May 5th marks World Pilates Day, in honour of Joseph Pilates.
Who is the man behind the Reformer and where did it all begin? Read on to find out.
Rather than make today about us, we decided to dedicate World Pilates Day to the founder of this wonderful practice. Without Joseph’s hard work and dedication throughout the years there would be no Platinum Pilates, or any Pilates today. It’s scary to think of a world without Reformers, I mean seriously, what would we do with ourselves.
Joseph Pilates was born December 9th , 1883. His father was a native of Greece and an accomplished gymnast, while his mother was German and a naturopath. Joseph’s mother believed in the principles of stimulating the body to heal itself without artificial drugs. There is no doubt that his mothers healing philosophy and his fathers physical achievements influenced his later ideas on therapeutic exercise.
Joseph was a small and sickly child. He suffered asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He was taunted constantly by the bigger kids. During these early years he decided to dedicate his entire life to improving his physical strength. His father introduced him to gymnastics and bodybuilding. He also took up Jiu-Jitsu, martial arts and boxing. He was so dedicated to his sports that by the age of 14 (yes 14!) he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. His Physique was so impressive that he performed as a living Greek statue in the circus.
Origins of the Pilates method.
Joseph came to believe that the “modern” lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He was on a mission to change this and make people lives better. In 1912 he moved to England and worked as a circus performer, a professional boxer and taught self defense to Police schools and Scotland Yard. He was always educating himself and developing his Pilates method as he went.
When World War 1 broke out, Joseph found himself interned in England as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man. The health conditions in the internment camps were not great,to say the least. Joseph insisted that everyone in his cell block participate in daily exercise routines to help maintain both physical and mental well-being. However, some of the injured German soldiers were too weak to get out of bed. Not content to leave his comrades lying idle, Joseph took springs from the beds and attached them to the headboards and foot boards of the iron bed frames, turning them into equipment that provided a type of resistance exercise for his bedridden “patients.”
These mechanized beds were the forerunners of the spring-based exercise machines, such as the Cadillac and the Universal Reformer, for which the Pilates method is known today. Pilates legend has it that during the great flu epidemic of 1918, not a single one of the soldiers under his care died. He credited his technique, which he called “Contrology” for the prisoners’ strength and fitness. Remarkable under the less than optimum living conditions of internment camps, which were hit especially hard by this deadly flu.
Post War and Relocation.
After the war, Joseph returned to Germany, where he worked for a few years training police officers and collaborating with dancers and other experts in physical exercise. However, around 1925 he decided to emigrate to the United States. He met his future wife, Clara, on the boat to New York City. Together they opened the first Body Contrology Studio on Eighth Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan, in the same building as a number of dance studios.
As the years passed, he continued to develop his exercise system and to create new pieces of equipment for it. In this task he was evidently not only inventive, but also resourceful. Rumour has it that he constructed his first Barrel from a beer keg, and he used the metal hoops from the keg to make his first Magic Circle.
Joseph died October 9th 1967. He left behind a last legacy that we enjoy today.