History of Pilates

& how Harris Mind & Body Pilates

fits on the family tree

Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany on December 8th 1883,

he died in New York in October 1967, aged 83.

Joseph Pilates devised a system of original exercises that he called ‘Contrology’, we simply call it ‘Pilates’.

Joseph’s legacy continues around the world, with over 12 million people practicing today.



 Lolita San Miguel 1st Generation Pilates Teacher & Pilates Elder USA with Sarah Harris 2nd Generation Pilates Teacher UK




In his youth Joseph was overwhelmed with childhood ailments but found physical activities helped. At the age of 14, Joseph posed for anatomy charts.

Joseph was inspired by Eastern and Western forms of exercise and the philosophies of attaining and maintaining physical and mental perfection.

In 1912 Joseph came to England but in 1914 when WWI broke out he was interned with other German nationals. Whilst being held at a camp in Lancaster he motivated others to follow his fitness programme. It is here he began devising his system of original exercises that he referred to as ‘Contrology’. Joseph was later transferred to a camp on the Isle of Man where he continued his work and became to some extent, a nurse.

After the war, Joseph returned to Germany for a short while before leaving again but this time to go to New York. On this journey, he met who would later become his wife, Clara a young nurse. They arrived in New York City in 1926.

Joseph began working with boxers at a training gym at 939 Eighth Avenue…by the early 1930’s Joseph and Clara had taken over this gym. News of Joseph’s work spread fast and his client list grew, clients such as Sir Lawrence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn where among them.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s dancers such as Martha Graham from the world of American Ballet would send pupils to ‘Uncle Joe’ to practice ‘Contrology’ to get ‘fixed’, it became part of their training and rehabilitation.

Pilates teachers that have been taught directly by Joseph and Clara Pilates are now known as ‘First Generation Teachers’, many of whom were the dancers they worked with at 939 Eighth Avenue.

Some of the First Generation Teachers:


  • Carola Trier (1913 – 2000)

  • Eve Gentry (1910 – 1994)

  • Romana Kryzanowska (1926- 2013)

  • Ron Fletcher (1921 – 2011)

  • Kathleen Stanford Grant (1921 – 2010)

  • Bruce King (1925 – 1993)

  • Lolita San Miguel (1936 =  teaching in USA today)

  • Bob Seed

  • Mary Bowen (1938 = teaching today in USA)


The term Second Generation Teacher is given to a qualified Pilates teacher that has studied the Pilates method in detail and over a set period of time directly with a First Generation Teacher.


Sarah Harris studied with Lolita San Miguel and is a Second Generation Pilates Teacher and Lolita San Miguel Pilates Master.


Joseph Pilates wrote two books:

  • Your Health in 1934

  • Return to Life in 1945

Joseph had many difficult years trying to get the message of Pilates to reach a wider audience and become more mainstream.



In the mid 60’s many of the First Generation Teachers set up their own studios, some were in Paris, New Mexico and California.



There was a fire at 939 Eighth Avenue, New York (Joseph’s Studio) in 1966 and some believe this incident lead to his death almost two years later at the age of 83.

Clara continued to teach and run the studio until she retired in 1970. Clara passed away in 1976.


What happened next…

Joseph left no instruction to his wishes for his legacy. First Generation Teachers now carry the torch. The 939 Eighth Avenue Studio closed.


​In the early 1970's Alan Herdman who studied with the likes of 1st Generation Teacher Carola Trier brought Pilates to the UK for the first time.

In the 1980’s ‘Second Generation Teachers’ began building their practices around the world.

New studios and formalised teacher training programmes soon came to fruition.

By 1995 media interest had grown and curiosity within the medical community drove Pilates to the wider audience and the dream of a mainstream culture happened. Pilates also featured in Webster’s Dictionary.

In 1996 a trademark class-action lawsuit began for the name ‘Pilates’, this ended in 2000 with the trademark cancelled. The court ruled “Pilates is a generic designation for a method of exercise; that the word Pilates has become ubiquitously associated with this special type of exercise utilising unique apparatus, a series of controlled exercises and principles that can’t be owned or called by another name” (PMA®)

Pilates is now taught in most major countries around the world with more than 12 million practitioners.

There are now many organisations training teachers to become Pilates Instructors.



Joseph’s vision and fitness programme is now a global phenomenon, simply known as ‘Pilates’.

Joseph always said he was “50 years ahead”.



Harris Mind & Body Pilates was established in 2005.


Lolita, a First Generation Pilates teacher is one of only two people in the world to have received a formal certificate from Joseph Pilates to teach Pilates. Lolita also worked with Carola Trier whilst dancing for the MET ballet company in New York. Lolita first practiced Pilates in 1958.


Harris Mind & Body Pilates "we are proud to take our place in the 'Pilates' family tree as a disciple of Lolita San Miguel":


*Joseph Pilates taught Lolita San Miguel

*Lolita San Miguel taught Sarah Harris






























Sarah Harris looks forward to passing on 3rd Generation in the future,

to dedicated and highly qualified Pilates teachers.


Have a look at this fun YouTube video, some of the facts are arguable as not well documented but it is a great way to animate the history of Joseph Pilates:

In 2009 Lolita San Miguel visited the birth place of Joseph Pilates in Monchengladbach Germany. To her dismay, Mr Pilates was not well known in his home town.


Setting on a mission to change that fact, Lolita placed a monument to Joseph Pilates at the site where he was born in May 2011.



The picture below is a copy of a signed picture Lolita gave Sarah and shows Lolita with Joseph's monument in Monchengladbach May 2011.


Now when we visit Monchengldbach, Germany we can pause for a moment and remember the man that was Mr Pilates.