Pilates and the 1918 Spanish Influenza

Hi love, 

I don't want to be writing to you about COVID 19. It's a full moon, springtime, and the outdoors are beckoning us into a season of celebration, birth, and renewal. That said, I would be remiss If I didn't share something that's been on my mind. 

Way back in November of 2007, when I first began my certification in Pilates, I read something that struck me as interesting. It made its mark on my memory, and has stuck with me all this time. Here is an excerpt from my old Pilates manual,  "In 1918 a terrible epidemic of influenza swept the world, killing millions of people, tens of thousands in England. None of Joe's followers succumbed even though the camps were the hardest hit" (Power Pilates 2006).   

At the time, Joseph Pilates had been interned on the Isle of Man by the British. It was WWI, and he had come to England as an aspiring boxer, and circus performer. It was during his time in the intern camps that he conceived of and began to refine his system of Contrology, what we now practice as Pilates. (The equipment part of Pilates evolved from working with patients in hospital beds, to help them properly use their limbs and activate their core muscles.) 

In a 1962 Sports Illustrated interview, Joseph Pilates speaks of how the principles for Contrology came to him during the war. He goes on to say how those who followed him, "... ended the war in better shape than when it started, and when the great influenza epidemic came sweeping over all the countries that had fought in the war, not one of them came down with it" (Knockloe). 

So how do we make sense of Joseph Pilates claim, and what might it mean for us in this moment in time?

Without scientific studies or documentation it would be tough to say if anything at all, but I don't think we should dismiss his claim all together. 

Here are a few factors that make Pilates an essential part of our self care strategy right now:

Pilates improves lymphatic drainage. The lymphatic system helps protect the body against viruses, it fights infection, builds immunity, and eliminates toxins from the blood. This is a system we want functioning optimally, and the movements of Pilates help insure that. 

Joe Pilates was a huge proponent of proper breathing. He said it was the equivalent of an "internal shower" , "Contrology exercises purify the blood” he wrote (1932). He believed the way we breathe to be foundational to good health. 

This makes sense since oxygen is needed by every system in the body, from brain function, to cleaning our blood and organs. Controlled breathing practices have been showing to improve our over all health - both physically, and mentally. 

The mindfulness aspect too, is undoubtedly important. Pilates forces us to correlate information between the brain and the body that helps us to build awareness, a key aspect of mindfulness. It helps us reduce our stress.  

Pilates relayed in that 1962 sports illustrated article that those who followed him, became more and more confident, more and more bouncy, like cats (Knockloe)."  Confidence is an interesting word choice. Those in the intern camps were often depressed and isolated, there was a feeling of inertia, perhaps on dissimilar to what many are experiencing now. The mental part is important. That is the number one feedback I am getting from my clients right now. That they feel calmer, happier, that it’s a wonderful way to start the day and is helping them to get things done. 

There’s a lot more that I want to say, but I’m curious what you think too. Let me know in the comments on the blog, or response right here to this email.

with love always,


PS Feel inspired? To take my classes from anywhere click here : Drop In Mat Class or Monthly Class Pass


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.


50% Complete

This is you're starting place...

a series of step by step videos to lay a beautiful foundation for your new house. Learn techniques to relax the hips, protect the lower back, strengthen your core, support your neck, address tight hamstrings and keep your shoulders aligned. 

"The Mind when housed within a healthful body possesses a glorious sense of power." - Joseph Pilates