As a child, Joseph Pilates suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Physically under-developed during his school years, boys did what boys often do – they bullied him. It was as a result of one of these bullying incidents, when he suffered the misfortune of losing an eye. It is believed that because of this ill-treatment, a strong interest in fitness and self-defence developed early in his life.
But it wasn’t until the year 1914, that he found his life purpose. He was in England then when the First World War was declared and interned on the Isle of Man, as was the procedure if you were a German national. With his interest in health (his mother was a naturopath), he gravitated to the sick bay where his other interests in wrestling and self-defence (his father operated a gymnasium), led him to a seed of an idea.
Being the resourceful person he was, he regarded the springs under the mattresses of the iron infirmary beds to be useful in the physical recovery of inmates. So he got to work attaching them all around the bed posts, which allowed folk to benefit from the “resistance” they offered to strengthen muscles. He worked with his fellow internees who were suffering ill-health and lack of exercise.
He was given the freedom to work with these people as long as they remained in their beds. Resistance exercise was born, together with that still-used piece of Pilates equipment we now know as the Trap Table or Cadillac that still so closely resembles the old hospital beds. Joseph ultimately called his idea Contrology – which pretty much sums up the nature of modern Pilates.
After the war, after a stint in the new German army, Joseph no longer wished to remain in his homeland. He decided to migrate to the USA. It was on board the ship that carried that took him there, that he met his future wife Clara – who also developed a passion for his Contrology.
By coincidence the boxing gymnasium where they set up their new business in New York was surrounded with ballet studios, and of course, you already know where this story is going. Pilates Contrology is now widely adopted not only into the world of ballerinas, but into the wider community. It survived and prospered, because it WORKS...
Here he is, aged 82. Joseph knew intuitively then, what science has shown us since, that we cannot strengthen and stretch muscles effectively while we’re doing aerobic exercise. The 2 methods and entirely different and need to be separate. Exercise sessions with Joseph were not meant to tire, but rather to invigorate. He has left us 34 Contrology exercises which we have adapted and added to, and which we have re-named in his honour – Pilates.
To use the words of Joseph Pilates- "The goal of Contrology is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind and the ability to perform life's daily activities with zest and ease."