Joseph Pilates. The man behind the method

Introducing Joseph Pilates a man surrounded by theories!

Early Years

Joseph Pilates

Pilates was actually a man, born in Germany in around 1883. It was thought he was quite sickly as a child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. Despite this, he was determined to be physically fit through gymnastics and boxing to name a few.

Little is known of his early life but we think he was married and had a child. It is thought his wife died and he sent his child to live with her parents.

In 1912 he moved to England. It was claimed he worked as a circus performer or boxer, but this appears to be untrue, or at least there are no official records. When the First World War hit, he was interned with other German Nationals later taken to the Isle of Man. Again it was claimed he worked as an orderly in a hospital, and again, this is seems to be untrue. There is one theory that perhaps he was actually there as a prisoner of war.

The old theory goes that it was during his time in the camp that he helped to rehabilitate prisoners, using the bed springs. This is where it was thought he may have started on the path to his reformer and Cadillac. It is now thought that maybe it was during his time a prisoner himself that he developed the mat work to keep himself fit during his time there,

Joseph Pilates Mat work
Joseph Pilates Mat work

Moving to the USA

Sometime in the 1920s, Pilates moved to the USA. It is claimed that he left another wife and child in Germany – there are divorce papers later on that prove this. On the ship he met his future life partner Clara. Together they opened a ‘body-conditioning gym’ in New York in 1926. This is where Jo taught his Contrology.

His method found fame in the dance community, as it found success in rehabilitating them and allowing them to continue to dance. Such dancers included Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Martha Graham.

It is also in the studio that equipment came to be used. Most of which has hardly been changed in modern times!

Pilates was known as a man of few words, who would give short and simple instruction, possibly due to a lack of English? He often left clients to work out the sequences of movements and then used either short verbal or hands-on correction. Carla was often in the studio too, known for being much gentler and always dressed in a nurse’s uniform.

Death and Legacy

Joseph died well in his 80’s in 1967. Devastated, Clara and a handful of students continued with the studio in New York. It was at this time that it was decided to use the term Pilates instead of Contrology.

Through a handful of students certified and taught by Jo and Clara, his legacy lived on and the method started to gain popularity through the rest of the USA.

Eventually it would find its way to all corners of the world, being taught by thousands of teachers and enjoyed by millions of students. Jo’s idea was to get people moving effectively, through controlled movements, breath and concentration. And even though it has evolved, changed and adapted to the times and the needs of the students, this still remains true.

Famous Quotes

“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”

“Concentrate on the correct movement each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all
vital benefits.”

“Change happens through movement and movement heals.”

During the month of March 2021 in classes we will be visiting Jo’s original mat exercises, to explore, learn and enjoy them and the variations and adaptions.
Visit to find out how to join in.

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