Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 in Germany as a sickly child. He was determined to overcome his afflictions and took up the rigorous regimens of the Greek and Romans. He also practiced yoga and meditation.
By fourteen he had become an avid skin diver, skier and gymnast. He also became a boxer, circus performer and a trainer of self-defense for detectives. This training was the foundation of his later work.
At the outbreak of World War I he was interned with other Germans in England. This is where his body of work began as what we now know as the “Mat Work”. He taught fellow prisoners these exercises for strength and flexibility, combining fitness with breath control and mental sharpness.
In the latter part of the war he was working as an orderly in a hospital, helping to rehabilitate patients by strengthening them using equipment made from bedsprings and other equipment. This equipment eventually became known as the “Reformer” and “Magic Circle”.
After the war he returned to Germany, continuing pioneering his unique approach to fitness. He immigrated to the United States when the German government ordered him to train the new German army. In New York City he opened his Pilates studio along with his wife, Clara.
He invented his equipment with the help of Clara. He designed a repertoire of over 500 exercises to develop strong, flexible muscles without adding bulk. He emphasized breathing and torso strength to improve posture, reduce stress and injury (exactly what I practice!). His early followers were dancers like George Ballanchine and Martha Graham. He also trained elite athletes.
He died in 1967, having written the consummate “Return to Life Through Contrology” book, a good primer for his beliefs. He left a strong contingent of students who went on to form their own studios and schools. This is the basis for “Classical” Pilates. Others, like Moira Stott studied the Pilates Method in the New York studio but enhanced the work with modern, scientific knowledge about the body and how it works. She, too, invented modern equipment, equipment that I use today.
I am not Stott trained but have studied her work extensively. Like her I incorporate pelvic and shoulder stabilization: the foundation of all work. I also concentrate on neutral and imprinted pelvis: critical to building a solid framework.