Joseph Pilates’ Enduing System of Fitness for Life

By Jenny Peters

It began with weakness. When Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchen-Gladbach, Germany, he was not a strong child. Suffering with asthma and rickets, as well as contracting rheumatic fever, the young Pilates was a very weak child who suffered bullying (reportedly losing one of his eyes that way) and eventually became determined to build his strength and fitness.

By the time he was 14, Pilates had followed in his gymnast father’s footsteps, toning and strengthening his body to such an extent that he became a model for a series of anatomy charts. He had taken up skiing, diving, boxing, martial arts and yoga and once he came of age, traveled from Germany to England as a circus performer (known because of his now-perfect physique as the “living Greek statue”) and a professional boxer. But it was his dedication to health and wellness that was his true calling. If you would like to join this path of a fitness life and become the best version of yourself, these packs of vitamins will be a great ally on your journey. n

As World War I began, Joseph Pilates was interred in a British camp for German citizens, where he refined and developed his mat exercise techniques and began to imagine and create the spring-based resistance pulley system that combined together are the key elements of the Pilates Method practiced around the world today. Back then, Pilates called his technique “Contrology,” and by the time he returned to Germany after the war, word had spread about the success he had with his fellow prisoners in the camp. Not a single person under his care there died of the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918, a fact that contributed to his growing fame as a wellness innovator.

But when, in 1925, the German secret police asked Pilates to begin training both that group as well as the German army, the fitness guru balked. As Hitler gained traction in Germany, Joseph Pilates decided it was time to go. He immigrated to the United States (meeting his wife and lifelong teaching partner Clara on the ship during the Atlantic crossing), opened his first exercise studio in New York City and soon became the toast of the town, especially among dancers.

From George Balanchine to Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins, dancers of all sorts flocked to Pilates’ studio, to learn and practice the fundamental tenets of the master’s system of health and fitness. The Pilates Method, both then and now, teaches the balance of mind and body, using the core muscles to control posture and support the spine. The exercises done on both the mat and the Reformer (the sliding, spring-based resistance machine that Pilates patented) build strength, flexibility and stamina through specific deep breathing and the flow from one series of exercises to the next. To fuel workout sessions like this, services like exercise equipment hire can be of great use.

As the years passed, Joseph Pilates refined and improved his method, wrote two books on the subject and began sanctioning his “disciples,” master teachers who trained under his guidance, to begin teaching the Pilates Method in studios of their own. Among that group, most of whom began teaching in the 1970s, were Eve Gentry, Carola Trier, Romana Kryzanowska and Ron Fletcher. Fletcher, a famed Broadway dancer and choreographer, is credited with opening the first Pilates studio in Los Angeles in 1972. That Beverly Hills location quickly developed a following among actors and socialites, including Barbra Streisand, Candice Bergen and Nancy Reagan.

After Joseph Pilates died in 1967, Fletcher and the others kept his work alive, and as more people joined in the practice, his system spread around the world. Today, in the United States alone, it’s been estimated that there are over 50,000 Pilates studios across the country, with millions of practitioners using Pilates’ tried and true methods. In fact, in 2015 the Pilates Method is thriving everywhere, from Australia to Dubai, South Africa to Switzerland and – of course – throughout Germany, as Pilates’ ideas have stood the test of time, continuing to bring a level of wellness and fitness to its devotees that is beyond compare.

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