Alusha's blog

My Pilates Journey - Week 8: History of Pilates

Published: 06/07/2019

This week I’ve been writing some articles about the benefits of Pilates, and through this found myself researching how Pilates came to be. I knew that Joseph Pilates invented the exercise form (a fact that I’ve quite enjoyed surprising people with (nerd)), but I didn’t realise quite what an interesting life he led. All of this research has helped me to feel more connected to the history of the Pilates method and understand what a big deal it is that our Pilates Teacher Training Program Lolita’s Legacy™ produces 3rd Generation Pilates Teachers.

This 3rd Generation title is given because Lolita’s Legacy™ Graduates are able to trace their Teaching lineage back through Joakim (2nd Generation) to Lolita San Miguel (1st Generation) and directly back to Joseph Pilates himself. This sense of history is one of the first things that struck me about Bälans Studio, since it was quite antithetical to the idea of Pilates that I had previously formed. Before coming here I think I had the image of Pilates that so many of us have: skinny white women, with toned abs doing poses that the rest of us can only dream of achieving. However, its origins are quite different.

Developed by Joseph Pilates throughout the course of his life, the Pilates method was designed to be useful to all sorts of people. Joseph Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. During the early years of his life, he experienced gymnastics and body-building, as well as martial arts like jiu-jitsu and boxing. He would later draw inspiration from these exercise forms in order to develop the Pilates method – which he called Contrology, after the intense level of control it both requires and instils.

Pilates moved to the UK in 1912 and held a variety of fitness-based jobs, including as a self-defence trainer at Scotland Yard and as a circus performer! When WWI hit, he was interned by the British government at Lancaster Castle and later Knockaloe, Isle of Man. It was here that he finessed his method, teaching it to the other German Citizens who had been interned at these camps.

After the war, Pilates moved to New York and opened a Studio with his wife Clara. Here, Pilates taught his method to a wide range of people including well known ballet dancers. From here the Pilates method spread to the global network of teachers that are involved today, including at our little Pilates Studio in Perthshire, where our owner was taught by Lolita San Miguel – Joseph Pilates’ protégé.

Throughout the years, Pilates has lost this image as a form of exercise that everyone can benefit from – you can see that from the lack of men in our classes! However, my newfound connection to the history of Pilates has changed my idea of what Pilates is. If Joseph Pilates came up with the method in response to his era’s modern lifestyle, just imagine how much more of a benefit we can all gain from it now that our lives have become so increasingly sedentary.

I’m off to try and break this sedentary lifestyle in class and walk home now, but I’ll be walking home with the knowledge of what a fantastic piece of living history Bälans is.

Until next week, see you in class! – Alusha