In the early twentieth century, a German by the name of Joseph Pilates developed a method of exercise and well-being that he called “Contrology” but we know today as Pilates. This method focuses on the interconnectedness of the mind and the body, and works to improve overall health through corrective exercises. As Pilates has developed over time, its roots in “contrology” are often forgotten. Here, we will look at the history of Pilates, how it’s evolved over time and the guiding principles that inform practice even today.

Joseph Pilates was an ill child. He suffered from many physical ailments including asthma and rickets, and was determined to find a way to improve his physical health through exercise. Before developing his method contrology, Pilates studied anatomy and many different forms of exercise like weightlifting, gymnastics, acrobatics and more. He developed a series of exercises over time that required balance, coordination, focus, strength and flexibility to properly execute. While the first exercises were all performed on the floor, Pilates soon created special apparatuses, like Reformer machines, to deepen the exercise method.

After moving to New York, Pilates taught this method called contrology to students who branched out across the world and began the evolution of modern Pilates that we see today. There are many different ways to practice Pilates and different schools of thought on the best way to practice. But one of the things most Pilates instructors can agree upon is the method’s guiding principles. These principles include:

  • Centering: This involves bringing your mind’s focus to the physical center of your body – your core.

  • Concentration: An important part of Pilates practice is focusing concentration fully on every movement to make it as effective as possible.

  • Control: There is no flailing in Pilates. Every body movement is consciously controlled by the student.

  • Precision: Making sure that your controlled motions are actually correct is another important part of proper practice.

  • Breath: Using your breath during movements is important. Joseph Pilates liked to tell students to think of their lungs as “bellows”.

  • Flow: Finding grace during practice is much better than jerky disjointed movements and brings better results.

However you practice Pilates – on the floor, with a reformer, in a classroom, at home watching an online class or with a private instructor – knowing the history and guiding principles of the method can help you better connect your mind and body during exercise. Next time you’re sweating it out during Pilates practice, remember that Joseph Pilates had a very specific goal in creating contrology – to help people improve their health through physical fitness. It’s a goal that many of us can still resonate with today.