Marjolein von Sonsbeek has asked this wonderful question last week! I’ve been looking forward to answering it, because one of these people has definitely influenced Joseph Pilates a lot in my opinion: Bess Mensendieck! She was a very exciting woman!
Dr. Bess Mensendieck (1864-1957) was a doctor. She developed a gymnastic method for women to help them to get to know their body and get back into shape after child birth in the beginning of the 20th century. In her book “Körperkultur des Weibes” – English: Bodyculture of women – in 1906 she wrote: “To us this loss of beauty following motherhood seems sad and unfair.” (Bess Mensendieck, Körperkultur des Weibes, p.7) Her exercises were supposed to solve this.
Bess Mensendieck made a point of strengthening the center of the body: the lower spine and the pelvis were supposed to stabilize the whole body. To make this clear for her students Bess Mensendieck used the word “Zentrale” – English: center – for this part of the body. (See: Bess Mensendieck, Funktionelles Frauenturnen, p.107)
Joseph Pilates not only adopted this idea, he implemented it into his own exercises. Looking at the details you will find many similarities between Pilates exercises and the exercises Bess Mensendieck was teaching. Just have a look at this picture from her book “Körperkultur des Weibes”!
Bess Mensendieck wanted her students to perform exercises naked: in her opinion this was necessary so that the teacher could see whether they were engaging the right muscles! This was another inspiration for Joe Pilates. In his studio in New York clients were supposed to wear bathing shorts or a bathing dress, dispensable fabric was striclty prohibited.
But let me return to Marjolein’s question. I have to admit that I didn’t find traces of the ideas of Sebastian Kneipp or Rudolf Steiner in Joseph Pilates’ work. What about you? Do you think I missed something? I’m looking forward to your comments and more questions of course!