Joseph Pilates Quotes: The Meanings Behind His Top Quotes


Joseph Pilates quotes and the meaning behind them

We have talked many times about the benefits of Pilates in earlier blog posts, but never realised how much of a thinker Joseph Pilates was.

He may be best known today for his exercises, but right up until his death in 1967 he was also an influential – and much quoted – thinker.

“I’m fifty years ahead of my time,” he once said with confidence.

Here are 20 of Joseph pilates quotes, along with the meanings behind them:


1. “Above all, learn how to breathe correctly.”

When doing any exercise, one of the most important factors is your breathing. Joseph pilates is trying to exaggerate how important breathing is. If you are able to control your breathing correctly you are able to exercise in the right way.


2. “A man is as young as his spinal column.”

The spine, for Joseph Pilates, was the key to physical and emotional well being. Neutral spine alignment is everything.

“If your spine is stiff at 30,” he once said, you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young.”

Pilates develops the deep muscles of the back and abdomen to support your spine, and focuses on breathing to promote better posture.

Joseph Pilates doing neck exercises

Joseph Pilates showing off his neck stretching invention

3. “We retire too early and we die too young. Our prime of life should be in the 70’s and old age should not come until we are almost 100.”

Practising what he preached, Joseph Pilates exercised almost right up until his death at 83 (his perfect posture no match for a 15-a-day cigar habit!).

The longer we live, he believed, the more opportunity we have to improve our health.


4. “Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.”

Pilates teaches various breathing techniques to enhance relaxation, lower blood pressure, and to activate specific muscles that help improve posture.

Joseph Pilates believed that focusing on breathing was vital. “It is tragically deplorable,” he once said, “to contemplate the millions who have never mastered the art of correct breathing.”

Joseph Pilates teaching pilates students outside

Joseph Pilates passing on his knowledge to Pilates students

5. “Pilates is complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.”

Pilates is not just about great posture and a rock-hard core. It is more than just a physical exercise, and can radically enhance mental, emotional and spiritual well being too.


6. “Civilisation impairs physical fitness.”

Modern life – doubled up over screens, bent over desks, stressing about deadlines – takes a considerable toll on posture. And as a result, the effect it has on our physical, spiritual and emotional well being.

Pilates actually reverses our natural physical decline and nearly 40 years after Joseph Pilates’ death, his methods still offer a potent antidote to 21st civilisation’s sedentary, screen-fixated ways.

A girl practicing pilates and focusing on strength

Focusing and controlling your strength whilst practicing Pilates is important

7. “Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self-confidence follows.”

The benefits of Pilates are far-reaching. Through the development and maintenance of the entire system of body, mind and spirit, practitioners of Pilates are able – both literally and figuratively – to walk taller.


8. “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”

Although Joseph Pilates did not entirely dismiss the aerobics boom in 60’s America, he nevertheless maintained that his methods offered a more targeted and efficient route to physical and emotional well being.

With a deliberate nod to the relatively mindless routines offered by aerobics, he once said: “Pilates is not a fatiguing system of dull, boring, abhorred exercises repeated daily ‘ad-nauseam’.”

Joseph Pilates amazing physique at age 57 and 82

Joseph Pilates amazing physique at age 57 and 82

9. “The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.”

It may feel as if the whole world is doing Pilates today, but when Joseph Pilates opened his fitness studio in 1920’s New York (in the same building as the New York City Ballet), his teachings were known only to a rarefied few, most of them ballerinas.

It is testament to both Joseph Pilates’ energy, and to the efficacy of his methods themselves, that Pilates is now practised by more than 10 million Americans and millions more in countries across the globe.


10. “Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty to not only to attain it but to maintain it.”

Joseph Pilates believed that although we start life in good physical and emotional shape, modern life has a way of eroding our health.It is vital, he believed, that we address questions of posture and breathing in order to halt – and even reverse – that decline.

A girl using pilates equipment during her Pilates workout

Using equipment for Pilates can help you gain better results from your workouts. Click here for more Pilates benefits

11. “Lazy breathing converts the lungs, literally and figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deposition of diseased, dying and dead germs.”

Even when we’re when exercising hard. Only about 50% of the air in our lungs gets expelled when we breathe out. Joseph Pilates believed that the air left in our lungs was a “haven for the multiplication of harmful germs,” and sought through his exercises to purge lungs, thus cleansing our systems.

