The REAL Story Behind Pilates & Joseph Pilates
Pilates is more than a fitness workout. It’s more than a routine. It’s more than a practice. Yes, it’s going to change your life. It’s going to help your mental health, your physical health, your well being, your posture, all that stuff. But it came from one person, Joseph Pilates, the Pilates inventor. Yes, he was a man who created this amazing thing. And today I want to take you through his incredible journey. It’s kind of crazy. And how Pilates has come to you today. In fact, it’s almost 100 years old, so we may as well dive into the history of Pilates now.
I’m Lesley Logan, I’m a second generation Pilates instructor. I’ve been teaching since 2008. My teacher, Jay, studied with Joseph Pilates and I’m actually close friends with another one of Joseph Pilates’ clients – I’m gonna tell you a little bit more him in this video. Today, I want to take you through where Joseph Pilates maybe got some of his ideas for his exercises, the history of how Pilates got out into this world, and what people are doing with Pilates today.
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What is the history of Joseph Pilates?
All right, so let’s just talk about the Pilates founder, Joseph Pilates. He was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany, which is around near Düsseldorf. And he was actually born really poor. What we do know about his history as a child is that his family didn’t have a lot of money, he grew up in houses that would be aired out (that’s a thing that they would do back in the day). He had asthma. We know that he had rickets, but he did not know that he had rickets at the time. And so there’s a lot of things going on with his body. However, he got into physical fitness. He was a boxer there, he also did circus performing stuff, and he did a lot of traveling.
We also do know that somehow he ended up in an internment camp during World War I at the Isle of Man. Now, if you read “The Caged Lion” by my friend John Steele, who was one of Joseph Pilates’ clients and really considers Joseph Pilates like a father figure to him, you will understand that we don’t know a lot about how that happened. Maybe he was a stowaway on the ship. Unclear but he was in prisoned in that internment camp.
That is where we know he did a lot of work around his mat routine, his mat practice, which is all about your own bodyweight. And he probably was inspired by what we also can tell was physical fitness at the time in Europe that was going around, which was this full body glow impact routines, and also what was going on Eastern fitness regimes like yoga, so not at all to be copied or looks the same. But definitely there was inspiration, you can look at the time of history in the physical fitness world in Europe at that time.
He got out of that internment camp. And he somehow got to go to the US two times. The second time is when he stayed. The first time we’re unclear of why that happened, how that happened. Going to the U.S. is a very expensive thing. So how did that actually go? One of those times was on a first class ticket, which is incredible. Ken Endelman has a lot of information. He is the founder of Balanced Body. And so if you ever have a chance to hear him talk about what he knows about Joseph Pilates, it’s really incredible.
However, on the ship, the second time to the US is where he met Clara Pilates, which many believe is his wife. However, they were actually never married legally. She did call herself his wife, it was believed that they are married. I find it a little bit like soap opera-ish gossip, because back in the 20s and 30s and 40s these two live together unmarried!? I just I love it! It’s a little gossipy. But anyways, he met her on that ship.
They got to New York. And in the 30s he opened up his Pilates studio. He did not call it Pilates, he called it Contrology. And it was in their apartment on Eighth Avenue. In fact, you can still go to that building today. And there is a Pilates studio that is in the section of where he and Clara used to live. And this part that was the Pilates studio is currently at this time a dance studio. So, he had this amazing business, you would pay $5 at the time, which is actually quite a lot of money. You just pay cash to make an appointment, and you’d come in and you do your own workouts. Now, of course he had his mat routine first.
The Evolution and Impact of Joseph Pilates’ Method
If you read “Return to Life,” he has two books in the 30s he published “Your Health.” It’s kind of a little bit of a chair rant. I highly recommend skipping to “Return to Life.” It’s a really good story that actually talks about his mat routine.
But he noticed and discovered that people had a hard time doing the mat work. So of course he created all these different pieces of equipment, which you’d find in his studio. You’d come and you do your workout. Now, what we do you know about Joseph Pilates is that he was really dedicated to his work and he wrote letters to Presidents about how people should do his work. He had advertisements! All these efforts are now recognized as the foundational blocks in the history of Pilates.
