"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. In order to achieve happiness, it is imperative to gain mastery of your body. If at the age of 30 you are stiff and out of shape, you are old. If at 60 you are supple and strong then you are young." Joseph Pilates
Joseph Pilates was born near Düsseldorf, Germany in 1880. Little is known about his early life, but he appears to have been a frail child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His drive and determination to overcome these ailments led him to become a competent gymnast, diver and skier.
In 1912 Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. During the First World War, he was interned with other German nationals. At this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. In the latter part of the War he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients' limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the 'Cadillac'. Much of his equipment, although slightly adapted, is still in use today in many Pilates Studios.
Pilates emigrated to the USA in the early 1920s, opening a 'body-conditioning studio' with his wife Clara in New York in 1926. The studio featured much of the apparatus designed to enhance his rehabilitation work. It soon became very popular, particularly with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury. Word spread quickly and many celebrities of the day visited his studio. These included dance legends such as Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Martha Graham, as well as the actor Jose Ferrer and the author Christopher Isherwood.
In 1932 Pilates published a booklet called 'Your Health' and followed this with another called 'Return to Life Through Contrology' in 1945. Through these writings and his students, his method was passed on after his death in 1967 at the age of 87. His method of exercise was called Contrology. It was only after his death that it became known as Pilates or the Pilates method.
The Pilates method has gradually evolved and has integrated current biomechanical thinking. However, the roots of the technique are steeped in the philosophy and movement patterns designed by Joseph Pilates over 70 years ago. Today his core method is still taught, as well as an evolved form, by teachers of the Pilates Foundation.
Pilates was first introduced to the UK by Alan Herdman in 1970.
The popularity of the Pilates method has spread steadily since the day when Pilates first opened his studio. Pilates has now become a worldwide phenomenon with over 12 million people practicing, and the numbers continue to grow.