Joseph H Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. He was a sickly child, suffering from Asthma & Rickets. His Greek father was an amateur gymnast and began to introduce Joseph to gymnastics, body building, Martial Arts & Boxing to build up his physical strength.
Joseph grew stronger with practice and became convinced that the “modern” lifestyle with a lack of movement, poor posture and inefficient breathing techniques was the root of ill health.
When he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, a circus-performer, and a self defence trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard.
During World War I, the British authorities interned Joseph, along with other German citizens, in Lancaster Castle, where he taught wrestling and self defence, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment.
Joseph studied yoga and the movements of animals and started to train his fellow inmates to maintain their health & fitness. It was there that he began refining and teaching his minimal-equipment system of mat exercises that he later named “Contrology”. This method forms the basis of Pilates mat-work today.
He was then transferred to another internment camp at Knockaloe on the Isle of Man. During that involuntary break, he began to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise. Alongside his mat-based exercises he started to design resistance equipment using springs from the beds in the camp. This was the beginning of the Pilates Studio Equipment which is now famous around the world for being exceptional in its benefits to physical training. Some of the early use of Jo Pilates’s exercise equipment included rehabilitation of seriously injured veterans.
After World War I, Pilates returned to Germany and collaborated with important experts in dance and physical exercise such as Rudolf Laban. In Hamburg, he trained police officers. Just before World War II began he was asked to train the German army, he declined and decided to emigrate to the USA.
On the ship to America, he met his future wife Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York City. Here Joseph perfected the design of his Equipment and The Reformer, The Cadillac and the Wunda Chair were born.
Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devoted following in the local dance and performing-arts community of New York. Well-known dancers such as George Balanchine, who arrived in the United States in 1933, and Martha Graham, who had come to New York in 1923, became devotees and regularly sent their students to the Pilates for training and rehabilitation. His exercise regimen built flexibility, strength and stamina.
Jo & Clara continued to teach & supervise students at their studio well into the 1960’s. Some of these students chose to dedicate their lives to passing on the teachings of Joseph Pilates which have enabled a few key training organisations to develop Pilates teacher training programmes which are committed to continuing Jo’s legacy with authenticity.