More than a physical activity, Pilates is a pursuit of physical well-being and its positive impact on mental health. A daily quest for physical and mental balance, the search for harmony between muscles, mobility and stability, strength and endurance.
Born in Mönchengladbach, Germany on December 9, 1883, a sickly child suffering from asthma and acute rheumatic fever, Joseph dedicated his entire life to improving his physical endurance. During his youth, he studied physical culture, wrestling, and gymnastics, which he later taught. By the age of 14, he was sufficiently muscular to pose for anatomical charts.
In 1912, Pilates moved to England, where he became a boxer, then a circus performer, and taught self-defense techniques. When World War I broke out two years later, he was treated as an “enemy alien” and interned with other Germans in a camp near Lancaster, and then on the Isle of Man. This period marked a turning point in Joe’s life and is considered the time when Joseph developed the foundations of the Pilates method. Joseph always explained that the years spent in the camp were valuable as they gave him time to develop his method, and it’s there he began to use bed springs/mattress springs to add resistance and support to his exercises.
He became a nurse in this camp which allowed him to work on rehabilitating the sick and injured, and he taught other prisoners the physical exercises he had developed.
Proudly, he always claimed that thanks to his method of daily physical training, none of them succumbed to the flu epidemic that killed thousands of people in 1918 in England.
After the war, Joe returned to Germany and continued his training program in Hamburg and refined his methods with the city’s police force.
In 1926, concerned about the political direction Germany was taking, he emigrated to the United States. It was on the ship, the Westphalia, that took him to New York where Joe met his future wife Clara. The couple created a studio in New York where he and Clara would teach his method, which he called “Contrology,” for four decades.
Joe wrote two books: “Your Health” published in 1934, and “Return to Life through Contrology” published in 1945.
Joseph Pilates died on October 9, 1967, in New York City at the age of nearly 84. Clara, on the other hand, died on May 13, 1977, at the age of 95.
Every human being is born with a universal right, the right to remain in good health. Based on this idea, he developed a complete repertoire of more than 500 specific movements to maintain, strengthen, and flex the body.
He built his method on the following principles: