Who was Joseph Pilates?
If you enjoy Pilates, whether as a beginner or committed enthusiast, you may be interest to know it all started with one man – Joseph Pilates. So who was he? And why did he did he develop these exercises?
The founder of Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880. As a child he suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. By all accounts he was quite sickly. Yet he was obsessed about growing into a fit young man. Some accounts suggest he was obsessed with ancient Greek ideals of physique.
Either way, Joseph was determined to improve his ailments and strengthen his body. To do this he practiced yoga and meditation. He studied physiology and anatomy and then began developing his own exercise regimes.
Joseph’s early exercises produced fantastic results. By the time he was 14 his body was so well-defined he was chosen as a model for anatomical drawings. In his later teens he also became an accomplished skier, diver and gymnast.
The war years
In 1912 Joseph moved to England where he worked as a boxer and circus performer. He was on the Isle of Man when World War One broke out.
Joseph was not allowed to return to Germany and was interned as a prisoner of war. During this period he worked as an orderly in a hospital. It was at this time Joseph began to develop his principles into a programme to support rehabilitation and recovery for patients in the hospital. It was soon noted that many of the patients who were doing Joseph’s exercises were improving faster.
At the time he described his programme of exercises as ‘Contrology.’
Contrology (Pilates) is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Through Contrology you first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body and then through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activitiesJoseph Pilates
The Pilates studio
After the war Joseph returned to Germany and continued to work and develop his exercise regime, particularly in the dancing world. His growing reputation let to him being asked to train the German army!
However, Joseph soon sought out new opportunities and moved to America.
Joseph and his wife opened ‘The Pilates Studio’ in New York and continued to teach their Pilates exercise method. He worked with clients from a range of specialsims, but continued to court special interest from the dancing world.
He worked with George Balanchine and Martha Graham who were both well known and influential at that time.
Joseph continued to develop his methods and was still incredible spritely past the age of 80.
Joseph past away in 1967. By which time the Pilates method gained a modicum of popularity, but nothing compared to its current day level where it is studied and practiced by millions. No doubt he would be proud of how large a legacy he left us.
Although Joseph’s original exercises have been adapted, modified and developed since his original teachings the essence of core control and rehabilitation through movement remains at the heart of Pilates as an exercise method.
Today Joseph’s Pilates legacy continues to grow and evolve benefiting millions of people around the world.
Why not try a Pilates class yourself? Explore our many free online Pilates classes.