Ever since my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph Pilates’ legacy. I mean, if he hadn’t crafted such an impactful one, I might be a yoga teacher writing about Tirumali Krishnamacharya instead of a Pilates teacher writing about Joe. But he did build a strong legacy. In fact, every time I re-read his books, “Your Health” and “Return to Life Through Contrology”, the more I’m reminded that Joseph Pilates’ legacy is far more than just an exercise system. He created a lifestyle brand.
The Man Behind the Brand
I think of Joseph Pilates as this counter-culture, physical culturist. He was a critical thinker and a skeptic with strong ideologies about health and fitness. And he wasn’t shy about his disdain for the medical community or greedy advertisers peddling what he considered to be false hope via the latest gimmicks, gadgets, injections, and serums. He believed that true and lasting health could only be attained through the mental and physical conditioning of Contrology. He created this exercise system based upon his observation of the laws of nature such as “the leverage possibilities of the bones completing its skeletal framework, the range and limitation of proper muscle tension and relaxation, the laws of equilibrium and gravity, and last but not least how to inhale and exhale; ie how to breathe properly – normally”. He believed in the possibility of emulating what he saw in the animal kingdom; “perfection of physical form, strength, grace, agility, endurance, health, and longevity.”
And Joe embodied his vision of Contrology. I mean, look at the pictures of him in RTL! He was sixty years old and slaying those 34 mat exercises! His unwavering commitment to “simultaneous and coequal development” of his mind and body empowered him to enjoy the work-life balance he promoted.
Contrology is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace, and skill that will be unmistakably reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work. You will develop muscular power with corresponding endurance, ability to perform arduous duties, to play strenuous games, to walk, run or travel for long distances without undue body fatigue or mental strain.Joseph Pilates, “Return to Life Through Contrology”
If Joe had a brand motto I think it would be ” Train vigorously. Live fully. Rest comfortably.” For him, Contrology was a lifestyle versus something only practiced in his NYC gym or at Jacob’s Pillow during the Summer. He knew that the consistent stresses of work had to be countered with a convenient way to perform his corrective exercises. So to prevent the possibility of a depressing, couch-potato lifestyle he invented equipment for home use which he sold through catalogues. Each piece of equipment was delivered with corresponding charts offering photos and step-by-step instructions for specific exercise sequences. He did this for the Wunda Chair, Spine Corrector, Resister, and Bench Mat. He also knew that an invigorating workout would energize us to indulge in more play (preferably outdoors); “pleasant social entertainment as distinguished from our daily work. This finds us cheerful, contented, and relaxed.”
As much as Joe was an advocate for having a consistent exercise routine and a robust social life, he was also a big proponent of other forms of self-care; namely, proper rest and sleep. This is reflected in the ergonomic furniture he designed. In his book “Your Health” there are images of “corrective, restful comfort chairs and beds – each made by me in my studio.” He believed that, while modern furniture had aesthetic appeal “They do not afford maximum rest and complete relaxation. All they do is to afford a place upon which to toss the body.”
Equal Opportunity Teacher
Something that really fascinates me about Joe is the fact that he was a German man living in the United States during the time of the Great Depression, WWII, racial segregation and ethnic discrimination. But Archival records show that he trained men, women, and children from different socio-economic backgrounds, races, ethnic groups, and religions. No matter who you were, he was a client-centered and results-driven teacher.
In fact, Joe was adamant about the power of Contrology to save us all from “the path that will lead to the ultimate destruction of the human race.” He believed that unbiased investigation into his work would “prove that my teachings will benefit humanity instead of permitting it to be exploited by the unscrupulous” medical and scientific communities whose conflicting theories on health were pushed by the media. And that if everyone practiced Contrology “it will not only tend greatly to eliminate needless human suffering, but will also tend to reduce the necessity for more hospitals, more sanitariums, more homes for the crippled, more lunatic asylums, more reformatories, and more prisons.”
The Not So Reluctant Guru
Whether Joseph Pilates was altruistic or arrogant (or both) is a matter of opinion. But the more we practice Contrology, as passed down by our first generation teachers, the more we experience his Method as the “complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit”. And the more we read his books and study the archives (videos, photos, and audio of him practicing & teaching his Method); the more we understand the essence of his work, the depth of his genius, and his legacy. We begin to view Pilates as far more than just a workout, but a lifestyle.
Instead of pursuing a policy of passivism, aggressive action should and must be taken to bring to light my teachings of health, strength, and happiness through proper corrective exercises. The living examples of former broken-down human beings – ill physically and mentally, but now perfect specimens of manhood and womanhood – speak volumes for my work. Investigate and see for yourself.Joseph Pilates, “Your Health”