The Brief History of Pilates

Joseph Humbertus Pilates was born in Germany, a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets. Determined to conquer his debilities and improve his physical condition, he went on to become an accomplished gymnast, skier, boxer, body builder, competitive swimmer and self-defence trainer.

Taking a keen interest in karate and yoga, he combined Eastern and Western exercise disciplines to establish the mind-body concept that lies at the heart of the Pilates system. Ancient Greek philosophy also served as an inspiration.

Interned in a prisoner of war camp during World War 1, Pilates helped guards and prisoners to maintain fitness. Using his bunk, bedsprings and chair, he improvised the creation of the apparatus that was to become the Reformer, Trapezium (pictured above) and Wunda chair still found in Pilates studios today. During this period a devastating influenza epidemic spread across the globe, claiming 50 million lives. Miraculously, there were no influenza casualties in Pilates’ camp, a fact attributed directly to the fitness of the men.

The British army then employed Pilates to assist in training the British troops. After the war, he emigrated to the United States where he and his wife, Clara, set up the first Pilates studio in New York in 1926.

The famous Russian choreographer, George Ballanchine of the New York City Ballet, was soon sending his dancers to Pilates’ classes. The dance pieces known as the ‘[Seven Deadly Sins’, choreographed by Ballanchine, incorporated the Pilates mat routine. American, Martha Graham, doyenne of 20th century modern dance, also studied with Pilates, drawing on his movements in the development of the Graham technique.

Joseph Pilates passed away at the age of 87 in 1967, but left a powerful legacy that will continue to benefit many people for years to come.

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I started in the fitness industry in the late 1980’s running my own studio in Hampstead, London. Teaching aerobics, step, body conditioning and in later years the ever popular body pump!

You might think that I was super fit teaching full time – but in fact deep within I was completely unfit due to lack of core strength. All I had gained was strength on the outside (the superficial muscles) deep within, my postural muscles were very weak, causing muscle imbalance, leading to a chronic back injury!

After spending two years and a lot of money visiting osteopaths and chiropractors I realised the only way forward was to train in Pilates to correct my back.

Since qualifying as a Body Control Pilates Instructor my life has completely changed, I have learnt a great deal about myself and my body mechanics. My back is completely cured! I am longer, stronger and move with confidence and have never felt so positive about my life.

To teach you have to believe in what you are teaching and there is nothing more rewarding than watching your clients getting not only physically but mentally stronger and free from pain and stress.

Body Control Pilates continues to challenge me physically, emotionally and intellectually, it has taken years to achieve some of the exercises and to get a real understanding of the technique, and the journey goes on!

Marina is a member of:
Body Control Pilates Association (BCPA)
Europe's foremost professional Pilates organisation.

For further information about Body Control Pilates visit:
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