He was born in 1881 in Germany and was known to have had a sickly childhood which led him to study various disciplines relating to exercise and fitness and eventually resulted in his own unique system of exercises through which he sought to rid the body of physical limitations and ill health .He used both Eastern and Western philosophies to combine mental focus, specific breathing and the physicality of gymnastic style movement. He had a keen interest in body building and boxing and his body was used as a model for anatomical charts.
In 1912 he came to the UK where he earned a living as a boxer, circus performer and self defence trainer to English detectives. During WW1 he was interned on the Isle of Man as a prisoner of war. While at the camps he acted as a nurse to the men also held there, teaching them his physical fitness routine and also improvising fitness equipment by removing springs from their beds to create resistance so that even those recovering from operations could exercise. His camp was the only one to resist the influenza bug and this was attributed to his method of exercises. Much of that equipment was later improved upon and is still used today throughout Pilates Studios.
After the war he returned to Germany but when asked to work with the German army he decided to move to New York where he met his wife Clara and set up his own studio. He became well known among the dance community as his method strengthened and realigned their bodies improving their performance He was by all accounts a hard task master but his results spoke for themselves. He called his system Contrology now we know it as Pilates.
Sadly when Joe passed away in 1967 he left no formal training system and no designated successor to his work. His wife Clara continued to run the studio with Romana Kryzanowska . Romana still runs training schools for Pilates teachers around the world. Other students of Joes also went on to apply their training knowledge opening studios around the USA. While the essence of the exercises remains the same throughout many of these teachers have added their own inspiration or interpretation to the original exercises .
Joseph Pilates ideas remain remarkably relevant to the time we live in now. He believed that early training of the body yielded dividends through life, he also recognized the effects of stress on the body stating 'this too fast pace is plainly reflected in our manner of standing, walking, eating and results in our nerves being on edge from morning to night'. He fully recognized that health was made from mind and body being in harmony . Today his system is widely practiced through the world with many devotees realizing you truly can connect the mind and body in harmony.
Joseph H.Pilates and William J. Miller published a book in 1945 called Return to Life Through Contrology. This book details many of the exercises and instructions fundamental to the matwork developed by Joseph Pilates. Even more importantly, it outlines his philosophy and over-all approach to his fitness program. He writes about the balance between body, mind and spirit and the book is a fascinating insight to his approach.
Joe died in NYC in 1967, he was 87 years old.