Pilates Fundamentals

Joseph Pilates

“The Pilates Method of body conditioning develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” – Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates studied movement his entire life. That knowledge became the basis for his method.

Early Years

Joseph Pilates was born in a small village near Düsseldorf, Germany in 1883. His father was a prize-winning gymnast and his mother was a naturopath. As a child, Joseph suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. The combination took its toll on his body and oddly was a source of inspiration, as he never forgot what it was like to feel weak.

A family physician gave him a discarded anatomy book. According to Joseph, “I learned every page, every part of the body; I would move each part as I memorized it. As a child, I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, how the mother taught the young.”

Young Joseph

Joseph studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga, Zen, and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was 14, he had developed his body to the point that he was modeling for anatomy charts.

He achieved some success as a boxer, a gymnast, a skier and a diver. During WW I, he taught wrestling and self defense. He acknowledged that both parents made an impact on his life, prompting his fascination with how the body works.

Joseph and WWI

Joseph came in contact with many soldiers who had suffered from various injuries during and following the war. A problem-solver-turned inventor, he devised spring mechanisms attached to beds to aid in rehabilitation, and so began the development of what we refer to today as the Cadillac in Pilates. His system focused on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and support the spine. The central aim of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body so that movement is efficient, balanced, and graceful.

After the War

Joe and his wife, Clara, opened a gym following their arrival in New York in 1926. The gym was located on Eighth Avenue in the same building as several dance studios and rehearsal spaces. Joseph began to work with the dancers, one of whom was Romana Kryzanowska, who came to him at the age of 17, with an ankle injury in search of an alternative to surgery.

Romana soon became mesmerized by Joseph’s teachings and was invited by Joseph and his wife Clara to move in with them and continue her work with the Pilates Method, which she did until she married and moved to Peru. Upon her return to the states, she started training again with Joseph and Clara. Upon Joseph’s death in 1967, Romana and Clara continued with the studio, with the studio eventually bequeathed to Romana after Clara’s death.

His Legacy

Joseph Pilates devoted the major portion of his life to “the scientific study of the body and practical application of nature’s laws of life as pertaining to the natural development of coordinated physical and mental health and prevention, rather than the cure of disease…Instead…aggressive action should and must be taken to bring to light my teachings of health, strenghth and happiness through proper corrective exercises…Investigate and see for yourself.”

Pilates Endures

In just 80 years, the number of people practicing Pilates worldwide is estimated to be near 15 million with over 15,000 instructors. In recent years, Pilates has entered the mainstream of health and wellness. Today, more than ever, Pilates is far more than a collection of exercises. It is, rather, a living discipline that continues to be developed and refined through constant use and observation.


At Pilates Fundamentals, owner Mary Jo Shear guides you through Classic Pilates as taught to Romana Kryzanowska. Romana’s Pilates® is the True Pilates and the path to the balance of mind and body.

The central aim of Pilates is to create a fusion of mind and body so that movement is efficient, balanced and graceful.