Pilates (originally called Contrology), is a method of body conditioning developed by German born Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1880 – 1967).
The Pilates method strengthens and tones muscles, improves posture, provides flexibility and balance, unites body and mind, and creates a more streamlined shape. The Pilates philosophy focuses on training the mind and body to work together towards the goal of overall fitness.
Pilates was a small sickly child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. With the desire for better health, he began his quest for knowledge. He studied anatomy as well as taking on board Eastern and Western forms of exercise including Zen meditation, yoga and Ancient Greek and Roman fitness regimes. By age 14, he was so well developed that he modelled for anatomy charts. Growing up in Germany, he achieved success as a boxer, skier and diver.
England & the formation of Matwork exercises…
Pilates moved to England in 1912 working as a professional boxer, circus-performer and self defence trainer for the Police.
He was interned during the First World War along with other German Nationals in a camp in Lancaster. It was here that he began to develop his system of original exercises that became the Pilates Matwork. During the latter part of the war, Pilates served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man. He attached springs to hospital beds to support ailing limbs while he worked with patients. They were found to improve faster. These spring-based exercises became the basis for the apparatus Pilates would later design and can be seen in studios today.
America & the teaching of Contrology…
After the war, Pilates was unhappy with the political situation in Germany and decided to immigrate to the United States. On route he met his future wife Clara. Together they taught and developed the exercise system that Pilates called “The Art of Contrology”. They opened their first studio in New York in 1926 in close proximity to the dance community. Many dancers used Contrology for strengthening and muscle balance, as well as injury rehabilitation. His studio soon attracted the elite of New York; leading ballet dancers, choreographers and screen legends such as Gregory Peck and Katherine Hepburn.
Pilates continued his teaching until his death in 1967 at the age of 87. Clara continued to teach and run the studio until her death ten years later in 1977. It was after their deaths that the method became known as Pilates.
The Growth of Pilates Method…
The Pilates legacy was carried on by a number of his students who themselves became teachers and teacher trainers, leading to studios opening across America and eventually the world. These included Mary Bowen, Kathy Grant, Eve Gentry & Romana Kryzanowska.
The Pilates method was brought to the UK in 1970 by a contemporary dancer and teacher called Alan Herdman. He had been invited to New York to train with Carola Trier and Bob Fitzgerald, two instructors who had been trained by Pilates himself. Alan opened the first Pilates studio in London in 1970.
Pilates once said his work was 50 years ahead of his time. It seems he was right as millions of people now participate in Pilates programs across the world.