Updated History of Joseph Pilates!

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Finally Found a Well-Researched Review of the Life of Joseph Pilates

Here is a well-written, brief and accurate review of the man behind the world-wide exercise phenomenon called Pilates. It’s actually quite difficult to find something this accurate about Joseph Pilates – much is written but most is quick and just not correct.

This review is peppered with new information revealed in a recent interview between the author Bob Hannum and his teacher Mary Bowen who was taught by Joe Pilates and spent many hours each week for years in his New York studio.

Read this and get a wonderful sense of the Einstein of fitness including rare photos by the great photographer I.C. Rapoport used by permission!

A Brief History of Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates believed that poor health is rooted in bad posture, shallow breathing, and a lack of physical exercise. He created unique exercises and equipment which now have worldwide popularity and nearly 100 years of proven effectiveness. No other exercise technique delivers so many benefits. Though a great deal of credit goes to improvements made by subsequent Pilates teachers, it is Joseph Pilates who set the stage. He possessed a true gift for healing – especially among professional dancers who came to him with serious physical ailments. All of this is why I refer to Joseph Pilates as the Einstein of fitness. Let’s take a closer look at his life – warts and all!

The Early Years

Joseph Humbertus Pilates (puh-LAH-teez) was born on December 9, 1883 in Mönchengladbach, Germany, a little town near Dusseldorf. His father was a mechanic and “prize-winning gymnast” who later ran a gym. Reports that his mother was a naturopath are probably overstated. In the fine biography by Bruce Thomson he says, “…it was more likely that as a resourceful and caring mother of nine, she studied and applied naturopathic skills as best she could….” Since naturopaths believe that the body can heal itself, this philosophy was no doubt a major influence in Joseph Pilates’ lifelong view of the healing power of exercise.

There is uncertainty about the original pronunciation of his name. According to Pilates’ niece Mary Pilates LaRiche, she remembers it pronounced Pi-LOTTS. According to other accounts, his father’s family spelled it as “Pilatu,” and after migrating to Germany from Greece, changed it to Pilates. Once again Bruce Thomson sets the record straight, “The story that the family name Pilates is “of Greek origin” is not confirmed by family members alive today. They state that he was thoroughly German…”

As a young boy, Pilates suffered from many health problems including asthma, rheumatic fever, and rickets. He was also a victim of bullying, and as a result of one episode at the age of 5 lost sight in his left eye. This drove him to rigorous physical exercise to learn self defense and improve his health. He studied anatomy books and the movements of animals. “I learned every page, every part of the body….I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, how the mother taught the young.” He studied Eastern disciplines of yoga, tai chi, kung fu, and qigong. He integrated these with Western disciplines of body-building, boxing, gymnastics and recreational sports such as skiing and diving. He also studied the fitness practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans. By the age of 14 he had overcome his health problems and was so fit that he was modeling for anatomical charts….

For more including his seminal years, time in New York and Jacob’s Pillow and why it ended, his complicated personal life, and how he died click here.

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