Caged Lion: A Book Review!

cage lion cover

A new book about Joseph Pilates? Yes, please! And, it’s safe to say, this one caused quite an “uproar” (lion pun number 1) in our community.

The Caged Lion, penned by John Howard Steel, isn’t merely another download of historical research; for perhaps the first time ever, we get to read from someone who not only learned Pilates from Joseph and Clara, but also knew them on a personal level for a long stretch of time. It’s rare to get this kind of insight into Pilates history from someone who didn’t go on to become a Pilates teacher or—until now—outspoken figure in the industry.

There are many highlights in the book, but its true power is in getting a glimpse into the culture of Pilates; the way the work was practiced, the commitment required to become part of the Pilates Gymnasium, and the way Joseph and Clara Pilates were as people… not just as teachers. As someone who is fascinated and perpetually inspired by the origins of the Pilates method, I was especially taken by Steel’s detailed breakdown of how Pilates transitioned into a movement that existed in the absence of Joseph (and later Clara) Pilates. Clearly, the work has imposed some inexplicable magic on its original students, who decided it can’t just disappear and must be kept alive.

The book raises important questions about legacy and lineage, and without wanting to give anything away, the book is another piece of evidence that the Pilates story has a long tradition of “rearranged truths”, starting with Joseph Pilates himself.

In a witty, humorous and often theatrical way, the book offers an exciting opportunity for us to question everything we think we know about the Pilates method. Now that the cat is out of the bag (lion pun number 2), the book grants the reader permission to let the past be the past and decide how this work could be presented and represented in the future. In the riveting conclusion of the book, John Steel is offering one of the best explanations I have ever read as to why Pilates, the method, stood the test of time (minor spoiler: it’s not necessarily because of Pilates, the man).

Just in case you didn’t notice… I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book right now and you can find it here!


Benjamin Degenhardt

Benjamin Degenhardt has been involved in the world of Pilates for over 20 years. He began his training in 1998 and is a Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher. Benjamin has refined his perspective on Pilates by synthesizing historical research on Joseph Pilates’ thought process with a modern understanding of movement, health and fitness training. In recent years, he has established himself as a renowned educator and presented his work at training facilities and conferences around the world. Additionally, Benjamin is the founder of 360° Pilates, an e-learning platform for the original Pilates method based and the creator of March MATness, an annual and worldwide social media campaign that celebrates the Mat work throughout the month of March.

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