Pilates is named for its originator Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Joseph termed his work Contrology, which he defined as “the comprehensive integration of body, mind and spirit.”
Born in Germany on December 9, 1883, Joe was a boxer and a gymnast. As a young child he suffered from asthma. His parents allowed him much freedom to roam and he enjoyed hours in the woods near his home, studying the movement of animals and enjoying the fresh air. He studied Eastern practices, like yoga, as well as Zen Buddhism, and drew inspiration from the Greek ideals of strong minds, bodies and spirits.
At the outbreak of World War I he was placed in an internment camp in England where he began to develop some of the Pilates exercises we know today. He began with Mat exercises, which he based on yoga; then he had the idea to help the injured, bed-ridden soldiers gain strength. There were too many of them to address individually, so he fashioned resistance contraptions from bed springs and beer keg rings. The soldiers he worked with recovered faster and did not catch the many contagious illnesses of that time.
After the war he returned to Germany and was asked to train the German Army; he refused and fled to America instead. On the boat, he met his future wife Clara, who was a nurse. Together they opened a studio in the heart of New York City. They quickly became well-known within the dance community for their ability to strengthen and rehabilitate dancers. Their studio was a busy and energetic place for many years.
Joseph died in 1967 but Clara continued to teach their method for another ten years before she passed away. A handful of their dancer clients carried on their work, opened their own studios and, eventually, brought Pilates to every corner of the world.