Pilates’ Founder Joseph Pilates is a German of Greek Decent!

Pilates is one of the most well known forms of exercise practiced in the past decade. Today many famous athletes, dancers, models, actors, business professionals, and housewives are Pilates experts. It all began from Joseph Pilates who is a German of Greek decent.

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1880 to Greek parents. Small and sickly as a child, he was self-taught in anatomy, bodybuilding, wrestling, yoga, gymnastics, and martial arts. Pilates was charmed by the classical Greek ideal of a man who balanced equally  body, mind, and spirit. He came to believe that modern lifestyle habits, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health. His answer to these problems was to design a unique series of vigorous physical exercises that help to correct muscular imbalances.  Pilates improves posture, coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility.  It increases breathing capacity and organ function.

During World War I, Pilates was interned as an enemy alien and he encouraged all his fellow prisoners to follow his exercise routines.  Some of the injured German soldiers were too weak to leave their beds. Not content to leave his comrades lying idle, Pilates took springs from the beds and attached them to the headboards and footboards of the iron bed frames.  He turned them into equipment that provided a type of resistance exercise for his bedridden patients. These were the earliest models of the spring based exercise apparatuses such as the Cadillac and the Universal Reformer, which are popular Pilates method today. Pilates’ legend has it that during the flu epidemic in 1918, not one of Pilates patients died.

In 1926 when Joseph returned to Germany after the war, the German Kaiser invited him to begin training the German secret police. Pilates then decided to immigrate to the United States.  He met his future wife and dedicated teaching partner Clara, on the boat to New York City. Together they opened the first Body Contrology Studio on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

The earliest American students of Body Contrology were professional dancers due to repeated injuries. Soon choreographer George Balanchine and other movement visionaries became believers in Body Contrology. From then on the exercise but not the name, caught on and everyone called it Pilates.


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