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Pilates pandemic story

Joe Pilates Flu pandemic

Pilates Pandemic Story

Joe Pilates and the 1918 Flu pandemic. Joe is the one standing centre, not in a white coat in this photograph taken in the internment camp. Here’s the story.

Joe Pilates was in an internment camp for the duration of WW1 and was imprisoned there during the flu pandemic that arrived world wide and into Joe’s camp in 1918.

4 Years of lock down

Joe lived through a 4 year lock down and a pandemic. In that time, Joe lost his personal freedom. He became a prisoner. A victim of events beyond his control. As a positive and driven character, Joe really used his time in lock down well. He worked daily on the ideas and inventions, the movement exercises and the theories that became what we now call Pilates.The camp became Joe’s laboratory for testing and refining and sharing his gifts as a movement and physical health guru and inventor.

Joe Pilates, leader and innovator

For 4 years, in his lock down laboratory Joe developed his ideas. The ideas are the ones that we Pilates teachers still teach every day and his ideas place Joe as a world leader and innovator in the field of health and exercise. Today, around a 100 years later, he is known around the world as the originator of a powerful, holistic approach to human fitness and wellness, the Pilates Method.

Joe's work in the Pandemic of 1918

Joe worked in the camp as an orderly in the camp hospital. He looked after the wounded, sick and injured and those in the camp who had caught the 1918 Spanish Flu virus that caused a world wide pandemic.

Joe always said that none of the guys in his compound got ill and died from the Spanish Flu because of the fitness routines he developed and led them in. 

Pilates Reformer

Joe learnt carpentry skills, thanks to a forward thinking scheme introduced for the inmates, to give them a meaningful way to spend their time. Joe built an outdoor gym for the guys in his compound with lumber from the carpentry scheme and what he could find or scrounge from around the camp. He also invented the resistance and spring based equipment we now know as the Pilates Reformer and the Trapeze Table to rehabilitate bed bound patients. Joe practiced and taught ” Pilates” daily, supporting the health and healing of his fellow prisoners and the patients in the hospital.

Pilates Inspiration

It's so inspiring reflecting on this story about how Joe Pilates shared his knowledge with his community and also developed his knowledge during his unique experience of pandemic and lockdown. I’m inspired to remember that Pilates can support our mental and physical health in the best of times and the worst of times.


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