The Wisdom Of Joseph Pilates – An OG of Positive Psychology

I had the opportunity to spend all of last weekend in London in an anatomy course specifically designed for Pilates instructors. Since I love Pilates and I love learning – it’s safe to say that it was time well spent! The incredibly intricate and masterful design of the human body is beyond spectacular, so although my brain was completely overloaded after the two full day sessions, I would have been happy spending at least another two weeks immersed in it all! There’s so much to learn about the structure, composition, mechanisms and the list goes on, that I left feeling in awe and compelled to find some more space in my calendar to devote to active ongoing study in this area. I know that doing so would be not only very intrinsically rewarding for me personally, but of course, would also serve to enhance my capabilities as an instructor and student of Pilates. As I reflect on what I’ve now learned, I am only more amazed by the wisdom of Joseph Pilates in the development of the method. Pilates is a way of facilitating movement in a safe and effective manner and its intense focus on connecting and applying an understanding of anatomy into its exercises makes it an intelligent system that has the power to make use better at just about everything – walking, running, sitting, standing, lying, and breathing!

Wisdom of Joseph Pilates

Anatomy is all about connections: the points where the bones connect to one another in various ways to provide structure, allow movement and to protect our internal organs, the points where those bones connect to muscles each contributing to the form and function of one another, the points where many, many small components are combined together in bundles of fibers wrapped in layers upon layers as building blocks making us who we are. Some of these connections seem logical and functional, others seem far less obvious, but ingenious. Every component and action is calibrated to deliver the desired result, compensate for the action of another area, to support, or to oppose. The interconnectedness of each system and section of the human anatomy is astonishing. And as someone who appreciates recognizing patterns and forming connections across all areas of life, I was especially pleased to find another one to love about Pilates. As it turns out, I am decidedly not the only one passionate about both the exercise and all things happiness related! In fact, Pilates himself was not only the brilliant mind behind the system, but he was also somewhat a happiness philosopher predating positive psychology. Here are some of my favorite gems illustrating the wisdom of Joseph Pilates.

The Wisdom of Joseph Pilates :: “Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty to not only to attain it but to maintain it.”

By now, most people have heard the argument against the current healthcare systems in Western civilization – the way things are set up, we essentially have a sick care system as opposed to a healthcare system. We are fixated on rectifying issues, curing diseases, disorders, and pathologies – all of which are great things of course. But a concept that has really resonated with me over the past few years is the one that positive psychology was founded on – the absence of negative is not necessarily positive. We, of course, should work to alleviate pain, sickness or other pathologies in our lives, but we should also work to create actual health and wellbeing. Pilates helps us to not only correct imbalances, but to build strength and create better mobility, giving us so much more than just a good workout. Similarly, building a life which includes not only avoiding depression or anxiety doesn’t mean it’ll be a rich and meaningful one. We can however, learn to flourish.

The Wisdom of Joseph Pilates ::  “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”

I might not go as far as to say it’s the first, but physical fitness is indeed not only a foundational habit, but also something which does weigh heavily on our subjective wellbeing. I learned during my Happiness Project that physical health is usually something that impacts our affect in the negative. That is to say that we take for granted our ability to move well, free from aches and pains or the fact that we are not sick. It’s when we’re not feeling so hot or experience an injury that we start to feel less happy. It’s powerful to understand that avoiding sickness and pain is important to avoiding negative affect and also I would argue (as I have before) that there is a tremendous amount of research that shows that exercise makes us happier.

The Wisdom of Joseph Pilates ::  “Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.”

But this one, I agree with wholeheartedly! We can and should take responsibility for increasing our own subject wellbeing. I wrote before that roughly 50% of our enduring level of happiness is an inherited set point or range, about 10% is derived from our life circumstance which are either beyond our control or not immediately impact-able (gender, age, relationship status, income, loss of family member, etc.) and the rest is within our grasp based upon the specific things and activities we choose to partake in. Whether it’s keeping a gratitude journal, exercising, pursuing personal goals (like my official Pilates certification!) or another “happiness activity“, research (and my own life and stories of others) shows that we can move the needle in the right direction. And ultimately reframing our own personal narrative to acknowledge and accept the role that we play in our own happiness and life experience is beyond empowering and a critical first step.

The Wisdom of Joseph Pilates ::  “Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things.”

It’s hard to ever know the meaning or significance of seemingly small events or conversations in our lives until after the fact. But I can think of several major turning points in my own life alone that seemed to start with a dull event or ordinary day. It’s only when we look back that we can see the cumulative effect of our commitment to healthy habits, our perservance through the tough times, or the small decisions we’ve made along the way. I couldn’t have guessed when I hesitantly headed out to meet a friend out after work on an average Saturday that I would meet my dream husband. And I couldn’t have seen that we’d be here now, doing all the things we have done – the big, the small, and the life altering! After all, while I was a longtime barre addict, I may have never found such an appreciation for and love of Pilates had it not been for my adventures living abroad.

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