Most of us are aware of the many cleanses designed to detoxify the body through diet, but I was asked an interesting question last week – does Pilates cleanse the body? Three points came to mind.

1. The “Internal Shower”

You are probably familiar with the “flushed” feeling you get when combining deep (sometimes aptly called “cleansing”) breath with movement. For example, you might feel it during the Hundred, or in the first few minutes of a run or swim. This is what Joseph Pilates, the creator of Pilates (originally called “Contrology”) dubbed the “internal shower,” or “bodily house-cleaning with blood circulation.” Mr. Pilates poetically described this feeling as follows:

As the spring freshets born of the heavy rains and vast masses of melting snows on mountains in the hinterlands cause rivers to swell and rush turbulently onward to the sea, so too will your blood flow with renewed vigor as the direct result of your faithfully performing the Contrology [Pilates] exercises. (Joseph H. Pilates and William John Miller. Return to Life Through Contrology. 1945. Rpt. in A Pilates’ Primer: The Millenniumm Edition. Presentation Dynamics. 1998.)

During the Pilates practice, the heart pumps blood and the bloodstream discharges what Mr. Pilates called “debris created by fatigue.” In other words, Pilates is a cleansing of the bloodstream and ultimately, the organs, which receive clean blood and fresh oxygen as beneficial byproducts of the internal shower.

2. Mental Cleansing

Even in the 1940’s when Mr. Pilates wrote Return to Life Through Contrology, he understood that, “[t]elephones, automobiles, and economic pressure all combine to create a physical letdown and mental stress so great that today practically no home is entirely free from sufferers of some form of nervous tension.” (Id.) Sound familiar?

The trouble, as Mr. Pilates saw it, is that this stress and fatigue leaves us with little ability to enjoy recreation, or play in life. Why, he asked? “Because our previous mode of living and the consequent neglect of our bodies has not prepared us for reaping the beneficial results of this diversion….since we are living in this Modern Age we must of necessity devote more time and more thought to the important matter of acquiring physical fitness.” This is “so that we may not only be in a better position to earn our daily bread but also so that we may have sufficient vitality in reserve at night for the enjoyment of compensating pleasure and relaxation.”

In modern parlance, the combination of stress and fatigue makes us couch potatoes. Do you ever notice that you have more energy after working out? Through a combination of the internal shower and stress relief (or, what I call “mental cleansing”) you leave a Pilates session a little sweatier, refreshed and more alive.

3. A Gentle Movement Practice

Mr. Pilates did not believe in stressing the muscles to the point of fatigue. Because Pilates teaches us to move gently and breathe deeply to encourage the discharge of stress buildup, the last thing we want to do is create more stress by pushing the body to the extreme.

This is not to say that Pilates is not vigorous exercise. Indeed, it will get your blood pumping, your breath moving and, as you learn to flow through each exercise, your sweat pouring. But, you may have noticed that Pilates requires few repetitions of each exercise. There are many reasons for this, but germane to the topic of cleansing is that Mr. Pilates did not want muscle stress to counteract the detoxifying processes described above. In fact, he compared muscle fatigue to poison, the very opposite of cleansing!

Many of us love the feeling of being sore because it makes us feel as though we have done something. I admit it – sometimes I do too. But think about that for a moment. Is movement to the point of fatigue and soreness the best for your body today?

As I practice Pilates, get closer to my breath, ease into the present and feel the gentle, symmetrical benefits of Pilates, I notice a physical and mental lift. Pilates is gentle enough to take with me into my golden years. I know it will be there for me every day, like a best friend, no matter how much (or little) I can do on any given day. And every time I commit to a Pilates session, I cleanse my entire body, including my mind.