We also know that he didn’t really tell the same story twice to any reporter so if you start to do some digging on some stories about them, there’s just a few inconsistencies because, like many immigrants back then, he didn’t want people to know where he came from. You have to understand he was a German immigrant in the U.S. during World War II. So already have been in a World War I internment camp, you can kind of understand why that might have been.
So he brought this in, he really wanted every single person to do his Pilates. He was trying to get patents and copyrights on all of his stuff. He was super, super passionate. However, he also wasn’t very good at getting teachers to put the work out there. And so what ended up happening when he died in 1967, at the age of 83, which I think is kind of amazing for especially back then, given the lifestyle that he was raised in and the ways he had to go through life. So if you read John Steele’s book, you can hear more about how he lived his life in his final years, how he passed away. But also, you can hear a bit more about the next part, which is what happened after he died? How did Pilates continue to to go on?
Because so many dancers were going to Joseph Pilates’ studio, back then those dancers would also travel the world, so they would be teaching each other other dancers in their groups Pilates to warm up and to really make sure that their bodies were well maintained and prevented injury.
When he passed away, John Steele and several other clients all banded together to get Romana, one of Joseph Pilates’ clients and considered to be one of the protegees, to open up a studio. They moved the studio to a different part of town. It went through several different owners. And to be honest, it never really had this “oh, Pilates is the biggest thing!”
It’s kind of funny because nowadays, every other year, you hear ‘Pilates is having a moment.’ But back then in the 70s and 80s it really struggled. You have to remember Jazzercise was a really big deal, aerobics, all that stuff. But as people got injured from doing those things, they find their way to doing Pilates.
And as different teachers moved from New York to the West Coast, you’ll find that Jay Grimes moved to the West Coast, Ron Fletcher moved to the West Coast, the celebrities started to take up Pilates, which of course always gets people wanting to do something. And so all these different teachers went around and you have to understand each person had a Pilates practice that Joseph Pilates gave them.
So, how they interpreted and taught Pilates really did have some effects on some changes. And so people started to change the orders, the intentions, and it kind of grew.
How Did Pilates Almost Become Exclusive?
Here’s what happened. Big thing. There was one person who was sending out cease and desist letters to anybody who’s teaching Pilates and to Balanced Body, Ken Endelman. And they had to stop saying that they were Pilates instructors, they had to stop creating Pilates equipment.
What ended up happening, it was a four year long trial and just an incredibly exhausting and expensive time for people to fight to say, “No, Pilates is not something one person can own. It’s like everything. It’s like yoga, right?” So again, if you go into John Steel’s book, he was very much a part of that trial, and how that went.
And guess what, in 2001, a judge said, “Guess what, guys, no one can own the word Pilates, everyone can do it.” And so what’s really exciting is that this whole world opened up, leading to a more widespread understanding and teaching of the fundamentals of Pilates.
So when I discovered Pilates in 2005, I had no idea that just four years before, there were people fighting for their lives to be able to call what they did Pilates.
Since then, there have been many other different ways of teaching Pilates. And so there is a classical version of Pilates or called the traditional version of Pilates. That is how I teach, which is I use Joseph Pilates orders and his intentions when teaching Pilates.
There’s another version called contemporary. I don’t ever like to say classical versus contemporary, because I don’t think that it is a versus. There are a lot more similarities than there are differences. But people who are a more contemporary style teacher probably are not teaching the order.
And then you have other venues out there that are doing like a reformer SL Pilates, or they have changed what a reformer looks like. So there’s different versions of things like that.
Embracing the Classical: My Journey and Dedication to Pilates
What I have the most experience and knowledge is in the classical realm. And that’s what I love to teach about. Every single week here on this channel, we are dropping tutorials and workouts that are all based on the classical method taught to me by my teacher, so make sure you click and subscribe, hit the bell and then join us on Sundays every single Sunday at 9am Pacific time where I can answer your questions.
I found my way into teaching this way actually by accident. I fell in love with Pilates after telling people I wouldn’t ever do it. And I fell in love with the Mat practice.
