Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany, in 1883. Already
at a young age he got introduced to various disciplines. His mother was a
naturopath and his father was an active sportsman, what had a great influence
As a child
he had a weak constitution and suffered from asthma and rheumatic fever. Nonetheless, he had
a strong mind which helped him recover every time. This experience combined
with the background obtained from his parents, was the first step in his way to the method.
teens, he began studying all sorts of training programs, like boxing, yoga and Roman and Greek movement methods. In
addition, he studied anatomy and was inspired by the movement and behavior of
animals in nature.
All this formed the basis for the revolutionary
method he would create later in life.
At the age
of 14, he had developed into a
strong athlete. He was an accomplished diver, skier, gymnast and mastered
various martial arts. He had managed to transform his own weak body into a healthy and fit
body, by means of all the knowledge he gained when studying anatomy and the
different sport disciplines. This inspired him to help others achieve the same.
He was convinced that the mind has a great influence on the development of
posture and disease patterns. A classic Roman saying "mens sana in corpere
sano" which means "a healthy mind in a healthy body", was
therefore also his motto.
He left for
in 1912 to follow boxing training. He earned his money as a self-defense
teacher and circus artist.
during World War I, he and other Germans were interned in a camp in Lancaster
and later transferred to the Isle of Man. The war did not affect his enthusiasm. He
taught his fellow inmates wrestling and self-defense and was determined to make
his students leave the camp stronger than they came in. He began to refine his
method for the recovery of bedridden. He installed springs and handles on the
hospital beds allowing the patient to do exercises while lying, therewith
speeding up recovery. These altered hospital beds were the basis for the
apparatus he later developed.
outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919, which claimed more victims than the
war, his students remained healthy. This was remarkable, especially considering the
camps were hit hardest by the poor living conditions. Pilates’ accomplishment was
not left unnoticed.
returned to Germany after the war, he continued developing the apparatus and
his method to train his patients more effectively. He trained the Hamburg
Military Police, but also gave private sessions.
refusing the offer to coach the German army in 1925, he fled to the United
States to train his good friend Max Schmelling. A few years later Max won the
world title heavyweight boxing and encouraged Joe to continue to propagate his Method.
boat, during his trip to New York, he met Clara, a nurse and kindergarten
teacher. She suffered from arthritis and he started to train with her, which
did reduce the pains. She later became his wife, and shortly after they
arrived, they opened the first studio together, called "Contrology".
Dancers and choreographers, including George Balanchine, Hanya Holm and Martha
Graham attended training and became a fan of his method. They regularly visited
the studio and were so enthusiastic about his approach that they also sent
their younger ballerinas to him to become stronger. The method was also
integrated into their own exercise program. As of then then Pilates
could no longer be
ignored in the dance world.
and Clara devoted the rest of their lives to refining the exercises and apparatus.
Both were fit and full of energy until far in their eighties. Joseph taught
until his death in 1967, he became 86 years old.
remained working in their studio, now known as The Pilates Studio. Romana
Kryzanowska, one of the followers of Joseph, who had already been familiar with
the method for years, was asked to take over the studio. After the death of
Clara she devoted her life to the continuation of Joseph and Clara's work.
Meanwhile, her daughter Sari Mejia Santo leads the studio. Romana passed away on
August 30, 2013.
The method, which after Joseph’s death was called Pilates, is just like yoga and
karate an independent program and cannot be claimed. Joseph always envisioned
the method to be a universal training program, suitable and beneficial for all
body types, which supports a healthy life and mind.