Joseph Pilates was born on 9 December 1883 in Germany. A sickly child, he suffered from rheumatic fever, rickets and asthma. Despite breathing difficulties, he wanted to become a gymnast like his father, and while his parents were out at work, Joseph could be found working out at a gymnasium that offered extra-curricular activities for schoolchildren.
At the time World War 1 broke out in 1914, he was working in England as a professional boxer and self-defence instructor, but, now considered an enemy of the nation, he was sent to internment camps. This period of his life left a great impression and was fundamental to the development of the Pilates Method. Working in the camp infirmaries, Joseph Pilates conceived exercises to help the patients recover. One of his ideas was to use springs from the beds to support the body and provide resistance to strengthen muscles and joints. This was the basis for the first piece of equipment that he built and later named the Cadillac.
In 1926, he emigrated to the USA where he met his wife, Clara. Together they opened a studio on New York’s Eighth Avenue.
Joseph Pilates created Matwork so that he could teach away from his studio.
In his book "Return to Life through Contrology", he sets out the 34 movements to be practised, explaining the sequences and the number of repetitions, along with simple, illustrated instructions. When practised regularly, he says, “Contrology gives you suppleness, natural grace and skill that will be unmistakably reflected in the way you walk, play and work.”
He goes on to explain how Contrology “develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.”
For Joseph Pilates, Contrology was the ideal method for attaining good physical and mental health.
He died in New York in 1967 at the age of 83, having dedicated his whole life to the health and well-being of others, and teaching his method to the end.
Better breathing creates expansion, increases space inside the body and helps it to handle the forces exerted by gravity. It enhances concentration, too.
You’ll become more supple, move more easily and improve muscle tone.
Joseph Pilates designed and built his own machines, which worked using a system of springs and pulleys.
The springs distribute the traction and tension throughout the body, allowing it to relax, sink into the movement and move naturally with its normal grace and suppleness.
The Cadillac was inspired by hospital beds with suspension and traction systems for injured limbs.
The Reformer was also developed based on his adaptations of hospital beds and use of their springs to assist his patients’ movements. The Reformer consists of a carriage attached by springs to a wooden frame. The user pulls down on straps with either their legs or arms to move the carriage and trains by working against the resistance of the springs.
The Wunda Chair is a kind of chair fitted with a large, spring-operated pedal. Its small surface area requires the body to adapt by maximising its internal space.
The studio becomes a playground. Each machine and each movement brings its own added value in bringing body tension and compression into equilibrium.