May 5th was National Pilates Day, a day around the world that celebrates the Pilates Method and its’ founder, Joseph Pilates. It only seems appropriate that I write about Joe and his method, which he originally called “Contrology”. After studying and teaching Pilates for the past 10 years I have seen a lot of misconceptions about the method, but I have seen my fair share of success as well. I am writing this blog in two parts; part one history and then part two why do it and how to use it in your everyday life.
Joseph Pilates was born in Monchengladbach, Germany in 1880. He was a very sickly child and suffered from asthma and rickets. In effort to understand his health situation he self studied human movement and animal anatomy. He studied various types of exercise methodologies including yoga, (which is why we see some similarities in some of the movement). Through his studies and believe that breath was key: Breath is the first and final act of life- he cured himself of the asthma. He grew up to become a boxer and gymnast and hence a circus performer.
He first started creating exercises for his method after WWI broke out when he was put into a camp with other German Nationalist. He taught self defense and wrestling to the other camp internees. He was later stationed in another camp where he acted as a nurse, rehabilitating injured soldiers. He used the beds and springs for those patients who were bed ridden. This is where we first start to see the workings of the Cadillac. He described his designs by saying: the machines were designed to resist the movement in a certain way making the inner muscles work against it. We now call those inner muscles the, Powerhouse!
He disapproved of the political movement in Germany and set sail for New York in 1925 where he met his wife Clara. He opened his first gym in 1926 on 8thAve. The location of his gym was such so he could be close to Madison Square Gardens and work with boxers. This gym was also down the hall from many dance studios including George Balanchine. It was through Joe’s connections with many famous chorographers that he has a relationship with the dance world.
Joseph died in 1967 at the age of 87. Clara continued his work for another 10 years. There were around 13 followers (Elders) that continued Joe’s work after he and Clara both passed. There are only 4 elders left alive today. Pilates gained popularity and media attention after Hollywood took hold to the work. Today Pilates continues to grow in popularity and we still continue to see the benefits of the practice.