”I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises, they’d be happier. ”
– Joseph Pilates, in 1965, age 86
History of Pilates
The Making of a Movement Genius-
Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. His father was a gymnast, his mother a naturopath. She believed in stimulating the body to heal itself without drugs or surgery. His parents’ professions greatly influenced his ideas on therapeutic exercise.
Growing up Joe suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He dedicated his life to improving his health. He exercised outside in his shorts and cured his rickets, which is caused by a vitamin D deficiency, and focused on breathing techniques to help his asthma.
At 14 he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. He studied bodybuilding, yoga, and gymnastics. You can recognize the influence of these activities in Pilates.
In 1912 Joe moved to England as a professional boxer and circus performer. In WW1 British authorities contained him along with German citizens, in a British Enemy Citizens camp. Joe insisted everyone in his cell block participate in daily exercise routines which he devised to help maintain their physical and mental well being.
The Birth of Pilates-
A few years later he was transferred to another camp where he became a hospital orderly to many bedridden patients. Joe removed the bed springs and connected them to the headboard and footboards of the iron bed frames, turning them into equipment that could create resistance to the exercises. These beds would eventually be known as the Reformer and Cadillac.
After the war he returned back to Germany and collaborated with dance and physical exercise experts.
He eventually left Germany and came to California. On route he met his wife Clara, she was a nurse.
The Movement that Would Be Embraced by Many-
Together, they opened a studio in New York and taught their students well into the 1960’s.
Pilates originally was called ”contrology”. Encouraging the mind to control the muscles. It focused on core postural muscles, awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, as well as strengthening deep torso and abdominal muscles. His studio was surrounded by a number of dance studios which led to his ”discovery”. Many athletes, dancers and famous New Yorkers relied on Pilates for the strength and grace it developed as well as for its rehabilitation effects.
Joe passed away in 1967 at the age of 83. He maintained his fit physique throughout his life. He smoked cigars, liked to party and wore his exercise briefs wherever he wanted. Until exercise science caught up with the Pilates Method in the 1980’s it was mainly dancers and athletes who utilized the technique. It’s widely recognized for its health benefits and mental discipline.