Who is Joseph Hubertus Pilates? While millions of people do Pilates every day, most of them don’t even know that Pilates was a person, let alone a very interesting and multicolored figure who was at the forefront of exercise science. It is interesting not only to know his life story, but also to explore his story in the context of the important social and political events of his time, all of which affected his life and work. Of course, most of what we know came from Joseph Pilates himself, so the validity of some of his claims is questionable.
Joe Pilates was born in 1880 in Mönchengladbach, a town near Dusseldorf, Germany to a gymnast father and a physiotherapist mother. Mönchengladbach, located in west-central Germany, was a center for industry and production, specifically cotton textiles. Pilates was a weak and sickly child who suffered from rickets, rheumatic fever, and asthma. The other kids constantly made fun of his name (they called him “the Messiah-killer”) and his fragility, and Joe was too frail and thin to resist. He decided to strengthen his breathing and movements so that he could defend himself.
One day, Joe’s doctor gives him an anatomy book, and Contrology Seeds sews up. Of this book Pilates said, “I learned every page, every part of the body that I would move every part while memorizing it. As a child, I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, how a mother teaches the little ones.” While attending school and studying history, philosophy, and geometry, Pilates also studied eastern and western forms of exercise. Young Joe sent more books and haunted the university libraries in Düsseldorf. The more he learns, the more questions he has. He experimented with yoga, Buddhist meditation, and ancient Greek and Roman gymnastic exercises, and kept meticulous written records of what the exercises did for him and how he progressed. Pilates adhered to the ancient Roman doctrine of “man sana in corpor sano (a healthy mind resides in a healthy body)”. By the time he was 14, he was not only strong enough to be considered an accomplished leather diver, gymnast, boxer, and skier, but also modeled anatomy charts.