When Pilates Elder Eve Gentry had a radical mastectomy in 1955, one of the results was that so much muscle had been removed she could not lift her arms. This was devastating for Eve, as it would be for anyone. But Eve was a dancer who had worked extensively with Joseph Pilates so she went to Joe for help. His response? "Don't worry. We fix".
And "fix" they did. There is fabulous archival footage of Eve moving through workouts with Joe where she is doing advanced exercises, on equipment with resistance, and doing them gracefully and powerfully. The footage was submitted by Joseph Pilates for review by doctors at a hospital with which he wanted to make an alliance.
The doctors came back to Joe saying that Eve's level of recovery was impossible, basically accusing Joe of lying. He and Eve then did another film where Eve performed the routines shirtless. Some of that footage can be seen on the archival film as well. Eve was able to return to professional dancing and went on to evolve the Gentry Technique from her experience with Joe.
There is a lot more fascinating history in Eve Gentry's story and I encourage you to seek it out in workshops and by seeing the documentary yourself. When I saw parts of the archival footage and heard more of Eve's story as shared by her close student Deborah Koleway at the 5 Lineages conference this winter I was deeply moved. The parts I want to pick up on here are one, that Joseph Pilates was clearly doing advanced physical therapeutics with Eve, as well as with many others since he started his work in WWI rehabilitating other prisoners at the Isle Man; and two, he had absolute confidence in his method.
Joe was famously straightforward and gruff, and English was his second language, so some of the brevity of "Don't worry. We fix." may have had to do with that. I can't, however, imagine more comforting words to hear from someone you trust and respect and know actually has the tools to help. I think there is an elegance, economy and confidence in it that reflects Joe's work in general. There is also a "We" in it that shouldn't be missed, by the way.
Apparently, Joseph Pilates said "Don't worry. We fix" a lot. It was one of his phrases, like "in da air out da air". Not long ago I read a story of a woman who went for a class with Joe and upon noticing her flabby upper arms he said to her, "Don't worry. We fix" (a little absolute confidence around fixing that is nice, isn't it?). And so it went. Though Joe was actually interested in working with men and athletes, he and Clara famously rehabilitated the bodies of many people who came to them complaining of back, knee, neck, and various other problems.
But what about "We fix." today? The amazing popularity of Pilates now seems to come from equal parts the ability of the method to make beautiful bodies, and the ability of the method to make bodies function beautifully- even unhappy bodies. There are many highly educated, qualified Pilates instructors who could confidently declare, based on their own record of success, "Don't worry. We fix". But they can't, at least not in the U.S.
In the United States, Pilates instructors are firmly in the fitness instructor category. That doesn't mean the results of their fitness work with clients can't be rehabilitative. They can be and often are. It does mean that Pilates instructors, and clients, need to be aware of the appropriate scope of practice for Pilates practitioners and what can and can't be said about it. What has happened in the U.S. and abroad is that the rehabilitative benefits of Pilates have been appreciated by physical therapists and a positive relationship between Pilates and physical therapy is growing at a rapid rate.
So, how do Pilates and Physical Therapy come together? Recently, after musing a lot about "We fix", I took questions I had, and imagine you may have -- about the approaches to rehab one finds in Pilates and physical therapy, and the use of the term rehabilitation -- to the most highly qualified person I could think of to speak about such issues: Dr. Brent Anderson PhD, PT, OCS and founder, president and CEO of Polestar Pilates. Our extensive interview, Where Pilates and Physical Therapy Meet, is now available for you to read.
If you are a Pilates instructor, I think this is really important reading. If you are a Pilates or physical therapy client, I think you will find this interview enlightening and encouraging. Please see:
Where Pilates and Physical Therapy Meet