Early in the 20th century, Joseph Pilates (1880-1967) created the exercise method that has taken the world by storm. Its success lies in the methodical strengthening of deep postural muscles and the subsequent rebalancing of muscle groups, which in turn realigns posture and restores natural, better balanced, and more efficient body movement. Born in a small town in Germany, Joseph was a small and sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. As an adolescent, he became fascinated by exercise of all kinds and began to work on strengthening his own body. He began by examining a discarded anatomy book, learning in detail every muscle in the body and how it moves. He also studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including yoga, Zen, martial arts, and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was 14, he had worked so hard he had developed his body to the point that he was posing for anatomy books and charts showing muscle form.
In Germany, he achieved some success as a boxer and gymnast in addition to being a skilled skier and diver. He travelled to England in 1912, and in 1914, after WWI broke out, he was interned along with other German nationals in a camp. There, he taught wrestling and self-defence, and began developing his system of original exercises that later became “Contrology”. After a transfer to a second camp, Pilates worked with many internees who suffered from wartime diseases and incarceration. He began designing equipment to rehabilitate them, taking the springs from beds and using them as weights and pulleys for exercise apparatus. In 1918, the deadly flu virus swept the world, killing millions of people. Even though the wartime camps were the hardest hit, none of Joseph’s followers became ill.
After the war, Pilates returned to Germany, but not wishing to train the German army, he decided to travel to the U.S. It was en route to America that he met a nurse named Clara. Upon arriving in New York City, they opened a gym at 939 Eighth Avenue, in the same building as several dance and rehearsal studios. It was this proximity that made “Contrology” such an integral part of many dancers’ training and rehabilitation work. George Balanchine and Martha Graham both studied with Joseph, and sent many of their dancers to Pilates to strengthen and balance their bodies, as well as to rehabilitate after an injury. In addition to dancers, Pilates also worked with people from all walks of life.
Joseph Pilates died in 1967, at the age of 87, after a healthy lifetime of training and healing others. Clara continued to teach and run the New York studio until her death 10 years later. Today, Pilates is practiced around the world by athletes, dancers, fitness professionals, and the general public.
Joseph Pilates’ work has been passed on through the teaching of a group of his clients and students known as the “Pilates Elders” or the “First Generation Pilates Masters. Of the 5 known “Elders”, Joseph Pilates only officially certified Kathy Grant and Lolita San Miguel. Susan Pepper Arena, has been certified by Lolita San Miguel and is a “Second Generation Pilates Master” and thus carries on the teaching of Joseph Pilates through her Swissbody Pilates Academy students.
The Swissbody® Pilates Method
At Swissbody ® Pilates, we adhere to the original teachings of Joseph Pilates, while adding contemporary knowledge and adaptations to the original method. This allows us to perform exercises that are anatomically and biomechanically correct while in a supportive and personalized environment.