Assagioli’s Favorite Exercise Routine

J.P._MüllerJorgen 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.

My System for Children in Italian

My System for Children in Italian

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.”

20091 Muller from Archives

Assagioli’s note from his archives: Consigliare e prescrivere ai miei malati “Il mio sistema” di J.P. Müller. Far fare a tutti almeno qualche esercizio fisico. Grande valore medico e psicoterapico. (Recommend and prescribe “My System” by J.P. Müller for my patients. Have everyone do at least some physical exercise. Great medical and psycho-therapeutic value.)

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.

Click here to download My System by J.P. Muller.

Click here to view videos of Muller demonstrating “My System”

Heavenly and Earthly Desires


The Journey of the Three Magi. Postcard from Assagioli’s Archives (ID# 010305)

Desire, in all its dimensions, is beautifully woven into the Christmas story. This word desire can evoke so many different images and feelings. Assagioli saw desire as an integral part of ourselves and subject to both our personal will and the will of the Higher Self.

In fact, the word desire fundamentally holds this idea of a higher or transpersonal will.  I was amazed to learn that the word comes from the Latin roots dē, which means to “come from” and sīdus which means “heavenly body.” In other words, our longings literally “come from the heavens.” This idea may have originated from astrology, which attempts to understand how the heavenly bodies – stars and planets alike – can define who we are and what we want to become. Continue reading

An Ordinary Extraordinary Christmas

breakfastThe day started out normal enough. Breakfast of homemade bread and jams, creamy sheep cheese from Sardinia, ricotta, and peanut butter from a large jar brought long ago from the Netherlands, all swallowed down with cappuccinos in our usual breakfast cups. That morning we were just a bit more rushed, hurrying out by 8 am to attend the morning mass at the Monastery of St. Luca in Fabriano.

Benedictine nuns in the sober habits sang the psalms in clear – sometimes wavering – voices accompanied by one of the sisters playing the dulcimer. A monk priest said the mass. Afterwards we stood around the 16th century pews listening to Don Ephrem tell stories of when he was first ordained as a priest in Syria. Barely speaking Arabic, he was sent off to a high mountain village to say the Christmas mass.

But first he had to hear confession. The problem was nobody spoke Arabic, they all spoke a mountain dialect. Behind the confessional screen, he begged for mercy, asking the elderly women penitents to recount their sins in a language he might understand. French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, slowly spoken simple Arabic? No, none of those. Only mountain dialect, a slowing dying blend of indecipherable Arabic and language once carried on the wind.

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Talking to Strangers

Internet AddictionI spend last Saturday talking to strangers. As a volunteer for the charity Caritas, I spent two hours in front of a local supermarket asking people to donate food to the Italian National Food Bank. This experience meant that I wore a plastic yellow bib (which declared my legitimacy) while dangling plastic yellow bags in front of passing strangers.

Those who were interested in helping, took the bag and filled it with rice, pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil (this is Italy after all!), baby food or canned vegetables. The donated goods were then collected, boxed and sent off to the local food bank.

I startled most of the shoppers that day with my distinct American accent. “Buon giorno!” I called out cheerily. “Would you like to participate in our food collection for the poor?” I asked this at least 100 times that morning and, as you can imagine, the reactions varied. Some simply said ‘No.’ Some said they had already donated at another supermarket. One man said that he could actually use the yellow plastic bag, thank you very much. Continue reading

School Bells for Joy

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
(Psalm 34:6)

Joy at School

Joy at nursery school.

Ten months ago, I wrote a blog about a Nigerian refugee family living in Italy who I and my husband are trying to help through the Catholic charity Caritas. In January, Samuel and Rose (not their real names), at the advice of their lawyer, were hoping to marry in order to strengthen their case. With gratitude, we were able to raise the money they needed to obtain the necessary documents and they were happily married on 15 March.

But like most immigrant stories, their lives continue to be difficult.

Samuel has not been able to find work, partly from pride, partly from discrimination, mostly because he doesn’t speak a word of Italian despite living in the country for five years. We have done our best. Kees accompanied him to an interview at the diocese in Assisi that had 30 job placements for immigrants. But afterwards they told the Director of the local Caritas to not send any more applicants who have zero Italian language skills. Continue reading

Rocky’s Prayer

Day of the DeadThis weekend, many Italians are traveling to village cemeteries to pay homage to their ancestors. The Catholic feast of All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday followed by All Soul’s Day. It is a time for the living to ritually remember the dead – both saint and sinner alike. In preparation, the (mostly older) women are scrubbing tombstones clean and buying votive candles and pots of chrysanthemums to decorate the graves of loved ones. Coinciding with the beginning of darker days and longer nights, this time allows us to pause and consider our own life and death.


Fava bean flowers

The two days devoted to honoring the dead correspond agriculturally to when Umbrian farmers seed their fields. They are also busy burying onion bulbs and garlic cloves with the hope of enjoying sweet shoots in the spring. There is a local saying among our neighbors that All Saint’s Day marks the planting of fava beans. In fact, eating fava beans was once thought to be a way to be in communion with the dead. The bean flower is white with black markings that take the form of the Greek letter thet or θ, which is the first letter of thanatos, meaning ‘death’. Continue reading

Coffee Grinds Everywhere

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.


Artwork by Roseleen Tanham,

“How do you like your steak?” I’d ask.

As a vegetarian for more than twenty years, I found this question ludicrous. I like my steak on the cow where it belongs. Most people like theirs well-done.

Every job always has something that’s hard to swallow.

Jennys spiral

Back home in the US waitresses fear chefs. There is a tension between them that literally can become palatable. I remember a friend telling me how she dreaded returning anything to the kitchen, especially after the chef threw a potato at her.

At Rosaleen’s Restaurant, however, comradeship existed between us. Any tensions disappeared as we focused together in the preparation of steak, lamb, fish, and vegetable. At times, three of us fluttered around a single serving: the chef, pouring sauce and garnishing the plate, her assistant placing doilies on dishes and slicing bread, and me waiting to whisk the plate to the customer so to deliver the meal hot.

This shared longing to serve our best was perhaps what the customer tasted most.

Tea cup

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