I first discovered Pilates at age thirteen with one of Joseph Pilates’ protégées, the late Eve Gentry at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City in what they then called a “Contrology Class,”— the name Joseph Pilates gave to the technique he developed. Long before anyone knew what it was, we aspiring dancers used Pilates as a secret weapon to strengthen our abdominals and our bodies, so that we could jump higher, turn faster and move with greater precision and grace. I practiced Pilates throughout my professional dance career and it not only helped me to prevent injury and keep my body in peak form, but encouraged me to listen to my body and honor it.
Pilates had been such an effective and profound mind-body tool, throughout my dance career, that I felt compelled to share it with the public. After getting certified in the early 90’s, with another one of Joseph Pilates “Master Inheritors,” Romana Kryzanowska, and becoming one of the privileged few “2nd Generation” Pilates Master Instructors, I introduced the Pilates “Mat class” to gym facilities in New York and watched the excitement build … People would have one taste of it, and they would be immediately hooked. Even after one class, they felt taller, more energized, more capable and more alive!
As a Pilates instructor I was thrilled to be able to influence the lives of people in my classes in New York, but I wanted to share this incredible secret with as many people as possible. Serendipitously, one of my loyal students was in video production and said, “Jennifer, you really should share this with the masses! Let me help you …” In 1998 I premiered the first ever Pilates video under “The Method” title, helping to pave the way for the current wave of enthusiasm for mind-body fitness, and just look at Pilates now!
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a non-impact, non weight-bearing system of physical conditioning that focuses on body placement and increasing awareness of the body’s capabilities and untapped resources. Pilates changes bodies. It makes them fitter, stronger and more attractive. It slims the muscles and makes them longer; it develops sleekness rather than bulk. It turns the abdomen and lower back into a firm, central support for a newly supple and graceful body.
Pilates’ six principles: concentration, control, centering, breath, flow and precision enable the practitioner to learn to move with maximum efficiency while minimizing stress on the body. You are able to access new levels in your body and create a deeper, more complete feeling of fitness, energy and vitality that remains with you days after your workout.
Pilates exercises make people more aware of their bodies. It helps to improve alignment and breathing and increases efficiency of movement. The focus is on the center of the body—the “powerhouse,” or the “corset muscles,” also known as the stabilizing core muscles of the torso, which support the spine. The rectus abdominus, the central abdominal muscle, running from sternum to pubic bone works in tandem with the transverse abdominus, the deepest of the abdominal muscles, wrapping around the trunk horizontally, acting like a “corset” when engaged. Other muscles that are important in providing good stability in the trunk, are the erector spinae, that run on either side of the spine, the quadratus lumborum and multifidus muscles in the low back, and the intrinsic muscles of the pelvic floor. The active collaboration of these major muscle groups creates a solid cylinder around the central spine, helping to prevent “shearing” or eroding forces from being applied to the vertebrae, ligaments and discs that evolve as a result of repetitive trauma, habitual patterns of movement that are unconscious and unproductive for the body-mind.
Pilates has tremendous application for injury prevention because it prepares the body for balanced, efficient, and graceful movement in all spheres and ranges of motion, addressing the weaker, under-conditioned muscles while giving the overworked, more dominant muscles a break. Pilates has addressed the needs of dancers and super-athletes for decades, but you don’t have to be a dancer or athlete to do Pilates. The beauty of the technique is that you can do it according to your own fitness level and as you gain strength, the challenge increases. Pilates exercises are gentle, progressive, and performed slowly with good postural alignment at all times; challenging enough for the super-fit, yes, but also gentle enough for pregnant women and the elderly.
Pilates is also an exceptional cross-training tool. Golfers, tennis players, skiers, swimmers and runners all benefit. Whatever your chosen sport, or if you are simply interested in overall health and fitness, when the focus of your workout is learning to initiate all of your movement patterns from your core, not only will you use your body as an integrated whole, working the deeper muscles together and improving your coordination and balance, but you will reeducate yourself to focus on the present moment and the mind-body connection.
What are the Benefits of Pilates?
As a Pilates instructor my favorite exercises are those that I learned first as a young dancer and they are also the very exercises that I feature in my DVDs … They are the original, classical mat workout developed by Joseph Pilates, a series of exercises that focus on the abdominal center, the muscles of the torso, as well as breathing patterns for each exercise, teaching you how to direct energy to those targeted areas while relaxing the rest of the body. You will learn what Pilates called “Economy of movement.” Because you do the fewest number of repetitions with the greatest precision and control, you get the most out of your efforts. Below is a list of the incredible benefits Pilates offers:
- Stimulates the body’s lymphatic system, one of the body’s primary systems for toxin removal; oxygenated blood is forced into the farthest reaches of the body, flushing out toxins in what Pilates called an “internal shower.”
- Increases the circulation of blood bringing highly oxygenated cells to the muscle bodies and the brain, strengthening the heart and lungs
- Increases lung capacity, relieves asthma and other lung conditions and encourages complete diaphragmatic breathing enhancing a full exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and hence increased energy and mental acuity
- Encourages proper alignment and overall posture, creating ample/adequate space for the internal organs, allowing for their optimal functioning
- Helps to preserve and even increase bone density, preventing osteoporosis and relieves arthritis: rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
- Increases stamina, muscular strength and definition in the arms, shoulders, back, buttocks, legs and hips and builds endurance to facilitate the execution of daily tasks
- Sculpts the body, creating long, lean, beautifully toned and well-proportioned muscles
- Increases range of motion and spinal flexibility for easier movement in trunk and limbs, leading to a sense of freedom and ease in the body;
- Dramatically corrects scoliosis and strengthens the muscles of the abdominals and back to relieve chronic back pain syndromes
- Increases abdominal strength and encourages a greater awareness of the emotional center (around the area of the solar plexus and stomach)
- Stimulates an endorphin release and calms the central nervous system, which instills a sense of tranquility, peace of mind and overall sense of well-being
The Pilates Mind-Body-Spirit Connection
On a spiritual level, the workout is concerned with the process itself. You will learn to focus on the present moment and the movement itself rather than the outcome. This is a workout, a regime similar to yoga that promotes consciousness and facilitates evolution and self-transformation.
