We have talked many times about the benefits of Pilates in earlier blog posts, but never realised how much of a thinker Joseph Pilates was.
He may be best known today for his exercises, but right up until his death in 1967 he was also an influential – and much quoted – thinker.
“I’m fifty years ahead of my time,” he once said with confidence.
Here are 19 of his most famous quotations, along with the meanings behind them:
1. “A man is as young as his spinal column.”
The spine, for Joseph Pilates, was the key to physical and emotional well being. Neutral spine alignment is everything.
“If your spine is stiff at 30,” he once said, “you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young.”
Pilates develops the deep muscles of the back and abdomen to support your spine, and focuses on breathing to promote better posture.
2. “We retire too early and we die too young. Our prime of life should be in the 70’s and old age should not come until we are almost 100.”
Practising what he preached, Joseph Pilates exercised almost right up until his death at 83 (his perfect posture no match for a 15-a-day cigar habit!).
The longer we live, he believed, the more opportunity we have to improve our health.
3. “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.”
Pilates teaches various breathing techniques to enhance relaxation, lower blood pressure, and to activate specific muscles that help improve posture.
Joseph Pilates believed that focusing on breathing was vital. “It is tragically deplorable,” he once said, “to contemplate the millions who have never mastered the art of correct breathing.”
4. “Pilates is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.”
Pilates is not just about great posture and a rock-hard core. It is more than just a physical exercise, and can radically enhance mental, emotional and spiritual well being too.
5. “Civilisation impairs physical fitness.”
Modern life – doubled up over screens, bent over desks, stressing about deadlines – takes a considerable toll on posture. And as a result, the effect it has on our physical, spiritual and emotional well being.
Pilates actually reverses our natural physical decline and nearly 40 years after Joseph Pilates’ death, his methods still offer a potent antidote to 21st civilisation’s sedentary, screen-fixated ways.
6. “Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self-confidence follows.”
The benefits of Pilates are far-reaching. Through the development and maintenance of the entire system of body, mind and spirit, practitioners of Pilates are able – both literally and figuratively – to walk taller.
7. “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”
Although Joseph Pilates did not entirely dismiss the aerobics boom in 60’s America, he nevertheless maintained that his methods offered a more targeted and efficient route to physical and emotional well being.
With a deliberate nod to the relatively mindless routines offered by aerobics, he once said: “Pilates is not a fatiguing system of dull, boring, abhorred exercises repeated daily ‘ad-nauseam’.”
8. “The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.”
It may feel as if the whole world is doing Pilates today, but when Joseph Pilates opened his fitness studio in 1920’s New York (in the same building as the New York City Ballet), his teachings were known only to a rarefied few, most of them ballerinas.
It is testament to both Joseph Pilates’ energy, and to the efficacy of his methods themselves, that Pilates is now practised by more than 10 million Americans and millions more in countries across the globe.
9. “Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty to not only to attain it but to maintain it.”
Joseph Pilates believed that although we start life in good physical and emotional shape, modern life has a way of eroding our health.
It is vital, he believed, that we address questions of posture and breathing in order to halt – and even reverse – that decline.
10. “Lazy breathing converts the lungs, literally and figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deposition of diseased, dying and dead germs.”
Even when we’re when exercising hard, only about 50% of the air in our lungs gets expelled when we breath out. Joseph Pilates believed that the air left in our lungs was a “haven for the multiplication of harmful germs,” and sought through his exercises to purge lungs, thus cleansing our systems.
This, he said, “is the equivalent of an internal shower.” Elaborating on the theme, he once said: “As a heavy rainstorm freshens the water of a sluggish or stagnant stream, so does the Pilates method purify the bloodstream.”
11. “Contrology is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles.”
Joseph Pilates was no Charles Atlas. His exercise regime was all about health, not bodybuilding.
“Contrology,” he said, “was conceived to limber and stretch muscles and ligaments so that your body will be as supple as that of a cat, not muscular like a brewery-truck horse or professional weight lifter you so much admire at the circus”.
12. “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”
Josephs Pilates believed that emotional health was inextricably linked to physical well being.
13. “Concentrate on the correct movement each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all vital benefits.”
Pilates is essentially about re-educating your body, undoing the damage that years of stress and immobility inflict. By repeatedly holding certain corrective positions, our musculature starts to retain a memory of how they feel, and in time will actually adopt them automatically – without us having to think about them.
“Correctly executed to the point of subconscious reaction,” Joseph Pilates said, “these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities.”
14. “You will feel better in ten sessions, look better in twenty sessions, and have a completely new body in thirty sessions.”
Joseph Pilates was living proof of the rapid transformative potential of his methods. Suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child, Pilates transformed himself through a combination of weights, yoga, gymnastics and martial arts into a 14 year old who was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts.
15. “Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking, nor outright purchase.”
Pilates is not aerobics: as with yoga, it takes a bit of practice to properly master some of the techniques, so you need to stick at it to really reap rewards.
Most people find that even a handful of sessions is enough to start feeling fitter and stronger, but stick with it for about 10 sessions, and most people will definitely feel significant change.
16. “Change happens through movement and movement heals.”
Stooped over computers all day, our musculature actually develops to accommodate that position: we become slouched. Pilates can actually correct that slouch: through carefully focusing on specific movements, Pilates stretches the muscles surrounding the spine – people can literally end up taller.
17. “Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.”
As a sickly child who went on to become, quite literally, a brand and byword for physical fitness, Joseph Pilates realised that people are able to effect radical personal change – if they are willing to commit to it.
18. “Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things.”
Although Joseph Pilates himself discovered the redemptive and transformative qualities of exercise at a very early age, a lifetime teaching his methods showed him that even relatively old people can still drastically improve their physical and emotional well being through Pilates.
19. “Man should bear in mind and ponder over the Greek admonition: Not Too Much, Not Too Little.”
Invoking the Greek physician Hippocrates, the founder of medicine, Joseph Pilates was keen to stress that one should not become fixated with exercise: a body-builder’s obsession with exercise, for example, was for Joseph Pilates unhealthy.
Balance is what he advocated: nothing more, nothing less.
For someone who quite literally revolutionised the entire health & fitness industry, it is quite fitting that Joseph Pilates is also a great thinker.
If you do not feel inspired to take up Pilates in your local area, or go on a Pilates holiday under the sun, then we suggest to read up on the dozens of benefits Pilates can have on your mind and body.