Simplicity = Understanding

March 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm 21 comments


(full photo credit unknown)

If it’s complicated, it probably isn’t correct.
The hierarchy/pyramid of “correctness” or Truth: Simple is on the top and Complicated is on the bottom.

If it takes more than three short sentences to explain…you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Wow! That was a loaded introductory paragraph!

This statement I’m making applies to all of Life…including Pilates.
You see…though aspects of existence, including movement, appear complex, they are truly simplistic and minimalistic at the core. The building blocks of anything are not intricate. Everything can be broken down into basic components. If you can’t break it down basic components, then you don’t actually understand it. That’s OK…just means there’s more work to be done.

How does this apply to Pilates?
When a client asks “why do we pump our arms in The Hundred?” The answer ought to be simple:
The rapid, big movement of the arms challenges your ability to stabilize your torso and outstretched legs and revs up your cardio-vascular system.
Any more complicated than that…you don’t really know the answer.
More study in the right places.
Look for simplicity.

Along the same lines, the answer for “my left hip, right shoulder and neck hurt…also my right ankle and sometimes my knees. What’s wrong with me?” It’s not 5 separate ailments. It’s one. Which one? All. We’re a completely connected organism. Any imbalance to one area is an imbalance of the whole. Pain in one area always begets pain or dysfunction in another in the action of creating balance…even if that balance also creates pain and discomfort. So the answer to your client…”nothing is wrong with you. You are human having a full body response to being imbalanced. Good thing you’re here!” And then what will you focus on? Each of these areas separately? No. That would be complicated. Go to the fusebox of movement and stability in the body…the pelvis and spine…and you will be able to address all things at once:

Is it that simple? Yes.

Does she have an abdominal connection?
Are her lumbar vertebrae mobile or immobile?
Are her femoral heads free in their acetabulum or stuck?
If mobility and freedom…then continue with that moving up the spine and down the legs.
If immobility and stuck…then your answer is clear. Start to stabilizing the pelvis and mobilizing the lumbar spine and/or the femoral head.

And this brings me to the most simple of all statements: That mobility and stability at the pelvis is the most important place to start with everyone. EVERYONE.

The human body is far more simplistic that you think. Yes, yes, everyone is different, but…everyone (everyone) is the same. As much as we hold our individuality dear (especially in my country, The USA), the truth is that we’re all the same. We all have the same components. Sure, sure, some people have wisdom teeth, some don’t. Some have psoas minor and some don’t. Some have their sciatic nerve running through the piriformis muscle, some don’t. Also, some have body parts removed. Some have one ailment, some have another. Some have many ailments. The variables of each person’s imbalances are innumerable. Still…we’re all the same and all designed to physically behave the same way. Our components are really the same.

With that…no matter how many apparently complicating variables there are…we must address each person’s body the exact same way. If the joint between sacrum and lumbar spine (L5-S1) and/or (but likely “and”) the joint between acetabulum and femoral head don’t move and don’t behave as joints any longer…that will be a sure sign of dysfunction across the body.  That is for every body…everybody.

You might intuitively believe that the body is responsive…but do you really believe it and know it? Study Biotensegrity (prepare yourself for my next articles on it). Because our bones are suspended in the tension web of our soft-tissue, any force against or on one part of our body will elicit a response from the entire body…the entire organism. Dr. Stephen M. Levin is the leading researcher on how this applies to the human body.  I’m a proud to call him a colleague and friend.  Read his papers, commentary and more at

So…applying simplicity to Pilates today:

Just look at your client and note movement or non-movement in L5-S1 and in the acetabulofemoral joint (hip joint).  Are these joints able to move in all directions?  Are they stuck in some.  Can your clients make the choice to stabilize them when desired to mobilize something else?  If the answer is no to any aspect of those questions…then you most focus on that primarily.  In fact, if you use the most basic exercises in Pilates in the first sessions…that will tell you all you need to know about what is and what is not working well in your client.

Do not concern yourself with why you client’s shoulder is “stuck” until you are thoroughly satisfied that s/he has great mobility, ability and stability of L5-S1 and in the acetabulofemoral joints.  The shoulder will stay stuck until those joints are mobile, back and abdominals are strong and able, upper leg muscles and hip/glutes are strong…then we’ll see how the shoulder responds.

Here are some exercises that are basic that will help you focus on what is and what isn’t happening with your client:


Footwork, Leg Cirlces/Frogs, Elephant, Knee Stretches, Running and Pelvic Lift:
Keep the pelvis and spine stable while you mobilize the acetabulofemoral joints.
Femurs should move without moving the pelvis.

Round, Straight on Short Box:
Keep femurs stable, mobilize the acetabulofemoral joints


The Half-Roll Down, The Roll Up:
Keep femurs stable, mobilize the acetabulofemoral joints L5-S1 and the rest of the spine

Single Leg Circles and Abdominal Series:
Keep the pelvis and spine stable while you mobilize the acetabulofemoral joints.

Spine Stretch Forward and The Saw:
Keep pelvis and legs stable while you mobilize L5-S1 all the way up to the skull.

