The Incredible Story of Pilates: Overcoming Imprisonment Mind and Body

The Incredible Story of Pilates: Overcoming Imprisonment Mind and Body
By: Anna Ortiz Last Updated: February 12, 2018

Pilates is gaining the mastery of your mind over the complete control over your body.” - Joseph Pilates

Pilates (pronounced pi-lah-teez) is more than just a posh-sounding exercise trend, but a fitness method with a truly incredible history dating back to the early 1900’s. And it’s not just about training the body, but honing the mind, too.

It began in 1912, with Joseph Pilates, a circus performer, boxer and self-defense instructor working in England. Pilates was born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1833, and began life with a frail body, plagued by rickets, rheumatic fever and asthma as a child. However, Pilates overcame his challenges and went on to become a wrestler, body builder, diver, skier and gymnast-in addition to his other many athletic pursuits.

However, everything changed once World War I broke out. Pilates was imprisoned in an internment camp in England because of his German nationality, along with other captured German citizens.

Exposed to poor conditions and limited activity, some of his fellow Germans became so weak, they were unable to get out of bed. Being a fitness enthusiast, Pilates led daily exercise routines for his entire cell block, hoping to maintain physical and mental well-being with limited resources and space. In the confined, bare cells of the camp, he developed the exercise technique he is renowned for today.

Later in his time at the camp, he was charged with taking care of those with disease and injury, where he developed exercises for patients with limited mobility. There, he created the Pilates "Universal Reformer," using the hospital beds as a makeshift piece of fitness equipment for those who were unable to get up and exercise on their own. Today, the equipment has evolved into a rolling, bed-like frame with straps and a foot bar utilized by Pilates enthusiasts everywhere.

Through his methods and breathing techniques, he developed ways to increase lung capacity and circulation, build strength and flexibility and develop coordination and balance- ultimately improving bone density, core strength and joint health. And for the confined internment prisoners and many Pilates practitioners after them, the exercises also relieve stress and increase mental focus.

Once the war was over and Pilates and the other prisoners were released, he returned to Germany and later immigrated to the United States. He and his wife, Clara, brought his whole-body, whole-mind philosophy to the rest of the world, instructing, opening schools and publishing his methods.

Pilates offers a low-impact exercise that aims at building strength and melting away angst, and like yoga, all you need is a mat and your body. However, with the right equipment and the right trainer, your Pilates session can be ten times more effective, safe and enjoyable. For example, the Pilates reformer has become an evolved piece of equipment that helps posture, relieves back pain and builds strength and coordination. Gyms like Pumps Fitness in Valparaiso utilize them to give an optimal work out and the best experience possible.

In a good Pilates class, a knowledgeable instructor will not only guide you through the most effective session possible, but also will train you in technique and prevent any injuries for newcomers. That’s why Pumps Fitness offers Pilates classes, to carry on the endless health benefits of this rich and holistic tradition, while teaching people the best practices.

Visit to schedule your next Pilates class and take the next step to a stronger, clearer-mined you!