Pilates determined to overcome these health problems began a lifetime of dedication to physical fitness. Beginning with gymnastics, body-building and skiing, he also studied eastern methods of training such as Yoga and Zen Buddhism, and was inspired by the ancient Greek ideal of man perfected in development of body, mind and spirit.
Pilates left his native Germany for England in 1912, where he earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer, and teaching self-defense to members of the police force at Scotland Yard.
During World War I along with other German citizens Pilates was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man. During this involuntary break, he began to intensively develop his concept and system of physical exercise, which he himself called "Contrology”.
He defined Contrology as “the comprehensive integration of body mind and spirit”.
After the war (WWI), he returned to Germany briefly before leaving his native country and immigrating to New York.
On the boat to America Joseph met his future wife Clara; they then founded a studio together in New York City during the 1920's.
Joseph and Clara soon established a devout following in the local dance and the performing-arts community. Well-known dancers such as George Balanchine， Hanya Holm，Jerome Robbins, and Martha Graham became devotees and regularly sent their students to Pilates for training and rehabilitation.
Pilates continued his life long mission, developing the Pilates Method and inventing equipment up until his death in 1967, aged 87.