Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why You Need To Know About This Man...

Very rarely does a pioneer, a true genius, change the way we do things. When one does, however, generally they're at least about 50 years ahead of their time. On occasion, they will interest a few, but this is not always gauranteed as they walk amongst us. In the world of fitness and health, Joseph Pilates was one such genius. Pilates. The very word conjures up rich, yuppie soccer moms who gather together in studios to get their "workout in" between their spray-tan and manicure. Let this image not prevent us from looking a bit deeper. While the word "core" is being thrown around gyms, home videos, and our local "Big 5 Sporting Goods" store, do we REALLY understand who Joseph Pilates was, and what his gifts to humanity were?

First and foremost, I'm a believer in the "proof is in the pudding." Someone who "walks-their-talk" is rare in this world. There's a lot of talkers, not a lot of doers. Let us look at 2 pictures of Joseph Pilates in his 80's. He not only appears to be in excellent shape, age seems to have no hold on him. His anatomical physique speaks to the power of his teachings. His body is the proof: the sparkle in his eyes, the youth of his skin, the definition of his muscles. Examine the pictures and ask yourself if he ever said, "I can't do that, I'm too old." Its doubtful...

Let's gather a brief snapshot of who this man was, and how he came to be a legend in the world of fitness:

"Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. His father was a prize-winning gymnast of Greek ancestry, and his mother worked as a naturopath.[2] The family originally spelled their surname in the Greek manner as "Pilatu", but changed to using "Pilates." This caused Joseph Pilates much grief as a child, because older boys taunted him calling him "Pontius Pilate, killer of Christ."

Pilates was a sickly child and suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, and he dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength. Besides skiing frequently, he began studying body-building, yoga, zen, and gymnastics. By the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. Pilates came to believe that the "modern" life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training-techniques and engineered all the equipment, specifications, and tuning required to teach his methods properly.

Pilates was originally a gymnast, diver, and bodybuilder, but when he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, circus-performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. Nevertheless, the British authorities interned him during World War I along with other German citizens in a camp on the Isle of Man. During this involuntary break, he began to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he himself called "Contrology." He studied yoga and the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises. It is told that these inmates survived the great pandemic of 1918 due to their good physical shape.

After the war (WWI), he returned to Germany and collaborated with important experts in dance and physical exercise such as Rudolf Laban. In Hamburg, he also trained police officers. When he was pressured to train members of the German army, he left his native country, disappointed with its political and social conditions, and emigrated to New York.

The year 1925 is the approximate time when Pilates migrated to the United States of America. On the ship to America, he met his future wife Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York City and directly taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s. His method, which he and Clara originally called "Contrology," related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles. It focuses attention on core postural muscles that help keep the human body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.

Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devout following in the local dance and the performing-arts community of New York. Well-known dancers such as George Balanchine, who arrived in the United States in 1933, and Martha Graham, who had come to New York in 1923, became devotees and regularly sent their students to the Pilates for training and rehabilitation.

Joseph Pilates wrote several books, including Return to Life through Contrology and Your Health, and he was also a prolific inventor, with over 26 patents cited. Joe and Clara had a number of disciples who continued to teach variations of his method or, in some cases, focused exclusively on preserving the method, and the instructor-training techniques, they had learned during their studies with Joe and Clara.

Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 87 in New York. It is said that his studio caught on fire, & that he walked into the studio to rescue some of his equipment. He died of smoke inhalation. Not decrepitude or declining health."

Still think Pilates "is for girls," "is easy," or "too slow for me"? Then you haven't experienced German-born Gabi Davis at "Bend Pilates Connection." Gabi is a true disciple of the classical teachings of Joseph Pilates. Her regime is intense, and your abs will burn for days after. For Portland, OR. folks, Christine Binnendyk, Pilates instructor at the "Nike World Headquarters" is the best of the best. Her precision and expertise has been made manifest in her groundbreaking new book, "Ageless Pilates." The "Ageless Pilates" system is applicable for anyone at any level. Its never too late to start.

There is no fitness regime that cannot benefit from adding Pilates to it. Its obvious that I'm a fan of "CrossFit." In "CrossFit" we do a lot of powerlifting exercises & bodyweight gymnastic exercises. Any "Crossfitter" would benefit by adding Pilates to his/her physical routine. It can only enhance these exercises and make them more efficient. In Bend, contact Gabi at: http://pilatesconnection.us/ or in Portland, Christine at: http://agelesspilates.wordpress.com/about/ today with any questions. Enjoy the benefits of the wisdom of this great man and flourish...


  1. What a great batch of knowledge! Thanks Almine, you are the best!

  2. Wonderful information. Yes, walking our talk, is what it's all about, in every aspect of our lives, mind, body and spirit. It's a lifestyle. mahalo for your dedication in providing such inspiration to us all.

  3. So happy you both found it interesting. Joseph Pilates has always been one of my "longevity" heroes. He proved, by his daily life, that age has very little to do with physical fitness ability. He was introducing people to the concept of using their core in the west (martial artists in the east have known this all along), when no one was doing it at the time, or even heard of engaging it to capacity. He was truely ahead of his time...

  4. Thank you so much for educating everyone about this true athlete and his exceptional knowledge of the human body. The Pilates Method is an excellent foundation to ANY sports. I wonder sometimes how my body would feel without this wonderful workout after 12 years of gymnastic, years of active field hockey, numerous sprains and falls, badminton, and years of pounding on concrete floors when instructing aerobic, step classes and other high cardio classes and two pregnancies. Thanks, Almine!