Joseph H. Pilates, was born in 1880 near Düsseldorf, Germany. He was a frail child and turned to physical fitness programs to improve his body image, becoming a keen athlete, developing talents in sports as varied as diving, gymnastics and boxing. Not only did he study Western methods of exercise, but he also studied Eastern methods of training such as Yoga and Zen meditation. Disenchanted with all of these regimens he developed his own workout system and equipment that combined Eastern and Western philosophies.


    Around 1914, Joseph Pilates was a performer and a boxer living in England and, at the outbreak of WWI, was placed under forced internment along with other German nationals in Lancaster, England. There he taught fellow camp members the concepts and exercises developed over 20 years of self-study and apprenticeship in yoga, Zen, and ancient Greek and Roman physical regimens.


Deborah teaching a mat class

     It was at this time that he began devising the system of original exercises known today as "matwork", or exercises done on the floor. This fitness program for his fellow internees was geared to maintain their health and fitness levels during this period of confinement - he always claimed that his regime was the reason why not one of these internees died from the influenza epidemic that killed thousands in 1918! He called this regimen "Contrology."
     A few years later, he was transferred to another camp, where he became a nurse/caretaker to the many internees struck with wartime disease and physical injury. Here, he began devising equipment to rehabilitate his "patients," taking springs from the beds and rigging them to create spring resistance and "movement" for the bedridden. This work created the foundation of his system while helping patients maintain their strength and general health. The origins of the Reformer, with its spring resistance and sliding carriage, are found in the equipment developed during this period and form the basis of his apparatus work.


A Reformer with a Long Box and a free weight

     Returning to Germany, he came into contact with the world of dance, in particular through contact with Rudoph von Laban, the originator of 'Labanotation', which is the most widely used form of dance notation. Hanya Holm included many of his exercises in her program and, to this day, they are still part of the celebrated 'Holm Technique'. At the same time as working with dancers, Joseph Pilates was also instructing the Hamburg police force in self-defense!



     He was, in fact, asked to train the new German army, but declined and decided to emigrate to the United States of America. On the boat trip, he met a nursery teacher, Clara, whom he later married - and with whom he set up his first fitness studio in New York, at an address he shared with the New York City Ballet. His studio soon began to attract the 'elite' of New York with leading ballet dancers coming to him because his exercises perfected and complemented their traditional exercise program. Actors and actresses, athletes, the rich and the famous were all attracted to a workout that built strength without adding bulk, balancing that strength with flexibility, and achieving the perfect harmony between mind and muscle. Screen legends such as Gregory Peck and Katharine Hepburn used the Pilates Method and, today, personalities as varied as Madonna, Jessica Lange, Michael Crawford, Joan Collins, Greta Scacchi, Sigourney Weaver, Britt Ekland, Pat Cash, Kristi Yamaguchi, Stefanie Powers, Wayne Sleep and Tracy Ullman are just a few of the well-known faces who use, or have used, Pilates-based exercise.
    While Joe was the outspoken force behind his method, his wife Clara, a trained nurse, quietly incorporated his concepts and exercises in ways that benefited more seriously ill or injured clients. Her approachable style and special techniques spawned a dedicated lineage of teachers whose work flows through and uniquely colors the landscape of the Pilates method today. It is perhaps because of Clara that Pilates is clearly recognized as a positive form of movement-based exercise that truly can be tailored to any level of not just fitness, but also of health.


     Long-time instructors who knew Joe maintain he and Clara would be very happy and proud of the popularity and growth of Pilates. However, it is less clear how he might feel about the influx of "quickie certifications" available for would-be instructors wanting to be trained in a weekend or two. Joe worked at length with his own instructors, allowing them to assist and then finally teach after sometimes as long as 2 or 3 years of training and apprenticeship. He was quoted as saying, "Remember Rome was not built in a day." and "Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor." While excellent training programs exist in the marketplace today, some are clearly condensed and homogenized, producing less-than-adequately qualified instructors. Comprehensively, competently trained and knowledgeable instructors are the essential element in realizing one's potential, and enjoying the process of learning Pilates.

     Joseph Pilates lived a long life and died in 1967 at the age of 87. Today, more than seventy years after the development of the Pilates Method, Joseph Pilates' exercises have become one of the most popular systems of core-strength training worldwide. It is growing rapidly from the USA to Australia to the Far East. A recent  Newsweek article suggested that there are now around 500 Pilates studios in the USA, calling Pilates 'the hottest alternative fitness subcult'.


( Premier Pilates & Yoga - (908) 754 5901
.  53 Mountain Boulevard, Warren, NJ 07059
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