History of Pilates
The Pilates method, originally called Contrology, is now named after its creator, Joseph Pilates. He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit" and taught that the key to achieving change is believing that you can do it. Pilates spent his life proving that his method works.
Born 1880 in Germany, Joseph Pilates had asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, which left him with a stunted bone structure and twisted limbs. Rather than accept these ailments, he decided to restore his health and body condition. Pilates studied anatomy of both Eastern and Western forms of exercises including Yoga, Zen, and ancient Greco-roman fitness regimens. He soon achieved an almost Adonis-like “anatomical ideal,” to the extent that at the age of 14 he was posing as a model for anatomy charts. Over time, he developed himself as a body builder, a wrestler, gymnast, boxer, skier and diver.
During World War I, Pilates was placed in an internment camp where he and other internees practiced his physical fitness program and he began to create equipment to help the disabled and sick. While working in a hospital, he taught some of the injured patients to regain their mobility as they lay in bed. Pilates utilized items that were available to him, like bedsprings and beer keg rings, to create resistance exercises for his patients. This was the unlikely beginnings of the equipment we use today, the reformer, Cadillac, and magic circle. The floor exercises also were developed during that time, known now as the Pilates mat work.
In 1923, Pilates immigrated to the United States where he opened a training studio with his wife Clara. Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devout following in the local dance and performing-arts community of New York. Well-known dancers and choreographers such as George Balanchine and Martha Graham devotees regularly sent their students to Pilates for training and rehabilitation. Pilates trained a number of students who not only applied his work to their own lives but became teachers of the Pilates method themselves.
Joseph Pilates developed over 500 exercises that help to strengthen the center, lengthen the spine, build muscle tone, and increase body awareness and flexibility. The Pilates method is also an excellent rehabilitation system for back, knee, hip, shoulder, and repetitive-stress injuries. Pilates addresses the body as a whole, correcting the body's asymmetries and chronic weaknesses to prevent re-injury and to bring the body back into balance.
Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967. He had maintained a fit physique throughout his life, and many photos show that he was in remarkable physical condition in his later years. "I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises, they'd be happier." -wrote Pilates in 1965, age 86.
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