Does that make sense?  That is the most important thing to start to recognize and then focus on.  What does it take for your client to get it?  A lower abdominal abdominal connection, back muscle connection and leg and gluteals connection.  The glutes not by squeezing them (because that doesn’t strengthen them…only jams joints) but by pressing straight legs back against the mat, working to straight legs on the footwork exercises on the reformer while the reformer moves the entire time the legs are moving…

These are great places to begin.

How long do you focus on this stability and mobility?  Until your client (or you) get it.



Nothing gets accomplished buy bopping around from one theme to another.  Be simplistic…focus on the most important thing first.  You can find this action or stability in every exercise (or legs, pelvis and spine stable while you move the arms)…focus on it in every exercise.

Please ask me questions.  This is a rather broad topic that i just hit on.  Again…it’s not difficult.  It’s simplistic.  That doesn’t mean easy…just not complicated.

****Thank you for taking the time to read and continue your education in this way!  Here are upcoming workshops and session information:

Here’s what’s coming up in the next few months:
Full details are on my website under “Workshop Calendar”:
Boston and Northborough, MA, USA: April 20 & 21, 2013
London ENGLAND: April 26-28, 2013 (Pilates on Tour); sessions at Pi Studios
Rhinebeck, NY, USA: May 19, 2013
New York, NY, USA: May 28, 2013
Chicago, IL, USA: June 1, 2013
Denver, CO, USA: July 12-14, 2013 (Pilates on Tour)

Again, full information on all of these workshops is on my website:

Please keep your eyes peeled for upcoming products I will be introducing to continuing your education from your own home with the aural rhythm manuals, webinars, videos, manuals and more!

If you have any questions about Pilates, injuries, biomechanics…just email me at I will always work to get you answers.

Thanks for taking the time to read!
– Shari Berkowitz

The Vertical Workshop

Pilates Teacher Blog:

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A Stunning (and Simple) Reminder… The Challenging Clients…

21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sara Laurie  |  April 6, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Simply, thank you Shari.

  • 3. Kerry  |  April 6, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Thank you Shari. Good reminders not to get too caught up with the what ifs and the could be’s, but rather the essence of the work.

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  April 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Thank you, Kerry, for letting me know your thoughts…and for reading this!
      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 5. John Steel  |  April 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    If Joe was here, you would get a huge hug!!!! John Steel

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  April 7, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      Thank you. That touches me deeply.
      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 7. Rita Matraia  |  April 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Shari, This is great especially as we prepare to host you at The Core Connection for the Leg and Hip Family where I know you will expand on these concepts. Northborough is considered Central Mass, about 50 minutes out of Boston and we can’t wait to see you on April 20th!

    Although I know I can ask you when I see you, is it your experience that men in particular have a harder time disassociating their pelvis from their femurs? This has definitely been my experience but I don’t work with as many men as women. Just curious if this is anyone else’s experience. In particular its critical in golf and tis the season so it’s on my mind. See you soon!

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  April 7, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      Hello, Rita,

      I very much look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks, but I’m glad you asked here as these comments live on and I hope people will want to read them…

      You ask if men have a more difficult time separating the femoral head from the acetabulum and choosing to move one whilst stabilizing the other. In my experience, that has not necessarily been the case. Generally, the male acetabulofemoral joint has the ability to be more stable than women’s, the SI joint is far more stable and alot more to follow from there just from the need for women to be able to bear a child. There are other reasons that result from a difference in hormones, too, ligament strength, muscle density and more… So, one might imagine that that means the joint is tight. Just tighter than a woman’s. Not necessarily too tight.

      However, as a generalization, men have tighter hamstrings than women and if you expect the same range of motion from a man (or any person) with tight hamstrings as one with loose hamstrings in exercises like Single Leg Circles, Single Straight Leg Stretch, Side Leg Kicks Front/Back…then you will think that acetablulofemoral joint is too tight or, rather, compressed.

      I find the greatest issue with my golfers is that this joint has gotten extremely tight…and so has every joint of their spine…because they wind down rather than up. They work with the concept that they must coil tightly to gather their kinetic energy that will be released in the movement or the swing to the hitting of the ball. That compressed twist is an error in interpretation of how the body is most effective for the long term. Maybe great in his 20’s…but not in his 60’s.

      Does that make sense?

      Thank you for asking and keep asking so I can keep making it clear to you and everyone else!

      – Shari

      • 9. Rita Matraia  |  April 8, 2013 at 6:08 am

        Yes, it does and is very helpful. I guess you have to look at it as our bodies are made to do certain things and in general guys get to be stronger but it does come with tightness and compression. I see it as a challenge to help them to find more movement and grace and keeping it simple with cueing is best so thank you for that reminder. I recently started working with 12 year olds for baseball pre-season training and I started the program 8 weeks ago. I gave them homework of flat back toe taps each night. They are with me twice a week and it’s amazing how their hamstrings have found length. So I say get’m when they are young and teach the hip hinge so that they can be strong and flexible! Can’t wait to see you on the 20th!

