I was first introduced to this healing practice after an injury and it has healed me far beyond my expectations. Pilates isn’t just about fitness, but rather holistic wellness. Over time this practice became the best part of my day, bringing me back to my natural state and nurturing mind body awareness. I am now training to become a certified Polestar Pilates instructor. I chose to train with Polestar because it is known for being progressive and continuously evolving with the most current science and research. I believe this method is the future of health and fitness. After working on the reformer in physical therapy at All Wellness I was hooked. I am so grateful for my studio and Joseph Pilates.
Who is the man behind the method? Joseph Pilates was passionate about using his technique of Contrology to heal humanity. This is his story.
Born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates was a frail child. He suffered from rickets, asthma, and rheumatic fever. He was driven to overcome his weakness and began to practice bodybuilding, diving, boxing, gymnastics, yoga, wrestling, martial arts and studying anatomy. His father was a successful gymnast and his mother was a naturopath, which set the stage for his future as a master of therapeutic exercise with a deep understanding of the body, mind, and spirit connection far beyond his time. Joseph Pilates was surely a polymath, exploring Eastern and Western philosophy and forms of exercise. He soon achieved an ideal anatomy through his practice.
In 1912 he fled Germany because of the changing political atmosphere. While in the UK he trained the police and Scotland Yard in self-defense. He also performed a Greek statue act in a circus to make money. After the start of WWI he was interned on the British Isle of Man with other German nationalists. At this time he taught and practiced exercise at the internment camp and began developing his apparatus to rehabilitate his fellow German nationals suffering from the influenza epidemic, and wartime diseases. None of his students died of influenza because of their good health. He took apart bunk beds taking their springs and barrels at the camp that would later evolve into the many apparatuses we use in Pilates today.
Joe returned to Germany after the war, but because he was pressured to train the New German Army he decided to immigrate to America. On the boat over he met Clara, a nurse who would become his wife. They opened their studio in New York City where they developed his method of Contrology.
At the heart of Joseph’s method was his understanding of the ancient human knowledge of the body, mind, and spirit connection. He was truly a pioneer in mindfulness. Over fifty years since his death we are just now seeing the value of these ancient truths that functional doctors and naturopaths believe have great value, like one of my favorite functional medicine practitioners Dr. Mark Hyman wrote:
“Modern biologic discoveries mirror shamanic work. The deep understanding of systems biology and the origins of disorder and biologic dysfunction and the re-establishment of balance and harmony provide a new scientific framework for healing.”
Ahead of his time, Joe and his wife Clara taught their method of using the mind to control the muscles. They acquired many loyal and devoted students like George Balanchine and Martha Graham, who would send their injured dancers to “Uncle Joe” and he always delivered incredible results. Joe Pilates believed in the magic of the human body, he would watch animals move and hoped his method would take us back to our natural state through proper breathing, posture, health and concentration. He believed “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness”. Joseph and Clara Pilates operated their Manhattan studio for over 40 years, devoting their lives to healing and restoring others. Contrary to some reports, Joseph Pilates died from respiratory complications as a result of a fire in his studio. He died at 83 years young.
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.” -Joseph Pilates
Joseph Pilates was ahead of his time and he truly believed his method could help restore health and happiness. He understood the power of our own minds and bodies in a way his contemporaries found unbelievable. He was truly a man beyond his time, a renaissance man. He believed we all have the power to restore our health no matter our age.
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