JOSEPH H. PILATES
Pilates was born in 1883 in
Germany. His father's family originally spelled its surname in the Greek manner
as "Pilatu" but changed to "Pilates" upon immigration to
Germany. Joseph was a sickly child and suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever and because
of that he dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength. He
began to study body building, yoga, "kung fu" and gymnastics. Pilates came
to believe that the modern lifestyle, bad posture,
and inefficient breathing were the causes of most people’s poor health. He
ultimately devised a series of exercises
and training techniques and engineered all the equipment, specifications, and
tuning required for teaching his methods properly.
1925, Pilates immigrated to America. On
the ship, he met his future wife Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York and directly
taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s. His method, which he
and Clara originally called "Contrology," related to encouraging the
use of the mind to control muscles. It focuses
attention on core postural
muscles that help keep the human body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular,
Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of
the spine, and strengthen the deep torso
and abdominal muscles.
and Clara Pilates soon established a devout following in the local dance and
the performing-arts community of New York. Well-known dancers such as George Balanchine who
arrived in the United States in 1933, and Martha Graham, who had
come to New York in 1923, became devotees and regularly sent their students to
the Pilates for training and rehabilitation.
Pilates wrote several books, including Return to Life Through Contrology and Your Health.
Joe and Clara had a number of disciples who continued to teach variations of
his method or, in some cases, focused exclusively on preserving the method, and
the instructor-training techniques.
Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.