Joseph H. Pilates developed the Pilates Method of exercising that would later take on his name. His early life set the foundation for his theories that combine the perfect mind/body balance.
He was born in Germany in 1880 and was raised by a prize winning gymnast father and a naturopath mother. A frail child, he suffered from ailments such as asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. This led to his determination to become healthy and strong through exercise and bodybuilding. In his pursuit of fitness, he became a well-rounded athlete and excelled at skiing, diving, gymnastics and bodybuilding. He also studied Yoga, Zen philosophy and martial arts as part of his quest for health, influencing his later development of Pilates.
Joseph Pilates went to England in 1912, where he worked as a boxer, circus performer and self-defence instructor. During World War I he was interned with other German nationals as an “enemy alien.” He focussed his attention on helping the wounded and disabled to strengthen their bodies. He used the springs on the hospital beds to create exercises that used resistance to develop muscle strength and flexibility. These were to become the basis of the Pilates Method. His bedridden trainees kept their muscle tone and not one of them succumbed to an Influenza epidemic, which he credited to his system.
He moved to New York in 1926. On the voyage he met his future wife Clara. They opened a fitness studio. Joseph originally called his exercise system “Contrology”. His technique was known only to a select group of dancers and athletes, including Martha Graham, but as knowledge of its effectiveness grew so did its popularity. The exercises became known as the Pilates Method.
The Eastern and Western techniques in Joseph’s mind and body approach to physical development created an unusual combination of movements which are now the basic concepts of all Pilates followers. Exercises such as the elephant, the swan or double leg stretch may sound unusual, however they create a dramatic effect on the body’s strength and flexibility.
Over the past 80 years, Pilates has become not just a form of exercise, but a meditative approach to being in control of your body. The Pilates Method is now based on the principles of breathing, centring, flowing movement, stamina, control, concentration, precision and regime. The goal is to produce a lean, athletic physique that has muscular balance throughout and is also capable of controlled movements without the risk of injury.
Pilates is not about aerobics or bulking muscles. The body receives a gentle and thorough workout which assists with everyday movements. Benefits include a trimmer waist, flatter belly and better posture based on balanced muscle tone and awareness. Regular Pilates practice produces a more regal carriage, less fatigue and lower incidence of back pain and injury giving you what we know as the Pilates body.