Then someone suggested years later that I become a Pilates instructor. And so I was referred to someone in town who they said makes really great Pilates instructors. And it happened to be a classical training that was put together by one of Ramana students, Bob Liekens. And it was really amazing. It helped me become a really great teacher, but I really struggled because I felt like I didn’t know enough. There was more to know and I wanted to get closer to the source, delve deeper into the history of Pilates.
I ended up doing another training by these two women out of Boulder from the Pilates Center, Amy Taylor Alpers and Rachel Taylor Segel whom I just adore and they really helped me see what the classical method was like taught to them by Ramana, many, many years earlier, so much closer to the source. And I felt like I had a much bigger perspective about what this was, but there was still something that was missing.
You know, when Joseph Pilates created his work, he didn’t have beginner, intermediate, advanced, super advanced. He actually just had his exercises and the ones that were what you had at the time.
So I happened to live down the street from Vintage Pilates, which is Sandy Shimoda and Jay Grimes studio with Karen Frischmann. And so I actually got to study with these incredible teachers, people were taught by Ramana and then also Jay Grimes. And Jay was in Joseph Pilates’ studio when Joe was around, he remembers so much of how Joe taught him the work, and how Joseph Pilates taught clients the work.
I had this really incredible experience getting to study with them for many, many years and still to this day. And what I have found is that when we really teach the bodies in front of us, when the body is actually taking time to be in observation around what connections are having, that’s when the work happens.
My job as your teacher is really to guide you and to help you be curious in your body. And then we get to use all the exercises that Joseph Pilates gave us to help you make the connections you need for the life you want to live.
If you’re a little bit like me and you’re a little skeptical about Pilates and if it would be right for you, then make sure you check out “Why Do Pilates.” My video has got a lot of tips about the benefits of it. And I hope it helps you see that Pilates is going to be the best thing that you can add to what you already love.
Over 500 Original Exercises and the Freedom to Customize Your Practice
I would love to sit here and list all of Joseph Pilates’ original exercises for you, but I’m gonna tell you right now it’s over 500! And that’s without adding any of the variations and super advanced ones, which are an integral part of the history of Pilates. So here’s a couple things. I actually have a full Mat Workout, which is the original order of Joseph Pilates here on this channel. Take it, watch it, see which exercises are right for you, leave questions and comments around ones you wonder if you can do yet, I’m happy to answer that. And we have a full for Reformer order workout. It is long, it’s got every single one in there.
The Mat and the Reformer have orders. Now, do you have to do all of it? No, you do what’s right for your body, and not just the ones that you find that are easy, but the ones that challenge you a little bit too. We often don’t like what we need.
Then, we have all these other tools that we can use. We have the Cadillac and Wunda chair, we have high chairs and barrels. And there are exercises on those pieces of equipment that don’t all have orders. There are exercises that you can pick and choose from based on what you need to make a connection. Or to challenge a connection you have to take you to your next level.
What’s super cool is that when you do a Pilates practice, no two workouts have to be the same even when you’re using the order because you’re picking the exercise that you need that day to get your body ready and help you walk out the door and do life better.
What Should You Consider When Choosing the Right Pilates Equipment Today?
Alright, so here’s the thing about Pilates equipment and what we have today, because there’s a large variety that we have today, right?
When Joseph Pilates was around, he created all of his equipment, and he used different people to help him out. However, after his death, and as people went out into the world to teach Pilates, they were hiring different carpenters to create equipment based on their memories or based on the specs that they had. So of course, things changed along the way. It’s a little bit like the game of telephone, right?
Actually, that’s how Ken Endleman of Balanced Body got started. He actually had a furniture store. He made I believe it was water beds in LA, and he was making these water beds and someone came in was like, “Hey, can you build this for me?” And he just started building them for people more and more and more. And as he was doing that people were like, “Can you make it taller? Can you make it like this? Can you make it longer.”
And so now today, we have so many varieties of equipment. Which one is right for you? We have a whole video on all the different pieces of Pilates equipment: the Cadillac, the Tower, the Reformer, all the Barrels, all the Chairs, the Ped-O-Pul, the Guillotine, all of that in another video, so go check that out. And that will actually help you pick what’s right for you.
