

"The attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally performing our many daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure."

The alignment of the body is also a new principle and is related to the posture of the body and this affects the general health and well being of the individual (Robinson and Thomson, 1998, pg 18). Body weight is transferred through the centre of the body and if the weight is displaced away from the centre then strains are put upon the muscles and joints. With the specific positioning of certain limbs during the exercises Pilates aims to realign the body. This will result in a reduced risk of injury. The building up of the postural muscles i.e. the 'core' muscles, which help with body alignment, can be brought about through the element of stamina. This is the eighth and final additional principle according to Robinson and Thomson (1998, 1999). It is the aim of the Pilates method to gradually build up the stamina of the muscles and in particular the 'core' muscles through the repetition of the movements and regular practice (Robinson and Thomson, 1998, pg24). Through the practise of the Pilates method, physical and mental stamina will improve. However there are alternative ideas about the number of principles that are central to Pilates as highlighted by Reyneke (2002). As well as the principles mentioned above as the original and modernised principles Reyneke has identified a ninth principle. This principle is 'isolation and integration' (Reyneke, 2002, pg 68). In accordance with the belief of Reyneke Pilates exercises reorganize and recuperate by isolating those parts of the body that suffers from imbalance then integrates the movements of that body area into the smooth running of the whole body (Reyneke, 2002, pg 68). This occurs through working on one side of the body first then following this up by repeating the same exercise on the other side of the body. For example, the stretching of the right hip would be followed by the stretching of the left hip resulting in the exercising of the Illiopsoas muscle on the right then the Illiopsoas muscle on the left side. This ensures that as you work each body part the movement is equal to that of the same muscle on the opposite side (Reyneke, 2002, pg 68).

As the lifestyle has changed and is now very different from in the past, physical problems are no longer the same meaning changes have had to come into the Pilates method. Stress is now more prevalent and there are more jobs that tie people down to desks which can bring about Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), this has resulted in exercises being adapted and new exercises being brought in to prepare the body. (Robinson and Thomson, 1999, pg 15). In addition to the different lifestyle, the advancement in research in the medical world also contributes to the modifications that have taken place in the Pilates technique. With these advances injuries are easier to diagnosis as are the likely causes of the injuries, this in turn means that if the cause of injury is known then it can be prevented. The perfect example in how Pilates has adapted for modern living is the addition of the principle of alignment. As mentioned above, more jobs are now based behind a desk, resulting in a higher risk of bad posture and damaging body alignment. So in that respect, the addition of the principle of alignment is a very clever one and one that is needed. The addition of the principle of relaxation is also a necessary one due to the increase in stress levels in modern times. It is essential to be relaxed when doing Pilates to reduce the chances of sustaining an injury so it is important that when starting the exercises that they are in a relaxed state. This wont have been needed when stress levels  in past times weren't as high or prevalent so is a good indication of how the vital elements of the Pilates technique has transformed with modern practice. Perhaps the biggest modification however is the way in which many original exercises have been adapted and simplified to make the Pilates method available to a wider range of people as opposed to the dancers and performers and such likes who used their bodies for their living (Robinson and Thomson, 1999, pg 15) that graced his first studio back in 1923.  Nevertheless these new elements and modifications of modern day Pilates could not work without the original principles that were already in place. To get results from Pilates all the elements need to work together so although there has been modifications that have brought Pilates in line with the needs of modern times, the original elements are still vitally important and it shows that the original and modified elements of Pilates can work together resulting in Pilates being arguably the most popular and successful fitness regime around today.

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