“I don’t like exercise,” said Benjamin Degenhardt on his recent visit to Flex Studio in Hong Kong.
It’s something we didn’t expect to hear from the world-renowned pilates guru, who was in town to train pilates instructors on 360° Pilates — a teaching philosophy he created with a strong foundation on Joe Pilates’ own principles.
“He was a very passionate, single-minded man who was interested in physical health, and how to use movement to maintain ownership of our bodies and stay healthy without injuries,” he explained, adding that it’s not so much about toning muscles as it is about moving better.
A native German now based in New York, Benjamin experienced the power of pilates after suffering from a recurring shoulder injury over 10 years ago, when his hypermobile shoulder joint “just kept popping out."
After being told he’d never dance again, he started practicing pilates to stay mobile throughout his rehabilitation and was able to make a full recovery within two months.
“One of the things that happens when people get injured is that medicine tells them not to move, even though we know that the one thing that makes joints function better is to move.”
Fully recovered, Benjamin started teaching pilates full-time in 2007 at New York’s Equinox Fitness and joined the faculty of the Equinox Pilates Institute in 2012.
Now a highly sought-after pilates master and teacher-of-teachers, he travels worldwide to introduce 360° Pilates to as many instructors and students as possible.
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“I’m really interested in positioning pilates as something that doesn’t necessarily belong to the fitness landscape, but more in the health and wellness landscape as a form of movement discipline and active self-care.”
As a man, Benjamin also challenges the notion that pilates is just for women. “I’m not a girl, and neither was Joe Pilates. If you look at traditional pilates equipment -- the leather straps and the metal springs -- there’s really nothing girly about it,” he said.
In fact, one of his oldest clients was a 95-year-old man in Boston who was introduced to pilates by his wife, another client of Benjamin's.
“[Pilates] is pretty profound. It’s not gender or age specific. This man had a human body and we worked with what he got. He definitely felt better and had a much easier time playing with his grandchildren, and that’s the main takeaway.”
Besides pilates, which he says is “the foundation of everything I do,” Benjamin also likes to try “something that’s out of my comfort zone each year” like hot yoga, flying trapeze and any form of acrobatics or gymnastics.
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“I’m more interested in movement than fitness. I find it very boring, compulsive and chore-like,” he explained. “It's not so much about getting my muscles to look a certain way, because ... I also love food. (laughs) That’s what I love about pilates -- it’s not attached to a specific diet or lifestyle.”
By now, it's pretty clear that Benjamin isn't a fan of workouts where "someone just yells at you through a microphone and gives you very challenging exercises," but what about people who do?
“I often say my only competition is the couch,” smiles Benjamin. “Whatever gets people moving is great in my book.”
Benjamin will be teaching a second module of 360° Pilates at Flex Studio (Island South) from February 16-18 for instructors only. Find out where you can catch him next on his website and Instagram (@benjamindegenhardt).