  • 10. Troy Hyatt  |  April 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    This was a “simply” brilliant article! Thanks. I, too, love the simple approach and it’s good to hear that we teachers, by using just what we were taught to use, are addressing the myriad of issues that clients can present with. Someone once told me when I fretted over all the “problems” some clients had: “just teach them Pilates and watch. Don’t get so bogged down.” I believe you are saying the same thing.

    • 11. theverticalworkshop  |  April 7, 2013 at 9:49 pm

      Hello, Troy!

      I am, indeed, saying the same thing, but with a focus.

      I hope you’re well and enjoying!
      – Shari

  • 12. Susan Renee Pollack  |  April 7, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Shari THANK YOU! I enjoy your writing so much. I have been studying so much and all of my clients are special needs clients. The beauty is that pilates works even when ‘I’ don’t know exactly what the special need is. Trust the work, observe, encourage and magic happens. How many people have a job like that?!

    • 13. theverticalworkshop  |  April 7, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you for taking the time both to read this article and write a comment. Thank goodness Mr. Pilates’ genius is there in his work, indeed. While it’s always best to understand, Mr. Pilates did us all an amazing service!
      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 14. Sara Jean  |  April 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you so very much for this. I gobble up every article you write. Nicole Field steered me toward you and I’m so very grateful. Shari, is there a textbook that you particularly like for Pilates instructors to have in their library? Looking for a resource such as this that is easy to follow. Thanks!!

    • 15. theverticalworkshop  |  April 9, 2013 at 10:45 am

      Hello Sara (or is your first name Sara Jean? I don’t want to offend.),
      Thank you for letting me know that these articles are working for you! I must thank Nicole! I’ll be out in Denver teaching at Pilates on Tour Denver 2013 (JULY). If you think of it, it would be great to work in person there!

      As for textbooks for Pilates instructors…there are none that I would recommend. I think that all that exist are extremely biased toward the personal beliefs of the writers and not based in anything scientific or fact. I understand that that is the right of an author, but…if you’re teaching anything I believe in fact over myth or supposition. In my opinion too much of our business is on the foundation of poor intuition and teaching “made-up” things. (Clearly, I don’t hide my feelings, do I?! Sorry…I am very straight forward.)

      With that, I recognize that not everyone has the passion to do what I do: research, theorize and then put to practice with the leaders in the scientific, medical and physiological field, read medical research, biomechanical theoretical papers, biomechanical research, etc…and then translate to Pilates. So…that is why I am writing a textbook for teachers.

      When will it be available for purchase? I am not sure, but I will let you know. It is a considerable project because it has to be founded on fact and not just opinion and the interesting created “reality” that exists right now.

      (Again…I’m not one to mince words, am I?)

      Until then…I can help you like this: What are you seeking in a textbook? Are you looking for more biomechanical/physiological, injury/ailment, psychology of teaching/education, psychology of injuries, structure of sessions, teaching different levels…etc…information. Where can I guide you?

      All the best!
      – Shari

      • 16. Sara Jean  |  April 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm

        Hey Shari … I cannot wait to read your book! =)

        Looking for a book that will break down the exercises – therapeutic approaches, anatomy of poses, modifications, verbal cues for teaching. Maybe that is a good start.


  • 17. Jenny Burgess  |  April 9, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Thank you Shari.
    Love reading your articles. I am in Australia, which sometimes feel so remote from the rest of the Pilates community, so feeling connected thru your articles is fantasic! Jenny Burgess

    • 18. theverticalworkshop  |  April 9, 2013 at 10:34 am

      It’s lovely to e-meet you! Thank you for reading and commenting…and I’m very glad that my work helps you feel connected. That’s a huge part of why I write…and, frankly, all that I do. With that, I very much need to make a plan to come out to Australia.
      All the very best! I hope to meet you in person relatively soon!
      – Shari

  • 19. Maria  |  April 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Such a wonderful article, thank you! Just what I needed this week. Looking at the body as a whole rather than separating all the individual parts to see the full picture is brilliant, and something I tend to forget as I get too focused on separate details. Looking forward to your article on tensegrity.

  • 20. Charles Abbott  |  April 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Thank you for a very interesting article, Shari (as always). I found your observation about stuck femoral heads having a consequent effect on other parts of the body quite inspiring. It reminded me of the times that I get clients coming to me with a bad back, who wonder why I am giving them “leg exercises”.

    To my mind, the holistic nature of Pilates is what really distinguishes it from Physiotherapy. I don’t know the situation the States but in the UK many Physios (PT’s in US-speak) seem very keen to muscle in on our territory, using Pilates equipment and exercises in isolation. But we don’t just give exercises for one isolated joint or muscle group. It is a whole-body method and needs to be applied as such. The method works and we need to trust it without tinkering.

    Thanks for being such an inspiration and a reminder of why I am a Pilates teacher! I’m SO looking forward to your workshops in London!

  • 21. Mastery – Simplicity | DancePlayHeal  |  December 16, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    […] torso and outstretched legs and revs up your cardio-vascular system.  You can read the whole post here.  Simple, elegant, efficient and right […]


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