Joseph Pilates was a German emigrant that first created his Method in Great Britain during World War I. He worked with civilians confined to internment camps and soldiers rehabilitating in a veterans hospital. Joe moved to NYC in the late-1920’s where he worked with professional boxers and dancers, as well as elite Manhattanites.
Please read more below…
- The History of Joseph Pilates
- The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning
- The Benefits of Pilates
- Frequently Asked Questions
The History of Joseph Pilates
Joseph Hubertus Pilates (Dec. 9 1883 – Oct. 9 1967) invented “Contrology” which later became known as “The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning” or simply “The Pilates Method”.
Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany approximately 30 kilometers west of Dusseldorf. His father was a gymnast of Greek descent and his mother was a naturopath (alternative medicine). Pilates was a sickly child that suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever so he decided to dedicate his life to improving his physical strength. He began studying the human body and anatomy as well as observing animals in the wild, he would watch mothers teach their young. He practiced body-building, yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics. By the age of 14 the formerly fragile Pilates was modeling for anatomical charts and books.
In 1912 Pilates moved to England where he trained as a boxer and earned a living as a circus-performer. He and his older brother, Frederick, performed as Roman Gladiators and toured the country. Unfortunately with the on-set of World War I in 1914 Pilates was sent to an internment camp in Lancaster with other German nationals. He taught wrestling and self-defense often bragging that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was during this time that Pilates devised and refined his system of original mat work that later became known as Contrology.
Pilates was then transferred to the Isle of Man where he worked as a nurse at a veterans’ hospital. He insisted that the internees suffering from wartime diseases and incarceration needed to move. It was here that he developed some of his equipment to rehabilitate the bedridden by attaching springs to their hospital beds. When an influenza epidemic referred to as the “1918 flu pandemic” killed tens of thousands in England, all of Joseph Pilates’ inmates survived because of their good physical condition.
After WWI Pilates returned to Germany and continued his work while training the Hamburg Military Police and private clients. During this time he met Rudolf von Laban, a famous Hungarian dance artist and theorist who created dance notation called the Laban Movement Analysis.
In 1925 he was asked by the German government to train the New German Army. Pilates was uneasy about the political and social direction of his country, so he decided to immigrate to the United States. While on the ship to America he met his future wife, Clara, and they opened a gym in 1926 at 939 Eighth Avenue and 56th Street in New York City.
The Pilates location was one block from Broadway and the building had several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. As a result of this popular location Joseph and Clara established a devout following within the performing arts community. Well-known choreographers such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Ted Shawn studied with Joe and Clara Pilates and they sent their dancers to them for strengthening, balancing, and rehabilitation. Joseph also had a number of original “disciples” of his Method and they are often referred to as “The Elders” or “First Generation” teachers/instructors.
Joseph Pilates wrote two books, “Return to Life through Contrology” in 1945 and “Your Health” in 1934. He used to say, “I am fifty years ahead of my time”. I agree one hundred percent; Joseph Pilates was definitely a pioneer.
The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning
The Pilates Method was created by Joseph Pilates and called Contrology because he believed quality movements were only achieved by "gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control over your body". To him there was no separation between the body and the mind. His philosophy was that "our muscles should obey our will" and his method was about the "complete coordination of body, mind and spirit".
Joseph Pilates created a systematic method for both the mat and reformer. His repertoire involves a dynamic warm-up of the body that focuses on alignment, breathing, and coordination. The workout targets the "powerhouse" or trunk/core region and then progresses outwards to the extremities when stability can be maintained. The Pilates Method is guided by these six principles:
- Control - the mind's will over the body so we're always moving with complete control.
- Centering - working from the powerhouse, being aware of alignment, and activating abdominals.
- Concentration - the mind's full attention and awareness of the entire body.
- Precision - deliberate and purposeful movements, always moving with clarity.
- Breath - this keeps the mind and body focused and energized, it also cleanses the body.
- Flow - seamless transitions and smooth movements aiming for efficiency and fluidity between exercises.
As a person advances in Pilates the same exercises actually become more difficult because they are able to focus on all six principles in order to perfect their technique and movement. If an exercise feels easy then something is wrong!
The Benefits of Pilates
There are many benefits to doing Pilates. Here are just some of them.
Increase core strength and stability while also building muscles holistically.
Flexibility is needed to perform everyday activities with ease. Develop more range of motion and realize how much better you feel and move.
Pilates is based on the spine and our structure. Good posture facilitates breathing, increases concentration and thinking abilities, improves your image and self-confidence, and helps to avoid health complications.
Balance benefits neuromuscular coordination and helps with muscle isolation. Your body has to work harder to stabilize by engaging the core.
Pilates incorporates core stabilization, proper muscle activation and sequencing, and flexibility thus aiding in injury prevention.
Pilates is often used as post-injury and/or post-surgery exercise. If you have injuries, suffer from chronic pain, and/or are rehabilitating, Pilates will help.
Gain Body Awareness
The focused and centered work of Pilates raises one's concentration and body awareness. In addition to maintaining good posture and an engaged core throughout the day you will breath properly and consistently.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions about Pilates. If you have more questions and/or can think of others to list here, please use the Contact form.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is an exercise system focusing on the body's stabilizing muscles including the transverse abdominal, internal/external obliques, spinal erectors, inner thighs, glutes, serratus anterior, rhomboids, rear delts, and lats.
What are the benefits to Pilates?
In addition to making one strong and flexible, Pilates can improve posture, body awareness, and prevent injury.
What's the difference between Pilates and yoga?
Pilates is an exercise regimen developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900's through the 1960's. It focuses on fluid and dynamic movement. Yoga is a centuries old spiritual practice created in India. Poses are held for a few breathes or longer and in its purest form should be a moving meditation.