Joseph Pilates, Nature Lover?
"By all means never fail to get all the sunshine and fresh air that you can," says Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) in his most well known book, Return To Life Through Contrology. The same text includes such gems as, "Whenever and wherever possible, wear 'shorts' or sun suits outdoors, and let the life-giving ultraviolet rays reach and penetrate into every skin pore of your body."
Conceding the importance of skin cancer prevention, we now have some science to support the suggestions in Joe's book, which he wrote in 1945. We know that Vitamin D, largely acquired by mammals through sunlight, is responsible for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc, directly impacting the mineralization of our bones. In fact, Vitamin D was first discovered as scientists searched for a link between an unknown nutrient deficiency and those suffering from rickets (the childhood form of osteomalacia).
Historical accounts say that Joseph Pilates himself suffered from rickets as a child, among other ailments. It's unlikely that he knew of the relationship between poor bone health and lack of sunshine when he was young, however, as Vitamin D3, the specific form produced by the skin, wasn't identified until 1937. Nevertheless the young Joseph was determined to strengthen himself by traditional means; he began bodybuilding, studying martial arts and training in gymnastics, all modalities that would influence his creation of Contrology, now known as Pilates.
In his first book, Your Health, published in 1934, Joe talks about the ancient Greeks, a culture he seemed to revere: "These people were nature lovers. They preferred to commune with the very elements of nature itself - the woods, the streams, the rivers, the winds and the sea. All these were natural music, poems and dramas to these Greeks who were so fond of outdoor life." He continues on, highlighting that the Greeks were not hampered by extra clothing, instead preferring very little on their bodies. Joe certainly practiced this philosophy, as evidenced by the many photos and videos we have of him demonstrating his method in just underwear or swim trunks!
Joseph Pilates had one daughter and offers plenty of observations about young ones in his first book: "Children, if left to follow their own natural inclinations, without restraint, will not hesitate to discard unnecessary garments. In fact, the fewer the clothes, the better they like it." I must say that I can relate to that one. Born in Tahiti and with frequent travels to Australia my mother could not keep clothes on me. Like many children, I was constantly pulling them off no matter how comfortable or cool the fabric. Perhaps young people instinctively know what Joseph Pilates claims, "that your body also 'breathes' through the pores of your skin as well as through your mouth, nose, and lungs."
Joe's thoughts on this topic allow his method once again to reach far beyond the Pilates studio, indeed out into the hills and onto the beach! If "doing Pilates" means being in the sunshine and fresh air wearing little clothing, there's no excuse to not keep up your practice this summer.
By Téana David
Please note that this is an updated version of a blog post that appeared in 2015.