Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Pilates?

Many of you know I have become a huge fan of Pilates since starting chemo. I knew that ballet dancers and those on the upper West Side seeking to look like Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman did Pilates, but I had no idea how it could literally save your life. Joseph Pilates, a German, came up with the philosophy to overcome his childhood rickets and developed it for hospital patients, not ballerinas. All of the machines are based on "hospital beds"... the springs, the position of lying down and doing these controlled movements that strengthen your core and boost your immune system. The unique way of breathing can literally increase the oxygen flow and raise your white blood cell count. I am using the controlled strengthening of every tiny muscle I never knew I had in my upper body, chest and arms to prepare for my double mastectomy. I am increasing the range of motion in my arms so that I will hopefully avoid lymphedema - a common side effect of breast surgery after lymph nodes are taken out. But more importantly Joseph Pilates who was placed in an internment camp when he was in England during World War I (he was German, remember) taught the other prisoners mat Pilates - and those who did the exercises with him survived the outbreak of pandemic influenza. Those who didn't, well, didn't.

Here is how one Peak pilates instructor describes the importance of Pilates methods:

Clare Dunphy: "What is Pilates. Here are a few of my thoughts in sound bites. PIlates called his method Contrology and in recent years it was named after him. You can say that PIlates is a set of regimented exercises that focus on using the core muscles of the trunk with roots dating back to the early 20th century when Joseph Pilates developed a system to help rehabilitate hospital patients during World War I. Years later dancers adopted it as physical therapy. The "Contrology" exercises are done with controlled breathing and performed on apparatus or a mat. The apparatus uses adjustable resistance to strengthen and lengthen the muscles and employ precise movements.

Why was the apparatus developed? Pilates used hospital beds at first and attached springs to work the legs and arms, a pioneer in the philosophy that people heal faster when they can move their bodies and breathe. He also attached springs to wheel chairs and that was the earliest "High Chair." The apparatus offers both resistance and assistance and are more suitable for rehabilitation, as a result."

Kevin Bowen, quoting Joseph Pilates: As Joe once said: I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."
- Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965, age 86

I believe that every hospital should have a Pilates "wing" for rehab, every breast cancer patient should do Pilates and that Pilates can help our Wounded Warriors. (And in the process, as an added bonus, maybe I will start looking like Uma Thurman!)

video of the man himself: