Pilates, originally called “Contrology,” is an exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates that strengthens, stretches, tones, and improves posture.
Who was Joseph H. Pilates?
Joe was born in 1880 in Germany to a Greek father, a world-class athlete, and a German mother, a naturopath. Joe was a sickly child. He had asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. This is why his exercise system does not stress the heart or lungs. He was “put outdoors” to heal and became an exercise enthusiast practicing many forms including Yoga, boxing and gymnastics. His mother was his first client. She developed a limp when he was about 10 years old and he rehabilitated her.
When World War I began Joe became interned as an enemy alien in England. He worked with the patients to rehabilitate injuries and promote overall health. Joe modified the hospital beds and developed a system using bedsprings as resistance to help bedridden patients. This later became the trapeze table and reformer. The men in Joe’s dorm did the mat work exercises every evening. During the outbreak of Spanish Influenza in 1918, 20 million people died. No one under Joe’s care died!
Joe immigrated to the United States in 1926, which was a time of peace in between World War 1 and World War 2. Joe met Clara, a nurse and his future wife, on the boat to the US. They settled in New York City and opened their exercise studio on 8th Avenue. George Balanchine’s studio was in the same building. This exposed Joe’s work to the dance community, especially it’s success in rehabilitating injured dancers and allowing them to perform fully again. Besides working with dancers, the general public also began to benefit from the Pilates method to strengthen, stretch and balance the body.
Joe taught up until his death in 1968. He continued to create and build more apparatus that expanded his system and it’s effectiveness. Joe and Clara also trained many of his students to teach the Pilates system. His book, Return to Life, is still relevant and is a core text in any Pilates teacher training program. The Pilates method continues to inform and influence the fitness and wellness industry.
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