Jorgen Peter Muller (1866-1939) had a reputation for being everything from pornographic to a world famous hygienist and physical fitness guru. The Danish sportsman was, in fact, all-round champion athlete, Danish Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, and author of the international best seller My System, published in 1904.
My System is a complete step-by-step guide to 18 daily exercises that nearly anyone can complete in 15-minutes. The book sold 2 million copies and was translated into 25 languages. Muller became famous for traveling around Europe and demonstrating his exercises while wearing only a loincloth and displaying his tanned, toned body. Shocking by all Victorian standards!
Muller also preached radical ideas for the time – like taking daily baths, opening windows for fresh air, breathing for relaxation, and sunbathing. And My System wasn’t only for men. He insisted that women needed to develop a “muscular corset” (that is, firm abdomen muscles) which would “bring about the conditions necessary for painless deliver in childbirth”(!) He would go on to write My System for Ladies and My System for Children.
One of his famous devotees was the writer Franz Kafka, who would preform Muller’s prescribed moments twice a day, naked in front of an open window. Once Muller moved to London, opened the Muller Institute and dropped the umlaut from his name, royalty also streamed in to learn his techniques. Followers included the Crown Princess Sophia of Greece, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Windsor.
Assagioli was also a great fan, describing Muller as “a living example of the miracle of training.” He said Muller’s approach as a “spiritual psychological method,” which he himself practiced. Assagioli recommended doing the gymnastics in My System for biological and psycho-therapeutic reasons: to maintain good hygiene and health and to train the will.
Like Assagioli, Muller was a fragile and weak child. While Assagioli was born with a club foot, Muller weighed only 3-1/2 pounds at birth and explained, “I could sleep in an ordinary cigar box.”
As a young man, Assagioli often went hiking with his father in the Alps, averaging 30 kilometers per day. “Hiking in the mountains strengthened me physically,” he said, “and also gave me a sense of the closeness to nature. Later I discovered the higher meaning, the symbolism of mountain climbing.”
By the age of 8, Muller was performing daily morning exercises for seven minutes, washing himself in cold water, and drying himself off with a towel. As a young man, he joined the Copenhagen Rowing Club and, by the age of 26, he had first prizes in Denmark for power-walking, javelin throwing, hammer throwing, the pentathlon and the Five Danish Mile Run. He was also a philosopher, having studied theology.
The beauty of Muller’s exercises is that they can be performed at home and without any type of apparatus. My System’s simplicity and economical advantage, in particular, was what attracted Assagioli. He wrote:
“It is not athletic, that is, it doesn’t tend to develop particular muscles, but it’s hygienic. It activates healing and circulation without causing fatigue. Therefore, it can help everyone and can even be followed by small children and elderly people who are 70-80 years old. It is particularly adapted to educating the will because it insists, above all, on precise, polished and rapid movements.”
Despite Muller’s wild popularity 100 years ago, he and his system has faded into obscurity. But I found him to be a fascinating figure (literally!) and have since downloaded his book, which is a great read. Chapter 1 starts out asking “Why be Weakly?” Why indeed? Whether in body or will, we could all use some daily exercise.