History & Evolution

Founding Father of Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1880-1967) was the pioneering visionary of pilates practice.  He was a movement designer and innovator of exercise practice and equipment. He was a European of mixed descent, born to a German naturopath and a Greek boxer, in a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany.   His sir name was originally Pilatu which later was changed to Pilates.  As a child Joseph suffered from rheumatic fever, rickets, and asthma.  He was frequently teased by his peers due to his poor health and because of his name he was often ridiculed and taunted insensitively by his classmates, who cruelly branded him Pontius Pilate, killer of Christ.


However, Joseph was not one to sit back, give up or give in.  He was a fighter and surviver.  Growing up he may have suffered poor health but he was also a precocious and curious youth.  He described his introspection as a child where he would “lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, [observing] how the mother taught [her] young.”


Then, when still quite young, he got hold of a book on human anatomy and studied it with great fervor.  He learned to perform and practiced regularly many exercises that he believed would strengthen his body so he could rise above his physical weaknesses and debilitations.  He studied traditional western methods of exercise and mastered bodybuilding techniques, learned gymnastics, yoga and marshal arts.  He took up boxing, diving and skiing.  His methodical explorations and unwavering determination was key to his renewed health and ultimately his worldly success.   He not only survived but thrived elegantly living a full fit life.


Describing his precise studies as a youth and the explicit intentions he embraced at the time he said, “I learned…every part of the body; I would move each part as I memorized it.” By the time he was a teenager, Joseph was so disciplined in his exercise regimen he was able to greatly improve his health and achieved a highly refined and impressively defined physique.  His remarkable accomplishments when still a teen earned him an invitation to model for anatomy charts which he accepted.



Joseph H. Pilates had a very unique and distinct life. Overcoming health challenges as a child he went on to become an accomplished athlete.    Born in 1880, he grew up in Germany, but moved to England in 1912 when he was thirty-two, where he made his living as a boxer, circus performer, and teacher of self defense instructing police detectives in the marshal arts. When the first world war broke out he was interned in Lancaster, where he began his initial explorations manipulating cushions and bed springs used as exercise aids to facilitate the body in exercise working it to restore lost mobility. Assuming the role of therapist he revamped the furniture in the hospital rigging up spring loaded levers to assist bedridden veterans rehabilitate injuries they had incurred during the war.  His initial therapeutic efforts, visionary ideas and experimental inventions begun on patients confined to hospital beds lead to the evolution of what we know today as pilates exercise and therapeutic practice on contemporary pilates equipment: trapeze tables (aka pilates cadillacs), wunda chairs, reformers and barrels.

Joseph’s fascination with physical conditioning and the body’s optimal wellness guided his life’s journey.  His passion took him through decades of learning and practice exploring ancient Greek gymnastics and Roman calisthenics as well as the disciplines of yoga and Zen.  When given the opportunity he enthusiastically shared with his patients his philosophy, principle ideas and movement exercises. The testimony of his genius and the systematic approach he developed toward physical fitness, one that strengthens the body’s anatomical structure and improves immune function, can be seen in the fact that none of his patients ever succumbed to the pandemic outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1918 that swept the world killing millions.

Authentic Pilates Comes to America

In 1925, after the war, Joseph returned to his homeland, but did not live there very long.  Not more than a year passed when he left his homeland, on the road again. This time he migrated across the Atlantic to North America.  On his journey he met Clara, a practicing nurse, soon to be his beloved-wife and life partner, assisting him in the operation of his New York City studio where he continued his methodical explorations with professional athletes and dancers, developing further his wellness ideas and creating his brand of physical conditioning which he called “Contrology.”  His principle ideas and original classic mat exercises can be found in his book “Return to Life Through Contrology.”  Most of his classic equipment exercises have been passed down through his most accomplished pupils and further generations of their students.

