Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.Joseph H. Pilates 1945
People commonly say “Pilates was a person?!” He was indeed! Anyone that has been to my studio has seen the photo of the original studio in New York complete with Joe, his wife Clara and niece Mary as well as those fabulous claw footed reformers. What follows here is a very abridged overview of Joe Pilates and his creation “Contrology” now commonly known as Pilates.
Pilates is the popular name used today for a system of exercise begun by Joseph Pilates as early as 1912, which he named Contrology. Pilates at its most basic definition is an exercise system using a set of movement principles to improve posture, core stability and balance to enhance overall physical performance of functional activities.
This work was brought to New York City in 1926 when Joe Pilates immigrated to the US from Germany. Joe defines Contrology at length in his second book Return to Life, Through Contrology, published in 1945. Here he writes about the stresses of daily life and the toll that modern day life takes on the body. He observed “Very interesting, but quite obvious when you stop to think of it, is the indisputable fact that no one modern activity employs all our muscles.”
In order to maintain a flexible, fit, well-functioning body, which Joe believed to be a sign of youth, as opposed to the number of candles on your birthday cake, he wrote, “There is another important reason for consistently exercising all our muscles; namely, that each muscle may cooperatively and loyally aid in the uniform development of all our muscles. Developing minor muscles naturally help to strengthen major muscles…Therefore, when all your muscles are properly developed you will, as a matter of course, perform your work with minimum effort and maximum pleasure.”
Joe taught a comprehensive exercise program using equipment of his creation; the Reformer, Cadillac, Chair (which he believed should be in every home!), the Toe Gizmo and Foot Corrector to name just a few. In the original studio all of the equipment was built by Joe. This program focused on improving the use of breath, the flexibility of the spine, the strength of the “powerhouse” or core musculature and the overall balance of the body. Joe was quoted stating that he was 50 years ahead of his time and he truly was. At the time of his death on October 9, 1967 at the age of 87 the method still had a small following.
In the years following, Joe’s wife Clara continued his work at the studio in New York and several of Joe’s students went on to continue his work in their own locations around the Country and in Puerto Rico. They are now referred to in the Pilates industry as the Pilates Elders. Listed here in alphabetical order are some notable Pilates Elders: Mary Bowen, Robert Fitzgerald, Ron Fletcher, Eve Gentry, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Bruce King, Romana Kryzanowska, Lolita San Miguel (my mentor) and Carola Treir. Through the teachings of these Elders, the Pilates method continued on and has grown and finally entered the mainstream fulfilling Joe Pilates’ dream of bringing his work to the masses.