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History of Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates


The Pilates method is named after its creator, Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Born in 1880 in Mönchengladbach, Germany, to a gymnast father and a naturopathic mother. Joseph spent his childhood fighting against the many sufferings caused by his illnesses: asthma, rheumatism and rickets. Condemned by the medical profession, Joseph rebels and begins to intuitively discover the potential and the extraordinary capacities of his body, independently of his illnesses. He is inspired by martial arts and artistic gymnastics techniques and trains his body to become strong, powerful, enduring and flexible at the same time while preserving himself!

He then discovers that by being more in tune with his body, the body keeps giving us clues to be able to heal and stay in shape through movement. He discovers that movement equals breath and breath equals movement. Through learning how to move in all directions and exploring all corners of the body, knowing how to wring out your organs freeing the body from tensions, balancing mind-body and spirit in order to subsequently be able to solidify and to strengthen oneself while improving the immune system, regaining vitality and health, Joseph Pilates developed instinctively a training method catered for the body as a whole.

His philosophy then becomes the following: Every human being is born with a universal right ... the right to stay in good health with a healthy mind in a happy body. He believed that everybody can be the architect of their own happiness. Practice, perseverance and patience then become key elements in learning these his exercises.

From this idea and his experience of mastering the body, he developed and structured an innovative training method, which he called "CONTROLOGY", now called "Pilates". A complete repertoire of more than 500 specific movements with or without the help of specific training apparatus, to help strengthen and soften the entire body and its joints, regardless of anybody’s current state, as the Pilates Method will reveal all the hidden resources of one’s body through movement.

He then left Germany in 1912 and embarked on a career as a gymnast, boxer, circus artist and quickly became an accomplished athlete with impeccable body control and perfect definition. In 1914, while in England for professional reasons, first world war broke out and he became a prisoner being German on the Isle of Man. There he taught self-defence and his exercises program on the camp to his cell mates. It is by adapting his personal exercise program for bedridden people in the camp, using springs taken from bed bases, that he develops his "Art of CONTROLOGY that he was transferred to another camp, where he worked as a "nurse's aide" and looked after the war-wounded. It was then that Joseph Pilates continued to evolve his training method, drawing inspiration from hospital beds and mattress springs for future supportive equipment. This is how a first form of practical rehabilitation is born. It is also thanks to this experience in the infirmary that he develops with the help of his brother, Fred who is a carpenter, his first training devices (traditional Pilates devices called: Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Barrel …). He then spent more than 4 years interned on the Isle of Man during which he learned to fully develop his method and his training system adapted to everything and everyone.