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    Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1880-1967)

    Joseph H. Pilates was born in Germany becoming a “sickly” child suffering from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. He dedicated his entire life to becoming physically fit, studying body building, gymnastics, diving and skiing. By the time he reached 14, he was posing for anatomy charts.

    He moved to England at the age of 22, earning a living as professional boxer, circus performer, and self defense trainer of the Brittish Police Force. After WW I broke out, he was interned on the Isle of Man in a prison camp for German citizens labeled as “enemy aliens”. It was here that he developed his system of exercises, which he later called “Contrology”. Working as an orderly on a hospital ward, he designed the prototypes of the apparatus used today, by attaching the bed springs to the hospital furniture to exercise his patients. He is credited with keeping his patients physically fit, thusly avoiding the devastation of the influenza epidemic of 1918, that killed thousands of people in England.

    After the war his notoriety as a fitness trainer grew in England and Germany where he returned to continue training the Hamburg Police Force and the German Army. He was sought after by many athletes, including the heavy weight boxer Max Schmelling, who enticed him to emigrate to the USA by financing his first studio at 939 8th ave. in NYC. During his voyage to the USA, he met a young nurse Clara, whom he married and became an integral partner in helping develop and teach his method.

    By the early 1930s, news of Joe’s skill at working with injuries spread by word of mouth, and his training studio was a haven for athletes, and performers in the theatre and dance world, such as Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Vivien Leigh, Katherine Hepburn, musicians, and all those interested in health and wellness. Contrology became an intrinsic part of the dancers training and rehabilitation, and many of the first generation Pilates teachers would be among these dancers including: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathleen Grant, Ron Fletcher and Lolita San Miguel.

    Joseph Pilates wrote two books: Your Health, in 1934, and Return to Life Through Contrology, in 1945. These are the only written records published describing the essence of his Method: “Contrology is complete coordination of the body, mind and spirit. Through Contrology you first purposely acquire complete control of your own body, and through proper repetition of its exercises you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities.” He was also very passionate about health, which he felt was accomplished through proper nutrition, exercise, breathing, posture, and the efficiency of movement.

    Mr. Pilates continued to teach until the age of 87, when it is said he succumbed to injuries he sustained after a fire burned down his studio and he attempted to salvage what he could. Clara continued teaching for a few more years, and passed away in 1976.


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