The subtle magic of Pilates is that the work grows as you do. You rise to higher and higher levels as your self-awareness and experience deepen. As you gain insight and as your actual physical strength increases, the work refines and redefines itself.
Pilates is a unique, refreshing approach that sees our physical activity as a way to restore total oneness with ourselves and create harmony with our body, mind and spirit; under this notion, exercise becomes the means to experiencing a personal potential greater than the physical skills themselves. Every movement emanates from the center, which is also our emotional core, and the exercises truly help to “center” you. When you learn the advantage of paying attention to the energy, flow and rhythms in your exercises and see how pushing or forcing is counterproductive, you begin to apply this notion to the rest of your life. When you center your attention in the moment and act in harmony with time, you experience inner peace and fulfillment. By staying in the present, you can do less, yet gain more; paradoxically, you create more personal power and energy enabling you to have a greater influence over the outcome.
My love of Pilates began long before its era of popularity and has served as a pillar of strength for me in all aspects of my professional athletic and artistic life, enlivening my spirit, conditioning my body, reinforcing my self-esteem and overall feeling of peace and well-being. The body I have created and the level of personal excellence I have achieved have come, however as the result of a special synthesis of more than just Pilates. Pilates was the foundation, but equally important were my practice of yoga, all of my years as a professional dancer and my study of Eastern healing techniques …
“Finding Jennifer Kries is what made me a true Pilates believer. I had read about Jennifer in a few magazines and seen her on TV a couple of times. I was intrigued by her good looks, self-confidence and exceptionally clear communication style. When I learned that her Balanced Body Studio was located literally half a block a way from my apartment, I immediately signed up for a some classes and private lessons with her on the Pilates machines, something I’d always wanted to try.
My first hour with Jennifer on the machines was one of the most humbling and enlightening exercise experiences I’ve ever had. Though the equipment had bizarre names like The Bed, The Barrel and the Cadillac and looked like medieval torture devices, they delivered an incredibly focused and precise workout. I gained some amazing insight on how to use my body and discovered muscles I’d only read about in anatomy books. My experience with Jennifer has changed me. I now have a whole new way of moving and relating to my body.
Jennifer is a mind-body scientist—a visionary! Her information is so innovative, insightful, and important. Her ideas and the way she expresses them are transformational. Anyone who has the good fortune to experience her wisdom will benefit in ways they never imagined, discover a way to enhance the way you now exercise whether you’re a beginner, a competitive athlete or anywhere in-between. You will learn that how you do something is as important as what you do. You will also learn a new way of moving and getting in touch with your body. By following Jennifer’s Pilates Method program and principles you will look and feel better after the very first workout and only improve from there. You will have a better understanding of how your muscles function, how they interconnect, and how they can operate in perfect balance and harmony with one another. Jennifer’s clear, concise way of explaining things will help you “get it” almost immediately. I know you will enjoy learning working with Jennifer, whether through her videos and DVDs or in-person as much as I have.”
~ Liz Neporent, New York Times Fitness Editor and author of “Fitness for Dummies”
“Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.”
The Man: Joseph H. Pilates
photo: John Lindquist
Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates (d. 1968) suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child. His determination and drive to overcome those ailments led to his study of Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including yoga and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was fourteen, Pilates had worked so hard at bodybuilding that he was able to pose for anatomical charts and had become a diver, skier and gymnast. When World War I broke out, he was an intern for a year in Lancaster, England, along with other German nationals. While in the camp, he taught his fellow internees the physical fitness program he had developed, and boasted that they would emerge stronger than they were before imprisonment. Those who followed his program resisted the influenza epidemic that swept the nation and killed thousands. He also encountered people who were disabled as a result of wartime injuries, diseases, and incarceration, and began devising machines using the springs from old hospital beds to help in their rehabilitation. These machines were the prototypes of the equipment used in Pilates studios today. Pilates named his revolutionary system of mind-body exercise “Contrology.”
Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit…Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.
~ Joseph Pilates
Pilates believed that the “attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally and efficiently performing daily tasks with spontaneous zest and ease” should be the objective for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Pure Pilates Style
|“Roll Over” – my assistant, senior teacher, Kim Reis
|| As a 2nd Generation Master Teacher, I am privileged to have studied with three of Joseph Pilates master inheritors, Eve Gentry, Ron Fletcher and Romana Kryzanowska, each of whom helped to shape my teaching and inspire a standard of excellence, variety, tradition and purity that I am proud to pass on to you.
Having practiced Pilates since age 13, I am on intimate terms with its tremendous effectiveness and its truly
remarkable results. Because of my
background as a professional dancer, I like a choreographed flow, tempo and rhythm to my Pilates workouts. I follow Joe Pilates’ original dynamic in this way—if he was working with a healthy, injury-free body, he believed in performing the exercises at a relatively rigorous pace in order to challenge the body’s reserves and capabilities. In my teaching, I honor this aspect of his tradition—the original imprint of his technique and impart to you a style that harkens back to Pilates original mat workout the way he intended for it to be taught.