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The History of Pilates



We know little about the early life of the young Joseph Hubertus Pilates, save that he was born near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1883, and suffered from a number of debilitating conditions - asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever, which impeded his physical development.  The young Pilates was clearly a determined character, and worked hard to overcome these ailments, becoming proficient in gymnastics, diving and skiing.  Elements of the disciplines he used can be readily found in his later teaching; elements such as yoga, dance, martial arts and circus training.


His genius might be said to arise from his ability to select and absorb just those aspects which would contribute to the system of training the body and mind that he believed provided the perfect balance of strength and flexibility - a system he termed 'Contrology' but we know simply by its founder's name - 'Pilates'.


During the First World War Pilates was living in England, working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor.  As a German citizen, he found himself interned with other German nationals, and it was during this period that he developed his system of physical fitness, teaching his fellow internees, keeping them fit during a period of confinement.  While working as a hospital orderly on the Isle of Man, he further extended his techniques, using the hospital beds' own springs to create what would become one of his most famous pieces of equipment - the 'Cadillac'.

In the early 1920s, Pilates emigrated to America.  He met his wife, a nurse, Clara, on the boat!  Together they set up their 'body-conditioning' gym in New York in 1926.  'Joe', as he was known to his friends, and Clara worked together for four decades, refining his system and developing further apparatus to facilitate movement and aid in rehabilitation following injury.  The studio was particularly popular with dancers, before spreading to celebrities and athletes of all kinds.


In 1932 Pilates published a booklet entitled 'Your Health' and later a book he called 'Return to Life Through Contrology' in 1945.  Through these writings, and the work of his students, his method was passed on following his death in 1967 at the age of 83.  During his lifetime his Method was called Contrology.  It was only after his death that it became known as the Pilates Method.

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