Joseph H. Pilates was born in a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1880. He was a small and sickly child who suffered from asthma and rheumatic fever. It was these conditions that caused him to begin the journey to fitness and health. His father was a gymnast and his mother a naturopath. He studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including Yoga, Zen Meditation, and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was 14 he had developed his body to the point that he was modeling for anatomy charts.
In 1914 after WWI broke out he was interned along with other German nationals in a "camp" for enemy aliens in Lancaster, England. There he taught wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was here that he began devising his system of original exercises that later became "Contrology". He was transferred to another camp on The Isle of Man where he became a nurse and worked with many internees who suffered from wartime diseases and incarceration. He then began devising equipment to rehabilitate them, taking the springs from the beds and rigging exercise apparatus for the bedridden.
In 1926, while en route to America, Joe met his wife, Clara. Upon arriving in New York City they opened a gym at 939 Eight Ave, in the same building as several dance studios. It was this proximity that made "Contrology" such an intrinsic part of many dancers' training. Many dancers were sent to Joseph Pilates for rehabilitation, strengthening, and balancing.
Pilates felt his work was "50 years ahead of (his) time". Joe's definition of physical fitness was: "the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneously zest and pleasure". Joe believed in "natural movements" with the emphasis on doing and being. Carola Trier, a longtime student of Pilates and teacher of his work said, "The Pilates method emphasizes restoring the body to true balance, ease and economy of movement, and a channeled flow of energy."
Joseph H. Pilates died in October 1967, at the age of 87. Clara,
regarded by many as a superb teacher, continued to teach and run
the studio until her death in 1977. At that time, Romana Kryzanowska,
a student and teacher at Pilates Studio took over the business and
has dedicated her life to teaching the work of Joseph Pilates. Several
of his other students, now called the "Pilates Elders"
continued his work as well, and have spawned a new generation of
teachers who have popularized the discipline within the general
public. Today, the Pilates Method is applicable to a broad range
of activities, including sports training, mind and body conditioning,
For additional information on the History of Joseph H. Pilates, and The Pilates Method of Contrology, visit the PMA website from our Pilates and Yoga links page.