Pilates’ Drive to Transcend
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Düsseldorf/Germany in 1880 at a time when life was not easy, especially if one was not as well-developed as Pilates was when he was a child. He was suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Nevertheless, the disadvantages Pilates had in his early years of life did not discourage him but provided him with will and a burning desire to overcome his physical weaknesses. Long before Pilates could even ride a bicycle, he yearned for that strong healthy body, which he did not have; that body that would make him stand up to those kids, who often ridiculed his fragility.
Combining Exercises From East To West
His determination ignited him to go deeper into himself to discover the first holistic fitness system that combined eastern and western philosophies of movement. Originally called Contrology, but today known as the Pilates Method. A series of more than 500 exercises to strengthen and elongate muscles without adding bulk. Pilates himself defined fitness as “the maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”
He studied yoga, Zen meditation, and Greek and Roman exercise regiments. By the time, he was 14 years old, this sickly child had become strong and agile enough to become an accomplished diver, gymnast and skier. His favorite motto was: “A sound body with a sound mind.”
Pilates’ Holistic Way Through Prison
In 1912 Pilates left Germany to go to England to work as a boxer and trapeze artist; he also instructed the detectives at Scotland Yard in the art of self-defense. During World War I, Pilates, being a German national, was imprisoned in Lancaster. While in prison, he taught his exercise system to his inmates with great success. This prompted the authorities to send him to the Ilse of Man to work with patients immobilized by war injuries.
Pilates’ Method is Succeeding
In 1926 Pilates opened his first studio in New York. He developed a specialized training programme for the mat, and constructed and built special training machines, e.g. the Universal Reformer, Barrell, Wunda Chair and Cadillac. Soon his studio became a hot spot for many well-known actors and dancers; among them George Ballanchine, Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Ron Fletcher and Ted Shawn. In 1945 he published his book Return to Life Through Contrology, in which he describes his principles and exercises. Today the Pilates method constitutes one of the most popular training methods in the world.
"My work is 50 years ahead of its time."