Pilates was designed by Joseph Pilates, a physical-culturist from Monchengladbach, Germany. His father was a prize-winning gymnast and his mother a Naturopath. He studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga.
During the first half of the 20th century, he developed a system of exercises which were intended to strengthen the human mind and body. Pilates believed that mental and physical health are interrelated. In his youth, he had practiced many of the physical training regimes available in Germany, and it was from these he developed his own work. It has clear connections with the physical culture of the late Nineteenth Century, such as the use of special apparatuses and claims that the exercises could cure ill health.
It is also related to the tradition of “corrective exercise” or “medical gymnastics” as typified by Pehr Henrik Ling. Joseph Pilates, like many, was trapped in Britain because of war. In the Isle of Man, he started teaching other Germans who were trapped, about pilates. Part scientist, mechanical genius and anatomist, Joseph Pilates accompanied his method by a variety of equipment he referred to as “Apparatus.” The Apparatus was designed to help accelerate the process of stretching, strengthening, body alignment and increased core strength started by the Mat work.
The best-known and most popular piece today, the Reformer, was originally called the Universal Reformer, aptly named for “universally reforming the body.” Eventually a full complement of equipment and accessories was designed by Pilates, including the Cadillac, Wunda Chair, High “Electric Chair,” Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel and Ped-o-Pul. Pilates published two books related to his training method: Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education in 1934, and Return to Life Through Contrology in 1945. In common with early twentieth century physical culture, Pilates had an extremely high regard for the Greeks and the physical prowess demonstrated in their Gymnasium. His first students that went on to teach his methods and open studios, and most prominent include: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Jay Grimes, Ron Fletcher, Maja Wollman, Mary Bowen, Carola Treir, Bob Seed, Eve Gentry, Bruce King, Lolita San Miguel, and Mary Pilates, Joseph’s niece.
Contemporary Pilates includes both the “Modern” Pilates and the “Classical/Traditional” Pilates. Modern Pilates is partly derived from the teaching of some first generation students, while Classical preserves and promotes the original work as Joseph Pilates taught it. The method was originally confined to the few and normally practised in a specialised studio, but with time this has changed and Pilates, in whatever form, can now be found in community centres, gyms, and physiotherapy rooms, and many other fitness services offered by Pilates-inspired businesses who have mixed their own understanding of Pilates with other disciplines (as physio-pilates).
A variety of “modern” schools of Pilates, heavily influenced by a physiotherapeutic approach to Pilates, have adapted the Pilates system in different ways for reasons unknown to and unapproved by its creator, Joseph Pilates, and by the contemporary schools of Authentic Pilates who continue teaching his method. Joseph Pilates died as sole master of his own method and still controlling the intellectual property of it, including his apparatus: a fact that only changed with the Lawsuit of October 2000.