“Joe” Pilates – The man behind the method

Pilates is on trend right now and you’re probably hearing about it left, right and center.

But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s another quick-fix fitness trend – although some current incarnations may fit that bill(!). This super-effective, highly sophisticated method has been around for a very, very long time!

Introducing Joseph Hubertus Pilates

Joseph Pilates in his youth

The founder and originator of Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany to interesting parents, to say the least: His Greek father was a gymnast and his German mother a naturopath. Joseph (or “Joe”, as his students liked to call him) started life as a sickly child who had asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets. Early on, he began studying all kinds of exercise and athletics systems to overcome these ailments and quickly developed his own notions based on the classical Greek ideal of a balance of body, mind and spirit. At age 14, he was clearly in great shape, as he started posing for anatomy charts.

Joseph in England

Joseph Pilates was an accomplished gymnast and boxer, and in 1912 went to England as a circus performer and professional boxer, later going on to teach self-defense to Scotland Yard detectives. When WWI broke out, he – like other German nationals – was interned as an “enemy alien”. Not one to give up, he used this time to elaborate on his ideas and train other internees in his system, mounting springs on hospital beds to allow bedridden patients to exercise with resistance. Legend has it that when the deadly flu epidemic struck in 1918, not a single one of the internees he trained succumbed to the disease.

Vintage photo of Joe Pilates on bed with springs

Once the war was over, he briefly returned to Germany, where he trained police officers and worked with dancers for a while.

“Contrology” is born in the US

Around 1925, Joseph Pilates decided to emigrate to the US. Having met his lifelong partner (accounts of whether they were actually married differ) Clara on the boat to New York, he opened hist first studio on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, sharing a building with dance studios. Logically, the first students of the method he called Contrology were professional dancers who had gotten injured and got great results with his method.

Several of these original students later went on to teach Joe’s method at their own studios throughout the United States. These were referred to as the “Pilates elders” after Joe’s death in 1967 at the age of 84. While he was convinced his method was right, he could never have dreamed it would become as popular as it is today.

Now that you know a little about the man who founded the method, you’ll probably agree he was far ahead of his time. So it’s only fitting that this uniquely wonderful and effective method of body “contrology” today bears his name.

Come in and find out…

…how Pilates can improve your life – contact me to schedule your assessment + mini-session!

The 6 Principles of Movement

In Polestar Pilates, everything we do is based on 6 principles of movement. These are not just abstract concepts. Instead, they relate very specifically to our health and mobility. I’ll address these separately in individual posts, but in the meantime, here’s an introduction:

Pilates Ring and Anatomy of Movement Book

Sunroom Pilates tools and rules


Movement facilitates breath and breath facilitates movement. In Pilates, we use the breath to make movement easier – or provide an added challenge as we progress.

Joseph Pilates famously wrote “Above all, learn to breathe correctly.”


Axial Elongation & Core Control

This is essentially about good posture and stability. Creating length helps prevent compression and damaging shear forces, while placing the body in the optimal position to increase freedom and efficiency of movement.

For the spine to be healthy, we need a balance of stability (defined as “the appropriate amount of stiffness for the anticipated load”) and mobility, facilitated by control of these structures by the “core”.

(Note: “Core” means more than just your abs, it refers to the entire musculature of the trunk.)


Spine Articulation

The more you distribute movement along the spine, the more you distribute the forces (load) acting on each segment of your spine. The more those forces are distributed, the lower the risk of injury.

Probably the most famous of all quotes by Joseph Pilates states that: “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”


Organization of the Head, Neck and Shoulders

Ever had a tension headache? A stiff, sore neck after sitting at a computer all day or studying? A crick in your neck from looking up for extended periods of time? Or worse, a frozen shoulder?

How we hold our head, neck and shoulders has a huge impact on movement and function as well as breath.

Carrying your head just a bit forward of where it needs to be can double or triple the load on the cervical spine (the vertebrae in your neck)!

This may be one of the most important principles for everyday life.


Alignment & Weight Bearing of the Extremities

How and where we place and load our hands and feet, our elbows and knees etc. deeply affects the quality and sustainability of movement.

Don’t believe me? Try doing a proper pushup. Your hands are right beneath your shoulders. Now try doing the same thing but place your hands 5 inches forward, backward, or out to the side – or even place your hands unevenly. I think you’ll notice a difference.

Legendary movement teacher Eric Franklin says “Ideal alignment involves all body parts approximating toward the central axis, as much as structure permits.”


Movement Integration

Once all those variables are in place, the question becomes: How do we achieve the necessary motor control to integrate movement of the joints in multiple planes of motion? And how do we connect this movement to the mind?

The movement of the body reflects the movement of the mind and vice versa.

This is how we progress a movement through four stages:

  1. unconsciously incompetent”  (e.g. you don’t realize you’re slouching)
  2. consciously incompetent” (e.g. you know you’re slouching but keep falling back into bad habits)
  3. consciously competent” (e.g. you have great posture but have to think about it all the time)
  4. unconsciously competent” (e.g. you have great posture and don’t even have to think about it – congratulations!!!).


Ready to see how these principles can vastly improve the quality of your life and your health? Stop by for an assessment + intro session! Call or email to schedule now.

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