This, he said, “is the equivalent of an internal shower.” Elaborating on the theme, he once said: “As a heavy rainstorm freshens the water of a sluggish or stagnant stream, so does the Pilates method purify the bloodstream.”


12. “Contrology is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles.”

Joseph Pilates was no Charles Atlas. His exercise regime was all about health, not bodybuilding.

“Contrology,” he said, “was conceived to limber and stretch muscles and ligaments so that your body will be as supple as that of a cat, not muscular like a brewery-truck horse or professional weightlifter you so much admire at the circus”.

Joseph Pilates showing off his form

Joseph Pilates showing off his amazing form

13. “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.”

Joseph’s Pilates believed that emotional health was inextricably linked to physical well being.


14. “Concentrate on the correct movement each time you exercise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all vital benefits.”

Pilates is essentially about re-educating your body, undoing the damage that years of stress and immobility inflict. By repeatedly holding certain corrective positions, our musculature starts to retain a memory of how they feel. In time will actually adopt them automatically – without us having to think about them.

“Correctly executed to the point of subconscious reaction,” Joseph Pilates said, “these exercises will reflect grace and balance in your routine activities.”

Joseph Pilates doing muscle stretches

Joseph Pilates doing neck muscle stretches

15. “You will feel better in ten sessions, look better in twenty sessions, and have a completely new body in thirty sessions.”

Joseph Pilates was living proof of the rapid transformative potential of his methods. Suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child, Pilates transformed himself through a combination of weights, yoga, gymnastics and martial arts. He changed into a 14 year old who was fit enough to pose for anatomical charts.


16. “Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking, nor outright purchase.”

Pilates is not aerobics: as with yoga, it takes a bit of practice to properly master some of the techniques, so you need to stick at it to really reap rewards.

Most people find that even a handful of sessions is enough to start feeling fitter and stronger. But stick with it for about 10 sessions, and most people will definitely feel significant change.

Flavours Holidays Pilates class outside in Loch Lomond

Flavours Holidays pilates class at their Loch Lomond retreat

17. “Change happens through movement and movement heals.”

Stooped over computers all day, our musculature actually develops to accommodate that position: we become slouched. Pilates can actually correct that slouch: through carefully focusing on specific movements, Pilates stretches the muscles surrounding the spine – people can literally end up taller.


18. “Everyone is the architect of their own happiness.”

As a sickly child who went on to become, quite literally, a brand and byword for physical fitness. Joseph Pilates realised that people are able to effect radical personal change – if they are willing to commit to it.

Joseph Pilates using machines to workout

Joseph Pilates using Pilates machines that he invented

19. “Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things.”

Although Joseph Pilates himself discovered the redemptive and transformative qualities of exercise at a very early age. A lifetime teaching his methods showed him that even relatively old people can still drastically improve their physical and emotional well being.

20. “Man should bear in mind and ponder over the Greek admonition: Not Too Much, Not Too Little.”

Invoking the Greek physician Hippocrates, the founder of medicine, Joseph Pilates was keen to stress that one should not become fixated with exercise: a body-builder’s obsession with exercise, for example, was for Joseph Pilates unhealthy.

Balance is what he advocated: nothing more, nothing less.

For someone who quite literally revolutionised the entire health & fitness industry, it is quite fitting that Joseph Pilates is also a great thinker.

A girl focusing on balance during her Pilates workout

A girl focusing on balance during her Pilates workout

If you do not feel inspired to take up Pilates in your local area, or go on a Pilates holiday under the sun, then we suggest reading up on the dozens of benefits Pilates can have on your mind and body.

If you are looking to start pilates, you should check out our Pilates Classes!

Our amazing Pilates teachers accommodate all levels of pilates. Not to forget you can enjoy pilates from the comfort of your own home!

Originally published 2 August 2016 | Updated on 10 March 2022

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4 comments on “Joseph Pilates Quotes: The Meanings Behind His Top Quotes

  1. Pilates – brilliant form of exercise and well done to Flavours for giving classes taught by their excellent teachers on Zoom. I have never been on a Pilates holiday but when this pandemic is over I will seriously consider a Flavours Pilates holiday.

  2. Great that Flavours has diversified during the pandemic and offered a variety of classes, good to be able to access the Pilates occasionally, great teachers

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