"To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limits of our abilities" Joseph Pilates.
Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 in Monchengladbach, Germany. His father was a prize-winning gymnast and his mother was a Naturopath. Pilates was a sickly child and suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, this was to shape his whole life as he dedicated himself entirely to improving his physical strength. Besides skiing frequently, he began studying body-building, yoga, kung fu and gymnastics. Pilates came to believe that the 'modern' lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training techniques and engineered all the equipment, specifications, and tuning required to teach his methods comprehensively. Pilates was originally a gymnast, diver and body builder, but when he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, circus-performer, and self defense trainer at Police schools and for Scotland Yard.
However, the British authorities interned him during World War 1 along with all other German Citizens in an internment camp, first in Lancaster Castle where he taught wrestling and self defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment. It was here that he began refining and teaching his minimal equipment system of mat exercises that he later called 'Contrology' (Pilates). He was then transferred to another internment camp on the Isle of Man where he continued to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise which he himself called 'Contrology' and which we now call Pilates. He further studied Yoga and the movement of animals and most importantly he trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises, it is said that the inmates survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to their good physical shape. After the end of WW1, Pilates returned to Germany and began to collaborate with many important experts in dance and physical exercise such as Rudolf Laban. Having previously trained Police officers, he was then pressured to train members of the German Army, this proved to be the catalyst for his emigration to the USA in 1925 as he was disappointed with the political and social conditions of his native Germany. On the ship to America he was to meet his future wife Clara.
The couple went to found a studio in New York and directly taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s. Pilates method which he originally called 'Contrology' related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles. It focuses attention on core postural muscles that help keep the human body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular Pilates exercises teach awareness of the breath and alignment of the spine,and to strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles, an area of the body that Pilates referred to as the 'powerhouse'. Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devout following in the local dance and performing arts community of New York. Joseph Pilates wrote several books including 'Return to Life through Contrology' which details his system of exercises in full. Joe and Clara had a number of disciples who continued to teach variations of his method or, in some cases,focused exclusively on preserving the method they had learned during their studies with Joe and Clara. Joseph Pilates died in 1967 aged 83 In New York.