Who Is Joseph Pilates, Creator of Pilates Exercises?

Although Pilates exercises have been around since World War I, the fitness trend is still gaining popularity. This is partially because the exercises created by Joseph Pilates draw inspiration from yoga, Greek and Roman training, and physical therapy.

Joseph Pilates doing Star on the ReformerWith inspiration from yoga, Greek and Roman training, and physical therapy; Joseph Pilates created pieces of equipment and mat exercises to “correct muscular imbalances and improve posture, coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility, as well as to increase breathing capacity and organ function.” 

Joe called his exercises “Controlology.” and had a particular sequence in which the exercises should be performed all the time. These exercises cultivate the yogic idea of body/mind awareness, where you use your mind to help your body move in a specific way.

Who is Joseph Pilates?

In Jillian Hessel’s biography of Pilates, she says,

“Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born on December 9, 1883 in Mönchengladbach (near Düsseldorf), Germany. His father, a native of Greece, had been a prize-winning gymnast, while his German-born mother was a naturopath who believed in the principle of stimulating the body to heal itself without artificial drugs. No doubt his mother’s healing philosophy and father’s physical achievements greatly influenced Pilates’ later ideas on therapeutic exercise.”

Joseph Pilates’s Beginning of Controlology

Joseph Pilates was a sickly child. However, he used his exercises to rid himself of asthma and other ailments. In fact, he became quite fit and active.

In 1912, he moved to England and worked as a self-defense instructor for the detectives at Scotland Yard. When World War I broke out, he was moved to an internment camp with the other German nationals. In their biography of Joseph Pilates, the Balanced Body website says,

“During his internment, Joe refined his ideas and trained other internees in his system of exercise. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, an innovation that led to his later equipment designs. An influenza epidemic struck England in 1918, killing thousands of people, but not a single one of Joe’s trainees died. This, he claimed, testified to the effectiveness of his system.”

When he was released after the war, he returned to Germany and began working with dancers.

Joseph Pilates’s Life in America

Pilates students doing TeaserIn 1926, he left Germany to go to America. On the boat ride over, he met Clara. The two married and worked together as partners and collaborators until Joe’s death. 

They emigrated to the United States and established a studio in New York that shared an address with the New York City Ballet. Through the years, Pilates worked with dance greats such as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Jerome Robbins.

Joseph Pilates died on October 9, 1967 in New York City at the age of 84. “Controlology” became Pilates as Clara and the students continued to teach. 

Through the years, his students trained other students, and so Pilates evolves. It is frequently subject to the interpretation and study of your particular instructor.

For example, someone trained by one of the classical instructors might be more likely to do the exercises in the order in which Pilates meant them to be done. However, someone STOTT trained might pick and choose from classic and contemporary Pilates exercises to create the day’s workout.

Resources on Joseph Pilates

For more information about Joseph Pilates, check out the articles by Jillian Hessel and Balanced Body. These posts also explain how the lineage of  Pilates evolved since Joseph Pilates’s death.

For yet another informative article on Joseph Pilates, check out his biography by the Pilates Method Alliance.

Joseph Pilates in Action

I’m not 100% sure exactly where this video came from, but it’s amazing to see Joseph Pilates actually teaching his students.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.