Joseph Pilates and the First Pilates Studio - The Edinburgh Pilates Centre

Joseph Pilates and the First Pilates Studio

Joseph and Clara at The Pilates StudioIf you missed the first of our two-part series on the life of Joseph Pilates, then you can read it here. This week we continue with the incredible journey from an English Internment camp to opening the first Pilates studio in New York. 

Looking back on the life of Joseph Pilates, his internment in England during World War I was both a difficult and a pivotal time in his life. Whilst at the internment camp, Joseph began to apply his Contrology method with the purpose of rehabilitating injured soldiers. He also taught wrestling and self-defence to his fellow internees. Those that he instructed and helped to rehabilitate kept in good health even despite the influenza epidemic that spread throughout most of Europe at that time.

Pilates’ efforts and results were noticed by the British military and they asked him to train the British troops.

Through his training with the British military at Knockaloe in the Isle of Man, Pilates was able to refine Contrology with his minimal equipment system of mat exercises. Contrology is simply defined as the complete coordination of the body, mind, and spirit. The purpose is to use whole body movements to fine-tune overall balance and to use this natural rhythm to build towards well-being and happiness.

At the end of World War I, Pilates returned to Hamburg, Germany to train police officers and begun collaborating with expert dancers like Rudolf Laban. In the early 1920s, he emigrated to the United States of America where he would meet his wife and open the famous 8th Avenue studio.

The First Pilates Studio

The opportunity to immigrate to the United States happened when a well-known boxer in England was asked to fight in New York City and agreed to finance Pilates to open an exercise studio if he moved to New York with him. Pilates accepted – as I think most of us would – and as fate would have it he met his wife, Clara, on the boat. They would open the first pilates studio in America together in 1926.

Pilates as an exercise grew in popularity and the studio became the place for many athletes, performers, choreographers, and socialites to keep fit or to rehabilitate when injured. For instance, here is a video of Anna Woolley Shaffer (who danced with The Atlanta Ballet, The National Ballet, professional opera companies and in Broadway musical tours) and Romana Kryzanowska (an injured dancer who was originally thought to have needed surgery).

Joseph continued to operate The Pilates Studio with Clara until his passing in 1968. Clara continued their work, and in 1970 former patient Romana Kryzanowska took over as director. As we all know, Joseph Pilates’ legacy continues to be a source of inspiration and healing to this day.

Quite a life, right? If you have any questions about the teachings that Pilates’ shares, I’d love to discuss them with you.

Love and blessings,

Chris Blagdon

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