Joseph Hubertus Pilates

Joseph Pilates was born on December 9, 1883 in Monchengladbach, Germany, a small town near Dusseldorf.  Living during a time when diseases such as rickets, rheumatic fever and tuberculosis were prevalent, he, unfortunately, saw many friends and family members die. He himself, succumbed to many of these illnesses as well as asthma and always appeared to be frail and sickly as a child.  Older children bullied him but he was too weak to fight back. He lost the sight in his left eye at the age of 5, which is said to have happened due to a bully throwing a stone at his eye.  Determined to overcome his weaknesses and to help those with similar needs, he began his life long journey into physical fitness and health.  

With the help of a family physician who lent him many anatomy books, his father who was a prize winning gymnast and his mother who’s naturopathic philosophies shaped his balanced approach to health and led to his development of a system of therapeutic exercise.  He studied both eastern and western approaches to health and fitness, including Greek and Roman regimens, Zen, Yoga and mindfulness practices and combined what he thought were the best of both worlds to create the perfect system that coordinates mind, body and spirit.

Not only did he overcome his limitations, but he became an avid boxer, gymnast, skier, diver and wrestler.  He moved to England to perform a Roman Gladiator act in the circus, but when WWI broke out, he became interned as an “enemy alien” along with other Germans in a camp in Lancaster.  There he taught self defense and wrestling to the other inmates and refined his system of mat exercises to teach them as well.  He boasted that when the influenza epidemic hit the camp, his group were the only ones not to succumb to the illness.

He was later transferred to another camp on The Isle of Man and due to his interest in health and his caring disposition, he asked to help out in the sick bay where he became a nurse and physiotherapist to the internees suffering from illness and injury.  In order to help those that were restricted to bed rest, he decided to take the springs from the beds and hook them to the bedpost to start their rehabilitation, and this began his journey of a long line of spring-based apparatus still utilized today.

When the war ended, he returned to Germany and began training the Hamburg police in self defense and physical fitness but when he was invited to train the German Army, he decided to immigrate to America.  He met his future 3rd wife, Clara, on the boat to New York and together they opened the first “Contrology” studio at 939 8th Avenue where they taught until his death in 1967.

Joseph Pilates believed that fitness should support life’s rich goals and his own vibrant, active life reflected those beliefs.  He was the life of the parties and enjoyed many physical activities well into his later years.  He was a true inspiration.                     Thank You!