About Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates


Joseph Pilates was born in Eastern Germany on December 9, 1883, and immigrated to England in 1912, working as a circus performer. In 1914,he was placed in forced internment on the Isle of Man at the outbreak of WWI. While in the internment camp, he began to develop the  exercises that evolved into what we now know as the Pilates mat work.

  • Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness
  • Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit

Joseph Pilates began to daily train a thousand of men in his part of the camp and work in the hospital hut as an orderly helping those who were suffering from diseases and injuries.

Pilates developed his work from a strong personal experience in fitness. Joseph Pilates  was trained in gymnastics in school and  inspired by the ancient Greek ideal of man perfected in the development of body, mind and spirit. On his way to creating his own method he called “Contrology”, he also studied anatomy and developed himself as a body builder, a wrestler, boxer, skier and diver.

joe_ 2847After WWI, Joseph Pilates briefly returned to Germany and developed a spring-based apparatus to help the injured soldiers and trained  the Hamburg Military Police in self-defense and physical training. He came to America in 1925 and filed his first of many patents, returning in 1926  to establish his studio in New York at 939 8th Ave. next to what was then, Madison Square Garden to work with the boxers.

Joseph Pilates taught in New York from 1926 to 1966. During that time, he trained a number of students who not only applied his work to their own lives but became teachers of the Pilates method themselves, such as Romana Kryzanowska, his protege who carried on his work. This approach is called “classical ” Pilates, the unchanged, original method.

Joseph Pilates’ New York studio put him in close proximity to a number of dance studios, which led to his “discovery” by that  community in the early 1940’s. Many dancers, performers, politicians, socialites, and just normal people of New York depended on the Pilates method of training for the strength and grace it developed in the practitioner, and its rehabilitative as well as preventative qualities. Until exercise science caught up with the Pilates exercise principles in the 1980s and the surge of interest in Pilates that we have today got underway, it was chiefly dancers and elite athletes who kept Joseph Pilates’ work alive.

joe_ 323Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967. He had maintained a fit physique throughout his life, and many photos show that he was in remarkable physical condition in his older years.

Joseph Pilates called his work, contrology. He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit.” This philosophy is beautifully elucidated in his book, Return to Life Through Contrology.

Joseph Pilates authored two books: