Article was published for "Prime Time for Seniors" in Arvada, 2012.

Author Laurie Grace Wood.


What is Pilates (pil-ah-teez)?

Joseph H. Pilates, born in Germany in 1880, created the Pilates method of exercise and brought it to New York City in the 1920"s.  Joe's motivation was to help improve his own health since he was a frail child suffering with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever.  He overcame his physical limitations through exercise, bodybuilding, skiing, diving, and gymnastics, becoming a model for anatomical drawings at the age of 14.  Joe moved to England in 1912, where he worked as a self-defense instructor for detectives at Scotland Yard.  When World War I broke out, Joe interned in England as an "enemy alien" with other German nationals. While he was there, he refined and developed his exercise ideas and taught his system to other internees. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs.  An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands, but not one of Joe's trainees died.  This, he claimed, was a testament to the effectiveness of his exercise system.

Joe eventually immigrated to the United States in 1923.  During his voyage, he met Clara, whom he later married.  Joe and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York City, sharing an address with the New York City Ballet.  By the early 1960's, Joe and Clara had many clients from the dance community, including George Balanchine and Martha Graham and many of their dancers. Pilates was an underground rehabilitation system for dancers before it became mainstream.

After Joe's death in 1967, at the age of 87, many of his students began to teach the Pilates Method across the country adding their own innovations and advancements to his original work.  Joe did not leave a will or a successor to his work, but Romana Kryzanowska became the director of his NYC Studio in 1970, while Clara continued teaching.  Some of the respected teachers that were once students of Joe and Clara's are still training the next generations:  Ron Fletcher, Kathy Grant, Lolita San Miguel, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Mary Bowen, and Robert Fitzgerald.

By the 1980's, the media began to cover Pilates extensively, and after the loss of the Pilates trademark from the NYC Studio through litigation, Pilates became a household name and part of the fitness mainstream, entering into recreational centers, gyms, physical therapy clinics, and private studios.  Joe once proclaimed, "I'm fifty years ahead of my time."  And he was right. 

Pilates involves over 500 exercises that can be done on a Mat or on apparatus specifically designed by Joe, like the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Chair, and the Barrel.  Pilates can be done in a group Mat class, privately on apparatus, or in a group apparatus class.  Many of the exercises are done lying on the back, with some side lying, prone, seated, and standing exercises.  The apparatus is designed to either assist the body in basic movements or to add resistance to challenge the body as it gains stability and strength.  The mat work uses the body's own weight for exercises and props can be added for variety.

Pilates has now evolved into two categories, the Classical and the Therapeutic.  The Classical Method maintains an advanced set routine of the original work with a one-size-fits-all approach, while the Therapeutic Method breaks down and adapts the original work into a more individualized, user-friendly, rehabilitation approach, making it easier for any population with any physical disorder to gain the benefits of the Pilates work.  The Therapeutic approach is best for the aging body, spinal, hip, and knee disorders, faulty movement patterns, gate issues, and for pre- and post-rehab programs.


Therapeutic Pilates can help:

*reduce discomfort from chronic low back pain

*stabilize and improve spinal conditions like scoliosis, stenosis, osteoporosis, degenerative disc, spondylolisthesis

*prepare and condition a body for surgery and for rehabilitation afterwards

*stabilize and improve hip, knee, shoulder, and ankle issues

*improve general balance and alignment problems

*improve the ability to get up and off the floor and perform daily activities

*gently awaken a body after a time of being inactive

*improve and maintain a tall, graceful posture

*move the body more efficiently in any sport, dance, hobby, or activity


The Pilates Method combines the best of Western and Eastern philosophy, blending the mind and body as a harmonious unit.  The Eastern approach to exercise is a path to calmness, being centered and whole, with an emphasis on stretching and limberness.  The Western approach emphasizes motion, muscle tone, and strength.  Pilates is a wonderful combination of both.



What can Pilates do for me?

*Strengthen the deep abdominals for spinal and postural support for better daily functioning and recreational activities

*Focus the mind to control the body's movement for better overall awareness and concentration

*Improve flexibility and balance through stretching and strengthening the muscle system uniformly

*Align the spine by conditioning the center of the body to support the body's overall structure, which allows for full range of motion of the joints

*Connect and coordinate deep breath work with core engagement, while purifying the blood and calming the mind

*Build one’s confidence in the body's abilities through a wide variety of mindful movements in a successful, supportive environment

*Reduce stress through balancing, breathing, and releasing endorphins

*Improve the body’s movement efficiency with any sport or dance activity

*Improve the body’s ability to recover from injury or impact faster

*Calm the nervous system and improve one’s sleep and immune building

*Even improve one’s sex life due to the strengthening of the pelvic floor:-)


"Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit."

-  Joseph Pilates


We all deserve to stay mobile and independent as long as we can, to move with ease and grace, and to enjoy our lives to the fullest.  The mind, body, spirit approach of Therapeutic Pilates is a great way for Ageless Adults to do just that.