I also do have a video on which Reformer you should purchase on this channel for yourself. And so I’m happy to answer any questions that you want when it comes to equipment. But you also do want to make sure that you have an ability to get on the equipment. Sometimes people are purchasing equipment based on price, because there can be a wide variety of prices. But this kind of stuff can last you decades, your whole life. In fact, my teacher, Jay Grimes, his equipment has been used to develop Contrology equipment. It’s over 40 years old, and he still uses it today. So you really do want to get the best quality for your dollar so that you can have it for as long as you’re doing Pilates.
Unlocking the Full Body Benefits of Pilates: Joseph Pilates’ Holistic Approach to Wellness
Alright, so the benefits Pilates. We can talk about for a really long time but for this video, I really want to talk about what Joseph Pilates was really into, what he believed. So if you were to look at the people who were coming to his studio, many of them are coming to his studio to be “fixed” like there was something wrong and imbalanced in their body, and he actually would work their entire body out but the thing that they came there for. Because he believed that if you actually really do get the entire body balanced, injuries are not an issue and you can prevent many injuries.
He also had a very big emphasis on our breath. He really believed that too often we were not breathing correctly. In fact, most people are breathing through their mouth, they’re breathing really shallowly, he wanted you to breathe in and out for the nose, deep breaths into the back of your lungs, so you can maintain the connections to your abdominals, so he was big on that.
And he was really big on these full body movements. In fact, when you read John Steel’s book, “The Caged Lion,” you’ll actually understand that he even believed that what you did in the shower was part of the benefits of Pilates. That we have got to learn how to reach down and scrub our own feet. Because we want to be able to do that.
He even had, there’s a whole little part in this book you gotta read, it’s kind of amazing, how he took John Steel aside and told him that all of his work has helped people have better sex.
But there’s also some amazing documentation that Joseph Pilates did. He had pictures of all these different people, where he’d take a picture of them on day one, and then week four, and week eight. And you could see he was very, very much about the balance of all the muscles.
It’s not about having strong legs only, or strong arms only, he wanted the entire body to be in balance, because when you are in balance with both strength and flexibility, you actually live the best life, you have the most abilities to do anything that you want, and you prevent injury.
And so the benefits of Pilates is that it really does balance those imbalances out and helps you do life better. Life is a lot of different things in this world.
Choosing Certified Instructors and Supportive Community for Your Journey
Coming up soon, I’m going to have a video on Pilates do’s and don’ts. And so make sure you subscribe to this channel so you don’t miss when that comes out. However, we already have several workouts that are beginner friendly. So if you are new to Pilates, and you’re wanting to get started, you can check out those here on this channel.
So with all of this amazing, rich history in that Pilates is hitting almost over 100 years at this point, I want to let you know that not all Pilates teachers are created equal. In fact, there still isn’t any regulation around the Pilates industry. And so it’s important that when you work with a Pilates teacher, you know that they are certified, they have been trained by a professional, they’ve gone through extensive training.
Not only have I done this, but every teacher you’ll meet on the OnlinePilatesClasses.com platform, they’re all certified instructors, they’ve gone through full comprehensive trainings, they have studied the method not only in a book, but also in their bodies. And so they’re able to help you make Pilates work for you.
And so when you’re an OnlinePilatesClasses.com member, you’re not only going to have these amazing certified teachers guiding you through the exercises, right for your body, but you also have this incredible community that’s there not only to help hold you accountable and keep you consistent, but you can learn from them because they’re gonna share their a-ha moments and their struggles. And that allows you to feel comfortable to share yours.
And unlike any other platform that’s out there, you can actually send in a video of yourself doing an exercise and get help from me and the other certified teachers on what would be the changes you need to make for your body. Because every exercise is going to be a little bit different each one of us because we all are a little bit different. And that’s what makes OPC so amazing.
So make sure you check out our trial offer at OnlinePilatesClasses.com/youtube so you can check us out, try us out and find out how Pilates can work for you. Thank you so much for letting me talk all about the history of Joseph Pilates, my favorite ways to get the information about this history. I hope you check out these resources. And I hope you enjoyed this as much as me, let me know in the comments below and I will see you on Sunday at 9am Pacific Time for our next live Q&A.