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Female Disruptors: Joan Breibart of PhysicalMind Institute On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

I’m an inventor. Joe Pilates was an inventor. People don’t like change so they don’t want innovation. Inventors have to invent. They don’t fix something because it’s broken. They just change it. Maybe this is not always good. In exercise, someone takes sitting on a stationary bike and adds weights and a new color and suddenly it is all the rage. Real inventors laugh at this “disruption.” I re-invented and patented Joe’s Wunda Chair. It is called the Mve. Most Pilates teachers are afraid to use it because it is really changed.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joan Breibart, founder of PhysicalMind Institute and 80Bites. Breibart is a Pilates professional, inventor with nine patents and nine trademarks, a published author of fiction and nonfiction and an editor of 50 plus books. Breibart began her career at Scholastic Magazines and Books in 1963, upon graduation from college with a major in Art History. She remained in publishing for 10 years, then was recruited for the HQ staff at ITT and has spent the past 46 years in the beauty and body businesses.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I can’t say my career had a pre-planned path; it just happened along the way while I was trying to earn a living, I found myself in various companies big and small and in line and staff positions. Although Pilates is a household name now, it was unknown in 1991 when I started the Institute for the Pilates Method in Santa Fe NM.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I am trying to break through the collective wellness protection racket to the truth about weight loss. I did it in the 90s with Pilates, which was ridiculed — even hated — until it birthed a new category –BodyMind fitness. I did it in 1968 when I started Creative Book Service — a company employed by major educational publishers like McGraw Hill and Prentice Hall to outsource production on subsidiary texts. Today this is an accepted book production solution.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In 1992, I decided to get a New Mexico State vanity license plate with the name “PILATES.” It was yellow with the Pilates name –then trademarked — in red letters. Obviously, a trademark held by someone else shouldn’t have been on a license plate, but New Mexico is kind of backward and didn’t know trademarks. I had a little sports car and in 1992 someone came up to me when it was parked and asked me why I had the name of that horrible person and I realized they were thinking Pontius Pilate and Jesus. I knew then and the years that followed confirmed that I had used a name that no one knew. I suffered ten years of legal assaults and lost practically everything — including a lucrative contract with Nordic Track — then the Peloton of exercise — because I over-estimated the public. Plus, it’s a terrible name!! I still have this license plate. I don’t have a car, but I have it on my wagon at my house on Fire Island. Now everyone recognizes my wagon by its name.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

We’re talking about this journey, and I don’t know whether that’s referring to the past 30 years when I’ve been in what I call the diet and exercise business (now euphemized to be wellness). I wouldn’t call this a journey. That’s not a word my generation — I am 80 years old — would use. It was a battle. And I think being an entrepreneur is a battle. A friend who started a skincare business which became very successful described it as being at the bottom of a pit. And as you get to the top and slide your fingertips over the edge someone steps on your fingers and you fall back. So “journey” again may be just a nice term for what is normally a very difficult way to earn a living. As for mentors, my two sons who are very successful have helped. The older is a music big shot and the younger is a real estate developer. My husband, when he was alive, helped me too. He was on the board of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and an owner of Graphis.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I’m an inventor. Joe Pilates was an inventor. People don’t like change so they don’t want innovation. Inventors have to invent. They don’t fix something because it’s broken. They just change it. Maybe this is not always good. In exercise, someone takes sitting on a stationary bike and adds weights and a new color and suddenly it is all the rage. Real inventors laugh at this “disruption.” I re-invented and patented Joe’s Wunda Chair. It is called the Mve. Most Pilates teachers are afraid to use it because it is really changed.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I was told to remember P.T. Barnum line that a sucker is born every minute. Almost a decade into the BodyMind revolution, a new gym called CRUNCH was launched. Pilates and Yoga people laughed, but the public embraced it when crunching contradicted all the new body truth. In 1991 after two decades of collective dieting, the public having gained an average of 20 pounds per person, quit nutrient manipulations. I cheered until a very smart former Weight Watchers executive told me that they would all be back. Again, I overestimated the public. Winston Churchill said, “Americans always do the right thing after they have tried everything else!” If so, I am waiting for them to recognize the new science: forget calories, hormones rule.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

There won’t be a next unless my current shake up is accepted. Dead people have very little purchasing power. Sixty percent of the U.S. population is obese. Fifty percent have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. Dr. Fauci knows the real numbers, but he is unable to fess up since the CDC manipulated the Body Mass Index.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

It’s a male world. When I worked at ITT and was for a time the only female executive, I saw how the men protected each other. They still do. They don’t compete in the way one expects. Anthropologist Ashley Montague in his book, “The Natural Superiority of the Female Sex” explains what men know so they band together to keep it secret.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I have several:

Up the Organization by Robert Townsend

Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

FactFulness by Hans Rosling

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

They didn’t teach me anything. They confirmed by instincts. That is very comforting for an iconoclast in a country of followers, phonies and PC people.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Well, most of the world has already figured it out. America is the exception. Ninety percent of China’s 1.3 billion have no faith. Most of Europe has walked on religion. It is estimated that by the end of the 21stCentury, religion will be over. Free at last. But I am afraid the USA will be the last holdout.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Rich or poor — it’s good to have money.” — Lawrence Breibart (my father)

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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