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Honoring the founder of Pilates classes – Joseph Pilates


Today is the anniversary of Joseph Pilates’ death. The founder of Contrology, which is the basis for Pilates classes and the movement as a whole, German-born Joseph was a sickly child who suffered from asthma and rheumatic fever, among other illnesses. His health issues inspired him to dedicate his life to improving his health and physical strength. He studied yoga, Kung Fu, gymnastics and body building, and by age 14, he was so fit that he was chosen to model for anatomical charts.

Originally a gymnast, diver, and bodybuilder, Joseph moved to England in 1912, where he earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer and self-defense trainer at Scotland Yard.  Throughout his work and physical activity, he developed the philosophy that bad posture, lifestyle and inefficient breathing were the causes of poor health. This mindset created the basis for what ultimately became the foundation of Pilates classes, a series of exercise techniques, movements and systemically engineered equipment for the application of his methods (this is the same methodology taught in studios throughout the world today, including our very own Manhattan Beach Pilates classes).

During World War I, Joseph was sent along with other German citizens to an internment camp, where he taught wrestling and self-defense. During this involuntary internment, he refined his comprehensive system of training and equipment into a series that was known as “Contrology.” He trained his fellow inmates, who were rumored to have survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to being in great physical shape. After the war, he returned to Germany for a time, where he trained police officer and also collaborated with important exercise experts such as Rudolf Laban, before immigrating to the United States in 1925.

Joseph met his wife, Clara, on the ship they both immigrated on. Together, they founded what would ultimately become the first Pilates studio. He and Clara taught the “Contrology,” methods into the 1960s. These methods encouraged the use of mind and focus, core exercises to balance the body and provide support for the spine, and the awareness of breath.

Joseph and Clara established a following of devotees from the New York performing arts community, including well-known dancers who came to them for training and rehabilitation. They developed a base of disciples who worked to preserve and pass down the methods in studios across the world, including our own Manhattan Beach Pilates classes.

Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York, where he owned his own Pilates studio for 40 years. His incredible work prevails and continues to teach us the value of breath, patience and persistence.

“Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.” –Joseph Pilates

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