Joseph Pilates was a pioneer in America’s fitness movement and the creator of the Pilates method, which he originally called Contrology. When Joseph Pilates developed his fitness system, he called it ‘Contrology’ because he conceptualized it as ‘the science of control’ of movements and breathing, with full awareness of the mind. He believed that physical and mental fitness were interrelated, so you could never have one without the other. Therefore, physical practices need a parallel mental application for it to be a complete fitness system.
Joseph Pilates was born in 1880 near Dusseldorf, Germany, to a gymnast father and a mother who subscribed to naturopath forms of healing. As a child, Joseph suffered from several health ailments, including asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. In an effort to restore his own health, he studied anatomy books and reinforced what he learned by observing animals in the woods. At a very young age, Joseph began working to build his physical strength and stamina. By the age of 14, he was in such prime physical condition that he was used as a model for anatomy charts. Joseph was a self-taught athlete who eventually excelled at skiing, diving, gymnastics and boxing.
In 1912, he moved to England, touring with a German circus troupe. When World War I erupted in 1914, Joseph’s German heritage made him an enemy alien in England and he was placed in an internment camp. This is where he started teaching his fellow internees wrestling and self-defence, and his skills in fitness training soon led him to work in rehabilitating prisoners of war.
After the war, he returned to Germany, eventually settling in Hamburg where he continued developing his fitness theories and exercises. In 1923, Pilates was invited to train the New German Army but he realized that the changing political climate in Germany might compromise his ability to pursue his own path with his work. This is when Joseph Pilates decided to take his dream and his skills to America.
Joseph Pilates, along with his wife Clara, opened their first studio in New York in 1926. The Pilates studio shared a building with several New York dance organizations and it didn’t take long for the dancers to discover Joe and his exercise methods. Very soon he not only trained dancers but his studio became the fitness center of New York City.
Pilates continued teaching through the late 1960s and died at the age of 87. Clara continued his work at the studio and turned over the studio to a trusted and experienced Pilates student and Teacher, Romana Kryzanowska in 1971. Romana was committed to maintaining the integrity of the original work as it was created and developed by Joseph Pilates. She is credited with keeping alive Joseph Pilates’ original techniques and philosophy, which in turn was passed down to the Classical lineage of Teachers worldwide.