History Of Pilates

Joe’s definition of physical fitness was the “attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneously zest and pleasure”.

Joe was born in Monchengladbach, a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880. He was small and sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His name had been spelled “Pilatu” and was of Greek derivation but was changed to Pilates. His father was a prize winning gymnast and his mother was a neuropath. A family physician gave him a discarded anatomy book and he put it “I learned every page, every part of the body; I would move each part as I memorized it. As a child, I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, how the mother taught the young.” he said. He studied both the Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga. By the time he was 14 he had worked so hard he had developed his body to the point that he was modeling for anatomy charts.

Growing up in Germany, he achieved some success as a boxer and a gymnast in addition to being a skilled skier and diver. In 1912 he went to England for further training as a boxer. He found employment there as a circus performer. By 1914 he had become a star and toured England with his troupe. He and his brother were performing a Greek statue act!

In 1914 after WWI broke out he was interned along with other German nationals in a “camp” for enemy aliens in Lancaster. There he taught wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was here that he began devising his system of exercises that later became “Contrology.” He was transferred to another camp on the Isle of Man where he became something of a nurse and worked with many internees who suffered from wartime diseases and incarceration. He then began devising equipment to rehabilitate them, taking the springs from beds and rigging exercise apparatus for the bedridden! In 1918, a terrible epidemic of influenza swept the world, killing millions of people tens of thousands in England. None of Joe’s followers succumbed even though the camps were the hardest hit!

After the war Joe returned to Germany and began training the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training as well as taking on personal clients.

He said, “I invented all these machines. Began back in Germany, was there until 1925 used to exercise rheumatic patients. I thought why use My strength? So I made a machine to do it for me. Look, you see it resists your movements in just the right way so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you can concentrate on movement. You must always do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it.”

It was at this time that he met Rudolf van Laban, a famous movement analyst, who is said to have incorporated some of Joe’s theories and exercises into his own work. Mary Wigwam, a famous German dancer and choreographer was a student of Joe’s and used his exercises in her dance class warm-up.

In 1925 he was invited to train the New German Army but because he was not happy with the political direction of Germany he decided to leave. On the urging of boxing expert, Nat Fleischer and with the aid of Max Schmelling he decided to come to the U.S. It was en route to America that Joe met Clara who was to become his second wife (there is really no information available about his first wife). She was a kindergarten teacher who was suffering from arthritic pain and Joe worked with her on the boat to heal her.

Upon arriving in New York City in 1926 they opened a gym at 939 Eight Ave, in the same building as several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. It was this proximity that made “Contrology” such an intrinsic part of many dancers’ training and rehab work and many were sent to Joe to be “fixed”. George Balanchine, the famous choreographer, studied with Joe and sent many of his dancers to Pilates for strengthening and “balancing” as well as rehabilitation, as did another famous dancer/choreographer Martha Graham.

From 1939 to 1951 Joe and Clara went every summer to Jacob’s Pillow, a well-known dance camp in the Berkshire Mountains. He was a friend and a teacher to such renowned dancer choreographers as Ted Shawn, Ruth St. Denis, Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins and many required their dancers to go to Joe. Both Hanya Holm and Martha Graham incorporated Joe’s exercises into their student’s lessons.

Although Joe Pilates was a health guru, he strongly believed in fitness supporting life’s riches. He was renowned for liking cigars, whiskey, and women, and was to be seen running on Manhattan streets in the dead of winter in a Speedo!

In January 1966 there was a fire in their building. Joe returned to his studio to try and save anything possible and fell through the burnt out floorboards, hanging by his hands from a beam for quite some time until rescued by the firefighters. It was assumed that this incident directly led to his death in 1967, at the age of 87. Clara regarded by many as the more patient teacher, continued to teach and run the studio until her death 10 years later in 1977.

History of Contrology

Contrology is complete coordination of the body, mind, and spirit. Through Contrology you first purposely acquire complete control of your body and then through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities. This true rhythm and control is observed both in domestic pets and wild animals – without known exceptions.

Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.

One of the major results of Contrology is gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control of your body. How many beginners are amazed and chagrined (even trained athletes in the public eye) to discover how few (if any) Contrology exercises they are able to execute properly! Their previous failure to exercise regularly and properly, or their method of training, has not helped them. There is unmistakable evidence that the functioning of the brain has correspondingly deteriorated.

Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing, it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never learned to master the art of correct breathing. One often wonders how many millions continue to live as long as they do under this tremendous handicap to longevity. Lazy breathing converts the lungs, figuratively speaking, into the cemetery for the disposition of diseased, dying, and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of harmful germs.

Therefore, above all, learn how to breathe correctly. “SQUEEZE” EVERY ATOM OF AIR FROM YOUR LUNGS UNTIL THEY ARE ALMOST FREE OF AIR AS A VACUUM. Stand erect again and observe how your lungs will automatically completely refill themselves with fresh air. The impact of so much oxygen upon your bloodstream at first quite naturally result in your experiencing a slight sensation of “lightheadedness.” similar to the effect you might experience the first time you find your self actively engaged in the rarefied atmosphere high up in the mountains. However, after a few days this feeling will entirely disappear.

Contrology begins with mind control over the muscles.

By reawakening thousands and thousands of otherwise ordinarily dormant muscle cells, Contrology correspondingly reawakens thousands and thousands of dormant brain cells, thus activating new areas and stimulating further the functioning of the mind. No wonder then that so many persons express such great surprise following their initial experience with Contrology exercises and their realization of the resulting sensation of “uplift.” For the first time in many years their minds have been totally awakened. Continued use of Contrology steadily increases the normal and natural supply of pure rich blood to flow and circulate throughout the brain with corresponding stimulation to new brain areas previously dormant. More significantly, it actually develops more brain cells.