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Joseph H. Pilates

The Man behind the Method

Joseph Pilates was a pioneer in the health and fitness movement.  He believed that civilization impaired physical fitness, and developed his method which he called 'Contrology' in order to restore physical health.   Pilates teachers around the world carry his legacy, expound his method, and advocate his doctrine that,

"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness".

Joseph Pilates
 Joseph Pilates working with client on Cadillac
Joseph Pilates training Russian squat on Reformer

Joseph Pilates, was originally from Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1925.  He believed “that the 'modern' life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health.” (Pilates, 1945). Of course there’s much more behind Parkinson’s Disease, but he did have valid points.  He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training techniques, and engineered all the equipment, specifications, and tuning required to teach his methods properly.

During World War I, Joseph Pilates was placed in two internment camps.  During his first internment he intensively developed his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he himself called “Contrology”.  He studied yoga and the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises.  During the later part of World War I, he was interred on the Isle of Man and worked as an orderly in a hospital with patients unable to walk.   He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patient’s limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the ‘Cadillac’.  Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today in many Pilates Studios.

Pilates emigrated to the United States around 1925, and on the ship to America, he met his future life partner Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York City and directly taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s.   Joseph Pilates named his method of exercise “Contrology”, related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles, focusing attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.  

About Joseph Pilates

Principles of Pilates

Principles of Pilates

If you review the principles of the Pilates Method and compare them with the fitness needs of those with Parkinson’s Disease, you will find that Pilates is the most safe and practical fitness regimen for people with Parkinson's disease.  Further, incorporating Pilates exercises on a consistent basis and as the primary physical fitness training mode for people with PD can lead to enhanced strength, taller posture, better balance, and improved core stability, with little to no risk of injury.

girl doing TEASER on the Pilates Reformer


Diaphragmatic breathing increases both the capacity of air we can inhale (Inspiratory Reserve Volume), and the amount of air we can exhale (Expiratory Reserve Volume). This type of deep breathing helps to move the ribs and inter-costal muscles creating more flexibility throughout the thoracic cage, while improving blood circulation. Deep breathing also imparts a sense of calm and relaxation.

Axial Elongation & Core Control

Axial Elongation is a lengthening throughout the body from the crown of the head to the feet, it is a lengthening of the spine. Core control relates to the ability to make controlled movements with the mind and isolate contractions of the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, multifidi (deep, thin muscles of the spine), and gluteal muscles. A strong core helps to support and align the spine, while creating better balance in the body; and good balance helps proprioception (spatial awareness of one’s body).

Spine Articulation

Learning to move each vertebrae of the spine facilitates lengthening and decompression of the spine as a whole. Spine Articulation is also very important in maintaining trunk mobility and good alignment.


Organization of head, neck and shoulders, all the way down to the feet = proper posture. Maintaining correct posture is a continual task in sitting, standing, moving, even in sleep. Constant efforts to maintain good posture not only contribute to a healthy spine, but also prevent compression of internal organs, which can lead to problems such as poor digestion, urinary tract issues, and respiratory challenges. Alignment of the body and proper foot placement during gait, also support good posture.

Centering & Concentration

In Pilates the center of the body is referred to as the “Powerhouse” and maintaining proximal stability using the musculature which comprises the Powerhouse (abdominals, pelvic floor, multifidi, and gluteals) throughout all movement, is the crux of the Pilates Method. Centering is difficult and it is a learned skill, therefore Concentration is extremely important. Pilates emphasizes “Mindful Movement”, this is movement with concentration on breath, and awareness of whole body while moving.

Movement Integration

When all of the principles are at work, movement will be rhythmic, flowing and smooth, and the breath will facilitate the movement rather than be a separate aspect. Consistent practice will develop a whole body commitment and the result will be total body integration to achieve movement with graceful, effortless fluidity.  Joseph Pilates always spoke of practice, patience, and perseverance.  He addressed all physical ailments with a holistic approach, assessing the body as a whole, and correcting the imbalances as he saw them in relation to one another.

Correlate the Principles of Pilates to the Needs of a Person with Parkinson's disease

Correlate Principles
seniors stretching in forward flexion


Axial Elongation

Spine articulation


Centering & concentration

Movement integration




Gait & balance (DBS meds can negatively affect) 


Getting up from chair/floor/bed/toilet (functional mobility)

Principles of Pilates

Primary problems in Parkinson’s disease

Biggest Challenge:
The most crucial decision is to undertake a consistent physical fitness regimen which adheres to a daily practice of Pilates. 
Motivating factor is Quality of LIFE

Pilates Resources

Pilates Resources (click the image)

There's more you can do.  Check out some of the resources below offering Pilates movement for Parkinson's:
Polestar Pilates
person doing massage on someone's hip
Pilates instructor working with female client
The Neuro Studio logo
Photograph of Meghann Koppele
Photograph of Mariska Breland



Balanced Body
Pilates and Parkinson's book
POE Wellness Solutions
Middle aged woman in Pilates tall sit
US National Library of Medicine
Group fitness class Pilates
The Pilates Clinic
The Pilates Clinic logo
EPDA - european Parkinson's Disease Association logo
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