Taking the Mystery Out of Pilates

June 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm 5 comments

Movement Designed to Make You Feel Better

By Shari Berkowitz

You’ve heard a lot about Pilates.  Everyone is doing Pilates.  Every corner has some place that advertises “Pilates”.  It’s become as catchy as “Green” and “Eco-Friendly”.  If you say you’ve got Pilates, then you’ve got a business.

Pilates, Pilates, Pilates! You sort of wish everyone would stop talking about it!   What is Pilates?!
Well, I hope this article dispels the uncomfortable mystery behind Pilates. I hope you’ll have a better understanding of what Pilates is and what it isn’t and if it’s right for you.

Pilates is a workout. It’s a method of movement designed to make people healthier. It’s as simple as that. It was created by a man named Joseph Hubertus Pilates. Mr. Pilates created about 500-600 exercises and a concept of movement and life that work together to exercise the entire body and mind with the ultimate goal of a high quality of life. It’s a workout that can apply to any-body meaning that with the proper instruction it can be done by young, old, fit, injured… any-body. It ought to be a strong workout at the particular client’s level that focuses on abdominal strength/core strength first along with strong concentration/mindful intent. Sounds great!

When Mr. Pilates was alive, he didn’t call it “Pilates”. He called his method “Contrology”. It’s the art, science and study of control. That doesn’t mean he’s encouraging “control freaks”, but, rather, encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves.
How often have you said or heard someone say, “My body is hurting me!” or “why won’t my stomach leave me alone?” or “my back is ruining my life!” This is called dissociation (a fantastic defense mechanism where a person separates processes that are usually connected). Disconnecting the mind and the body. Common and kind of dangerous. There is no separating the mind from the body. They are one, but, shamefully, humans disconnect more often than they connect.
So, Mr. Pilates created a physical and mental workout that crafts a connected and balanced body and mind. Nice!

His exercises, in a specific order and progression, on apparatus designed to support this method, with mindful intent, under educated instruction, creates the desired result of long, lean muscles with balanced strength, stretch and flexibility. The exercises create a healthy spine, strong immune system and increased mental capability.

This must be very complicated, then? No. It’s not complicated. It’s very simple. That doesn’t mean it is easy, but it is simple… if… one follows what Mr. Pilates created…to the letter.

Mr. Pilates was a genius. His life’s work was studying the human body and mind. A genius spending an entire lifetime (remember he lived until 87 years old) on one fascinating subject. He got very far with it. His work is unparalleled. Nothing compares with it. His lab was not in a university or government facility like Einstein’s, rather he worked in a studio space in an old building on 8th Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets in New York City.

You might wonder if everyone who is teaching “Pilates” is teaching what this genius man created. That is an interesting and controversial query. The answer is that most people are not teaching what Mr. Pilates created. Most people are teaching variations of Contrology and calling it Pilates. That’s actually OK. Contrology was so brilliant that anything even slightly resembling it can be of value. Now, I am a classicist. I will not lie to you Reader. I teach only “Classical Pilates”, the exercises and intent of Joseph Pilates. I do not teach anything that steps outside of what he created unless it is a tool to be used for a brief period of time to simply get a client to “get into” one of the classical exercises. I believe that the only work that ought to be called “Pilates” is work that Mr. Pilates created himself. That is my stance, but I am fully aware that a lot of what is on the market hardly resembles what Mr. Pilates created and people still call it “Pilates”. What about that? I’ll say, if it’s movement that makes people feel better and doesn’t hurt anyone then why not let it exist? Personally, I wish that it would not be called “Pilates” if it’s not Joseph Pilates’ exercises with order and intent. However, I do not make the decisions in this world and am certain that this debate will continue for many lifetimes. So, I will support healthy exercise as long as we all have the same underlying intention: Great health for our clients with critical understanding

How do you know what you’re getting, then? Is what you find down your street Pilates or a variation on Pilates. In my heart of hearts, I believe it both matters and doesn’t matter. It’s just important that you know what you’re getting and that the teachers who teach actually know what they are teaching. Many well-intentioned teachers have no idea that they are not teaching anything remotely related to what Mr. Pilates created. Again, that doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it misinformed and misrepresented. Still, if it works and you don’t get hurt, then great.

So how do you take the mystery out of Pilates? You ask questions. You ask at the studio that you’re interested in studying with. You say something like, “I am aware that there are many versions of Pilates these days. What style of Pilates do you teach here?” And what’s truly important: you must be keenly aware of what you’re looking to get out of Pilates. The onus is on you, The Consumer. Mr. Pilates stated that with his Method of Contrology you would find the following: “In 10 sessions you will feel the difference. In 20 sessions you will see the difference. And in 30 sessions you will have a brand new body.” So, now that you know what Pilates is and you know what Mr. Pilates’ intention was, then you can pair that up with what you’re looking to get out of Pilates and know what you ought to feel and see in 10, 20, 30 sessions. Oh, and you must know that his intention was that you practice this a minimum of 3 times a week. So dive in to it and let us know how it goes!

About the author: Shari Berkowitz is the Power Pilates Director of West Coast Education and Teacher Trainer.  She owns The Vertical Workshop Pilates studio in Beverly Hills, CA.  She comes to Pilates after having had a successful career in NY musical theater.  Shari had a 100% recovery from a traumatic accident (during a performance) where she herniated 3 disks in her neck that brought on a longer than desired spell of paralysis in her left arm and shoulder from it.  After a year of physical therapy, she was given 30 minutes of classical Pilates and fell passionately in love with it! Shari teaches at her studio as well as studios and conferences all over the world.   In her “free time”, she designs jewelry for her line www.sharibjewelry.com and writes a Pilates blog that is directed to Pilates teachers at www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com.  You’ll find more great information at http://www.powerpilates.com

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The Value of the Entire Method of Pilates Entropy has no place in Pilates

5 Comments Add your own

  • […] Taking the Mystery Out of Pilates2009/06/06 […]

  • […] Taking the Mystery Out of Pilates2009/06/06 […]

  • 3. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Taking the Mystery Out of Pilates2009/06/06 […]

  • 4. M  |  May 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    As usual, a very powerful post (I’m going through the archives in anticipation of your being back here in NYC, I guess).

    What I am wondering is … if one is a regular practitioner of, say, three years or so, and moves to a new studio (because of disruptions at an “old” one, but really, for whatever reason), and is — as you say is recommended — fairly clear about what one is looking to get from the practice …

    … what if the instructor fights you on it?

    Or ignores what you say?

    Or … looks a little shocked that you actually know enough to make those requests and then “instructs” you as to why s/he feels they “might” need to contravene those requests with something from their experience (as, as their posture on the matter appears to be making clear, as an instructor of many years more experience than you’ve been practicing — even though it’s your body — clearly they “know better”)?

    • 5. theverticalworkshop  |  May 27, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      You need to find an instructor or teacher that you feel good with. you hvae to trust that that person knows more than you do. If you don’t feel that you can give over your trust, then you need to move on. Sometimes it’s not the right combination. Perhaps this teacher is correct, but you don’t feel like this is so. Not the right combination. Or…perhaps you need to consider what this teacher says and see if you can learn from this person. If you really don’t think so…again…move on.


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