The History of Pilates

"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and vaired daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure."…: "With body, mind, and spirit functioning perfrectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person? Moreover, such a body freed from nervous tension and over-fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind that is always fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living. Personal problems are clearly thought out and calmly met."  

Joseph Pilates

The above two quotes, I believe are fundamentally what we, as humans, hope for, strive for. Most people are concerned with physical fitness and delaying the signs of ageing and Pilates can help them achieve this because of the positive effects that this exercise form has on the Mind and Body.

Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Mönchengladbach, a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany, the son of a prize winning gymnast in the form of his father, and a naturopath – his mother. He was a sickly child suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever and it was as a result of his ailments and his desire to be fit and healthy that led him on a journey which resulted in the modern exercise form of Pilates.

A family physician gave him an old anatomy book which Joseph Pilates studied incessantly. He also studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including Zen, yoga and ancient Greek and Roman regimes. He had worked so hard that by the time he was 14 his body was of a physique which was used for modeling for anatomy charts. He had also become successful as a gymnast, boxer, skier and diver.

In 1912 Jospe Pilates moved to England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. When the World War 1 broke out he was interned with other German nationals, during which time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. It was during this time that he developed his exercise form further, devising his system of the original exercises which were later known as Contrology. During the second part of the War, he was sent to the Isle of Man where he worked as an orderly in a hospital with patients unable to walk. It was here that he began to develop exercise apparatus for the bed ridden in order to assist their rehabilitation. This equipment was later to become known as the 'Cadillac'. Much of the equipment that he developed is still used today, although slightly adapted.

Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States of Amercia during the 1920s, and it was on his journey to the US that he met his wife, Clara. Together they opened a 'body-conditioning studio' in New York in 1926, in the same building as several other dance studios. Their studio featured much of the apparatus designed to enhance his rehabilitation work and it soon became very popular, particularly with the dancers, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury. Word spread quickly and many celebrities of that era visited his studio. These included dance legends such as Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Martha Graham to name, but a few.

In 1932 Joseph Pilates wrote and published a booklet called 'Your Health' which was then followed by his book called 'Return to Life Through Contrology' in 1945. It was through his writings and his students that his method spread.

In January 1966 there was a fire in the building and Joseph Pilates returned to his studio to try and save anything possible – his photographs, apparatus, documentation. It was while he was going through the building that he fell through the burnt out floorboards and was left hanging by his hands from a beam for some considerable time before he was rescued by firefighters. It is thought that this incident directly led to his death in October 1967, at the age of 87, through the burning of his lungs by inhalation of the smoke from the fire. Clara continued to teach and run the studio until her death 10 years later, at which time their student Romana Kryzanowska took over the business and dedicated her life to teaching Joseph Pilates' work as he devised it.

During his lifetime, his method of exercise was called Contrology. However, following his death it was renamed ad became known as Pilates or the Pilates method.

The development and worldwide spread of pilates

Over the years Pilates has gradually evolved and integrated current biomechanical thinking. However, the roots of the technique are steeped in the philosophy and movement patterns designed by Joseph Pilates over 70 years ago. His classic exercises are still taught as well as modified versions.

It was Alan Herdman who studied with Carola Trier and Bob Fitzgerald, two instructors who were trained by Joseph Pilates, that first introduced Pilates to the UK in 1970. When Alan Herdman brought Pilates to the UK it was unknown here even thought it was well known in the United States. However, some of Alan Herdman's clients were actors, dancers and singers but the word soon spread to doctors and physiotherapists who started recommending Pilates to their patients who were struggling with chronic injuries.

Pilates has grown in popularity and has spread across the globe to become a worldwide phenomenon.



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