THE HISTORY OF PILATES
Joseph Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany, in 1883. His mother was a naturopath and his father was an active sportsman. Both his parents exposed him to a great variety of experiences that had a huge influence on him. As a child Joseph Pilates had a very weak immune system and suffered constantly from asthma and rheumatic fever. Remarkably his mind body connection was so strong that he was able to recover each time.
These health struggles during childhood combined with the background obtained from his parents were significant motivations for his lifelong passion in helping others and developing the Pilates philosophy and method.
At the age of 14, he had developed into a strong athlete. He was an accomplished diver, skier, and gymnast, and had also mastered various martial arts. He had managed to transform his own weak body into a healthy and fit body, by means of all the knowledge he gained when studying anatomy and the different sport disciplines. This inspired him to help others achieve the same. He was convinced that the mind has a great influence on the development of posture and disease patterns. A classic Roman saying "mens sana in corpere sano" which means "a healthy mind in a healthy body", was therefore also his motto.
He left for England in 1912 to follow his love of boxing. He earned his money as a self-defense teacher and circus artist.
In 1914, during World War I, he and other Germans were interned in a camp in Lancaster and later transferred to the Isle of Man. During his time in the camp he taught his fellow inmates wrestling and self-defense and was determined to make his students leave the camp stronger than they came in.
He began to refine his method in aiding the recovery of bedridden inmates. He installed springs and handles on the hospital beds allowing the patient to do exercises while lying, which ultimately led to a quicker recovery of the patients. These altered hospital beds were the basis for the apparatus he later developed.
At the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919, which claimed more victims than the war, his students remained healthy. This was remarkable, especially considering the camps were hit hardest by the poor living conditions. Pilates’ accomplishment was quite incredible and resulted in many people wanting to know more and explore his techniques.
When he returned to Germany after the war, he continued developing the apparatus and his method to train his patients more effectively. He was employed to train the Hamburg Military Police and he also did private sessions with his own clients.
After refusing an offer to train the German army in 1925, he fled to the United States to train his good friend Max Schmelling who after a few years of training with Joseph won the Heavyweight Boxing World Title. Maw then wholeheartedly encouraged Joe to continue to propagate his Method.
During a trip to New York he met Clara, a nurse and kindergarten teacher who suffered badly from arthritis. He started to train with her, which resulted in a significant reduction in her pain levels. They also fell in love and were married!
Shortly after arriving in New York, they opened their first studio together, called "Contrology". Dancers and choreographers, including George Balanchine, Hanya Holm and Martha Graham attended training and became huge fans of his method. They regularly visited the studio and were so enthusiastic about his approach that they also sent their younger ballerinas to him to become stronger. The method was also integrated into their own exercise program. From that moment onward Pilates became well known in the dance world.
Both Joseph and Clara devoted the rest of their lives to refining the exercises and apparatus. Both of them were fit and full of energy until far into their eighties. Joseph taught until his death at the age of 86 in 1967. At that time the Method became known as ‘Pilates’.
Clara remained working in their studio, which is now known as The Pilates Studio. Romana Kryzanowska, one of the followers of Joseph, who had already been familiar with the method for years, was asked to take over the studio. After the death of Clara she devoted her life to the continuation of Joseph and Clara's work. Her daughter Sari Mejia Santo now leads the studio after Romana passed away on August 30, 2013.
Joseph always envisioned the Pilates method to be a universal training program, suitable and beneficial for all body types, and one that supports a healthy life.