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J.Pilates Bio Photos

Joseph H. Pilates was born in Germany in 1880, to exceptionally health conscience parents. His father was a prize winning gymnast and his mother a naturopath – who believed in the philosophy of stimulating the body to heal itself. It is most likely that his mother's healing philosophy influenced his own approach to therapeutic exercises. He was a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets, rheumatic fever and the threat of tuberculosis, he dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger.

As a teenager he began bodybuilding as he advanced his studies of various exercise disciplines which included the Martial Arts, Yoga, Tai Chi, ancient Greek and Roman regimens in addition to Western Philosophies. Pilates realized that the Western methods placed an emphasis upon competitive strength and endurance, while Eastern methods stressed relaxation, suppleness and breathing. He strived to develop a method which combined the best of both regimens – an exercise that could;

“challenge each persons physical capabilities, correct muscular
imbalances and create mental and physical harmony.”

Romana and Wendy

Pilates went to England in 1912 to train as a professional boxer. He also worked as a circus performer and a self-defense trainer for English detectives. The outbreak of WWI found him held in an internment camp in Lancaster with other German nationals. Here he taught wrestling and self-defense while beginning work on a system of original exercises. Later transferred to another camp on the Isle of Man he worked with many who suffered from wartime diseases and incarceration. He now began devising equipment in order to rehabilitate them. Pilates took springs from the beds which he attached to the headboards and foot boards of bed frames, turning them into equipment which provided a type of resistance exercise. These were the earliest prototypes of the spring based exercise apparatuses, such as the Cadillac and the Reformer for which the Pilates method has become known today.

Additionally he began teaching mat exercises to other internees aimed at strengthening their lungs and correcting imbalances in their bodies. Through all of this he began defining his method which he named Contrology.

Upon his return to Germany after the conclusion of the war, Pilates continued boxing and pursued professional skiing, gymnastics and diving. He was involved in training boxers, martial artists, police officers and was sought after as a personal physical trainer. Unhappy with the political direction in which Germany was headed, in 1926 he chose to relocate to the United States. He met his future wife Clara on the boat en route to the U.S.

They opened a studio in New York City, sharing the same building as several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. This proximity helped make Contrology an integral part of many dancers’ training and rehab work. George Balanchine studied with Joe and sent many of his dancers to him for strengthening, “balancing” as well as rehabilitation, as did another famous dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. Between 1939 and 1951 Joe and Clara spend their summers at Jacob’s Pillow, a mecca for dancers and performing artists located in the Berkshire Mountains. Here the passionate following for his teachings and methods amongst the professional dance community grew rapidly.

At his studio in New York he continued the evolution and refinement of his working principals, which developed into what we now know as The Pilates Method. He authored the books; “Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education” (1934) by Joseph H. Pilates and Judd Robbins (Editor) and“Pilates' Return to Life through Contrology” (1945) Joseph H. Pilates, William J. Miller, Judd Robbins (Editor), both of which are still inprint.

Romana and Wendy

Currently, the Pilates Method is used internationally at all levels of fitness. In addition to dance companies - theatre companies, professional sports teams, fitness enthusiasts at health studios as well as physical therapists and neuromuscular therapists are all incorporating principals of the Pilates Method.

Joe and Clara had numerous disciples intent upon preserving the method and instructor training techniques they learned during their studies. This unique training regimen Joe and Clara devised has proven itself an effective and safe method of exercise, when taught and applied by a qualified instructor. Inherent in the instructors training is that they understand how to develop and tailor a workout specific to an individual’s body and capabilities. Foremost amongst these devotees of his work is Romana Kryzanowska, who came to Plates as a young dancer and eventually became his chosen successor to carry on his work after his passing.

Pilates remained very fit throughout his life and he was in remarkable physical condition in his later years. He passed away in 1967 at the age of 87 and Clara Pilates continued to teach and run the studio for another 10 years after Joseph’s death.

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