Pilates is often compared to Yoga, which everyone knows has been practiced for centuries. But did you know that the origins of Pilates only goes back as far as the First World War? And that is was just one man who started it all. The story of Joseph Pilates and his constant quest for health through physical and mental training has been a big source of inspiration to many. This is the first in a two-part series on the founder of Pilates.
Who was Joseph Pilates?
Joseph H. Pilates was born in 1880 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Suffering from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, Pilates’ frail, early years were not perhaps what you would expect from a man who would go on to be a world renowned physical trainer. From a young age, Pilates was encouraged by his father, Henrich Friedrich Pilates, an enthusiastic gymnast and a metal worker, to dedicate himself to improving his physical strength through exercise. This and the impact that his illness had on him pushed Pilates forward and by the age of 14, Joseph was physically fit enough to pose for anatomical charts – quite a turnaround!
Throughout his teenage years, Pilates became fascinated with the Greek ideals of a man perfected in the development of the body, mind, and spirit. Pilates began to incorporate both western and eastern philosophies into his exercise regime. He studied anatomy, yoga and karate while also training to become a boxer, bodybuilder, gymnast, and circus performer.
The circus provided Pilates with the opportunity to move to England as part of the act and he moved from Germany just before the outbreak of World War I. Here he really began teaching others what he had learned from his studies and experience.
Interment in England
Upon moving to England in 1912, Pilates first earned a living as a circus performer, professional boxer and a self-defense trainer at police schools in Scotland Yard. However, the British authorities interned him during World War I along with other German citizens in a camp. His internment brought him into close contact with injured soldiers. Using his initiative, and his unique understanding of the human body, Pilates removed the springs from under the hospital beds, attached them to the bed and encouraged the injured soldiers to exercise back to health. Those of you who have been to the studio may recognise this as the beginnings of the spring resistant apparatus we have!
We will continue the story of Joseph Pilates, and how he goes from being interred to training the British Military, next week with part two the series.
Love and blessings.