Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1883, in Germany. His father was a prize-winning gymnast, and his mother worked as a naturopath.
Joseph P was a sickly child. He suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He went on to dedicate his entire life to improving his physical strength. Besides skiing frequently, he began studying bodybuilding, yoga, gymnastics diving and kickboxing. He also studied the movements of animals. By the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. He came to believe that the “modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training techniques. A great inventor he engineered many sorts of equipment, required to teach his methods properly.
When he moved to the UK in 1912 he earned living as a gymnast, bodybuilder and self-defence instructor.
Being a German during the first world war he was interned on the Isle of Man and worked as a hospital orderly. He trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises. For those that were bed bound he used his inventive skills to get them exercising in bed, using the springs from their beds. It is said that these inmates survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to their good physical shape.
After the war, he returned to Germany but was uncomfortable with the political situation so left again in around1925 and emigrated to the United States. On the ship to America, he met his future wife Clara who was a nurse.
Together they founded a studio near Broadway in New York City and taught there well into the1960s. He did a lot of work with the New York City Ballet and members of the local dance and performing arts community. The method was called Contrology. The method focuses attention on core postural muscles, that help keep the human body balanced and provide support for the spine. His exercise regimen built flexibility, strength and stamina. Pilates really became popular with the general population from the 1960’s. There has been research done to prove its effectiveness.
He produced several disciples and over time. His methods have been adjusted and so you will find that Pilates teachers teach in different ways. Some of the original exercises have been modified and other variations included. One of my original tutors was an Osteopath and she taught us to modify exercises for safety. I do quite a bit of modifying. The way I teach has certainly evolved over the years I have been teaching and some of you have been with me on that journey. My classes are no longer pure Pilates.
Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.