Pilates, pronounced "Pih-lah-tees", takes its name from Joseph Pilates who devised this form of exercise in the early part of the last century. He was born near Dusseldorf in 1880. As a sickly child, he was determined to make himself strong and improve his health. He researched and practised every kind of exercise, ranging from classical Roman and Greek exercise regimes to body-building, diving and gymnastics, alongside Eastern disciplines of yoga, tai chi, martial arts and Zen meditation. He was one of the first influential figures to combine Western and Eastern ideas about health and physical fitness. He also studied anatomy and animal movement, carefully documenting his findings. In 1912, aged 32, he left Germany for this country, where he became a professional boxer, an expert skier and diver. He even taught self-defence to Scotland Yard detectives and found work as a circus acrobat.
At the outbreak of World War I, the British interned Joseph Pilates due to his German nationality. He used this time to develop a new approach to body-conditioning and exercise. He had a captive audience on which to try out his ideas and his exercises became renowned for maintaining the health and fitness of many. Whilst interned, he also had the chance to work as a nurse and began to experiment with attaching springs to hospital beds for patients to tone their muscles whilst bed-bound. Such were the origins of the first Pilates machines (reformers), which still operate today as a sliding bed and use springs for resistance.
After returning to Germany a few years after World War I, Joseph Pilates moved to America, meeting Clara on the Atlantic crossing who was to become his wife. He and Clara opened his first studio in New York, and his method of exercise became sought after by dancers such as Martha Graham and George Balanchine, who found his exercises the best way to recover from injuries and to prevent their recurrence. Gradually, a wider audience began to hear of Pilates.
The Pilates method did not return to Britain until 1970, when it was brought back to this country by Alan Herdman, after the latter had been asked by the London School of Contemporary Dance to visit New York and investigate the methods of Joseph Pilates. Herdman established Britain's first Pilates studio at The Place in London that year. Pilates however, remained relatively unknown to the general public, until 1995 following the establishment of the Body Control Pilates Association under the direction of Lynne Robinson.