Joseph Pilates

The Man Behind the Reformer, Wunda Chair and Magic Circle

Joseph Pilates developed over 500 exercises which have now been developed in what we know as a Pilates workout. The benefits of Pilates are a lean body and a flat tummy.

Joseph Pilates spent much of his life restoring his body and health due to a lifelong battle with asthma. The benefits of a Pilates workout paid off , and over the years he became a skier, boxer, gymnast, diver and yogi.

The Benefits of Pilates

During World War I, Joseph Pilates, who was living in England at the time, was interned in a British prisoner of war camp. As a keen fitness instructor, he began training his fellow inmates. However, many of them were suffering from injuries. One of the benefits of Pilates is its adaptability. Joseph Pilates rigged springs above hospital beds using items that were available to him, such as bedsprings or beer keg rings, to create resistance exercise equipment to rehabilitate patients while they were lying on their backs. These were the beginnings of what we now know as the cadillac, reformer, wunda chair and magic circle, some of the main pieces of modern day Pilates equipment.

Joseph Pilates and Martha Graham

Joseph Pilates emigrated to the US in 1923 where he settled in New York City. He opened a studio on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and started working with new rehabilitation techniques, and a Pilates workout, for professional dancers. Two of his students who were quick to understand the benefits of Pilates were ballet master George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Joseph Pilates started with a series of mat exercises, a basic Pilates workout designed around the eight Pilates principles, to build abdominal strength and body control. Later Pilates developed various pieces of equipment to complement his mat work and expand the exercises adding further benefits to a Pilates workout.

Way ahead of his time, Joseph Pilates saw fitness as holistic and emphasised the benefits of working the body as a whole. Despite his childhood illnesses, he managed to keep incredibly fit his entire life. There are many photos testifying to his amazing physical shape even as he grew older. Joseph Pilates died in 1967 aged 87. Although he had written several books on fitness and the benefits of Pilates workouts, he did not set up an official manual or training programme. However, some of Joseph Pilates’ original students, now called Pilates Elders, carry on with his work. Many went on to open their own studios and several are still well-known today.

Among these are Kathy Grant who was certified to teach Pilates by Joseph Pilates himself and Romana Kyrzanowska who was one of his students. Romana took over as director of his studio a few years after he died and now has her own studio where she continues to teach the method and the benefits of Pilates workouts. Mary Bowen became a Jungian therapist and continued to study with Joseph Pilates. She also still holds workshops and intensive classes.

Although the Joseph Pilates method is still firmly rooted in the original teachings, modern exercise science has helped teachers develop the techniques into a 21st century safe and effective programme that can be adapted to suit everyone.

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