What is Pilates? The question should be, who is Pilates? Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born 1880 in Germany. His father was a prized gymnast and his mother a naturopath. As a child, Pilates was ill suffering from asthma, brittle bones and rheumatic fever. With the influence of his parents, Pilates was determined to improve and maintain his health, so at a young age, Pilates began studying and practicing yoga, gymnastics and even body-building.
Early in life, Pilates observed how a hectic life contributed to poor health. The need to work and tend to family surpassed the importance of caring for oneself. Pilates realized that over time, neglect of the self and one’s body led to bad posture, poor diet, lack of enjoyment, absence of happiness and inefficient breathing which would in turn cause health problems and disease.
In 1912, Pilates relocated to England. There he continued his active lifestyle and worked as a boxer, circus performer and even a self-defense trainer. As WWI began, Pilates and other Germans were detained and sent to Isle of Man. Within the confines, he began to train inmates and later, injured veterans. Overcoming bleak circumstances, Pilates began to develop his method, utilizing the beds, springs and any materials he could transform to create the very first reformers and towers. These primitive contraptions led way for our modern day Pilates apparatus. Pilates was able to see how his method was helping bed ridden veterans develop a stronger core just by incorporating the mind and breath through controlled movements, thus coining the term ‘Contrology.’
Contrology, although not an active term used today, is the basis of the Pilates method. He used the word ‘contrology’ to describe his method of a balanced workout that utilized the mind and breath to execute controlled movements that worked every muscle in the body. The breath is the essential element that brings vitality to the body; it increases the blood flow to the brain and circulates it throughout every organ and muscle in the body. The Pilates Method is not just a workout, instead, it is an awareness between the mind and movement of the body. Pilates believed that optimal health was achieved by maintaining harmony between body, mind and spirit. To Pilates, a fit person was a balanced person.
Pilates migrated to the United States in 1925. He, along with his wife Clara, opened their first studio in New York. The Pilates Method became popular with local dance studios in the area and soon, Pilates had a loyal following that continued to practice and even teach his method.
Today, we hear of Classical Pilates. Classical Pilates refers to those who continue to teach and preserve the original techniques of Joseph Pilates. Mat Pilates, in particular, consists of 34 poses. Thanks to Joseph Pilates’ original inventions, we also have the modern day reformer and tower apparatus. So, next time you see a Pilates studio you will know more about the mastermind behind the fitness craze.