Pilates: Leading the Way Toward Functional Movement
by Tanis Lee
In recent years, the term functional movement has become a focal point, if not a catch phrase, within the health and fitness community. As the fitness industry has evolved, so has our demand for positive results and healthier options. It is not merely a choice between being fit or not; in fact, people are often searching for a fitness regimen that betters their life as a whole. Today’s environment poses unique challenges for our bodies, making the presence of chronic pain and poor posture a more natural occurrence within our society. As a result, the demand to enhance ones ability to perform functional movements with ease and grace has dramatically increased. On the forefront of this growing industry is the Method of Pilates. Developed throughout the early 1900s, this method of physical conditioning has the ability to enhance functional movement patterns, reduce stress, and increase overall health.
In the early 1900s, a young Joseph H. Pilates developed a series of exercises he termed Contrology. He defined Contrology as, “The comprehensive integration of body, mind, and spirit.” Having overcome a childhood of illness, Joseph was passionate about studying ways to achieve physical greatness. He researched yoga, martial arts, Zen meditation, as well as ancient Greek and Roman exercises. He also worked in conjunction with medical professionals, including his wife Clara who was a practicing nurse. His diverse experiences allowed him to come up with a unique form of exercise. Pilates developed a fusion of dynamic movements assembled together into a series of thirty-four distinct exercises. Performing these exercises with focus and proper muscle recruitment helps to rebalance and enhance the body’s alignment and functionality.
In the early years, his main subjects were elite performers within the dance community who suffered from various injuries. Pilates exercises are very intricate and involve a series of biomechanics which the average individual may find challenging. Due to the fact that he was a pioneer, the uniqueness of the work was also most likely intimidating to many. As with most great innovators, Joseph Pilates was creating a system of movement that would not be integrated, nor fully understood until well beyond his time. However, Contrology has withstood the test of time and has evolved into what is now called the Pilates Method which has grown tremendously in popularity.
While Pilates was previously overshadowed by aerobics and other high-intensity workouts, it gained momentum and international notoriety in the early 1990s when superstar celebrities like Madonna began practicing and advocating for its use. Today, it is no longer a style of rehabilitation and conditioning reserved exclusively for the elite few, but has now become a powerful tool in the ever-expanding health and fitness industry with practical applications for all. Frankly, for those who have never heard of Pilates, it is really just a life-changing experience that you must try for yourself to understand and appreciate not only how easy it can be, but how rewarding it is and how great it can make you feel.
So exactly what are functional movements? Functional movements are based upon real-world situational biomechanics. Functional exercise attempts to incorporate as many variables as possible (balance, multiple joints, multiple planes of movement), thus decreasing the load on the muscle while increasing the complexity of motor coordination and flexibility. The Pilates Method is based upon all such principles, often times existing in one single exercise.
Luckily, due to his volumes of work with a select few now referred to as the elders or first generation instructors, his work has lived on and branched out. The functionality of this method is what has kept it alive. It provides a plethora of health benefits. It moves the body through a series of forward, backward, sideways, rotational, and inverted motions while simultaneously applying a focused breath with proper biomechanics. Due to its longevity, there is presently a magnitude of enthusiasts passionate about the work and dedicated to carrying it forward for generations to come.
Over the years, the Pilates Method has adapted and evolved to include a wide array of variations to the original work which has made it relevant to anyone at any age or skill level. It has been a leader in skillfully training the body to reconnect and reintroduce our inherent and most efficient way to move. Unfortunately, our naturally intended way to move our bodies can often be lost or altered during the course of our daily lives. Our bodies are frequently placed into awkward positions for varying lengths of time resulting in poor posture and chronic pain for millions of people worldwide.
Reasons people are drawn to a pilates class will vary, however, a common precursor is pain due to poor flexibility, and lack of strength and mobility. Thankfully, because it builds strength and flexibility simultaneously while developing core strength and improving posture and alignment, the success rate for those seeking pain relief is extremely high. And, because its focal point is to improve ones functional movement patterns, usually clients continue to incorporate pilates into their daily lives following rehabilitation. Whether the pursuit for functional movement is sports specific or pain related, this method is a perfect fusion of mind and body specifically designed so that eventually, without thinking about it, the body will move with economy, balance, and grace.
Joseph Pilates may have never imagined the impact that he would have in the lives of so many people, yet his work has been an inspiration for over eighty years to those in the field of reproducing functional movement. Thank you, Joe, for inspiring me to pursue physical greatness!!
Tanis Lee is a fully certified GYROTONIC® and Pilates instructor. She lived in Vancouver until 2008, where she was certified with Marta Hernandez and The Physicalmind Institute of Canada, as well as with Karen Mullen of the GYROTONIC® Movement Center in Seattle, Washington. Tanis is currently teaching at Lead Pilates and Wellness. She is proud to be a member of the Lead Pilates team where they specialize in working with clients of various backgrounds and skill levels. Whether you are looking for specialized attention from a previous injury, or working toward a particular fitness goal, their team is dedicated to aiding and educating their clients to exploring movement and the body. For more information visit www.leadpilates.com or call (306) 382-7447 in Saskatoon. Also see the display ad on page 22 of the 17.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.