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Who was Pilates?

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. When he was a child he suffered from a number of ailments including asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. From an early age Pilates turned to exercise to heal himself, likely influenced by his father who a keen and accomplished gymnast and his mother who was a naturopath who believed in the principle of stimulating the body to heal itself without artificial drugs.

Pilates developed his own exercise regime based on the Greek ideal of a man balanced in body, mind, and spirit and by the age of 14 he was fit enough to pose as an anatomical model.

In 1912 Pilates moved to England where he was working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor at police schools and Scotland Yard. However when World War I broke out he was interned with other German nationals in an internment camp. It is during this time that he refined his technique and developed a series of matwork based exercises that would later become known as ‘Contrology’ to his fellow internees. A few years later he was transferred to a camp on the Isle of Man where he worked as a nurse/ caretaker with patients who were victim of wartime disease and injury, many of whom unable to walk. This is where he began devising equipment to rehabilitate patients using bedsprings and attaching them to hospital beds to create spring resistance and movement.

After the war he returned to Germany for a few years before emigrating to America in the early 1920s with his wife Clara, who it is believed he met on the ship to America. Together they set up a studio in New York where they taught and developed Contrology. The studio quickly became popular with the local dance and performing-arts community and was attended by well known dancers of the time.

In 1932 Pilates published a booklet called 'Your Health' and followed this with another called 'Return to Life Through Contrology' in 1945.

Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83. After his death his method (Contrology) was renamed after him and became known as the Pilates Method.

The Pilates Method was brought back to the UK by Alan Herdman who had been asked by the London School of Contemporary Dance to visit New York and investigate the methods of Joseph Pilates. Herdman established Britain’s first Pilates studio at The Place in London that year

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