Joseph Hubertus Pilates is both the inventor of mat and reformer Pilates. He was born in Germany in 1883, in Mönchengladbach and as a child was quite sickly, he suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. However, he had a very strong mindset and was determined to improve his physical body.
The story goes, that during World War I Pilates was confirmed to a camp in England, where he helped his German bedridden counterparts with movement and exercise using the bed springs from the iron beds. However, this now appears to be untrue as told by John Steel in his book Caged Lion, as bed springs weren’t even invented at this time.
It’s more likely that Pilates built the first proto type reformer much later when he arrived in the US. The reformers today are of course much sleeker versions of this original reformer but you can quite clearly see that all the parts on today’s reformers are retained from the prototype.
Joseph Pilates was a man really ahead of his time; he was determined to improve his physical body condition and spent many, many years perfecting his poses and the Pilates repertoire positions that are taught today.
As a child and throughout his life he studied the movement of animals and yoga. In fact, many of the moves in his exercises show a strong resemblance to yoga moves, like The Jack Knife and The Push-Up, which has a plank and downward dog pose. He progressed to create his 34 traditional moves, which can be found in his book Pilates’ Return to Life through Contrology. This is the bible of Pilates.
Later in life, he moved to the US, where he opened a Pilates studio in New York City with his wife Clara. During this time he taught his exercises which concentrate on the core, spinal alignment, and strengthening of the deep abdominal muscles, not just those front on but lateral muscles. The name he gave to this teaching of his exercises was, ‘Contrology’. He further went on to call this central abdominal ring, the ‘powerhouse’ of the body. Like yoga, he also taught the importance of breath, that all poses followed a breath pattern and movement started, and finished with the breath.
Pilates fully dedicated himself to teaching his exercises, both mat and reformer Pilates. He was also very philosophical and saw Pilates contributing to improving your physical body but also equally your mindset.
He continued to practice his exercises right up to his death at the age of 83 and even looking at photos at this time, it’s evident of the physical condition that he was still in! He was a man well ahead of his time and believed that someday everybody would be practicing his exercises and now they are!
We wonder what Joseph Pilates would think now, to see so many people from around the world dedicated and benefiting from his exercises.