Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Mönchengladbach, near Düsseldorf in Germany. He grew up suffering of asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, ailments that considerably weakened his constitution from early childhood on. Determined to become physically stronger and tone up his muscles, he enrolled in several sports disciplines such as gymnastics, boxing, skiing and body building. His will-power was such, that by the age of 14 he developed a physique of such athleticism, that he was chosen to pose as a model for the creation of anatomical charts. This was to be a decisive and defining moment of his life. He commenced studies of human anatomy and the movement of animals. Persisting in his pursuit of physical perfection he also became interested in the teachings of far-eastern disciplines; above all he was intrigued by the importance of concentration, breathing and the control of mind over body.
In 1912 he moved to England, taking up a career as a martial arts teacher at the police academy. With the outbreak of World War I Joseph Pilates was imprisoned, along with other compatriots, in an internment camp in Lancaster. Not losing heart, he continued to exercise often engaging his fellow prisoners and made use of these years to develop his theory on the principles of health and fitness. A confirmation of his work occurred in 1918, when the flu pandemic that killed millions of people across the world, left the followers of his training unscathed. He was then transferred to the Isle of Man where he experienced a completely different reality to that of Lancaster: disabled soldiers, injured and mutilated, illness ridden and confined to their beds. Distressed by their condition, he wanted to aid their recovery and thus began applying alternative methods of rehabilitation and physical support. With limited means at his disposal, he used makeshift materials to devise a system of resisting springs, which would prove to be the origin of his latter machines.
In the early 1920’s he returned to Germany where he continued to improve his rehabilitation equipment, some of which is still in use today. In Hamburg he was appointed physical instructor and trainer of new recruits with the municipal police. During this time he made the acquaintance of Rudolf Laban – dancer, choreographer and one of the most influential innovators of dance of the 20th century, also well-known for the dance notation system that carries his name. Becoming increasingly recognized for his work, in 1925 Joseph Pilates was invited by the German government to participate in the training of the German army. Not satisfied with this collaboration he decided to leave for the United States.
On this journey he met a young nurse, his future wife Clara. Enthusiastically supportive of his ideas, she would soon become his faithful lifelong assistant.
Upon arrival in New York in 1926 he opened his first studio on the 8th Avenue, close to the New York City Ballet headquarters. It didn’t take long until he was known to the most famous dancers and choreographers, George Balanchine and Martha Graham being among his students. The close relationship between dance and the Pilates method originated here and has lasted ever since.
In the following years he worked on classifying his method. The section relating to the mat exercises was first published in 1945 in his book Return to life through Contrology (“Contrology” being the original term he used for his technique). With utmost commitment and creativity he went on to devise the equipment that would evolve into the excellent means we use today in the application of his method.
In 1967 Joseph Pilates, over 80 years old, died of the injuries sustained during a fire. Prior to his death he entrusted his wife Clara and his devoted student and assistant Romana Kryzanovska with the assignment to spread his method in full respect of its authenticity.

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