Joseph Huburtus Pilates 1880 - 1968

"Perfect balance of Body and Mind .. gives all the physical and mental powers that are indispensable for attaining the goal of ... Health and Happiness." ~ Joseph Hubertus Pilates

Little Joe Pilates ran away to join the Circus. Little did he know that it would blossom into a career for himself and a discipline for the body that would revolutionize our awareness of what it means to be healthy.

Joseph Huburtus Pilates was born in Germany, in 1880, and after a very sickly childhood, he adventured to England to join the Circus in the hopes of building up his very weak physical form.
He was enjoying great success when WW I broke out and, because he was a German National, he was interred on the Isle of Mann with Prisoners of War and other refugees. Lying in a bunk bed one day (he must have had the bottom bunk) it occurred to him that he could maintain his physique in such adverse circumstances by using the resistance of the springs of the bed above to work his arms and legs. Hence, the Cadillac - one of the most important pieces of equipment he designed, was born. He applied his brainstorms to the sick and injured within his camp (paraplegic soldiers found it particularly helpful) with great success. He soon imagined another piece of equipment which he called the Reformer.

He was eventually released and ended up on a boat headed for New York, where he met Clara, his future wife. He and Clara, who was a nurse, spent time on the boat designing his physical therapies, applying anatomy and body building principles he had learned while working at the circus.

Over the years in New York he further refined his exercises to be very specific to each part of the body. One of the most important things he realized was that the body in the present day was using only the Global muscles, the large muscle groups that we all know about and use to function day to day - the quads on the front of the thigh, the biceps that we see hugely developed in body builders, the calves, and the top layer of Abdominals - the rectus abdominus that gives us our 6 pack. He surmised that as we move away from childhood (where we do use all of our muscles), and into a world that is no longer agriculturally based, we do not have to work any smaller muscles, and that we pay for it with injury, fatigue, and poor overall health.
The Pilates exercise system addresses exactly these issues in focusing each exercise not on the Global muscles, but on the smaller muscles and groups that get left behind. Each movement is designed to access and utilize a different muscle in the body - and there are exercises for every single one.
He designed the exercise scenario into different levels so that each body would be safe as it advanced through the system, and created modifications that were adaptive to each specific body, regardless of its history of injury or illness. The exercises balance against each other to help remind the body of how to work, and it is all done in such a way as to increase energy, as opposed to inducing fatigue.

His goal was to ensure that every person could enjoy good health and long life. He applied all of his exercises to real life, keeping in mind a sedentary lifestyle, the proper way to facilitate every movement such as walking or climbing stairs, and adding to it the component of fear which we all deal with as we approach middle age and beyond.
Pilates instituted the specific teaching method of cueing, in order to teach each body how to access the muscles to be used and not allow the global muscles to take over the job. Cueing also helps maintain the focus of the client, and helps further one of the other important components of the Pilates technique, The Pilates 6 - Alignment, Coordination, Control, Precision, Flow of Movement and Dynamics. The links across the top of each page (coming soon) will allow you to learn a little more about each one.

Mr. Pilates was greatly influenced by Dance, Gymnastics and Yoga, working from his earliest days in New York with George Balanchine and the members of New York City Ballet to guard against and recover from injury. He saw how important it was to add the list of 6 aspects of movement into each exercise. These concepts were known to dancers, and Athletes in subtle ways, but Pilates managed to bring them together to solidify his framework of health in the body. When these details of focus are added to the workout, they further refine his system.
For more information on Joseph Pilates you may want to read his manual. It is freely available and is listed on the Health Links page of this website.

Who Should Try Pilates?

Pilates is right for everybody. It is wonderfully adaptable. There are modifications, auxiliary exercises and equipment for people with limited motion, muscle weakness, or for Athletes and Dancers recovering from injury.
Pilates found ways to support and strengthen all the systems of the body; and he applied it to real life. Pilates exercises strengthen the core muscles which addresses chronic back pain, coordination, balance and everyday lifting. So you are also less likely to be injured when you slip going off a curb or to throw your back out taking the golf clubs out of the car.
Pilates is also a great endorphin rush. Clients come to the workout feeling stressed, but as I work them out they brighten up, they begin to joke and laugh, and by the end of the session they are smiling, relaxed and energized.

Classical NY Style Pilates

The Classical Pilates System uses 5 levels each of which correspond to a different type of body movement. Joseph Pilates developed 4 main pices of eqipment - The Reformer, the Cadillac, the Wunda Chair, and the High Barrel - and several more auxiliary pieces to assist the body in finding the smaller muscle groups. Each exercise is done just a few times to ensure safety to the delicate muscles. Cueing is used by the personal trainer to help the client use the correct muscles and to relax the larger ones. Each exercise is maintained exclusive to its level and is taught in a prescribed manner so as to be the safest and most useful to the body. Many modifications are available, so that when applied by an instructor with a well-trained eye, each movement can be adapted to any particular body. The Classical System is maintained by being passed down by word of mouth just as choreography and Ballet technique are handed down, generation to generation. It is considered to be the closest to what Joseph Pilates himself taught. West Coast Pilates was developed by Ron Fletcher, who was a follower of Pilates and also of Martha Graham, a pioneer in Modern Dance. Mr. Fletcher incorporated more dance into his Pilates technique when he moved from NY to California and a new style was born. Over the years many other people have adpted the techniques of Pilates and then added or subtracted to make it there own. Not all techniques are created equal, so it is important to work with a qualified instructor, and to decide for yourself if Classical Pilates is what you are looking for.

Romana Kryzanowska

Romana Kryzanowska was a young dancer in New York City Ballet when she was injured and sent to Joseph Pilates by Balanchine. She eventually became Joe and Clara's star pupil, teaching in their school and developing a fine career in helping to train dancers and others in the Pilates system. Joseph Pilates Died in 1968 and Romana helped to run the studio alongside Clara Pilates. She eventually inherited it upon Clara's death and has continued to run it ever since. Ms. Kryzanowska has trained many Pilates devotees in the Classical Pilates technique. My own teacher, Jill Cassady, is among those who were taught directly by Romana. Jill strives to maintain the technique as Romana did, in its purist Classical form, as Joe would have wanted. Jill runs the Pilates Teacher Training program in Los Angeles, California.

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