From a fairly young age, I have always been fascinated by Pilates and the countless benefits that come with regular practice of this style. Having been an avid dancer throughout my teens/early 20’s and, someone who adores all creative forms of movement, Pilates has held a special place in my heart from the very beginning.
Whilst I find the exercise itself a captivating topic, it’s the origin of this training style that is truly worth talking about. It’s a question that I get asked a lot when chatting about this passion of mine and something I think all those interested in the practice should know the answer to… “Who created Pilates?”.
If you’re interested in learning more about who founded the Pilates principle, exactly how it was developed and the reasons behind it’s creation then you have come the right place my friend!
It really is an interesting tale…
Meet Joseph Pilates
The father of this life changing method is non other than German-born Joseph Pilates (as pictured above). Would you believe that he is 57 years old in this photo?
Quite a handsome man even in his middle-aged days… wouldn’t you agree ladies!?
If I am going to start from the very beginning, I should probably commence by telling you that Joseph Pilates was born on December 9, 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Unfortunately, Joseph became a young boy of poor health who also suffered from a lot of nasty bullying throughout his schooldays in the late 1880’s.
Joseph’s parents consisted of an award-winning gymnast and a naturopath. Having two such intelligent and health conscious role models growing up played a massive part in his decision to head down a similar path. However, it was his own sickness and subjection to school bullying that solidified his chosen career.
The poor boy suffered not only from asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets but he also lost all sight out of his left eye at the age of 5 theoretically due to awful, older kids throwing stones at him. Does this not make you so mad to read!?
Instead of letting his undesirable circumstances rule his life, Joseph picked up the courage to change his future. He decided to take up weight training to completely re-design his whole body. He also took part in vigorous sports such as body-building, gymnastics, wrestling, skiing, boxing, diving, martial arts, yoga and more.
By 14 years of age, due to all his hard training Pilates had achieved a body similar to that of a Greek-Adonis. He was literally being asked to pose as a buff fitness model for anatomy charts and drawings. Very impressive, huh!
As he grew older, Joseph continued to research and experiment with every type of physical exercise that he could get his hands on. He went on to study the complex subject of anatomy and, by 1912 (aged 32) he moved to England where he become a qualified boxer.
Joseph Pilates impressive resume does not end there though. Whilst in England, he later went on to teach Scotland Yard detectives the art of self-defence and, following this he landed himself the position of a circus acrobat. By this stage, what hadn’t Pilates accomplished!?
Well… during his own personal development journey, Joseph Pilates had become mesmerised with the ancient Greek ideal of the perfect male specimen.
He adored their philosophy so much so that it inspired him to create a series of comprehensive exercises and workout sequences of his own. The overall purpose of these movements were to correct ones’ muscular issues which would in turn lead to the improvement of posture, flexibility, balance, strength, fitness and co-ordination.
World War I and the Development of “Contrology”
It was during his lengthy time as an intern and nurse during World War I that Joseph Pilates really began to experiment with the use of “apparatus”.
After a great amount of trialling and recording his results, he declared the official name of his carefully developed practice “Contrology”. It wasn’t until a whole lot later that his method would be retitled to reflect his own last name.
He began by taking basic hospital beds and attaching a run of springs that would provide varying resistance for each user.
He then started getting his patients to use these contraptions in order to tone their muscles and heal their injuries whilst still having to remain in bed on recovery.
Little did he or anyone of that time know that this seemingly simple invention would later come to be widely recognised as the term we know very well today as the “Reformer”.
If only he could see just how popular and beneficial his practice has become for people living in todays society!
The Philosophy of Pilates
So now that we know who the prodigy was behind this amazing practice and, how it was initially developed in the 1920’s… it’s time to take a quick look into the actual philosophy behind his method.
The question now is not who created Pilates but, what is the underlying intention of this practice?
As Joseph Pilates once said “Contrology is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles.” instead it’s purpose is to “develop the body uniformly, correct posture, restore vitality, invigorate the mind and elevate the spirit.”
It is as clear as day that Joseph Pilates intended for his method to be recognised as a form of exercise that not only transformed one physically but also mentally and spiritually. He strongly believed that the health and well being of both the body and mind are wholeheartedly intertwined.
Two very common quotes by Pilates that I believe go hand in hand are “It is the mind itself which shapes the body”. “The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy.”
When practiced completely and correctly, I think that this is 100% spot on. This is something I myself have definitely experienced throughout my years learning the ropes of this training style.
Lets Keep His Dream Alive
Now here we are in 2019, a whopping 52 years after the passing of this absolute mastermind. For those who are curious to know, Joseph Pilates passed on at the age of 84 in 1967.
His remarkable legacy has continued to shine brightly across the globe to this very day thanks to the ongoing love and loyalty from the “Pilates Elders”. Basically, this term refers to the original followers, students and health pioneers that worked alongside Pilates himself.
If you have had the chance to check out our other recent blog posts then you will already be well aware that nowadays this incredible practice is available to all in many forms and styles.
In fact, Pilates has become SO popular of late that many of the fun and diverse classes that we see today have only come about in the past couple of years.
However, no matter how new these various classes may be, one thing remains set in stone. That is, the traditional movements and exercises developed by Joseph Pilates himself as well as his deep-rooted focus on the strengthening of the “power house” muscles and use of his controlled breathing technique at all times.
One things for sure, here at My Pilates Collective we sincerely believe in this practice and I personally have obtained the benefits of this exercise over the years.
If you haven’t already, we highly recommend you give Pilates a go for yourself. It will change your life in so many positive ways!
Thank-you for taking the time to read our latest article and if you have any questions or feedback for us, we would love to hear from you in the comment section below.
Kiara – Site Founder
My Pilates Collective