What is Pilates?
Over the last decade, Pilates has ignited the intense interest of both fitness enthusiasts and the general public alike. It is an amazing physical system of exercise, designed to strengthen, stretch, and balance the body. With standard positions and movements coupled with focused breathing patterns, Pilates has proven itself invaluable not only in the fitness mainstream but also to physical rehabilitation and sports.
Practiced faithfully, Pilates helps to improve blood circulation throughout the body, lung capacity, and healthy breathing. It also teaches control and balance of the body, which enhances flexibility and strength. There are different exercises depending on what the body needs. But who started Pilates, and how did this philosophy come to capture the imagination of the fitness world?
Origin of Pilates
The history of Pilates goes back to the early 20th Century, when the system was developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Born in 1883 in Germany, the creator of Pilates was a sickly child, as he suffered from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. Despite being a frail child, he had a serious determination to overcome all these ailments. Exercise and athletics became part of Joseph’s routine. He also took time to study exercise regimens to expand his knowledge base. These physical fitness practices transformed him into a talented individual in yoga, boxing, gymnastics, martial arts, and diving.
In 1912, Pilates left Germany for England, where he worked as a boxer, circus performer, and a self-defense director for detectives at Scotland Yard. At the outbreak of the First World War, he worked as a German “enemy alien” for the British. During this time, he further developed his skill through training other internees on his system of exercise. In the remaining part of his time, he worked in hospitals, helping patients who were unable to walk. After a flash of inspiration, Joseph attached springs to beds, with the aim of helping patients to exercise against resistance.
In 1918, the Pilates proved the effectiveness of his system of exercise. During this time, an influenza epidemic struck England. People died in the thousands, but not a single one of his trainees died. As a result, his system of exercise gained favor among individuals in the dance community in Germany. People like Hanya Holm adopted some of his techniques, which are still part of the “Holm Technique” today.
Joseph Pilates moves to America
While he was still in Germany, Joseph Pilates was asked to train the new German army. However, he declined the task accorded to him. Instead, he moved to the USA with his wife Clara, in 1923. In 1926, Joseph and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York, which became very popular among dance community. The studio offered an opportunity for people to improve their overall fitness and also to recover from injuries
Celebrities took notice of Joseph’s fitness studio. Legends like Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, and Ruth St. Denis among others were among Joseph’s clients. Pilates also trained young ballerinas at the New York City Ballet.
Joseph instructed his clients based on three fundamental principles, which include breathing, whole body commitment, and whole body health. These principles helped both dancers and actors to gain flexibility and strength. The history of Pilates has formed the basis of modern principles that include precision, concentration, breath, control, centering, and flow.
Spread of Pilates in America
Aside from the fact that Joseph’s studios became popular in New York, he still trained many people on his form of exercise. Some of his students opened their studios and continued spreading this kind of exercise throughout America. Bob Seed was one student who became a teacher and later opened his studios. Lolita San Miguel and Kathy Grant were awarded degrees by the University of New York to teach Pilates. The people who were first taught by Joseph and Clara became known as ‘the elders’. They became the pioneers of this form of exercise, and through their teaching, Pilates’s work spread across many domains.
In 1932, Joseph Pilates published a booklet called ‘Your Health.’ He also published another in 1945 called ‘Return to Life through Contrology.’ These were his ways of passing his knowledge to his students and other interested individuals. Originally, this form of exercise was known as Contrology, the science of control. It was only in 1967, after his death, that it became known as Pilates Method.
The Pilates Method has become a crucial training centerpiece among elite athletes all over the world. In America today, more than 10 million people practice this form of exercise, and the number is still growing rapidly. The Pilates history is based on more than just a system of exercises, contrary to what many people think. From a sickly child to a talented boxer, diver and self-defense instructor among other things, Joseph Pilates would be proud to see the effectiveness of his creation in the health of many people. Today, this method has been integrated into the modern anatomical and bio-mechanical practices by teachers of the Pilates Foundation all over the world.