About

Joseph Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates (Dec. 9 1883 – Oct. 9 1967) invented “Contrology” which later became known as “The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning” or simply “The Pilates Method”.

Early Life

Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany approximately 30 kilometers west of Dusseldorf. His father was a gymnast of Greek descent and his mother was a naturopath. Pilates was a sickly child that suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, so he decided to dedicate his life to improving his physical strength. He began studying the human body and anatomy as well as observing animals in the wild. Young Joe would watch mothers teach their young and would observe their movements. He practiced body-building, yoga, martial arts, and gymnastics. By the age of 14 the formerly fragile Pilates was modeling for anatomical charts and books.

The Great War

In 1912 Pilates moved to England where he trained as a boxer and earned a living as a circus-performer. He and his older brother, Frederick, performed as Roman Gladiators and toured the country. Unfortunately with the on-set of World War I in 1914 Pilates was sent to an internment camp in Lancaster with other German nationals. He taught wrestling and self-defense often bragging that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was during this time that Pilates devised and refined his system of original mat work that later became known as Contrology.

Pilates was then transferred to the Isle of Man where he worked as a nurse at a veterans’ hospital. He insisted that the internees suffering from wartime diseases and incarceration needed to move. It was here that he developed some of his equipment to rehabilitate the bedridden by attaching springs to their hospital beds. When an influenza epidemic referred to as the “1918 flu pandemic” killed tens of thousands in England, all of Joseph Pilates’ inmates survived because of their good physical condition.

Post-War

After WWI Pilates returned to Germany and continued his work while training the Hamburg Military Police and private clients. During this time he met Rudolf von Laban, a famous Hungarian dance artist and theorist who created dance notation called the Laban Movement Analysis.

In 1925 he was asked by the German government to train the New German Army. Pilates was uneasy about the political and social direction of his country, so he decided to immigrate to the United States. While on the ship to America he met his future wife, Clara, and they opened a gym in 1926 at 939 Eighth Avenue and 56th Street in New York City.

New York City

The Pilates location was one block from Broadway and the building had several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. As a result of this popular location Joseph and Clara established a devout following within the performing arts community. Well-known choreographers such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Ted Shawn studied with Joe and Clara Pilates and they sent their dancers to them for strengthening, balancing, and rehabilitation. Joseph also had a number of original “disciples” of his Method and they are often referred to as “The Elders” or “First Generation” teachers/instructors.

Joseph Pilates wrote two books, “Return to Life through Contrology” in 1945 and “Your Health” in 1934. He used to say, “I am fifty years ahead of my time”. I agree one hundred percent; Joseph Pilates was definitely a pioneer.

  • Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Pilates is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Change happens through movement and movement heals.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things.

    Joseph Pilates

  • A man is as young as his spinal column. If your spine is stiff at 30, you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young.

    Joseph Pilates

  • A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty to not only to attain it but to maintain it.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Concentrate on the correct movement each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all vital benefits.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty to not only to attain it but to maintain it.

    Joseph Pilates

  • Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self-confidence follows.

    Joseph Pilates