Joseph Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany, in 1883. He was a very fragile child, who suffered from several illnesses in his early years, but having a strong mind helped him recover and this would become one of his guiding principles: mens sana, corpore sano. His mother's interest in alternative health therapies and his father's passion for sports would also be of great influence on him.
In his permanent effort to overcome his physical weaknesses, he developed a great curiosity about anatomy, animal behavior and different exercise methods. All these would become the foundations of the revolutionary method he was to create later in his life.
When he reached adolescence, he was already a strong athlete who practiced several sports. All the knowledge he acquired and his strong determination were the cause of his success in taking his physical condition to its best and would drive him to help others achieve the same.
World War I found him working in a circus in England and there he would be interned in two different camps for German nationals who were considered enemies. During his time in these camps, he would help the other inmates to stay healthy under the poor conditions they were living in. He would teach them boxing and exercises of his own creation, which would later be the core of his method. To rehabilitate those who were bedridden, he started developing spring and pulley systems with the scarce materials he had access to, including parts of the beds.
Upon his return to Germany after the war, these rudimentary designs would be refined and improved as an aid for him as a trainer and a means to deepen the effects of the method in his patients' bodies.
Between the wars, his exercise method became quite popular in the dance scene thanks to Rudolf von Laban, who incorporated Pilates' principles and exercises to his own work. Other contemporary dancers and choreographers would also embrace his method.
In the mid-1920s, he refused a proposal to train the German army and fled to the United States as the trainer of Max Schmelling, who would win the world heavyweight boxing title some years later.
In the journey to the States, Joseph met Clara, a nurse and kindergarten teacher, who would become his wife and partner in the development and teaching of the method. Shortly after their arrival in New York, they opened the first studio in Eighth Avenue, in the same building as George Balanchine's NYC Ballet studio. Balanchine and his dancers would all get treated by Pilates. Hanya Holm and Martha Graham would also benefit from his method and adopt it as part of their own techniques.
Both Joseph and Clara devoted their lives to improve the exercises and the apparatuses and to work with people with different physical problems to make the method beneficial to everybody. Their physical fitness and good energy even when they were in their eighties was the living proof of the success of the method.
After Joseph's death in 1967, Clara continued working on the method at their studio, which by then was already known as the Pilates Studio. Some years later, Clara would ask Romana Kryzanowska, who had started working with the method in the early 1940s, to take the lead of the studio. After Clara's death in 1977, Romana became the guardian and ultimate representative of the Pilates Method and devoted her life to carry on Joseph and Clara's work, mandate inherited to this day by her daughter, Sari Mejia Santo.