The history of Pilates is truly the tale of one man with a concept that he vehemently believed could change the world. The legacy of Pilates shows that he did. Joseph Pilates invested a lifetime of work into creating a movement method fueled by the drive to control the body through the mind. He anchored his teachings with discipline and led his life with an unwavering focus on one goal, to eliminate human suffering.
Who is Joseph Pilates?
Joseph Pilates is a German athlete born in Monchengladbach, Germany, in 1883. Joseph struggled with illness in his youth. Consequently, as he aged, he turned to physical activity like gymnastics, diving, skiing, and boxing, amongst others, as a way of overcoming his health challenges. Joseph Pilates utilized his relationship to healing through exercise as the foundation for the movement practice people around the world now know as the Pilates method.
What is the history of Joseph Pilates?
Joseph Pilates moved to England in 1912 to join the circus as a tumbler. In 1914 World War One started, and Pilates had the misfortune of being captured with his circus troupe as enemy aliens. Pilates captors held him for the remainder of the war in a camp on the Isle of Man with 24,000 inmates. Taking a bad situation and making the best of it, Joseph led exercise routines for the prisoners. This practice allowed Joseph to gain experience teaching while continuing to develop his concepts around fitness.
Pilates became an orderly at the Isle of Man camp towards the end of the war. Here, he had the opportunity to learn from medical practitioners for patients who could not walk. He developed an apparatus for patients using bedsprings and hospital beds. This apparatus was his first rendition of the piece of Pilates equipment known as the Cadillac. The springs attached to the hospital beds worked to support patients’ limbs so that they could exercise and rehabilitate their bodies while injured.
When and where is the origin of Pilates, and why did Joseph Pilates create it?
Pilates and his wife Clara emigrated to the United States in the mid-1920s. They began teaching at their studio, which they called a ‘body-conditioning gym,’ towards the end of the decade. It was there, in New York City, that Joseph and Clara worked together to develop and teach the program they called “Corrective Exercise” and later, “Contrology.” This program utilized the apparatus Pilates designed during his time in the war. Pilates named the apparatus the Universal Reformer after making improvements to it when he immigrated. A large portion of Pilates’ exercise program centered around work on the reformer because of its ability to catalyze rehabilitation. Pilates taught his students to utilize a mind-body connection to control movements, improve muscular imbalances, and strengthen the muscles that support the spine. He used the reformer to adapt exercises for injury and help students isolate specific muscle groups.
During this time, New York City was a hotspot for dancers. Pilates’ program took off like wildfire when word spread that the program helped rehabilitate dance injuries and improve technique. Famous dancers frequented the studio boosting its reputation. Whatsmore, Pilates trained dedicated students to become teachers themselves. Pilates published two books to disseminate his teachings, ‘Your Health’ and ‘Return to Life Through Contrology.’
Participants knew Pilates’ teachings by the name ‘Contrology’ until after his death in 1967. At that point, the practice was renamed the Pilates Method.
From 2006 to 2018, there were approximately 9.08 million participants in Pilates training in just the United States alone. The Pilates method has been propelled to a global phenomenon because Pilates exercises and their benefits are accessible for all fitness, age, and ability levels. The Pilates method has been accepted by the fitness and medical community as a practice that effectively rehabilitates injuries, improves flexibility, reduces muscular imbalances, improves posture, and most importantly, strengthens the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. Joseph Pilates has left a lasting impact on the world by gifting us with a way to ease our physical and mental suffering.