Joseph Hubertus Pilates was born on December 9, 1883 in Mönchengladbach (near Düsseldorf), Germany. His father, a native of Greece, had been a prize-winning gymnast, while his German-born mother was a naturopath who believed in the principle of stimulating the body to heal itself without artificial drugs. No doubt his mother's healing philosophy and father's physical achievements greatly influenced Pilates' later ideas on therapeutic exercise.
Small and sickly as a child, he was afflicted with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever, and was continually taunted by the bigger children. He quickly became determined to overcome his physical disadvantages. Thereupon young Joseph began to self-educate himself in anatomy, bodybuilding, wrestling, yoga, gymnastics, and martial arts. He soon achieved an almost Adonis-like "anatomical ideal," to the extent that at the age of 14 he was posing as a model for anatomy charts. He was also an accomplished boxer, skier, and diver.
Pilates in his public career as a circus entertainer used to perform a "living Greek statue" act. He was enamored of the classical Greek ideal of a man who is balanced equally in body, mind, and spirit, and he came to believe that our modern lifestyle, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health. The Pilates Method of body conditioning was first conceived by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s; later, in the 1940s, it caught on with dancers and people in the performing arts. In contemporary times, its emphasis on the mind-body connection has awakened a renewed interest in this type of fitness training among people from all walks of life.
There are over 500 different exercises described in the Pilates Method, performed either on a mat or on special equipment using springs for resistance. The core concept of Pilates is strengthening of the "Powerhouse" — the central muscle groups engirdling the abdomen, back, and pelvis.
So put quite simply, Pilates is a form of exercise that's for everyone — men and women, celebrities and everyday people, young or old, fit or flabby. Like many other kinds of exercise, Pilates increases metabolism, promotes respiratory and circulatory function, and improves bone density and muscle tone. And like Yoga and martial arts, it can help you to "get centered" and calm your nerves.
Unlike many other forms of exercise, however, Pilates balances out muscular asymmetries, streamlines your silhouette, and improves your balance, coordination, and breath control. Pilates does all this because the exercises work to simultaneously develop your muscular flexibility and your strength. The exercises also help to awaken a new body awareness.