Joseph H. Pilates, born in Düsseldorf in 1880, began to create his method in the first half of the 20th century. A boy with a rather frail physical structure, he suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever and also fell ill with tuberculosis, he decided to devote himself at a young age to strengthening his physical structure. It is said that the family doctor gave him an anatomy book that Pilates studied in memory of him.

Subsequently, he undertook the practice of Body Building and other athletic disciplines such as artistic gymnastics, boxing, skiing and diving, obtaining some success as a boxer. At the age of 14 he modeled for an anatomical table.

In 1912, aged 32, he moved to England, embarked on a career as a self-defense instructor for the local police school, as well as cultivating an interest in boxing and acrobatics in a local circus where he worked as a gymnast and circus artist: together with his brother they performed the number of Greek statues.

IMG 0364At the outbreak of the First World War he was interned in a camp in Lancaster, where he learned the elements of self-defense but, dissatisfied with the existing physical training approaches, he began to develop his original system of exercises, which he was actually already working on self-taught for years, a mix of yoga, zen and other physical disciplines.

These were the basis for the Matwork method, whose philosophy took the name of Contrology. He boasted when a 1918 flu epidemic killed thousands of Britons but none of those who underwent his physical training contracted the killer flu.

Later J.H. pilates was transferred to the Isle of Man where he found a completely different reality from the one he had previously experienced in Lancaster: soldiers returning from battle crippled by wounds, enticed by disease, immobilized for some time.

This is where the first prototypes of what is still today the Universal Reformer began, through the idea of applying springs and pulleys to patient beds, with the aim of helping them regain and maintain muscle tone while they were still bedridden. He returned to Germany in the early 1920s where he continued to design rehabilitation equipment, some of which is still in use today.

pilates foto jpsehIn this period he met Rudolph Von Laban, creator of the Labanotation (one of the most renowned written forms of ballet recording in the world), who incorporated part of the work of Pilates in the setting of his teaching. Later, other important figures in dance took the Pilates Method as a reference for their basic training.

The Pilates Method entered the world of dance establishing a relationship destined to last until today; this explains how, actually wrongly, technique has often been associated only with the world of dance. In 1925 the teaching of the Pilates Method became important for the German government which invited him to personally follow the training plan of the new German army; but finding himself at odds with the political direction of Germany, Pilates decided it was time to leave for the United States of America.

During the journey he met a young nurse named Clara who later became his wife. Arriving in New York, Pilates opened a studio and began to codify his technique; the first part of this technique was focused exclusively on the Mat Work, or a series of exercises performed with the body free on a mat ("mat"). This program was codified in a book called Contrology, an original name he coined for his technique.

The "legend" has it that he died after a fire wanting to save his studio; he died on October 9, 1967, at the age of 87 for pulmonary emphysema.


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