Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. The young Joseph suffered from asthma and several other illnesses as a child. Instead of accepting a sickly lot in life, he used exercise to improve his health. He had an inquiring mind. He was always studying different types of exercise routines to understand how physical activity and motion impacted the human body.
In his research he stumbled across the classical Greek notion of perfect human wellness. This is the idea that you can’t be completely whole and healthy unless you are balanced in mind, body and spirit.
He began to create a program of exercise based on that concept.
In 1912, Pilates became a self-defense instructor at Scotland Yard in England. It was at this time during the outbreak of World War I that he began to fine tune his exercise program.
Unfortunately, it soon became the wrong time to be a German in England because of World War I. Pilates and other Germans were interred as peaceful enemies. It was during his internment that he explained his exercise program to other internees.
In 1918, influenza swept across England. It devastated men and women, young and old, but it didn’t affect Joe Pilates. As a matter of fact, all of of his fellow internees that he introduced to Pilates were spared.
That’s right, not a single one of the people he showed his exercise program to succumbed to influenza.
He knew at this point that he had stumbled onto something special.
Returning to Germany after the war, he was asked to teach his fitness system to the German army. After doing so, he moved to the United States in 1926. He married and opened a fitness studio in New York that was right next door to a dance studio. Many ballerinas and other dancers began to use his exercise program to improve their strength, flexibility and balance.
Joe Pilates trained clients until his death in 1967, usually at the Pilates Studio on Eighth Avenue in New York. At the ripe age of 87, he was still physically able to teach Pilates. His disciples, including Mary Bowen, Robert Fitzgerald and Eve Gentry, began their own Pilates practices. Several Hollywood celebrities began practicing Pilates in Beverly Hills in the 1970s, and the exercise program began to spread.
What began as a rehabilitation regimen turned into a total body health and wellness tool that could benefit men and women of any fitness level.