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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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