The name Pilates comes from Joseph H. Pilates, the originator of the Pilates methods.
A History of Joseph Pilates
Joseph H. Pilates was born in Germany, in 1880. His father was a prize-winning gymnast, and his mother worked as a naturopath. He was a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Due to his illnesses, he dedicated his entire life to becoming physically stronger. Pilates began studying body-building and gymnastics, and by the age of 14 had sufficient fitness to pose for anatomical charts. He believed that the "modern" life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training-techniques, engineered all the equipment, and developed a program for teaching and training people to better health.
In 1912 Pilates moved to England, earned a living as a boxer, circus-performer and self-defense trainer. During World War I the British authorities interned him with other German citizens, where he trained other inmates in fitness and exercise, wrestling and self-defense. This was where he was able to put into practice his ideas on fitness and exercise and devised his equipment by taking the springs from beds and rigging up the apparatus for the bedridden. Influenza came to England in 1918 and millions of people were killed. There is a legend that even though the prison camps were the hardest hit by the influenza, the injured under Pilates care had the least number of deaths.
In the mid 1920s, Pilates migrated to the United States. On the ship to America he met his future wife Clara, who was a nurse. The couple founded a studio in New York City where they taught and supervised their students and clients into the 1960s. His method, which he and Clara originally called "Contrology", encouraged the use of the mind to control muscles. It focuses attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath, alignment of the spine, and strengthening of the deep torso muscles, to alleviate and prevent back pain.
As Joseph Pilates said, "The science of Contrology disproves that prevalent and all-too-trite saying, 'You are only as old as you feel.' The art of Contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life. If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young."1
Pilates wrote two books; Return to Life Through Contrology and Your Health.
Pilates was passionate about his exercise routine and felt that if practiced, "regularly only four times a week for just three months ... you will find your body development approaching the ideal, accompanied by renewed mental vigor and spiritual enhancement. Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will be unmistakably reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work.''2
Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 87.
Information gathered from:
1. Pilates, J. & Miller, W. A Pilates' Primer- The Milennium Edition: Return to Life Through Contrology & Your Health. 2000. P. 16.
2. Pilates, J. & Miller, W. A Pilates' Primer- The Milennium Edition: Return to Life Through Contrology & Your Health. 2000. P. 9.
To find out more about Joseph Pilates:
You can buy the paperback book "A Pilates' Primer: The Millennium Edition by Joseph Pilates" here: