Not much is known about Joseph Pilates’s background other than he was born in 1880 in Düsseldorf, Germany. As a child it is recorded that he suffered from several childhood diseases that were associated with poverty, illnesses like rickets, rheumatic fever and asthma. While he was at school, a new form of physical training and education had just been introduced in Germany, so maybe his initiation into physical fitness started here. He began to educate himself in his own time to build up his body for strength and wellbeing even through his early frailty and illness, as by the age of fourteen, he managed to re-build his body to such a degree that he was able to pose for anatomical drawings.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a new global awareness of improving health through exercise had started to break out. The world started to explore improving the body and mind through weight training and gymnastics and noticing the benefits on their overall health.
Through these new ideas and the transformation of his own body, Joseph Pilates started to develop the method that we are all still enjoying today. In 1912 he came to England and worked as a boxer and circus performer. He later began teaching the English police force until war broke out and he was interned in Lancaster, and later the Isle of Man. Eventually Joseph Pilates turned his hand to nursing, where he continued to develop his method then called Contrology, by practicing on other internees. His method was praised when during a serious outbreak of the influenza virus and he and the internees stayed free from the illness. After the war Joseph Pilates moved to New York, where with his wife he set up a studio. He had already designed the reformer which is a piece of equipment still used today, by using springs from a bed as an exercise unit to strengthen weak and underused muscles in the body. He and his wife Clara, also a former nurse, began working with people needing to build strength and vigour back in to their frail weak bodies. This technique soon attracted dancers and those working in the world of medicine. Through his hard work and the word of his apprentices, the method slowly began to grow internationally. In the last 10 years the amount of people taking on Pilates has grown at an exceptional rate. Joseph Pilates realised what adverse effects modern life did to our bodies, even back then. He noticed a clear connection between those with poor posture, desk jobs and ill health. The Pilates Method uses an engagement of the entire body and the focus of your mind during each individual movement in a slow and controlled manner and with a particular breathing pattern to create and coordinate the wonderful exercises that are executed. The emphasis is not on quantity but quality. Pilates claimed that ‘Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.’ Joseph Pilates sadly died in 1967 at the age of eighty-seven from smoke inhalation, the result of a fire in his New York studio. At this age Joseph Pilates was still in great physical shape.