The History of Pilates

Joseph and Clara Pilates

Joseph H. Pilates was born December 9, 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Pilates was a sickly child and he dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength. He was introduced by his father to gymnastics, body-building, martial arts and boxing.  By the age of 14, he was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts. Pilates came to believe that the "modern" life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health. He ultimately devised a series of exercises and training-techniques and engineered all the equipment required to teach his methods of body conditioning.


Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder, but when he moved to England in 1912, he earned a living as a professional boxer, circus-performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools and Scotland Yard. Nevertheless, the British authorities interned him during World War I along with other German citizens in an internment camp, first in Lancaster Castle where he taught wrestling and self-defence, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before their internment. It was here that he began refining and teaching his minimal equipment system of mat exercises that later became "Contrology". He was then transferred to another internment camp on the Isle of Man. During this involuntary break, he began to intensively develop his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise, which he himself called "Contrology". He studied yoga and the movements of animals and trained his fellow inmates in fitness and exercises.


After World War I, he returned to Germany and collaborated with important experts in dance and physical exercise such as Rudolf Laban. In Hamburg, he also trained police officers. When he was offered to train members of the German army, he left his native country, disappointed with its political and social conditions, and emigrated to the United States around 1925.  On the ship to America, he met his future wife Clara. The couple founded a studio in New York City and directly taught and supervised their students well into the 1960s. "Contrology", related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles, focusing attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.


Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devoted following in the local dance and performing-arts community of New York. Well-known dancers such as George Balanchine, who arrived in the United States in 1933, and Martha Graham, who had come to New York in 1923, became devotees and regularly sent their students to the Pilates for training and rehabilitation. His exercise regimen built flexibility, strength and stamina. Soon after it became known that ballerinas were attending the Pilates gym on 8th Avenue, society women followed.[citation needed]


Joseph Pilates wrote several books, including Return to Life through Contrology and Your Health,and he was also a prolific inventor, with over 26 patents cited.  Joe and Clara had a number of disciples who continued to teach variations of his method or, in some cases, focused exclusively on preserving the method and the instructor-training techniques they had learned during their studies with Joe and Clara.


Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.

About Romana Kryzanowska

Romana Kryzanowska (June 30, 1923 - August 30, 2013) was a student of Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara at their studio on Eighth Avenue in New York. After the death of Joseph Pilates in 1968, Clara Pilates continued the studio for a few more years, and in 1970 Romana became the director of what was by that time called The Pilates Studio.


Romana was a dancer at the School of American Ballet when an ankle injury led her to Joseph Pilates’ studio. She trained with Joe and Clara Pilates till she got married to Pablo Mejia and moved to Peru. She had two children while in Peru, Paul and Sari, and then moved back to New York in 1958.


Romana ran The Pilates Studio until the early 1980s when there were a number of changes of ownership. Romana continued to teach at the studio, even as it changed ownership, names, and locations. Eventually, she went on to found Romana's Pilates. She taught Pilates and trained instructors into her eighties. 


About Lolita San Miguel

New York-born Lolita San Miguel celebrates in 2016 her 58th anniversary of practicing the Pilates Methods of Body Conditioning. She received her first certification from Carola Trier, Joseph Pilates’ first disciple to open a studio and then studied with Pilates himself. Lolita holds the distinction of being one of the only two known practitioners to have been officially certified by Joseph and Clara Pilates and awarded degrees by the State University of New York to teach the Pilates Method. Lolita has also been certified by Polestar Pilates Education and was awarded a Gold Certificate by the Pilates Method Alliance. She is one of the two remaining “Distinguished Elders” of the Pilates Method Alliance.

Danielle and her fellow Pilates Master Mentor Program (PMMP) colleagues. 

Danielle and her fellow Pilates Master Mentor Program (PMMP) colleagues. 

After a distinguished career in dance–she was a soloist with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet for over ten years and Ballet Mistress for Ballet Hispanico for three years—Ms. San Miguel moved with her husband to Puerto Rico in 1977, where she founded Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico–now Puerto Rico’s finest ballet company– and was its Artistic and Executive Director for 27 years. She also founded Pilates y Mas, Inc. in Puerto Rico in 2000 to teach, train and certify teachers in association with Polestar Pilates Education. Ms. San Miguel retired from Ballet Concierto in 2005 and at the age of 70 to start a new career, dedicated to the teaching of the Pilates Method.  In 2009, she started her successful Pilates Master Mentor Program (PMMP), which has graduated an international group of more than 130 Second Generation Teachers from the six habitable continents.

Ms. San Miguel is in great demand throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and South America, and has international students and teachers come to train with her. She has published nine DVDs in her brisk selling “Lolita Shares Her Pilates ” series: “Mat I,” “Mat Repertoire,” “Reformer I,” “Reformer II,” “Pilates BodyWalk,” “Pilates Cadillac,” “Pilates Chair,” “Pilates Arcs & Barrel” and the latest in 2013 “Lolita Shares Her Mat with Foam Roller” and Lolita shares her “Pilates Mat” with “Magic Circle” and “Ped-o-Pole”.


In 2009 Ms. San Miguel, while holding a PMMP session in Dusseldorf, discovered that no one knew about Joseph Pilates in the town of his birth, Monchengladbach, Germany. She made it her mission to erect a Memorial in his home town in his honor. On May 7, 2011, after two years of effort and a successful fund-raising campaign, Ms. San Miguel accomplished her goal and a Memorial Plaque was placed under a Linden tree exactly where once stood the house where Joseph Pilates was born—20 Waldenhauser Strasse—and to celebrate, she organized an international Pilates conference in Monchengladbach attended by Pilates aficionados from all over the world—Japan, Australia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean, the U.K. and of course the U.S.A., including 31 of Ms. San Miguel’s PMMP graduates.


For years Ms. San Miguel turned down constant requests from all over the world to start her own teacher training program. Now that she has a strong base of Pilates professionals with a solid knowledge of her methodology and approach to the Pilates Method trained personally by her through her Pilates Master Mentor Program, in 2013, Ms. San Miguel is finally ready to introduce her Teacher Training Program, “Lolita’s Legacy.”

Ms. San Miguel is married to former banker and management consultant Mr. Hiram C. Cintron and has her permanent residence in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.