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"Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness"

"If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young"

"To breathe correctly, you must completely exhale, and inhale, always trying very hard to 'squeeze' every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth"

- Joseph Pilates


Joseph Pilates ’definition of physical fitness was : ‘The attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally, easily, satisfactorily performing our many, and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure’. He believed in ‘Natural movements’ and studied animals in movement to develop his system and philosophy of movement. He often stated that ‘all movements should be smooth, like a cat. Many of the exercises are done lying, sitting, kneeling, etc, to avoid excess strain on the heart and lungs’. His system is designed to strengthen and tone the muscles uniformly, improve posture, provide long and elastic muscles and increase lung capacity. There are many other benefits/side effects to this work, and I strongly advise you to read his books: ‘Return to life through Contrology’ and ‘Your Health’ both available as one book from

The six main principles of Pilates that are developed in order to perform the exercises to the best of our ability are: Centering, control, concentration, breath, precision and flow. These become second nature as your practice develops over time. Suddenly you will find that every day movements are easily, and fluidly performed. He developed over 500 exercises to be performed on the mat, or on the machines that he invented. 



Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany on December 9th 1880. He lived in a town called Monchengladbach. He was one of nine children, and was in fact a sickly child, suffering from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. It was because of these illnesses that he developed a deep interest in anatomy and improving his health. By the age of 14 he had become so muscularly defined that he modelled for anatomy charts. He went on to become a successful boxer, gymnast, skier and diver. Studying both Eastern and Western forms of exercise, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and ancient Greek and Roman fitness regimes. He was fascinated by animals, and spent hours studying how they moved, and how they aged. It has been said that he thought that the cat was the most supreme animal! Many of his exercises are named after animals, such as The Seal, The Crab, The Swan and The Elephant.

In 1912 he travelled to England to further his boxing training, and ended up in employment with a circus, as a performer with his brother Frederick. It is said that they did an act performing as Roman Gladiators!! In 1914 World War 1 broke out, and he was interned up in Lancaster, in a camp for ‘enemy aliens’. Never one to be idle, he taught wrestling and self-defence, boasting that his students would be stronger than before they were before their internment! Apparently it was there that he began developing, and perfecting his system of mat exercises that he later called ‘Contrology’, the control of the body by the mind.

From Lancaster he was moved to another camp on The Isle of Man, and because of his strong interest in health and fitness, he became something of a ‘nurse’ to the injured and sick. He asked if he could help the ‘bed-ridden’ and was told that he could do what he wanted with them, as long as the patients remained in bed. This was clearly where he developed his ideas for ‘Spring machines’ as he took the springs from the beds, and rigged them up to the bed posts, to make exercise apparatus for the bed-ridden. It is documented that with the development of his ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ that this is why none of his ‘followers’ came down with the famous ‘killer influenza’ that killed millions at that time.




Joseph demonstrating on The Universal Reformer

Joseph demonstrating 'The Teaser' from the Matwork

After the war in 1923, Joseph returned to Germany, and began training the Hamburg military police in self-defence and physical training. He became disenchanted with the political direction of Germany, and with the encouragement of boxing expert and friend, Nat Fleischer and Max Schmelling he decided to move to America. The time frame for this was around 1925/1926. It was on the long journey to New York where he met his wife, Clara Frisch. Clara was a Kindergarten teacher, who reportedly suffered from arthritis, which Joseph helped her recover from on the long Atlantic crossing.

They arrived in New York, where they Clara Frisch became Clara Pilates, and soon after they took over a boxing gym at 939, Eighth Avenue. This was in a building where there were already several dancing studios and rehearsal studios, and is probably why so many dancers and performers came to learn of the power of ‘Contrology’. Enabling them to recover more quickly from injuries, and become more efficient athletes. It is important to note that Joseph Pilates did not develop this system for dancers, as he worked with many people from all walks of life. He didn’t care who you were, or what you did, he was just interested in helping you ‘be the best that you can be’.


In 1934 his first book was published, ‘Your Health’. In 1945, his second book was published, ‘Return to life through Contrology’ (Both books available from Joseph and Clara continuously developed and perfected their teaching methods over the years. The machines he developed were: The Cadillac, The Universal Reformer, The Wunda Chair, The Electric Chair, The Arm Chair, The Guillotine, The Spine Corrector, The Ladder Barrel, The Pedi-Pole, The foot Corrector, The toe corrector and The Neck Stretcher. He devised over 500 exercises to be performed on these machines. There is also the famous ‘Matwork’ which is a system of 34 exercises that traditionally were meant to be performed in a continuous ‘flow’.


Unfortunately around January 1966 there was a serious fire that damaged much of the studio. It has been documented that Joseph died as a result of lung damage caused by the fire, but according to Mary Bowen (A first generation teacher) she said that he died of advanced emphysema, caused by smoking too many cigars!! Joseph actually died on October 18th 1967, at the ripe ‘young’ age of 83.


Clara Pilates carried on running the studio for a further ten years, until her death in 1977. Another first generation teacher, Romana Kryzanowska helped her run the studio.

Joseph and Clara had no children and Mary Pilates-La Riche is the only living relative documented, living in Florida.


His work has been carried on by ‘The Elders’ or ‘First Generation teachers’ and continues to flourish through their students.

Romana Kryzanowska
Mary Bowen
Lolita San Miguel
Ron Fletcher
Kathy Stanford-Grant
Eve Gentry
Carola Trier
Jay Grimes
Robert Fitzgerald

Mary, Lolita and Jay are still alive, run their own training programmes still teaching Contrology. There were some other students of Joseph Pilates that became teachers, who have also passed away; they were Bruce King and Bob Seed.

Pilates Universal Method flyer.f cover..

Joseph and Clara Pilates

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