Joseph Pilates’ New York studio opened in 1926 and immediately caught the attention of prominent dancers like Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins who quickly realized his genius and came to appreciate the precision of his unique method, a method that improved their technique and saved their bodies from the bombarding hazards of their rigorous physical craft.  After decades of inconspicuous development, nurturing dancers practicing in the city that never sleeps just under the kickin’ it radar of the Radio City Rockettes, pilates has now achieved a new found resurgence leaping back into the public eye, via many celebrity testimonies and endorsements, gaining greater notoriety through the health and wellness community, as well as a spectrum of physical therapy and sports medicine clinics touting leaner physiques, stronger and sleeker muscles, fewer acute and overuse injuries, enhanced agility and endurance, injury prevention and effective rehabilitation when need be.

Renewed American Roots and Branches


Joseph died in 1967 at eighty-seven years young. Clara continued to teach and operate the studio in New York for another decade.  Joseph’s first generation of protégées included many dancers who went on to share their experience of his method opening their own studios nationwide branching out and spreading the wisdom he inspired.   They are affectionately known as “the Elders” by those who have had the good fortune of learning from them and studying under them.   Romana Kryzanowska is the most prominent of “the Elders” and taught the method for over six decades.   She was a Balanchine dancer who began working with Joseph after she suffered an ankle injury.  She noticed that pilates not only healed and strengthened her ankle but improved her dancing.  She became one of Joseph’s favorite pupils. Joseph and his wife Clara were her mentors.  She studied under their direct supervision until 1944 when she married and moved to Peru.

While in Peru Romana continued to teach the pilates method there.  She mentored her own son and daughter to become flexible and strong dancers.  She returned to New York in 1958 where she resumed her studies with Joseph until his death in 1968 and then spent another eleven years working with Clara until her death in 1979. Romana acknowledged her commitment to Joe and Clara’s teachings making their life’s chosen work her own.  While still in her eighties she continued to travel the world delivering the message, method and teachings inspired by Joe and Clara Pilates, mentoring new generations of dedicated pilates instructors. Like Romana, many of “the Elders” have inspired other practitioners to reach out and form schools of their own spreading the pilates method building on a classic tradition of practice and innovation in the spirit Joe Pilates embodied.

Today pilates is studied everywhere in America and across the globe.  During his lifetime, Joseph Pilates with his wife, pioneered a brand new form of fitness which to this day bears his name.   Pilates has revolutionized the dancer’s world and is continuing to make headway in the sports arena.  It is no wonder pilates continues to inspire new practitioners because the amazing practice offers a solid foundation of precise methods that deliver phenomenal results using incredibly appealing and enjoyable techniques.

The Pilates Brand of Health and Wellness is Very Popular Today

Today contemporary pilates practitioners respect Joseph Pilates’ original philosophy and vision espousing and advocating harmony of body and mind, promoting physiological and psychological wellness for people of all ages and fitness levels.  Pilates offers energizing and refreshing workouts that holistically stretches and strengthens the body and works to balance the anatomy and prevent injury.  Due to its versatile approach it is popular among both novices and seasoned practitioners, aspiring young athletes, professional dancers and active seniors.  With its emphasis on focused breathing, integrated core and motor control, it is easy to achieve notable improvements in posture and integrated joint alignments, both strength and flexibility, optimal body composition and self esteem.  Pilates methods continue to gain recognition and respect all over the world.  Pilates methods create strong, supple and streamline bodies. If you desire a long, lean, sculpted look pilates will deliver. Practicing pilates also increases energy, improves stamina and facilitates enhanced sensations of wellness and longevity.


Today basic pilates experience is often practiced in a class setting while more extensive professional study is often done in an apprenticeship program under the watchful eye and expert guidance of an experienced mentor.  Most health and fitness clubs today offer pilates mat classes as part of their club membership, however, more personalized attention and private instruction on more elaborate equipment can be found in boutique pilates studios which usually offer a weekly schedule of pay as you go, drop in classes, as well as, personal one on one and semi private sessions that can be individually scheduled according to participant preference and instructor availability.  Once you have learned the fundamental pilates principles and movement foundations, if you are motivated, you can practice pilates at your leisure in the comfort and privacy of your own home, and if you are so inclined, it can also be done in your hotel room when out on the road.

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