Pilates (pronounced pih-lah’-tiz) is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates (1880-1967), a German gymnast, diver and body-builder. Pilates called his method “Contrology,” because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles. The program focuses on the core muscles, those that surround the spine and internal organs, which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles. According to Pilates instructors, the goal of the exercises is to create a fusion of mind and body, training the body so that without even engaging the mind, it will move with economy, grace, and balance. Pilates is based on certain principles to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.
From this description of Pilates exercises, there is nothing to alarm Christians or cause us to fear or mistrust Pilates. All Christians should be concerned with proper diet and exercise so that our bodies, which are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), are kept in as good condition as possible. All types of exercises are improved by controlled breathing, and strengthening the core muscles that support the spine, and therefore the entire body, is crucial to maintaining good health. All the Pilates principles mentioned above are commonly accepted methods of strengthening and conditioning the body.
Most Pilates programs focus entirely on the physical exercises. Some, however, attempt to incorporate aspects of Eastern religions or New Age thought: visualization, mind/spirit control, or the Taoist aspects of tai chi. These elements are usually introduced into a Pilates program by an overly zealous instructor who has himself or herself been indoctrinated into New Age philosophy and has brought it into all aspects of life, including exercise. The wise thing for a Christian who is considering Pilates to do is first talk with the instructor to determine his or her philosophical inclinations. If the instructor teaches pure Pilates, there is nothing to stop Christians from participating. But if the instructor incorporates New Age teachings, a different Pilates class should probably be sought out.