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Original Pilates Gangster (OPG) Series: Mary Bowen

The Original Pilates Gangster "OPG" Series: The original Pilates teachers, otherwise known as The Elders, were taught by Joseph Pilates himself. Each of these teachers took his work and had their own individual interpretation depending on what era of his work they were with him, and what their background and physical issues were. Many times they invented their own original moves out of Joe's teachings. For example, the jump-board work we do in level 2 classes was NOT actually part of the original exercises designed by Joe. His famed student Romana Kryzanowska, was the first one to introduce this addition to the repertoire. Another fan favorite is Eve’s Lunge. Have you ever wondered why it’s not called Joe’s Lunge? His protégé Eve Gentry added this delicious move into the original choreography. Each of the Elders, brought their unique touch and interruption to his work. Each month we will feature one of these original teachers, also called 1stGeneration Pilates Teachers. As you read each one can you catch a glimpse of your Zen teachers in them –maybe even take a guess which linage your favorite zen teacher came from. Each "OPG feature was written by one of our Teacher’s-In-Training as part of their training certification program. Enjoy!

Mary Bowen

The eldest Pilates Elder that is still teaching!

By Christina Turner

Early Years

Mary was born on January 19, 1930. Though it is unclear where she was born or grew up, the

earliest records found were indicative of her college years. Mary attended Middlebury College in Vermont, Barnard College in New York, and Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey. She also attended Yale Drama School post grad. Mary has B.A. in Theatre and Philosophy. After college, she worked as an entertainer. She loved singing, acting, and comedy.

Mary & Joe

In 1959, Mary was 29 years old and conflicted. She loved working as an entertainer, but resisted

fame. At this time, Mary also suffered from severe back issues. One day while reading the

newspaper, she happened upon a writing by Joe. What happened next she calls, “God’s will. It was

meant to be.”

Joe’s image as well as his words sparked her interest. He said “I base my whole method on the baby

and the cat.” Mary did not have a baby or a cat, but she went out of intuition. She studied with Joe &

Clara twice a week for six and a half years, until Joe’s passing. For the next 56 years after his

passing, she continued to study with Bob Seed, Romana, Kathy Grant, Bruce King, Jean Claude

West, and Christine Wright. In her own words, “I believe a teacher should always stay a student.”

Pilates Plus Psyche

As a young woman Mary had many questions about life. She intuitively knew that entertainment was

not the intended route for her life. She needed to go on a journey of self-discovery. She became a

psychoanalyst by age 40, while still practicing Pilates as a student. Her teaching of Pilates began at

age 45, after many inquiries from her clients as to what the Pilates equipment she kept outside her

office was used for. At that time, she had the equipment there for only personal use. It was never her

intention to teach Pilates, but she did it to meet the demand from her psychoanalyst clients.


Once her Pilates teaching commenced, her husband, Alec built a studio for her behind her analytic

office in 1975. By 1985, her Pilates business had grown and moved to the top floor of a large

building, which included multiple massage rooms, dressing rooms, and saunas, as well as a whole

staff of teachers. Around 1995, she began to merge her psychoanalysis and Pilates. She named this

approach, “Pilates Plus Psyche.” Mary travels often, speaking and teaching at private events.

Today, she mainly resides in Killingworth, Connecticut with her husband of 40 years and many,

many cats…and a few dogs too.

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