Joseph Pilates was born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1880. He was a frail young boy, who suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. In order to overcome his weakened state, he studied body building, skiing, diving, and gymnastics. In time, he developed his own series of exercises.
He moved to England in 1912, and spent much of his time working as a circus performer and a boxer. Eventually, he started teaching self defense methods to a group of police detectives from Scotland Yard. In 1914, at the outset of World War I, he was interned at a camp in Lancaster as an “enemy alien”. While in the camp, he spent a great deal of his time developing his exercise techniques.
After his release, Joseph returned to Germany and began teaching his method to dancers. He decided to leave Germany when he was asked to teach his exercise methods to the German Army. In 1926, he emigrated to America and took up residence in New York. He met his wife, Clara, on the voyage. Joseph and Clara opened a fitness studio in New York City, and shared an address with the New York City Ballet.
Joseph spent the remaining years of his life operating his studio. The nature of his work in those years was more akin to a physiotherapist for dancers than an exercise instructor for the masses. He also spent a considerable amount of time designing and constructing exercise equipment for use in his programs.
Joseph Pilates was one of the first fitness instructors to advocate the mind-body connection, which consisted of both physical and mental training to achieve the desired results. His method consists of slow, deliberate movements combined with breathing and a focus on the abdomen, lower back, and buttocks.
As quoted from his 1945 book, Return to Life with Contrology, he states that “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”
Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967. The studio is still in operation today.