The New Age of Pilates: What is the disconnect?

In my 10+ years of teaching and owning a studio, I have been advised over and over that if I want to be successful in this industry, I should avoid using the word Pilates in describing or promoting my business. This advice, of course, comes from those who do not understand Pilates or the philosophy around it.

I have learned over this time that on a daily basis I have to explain what Pilates is to every person that contacts our business curious about what we do, and then to constantly defend Pilates to so many that have a preconceived notion of what it is.

If you ask someone to describe yoga, they will likely answer with some accuracy. They may not know the various methods or practices of yoga but they know for the most part what they can expect when they attend a yoga class. However, the same is not true in the case of Pilates. I have heard Pilates described in the following ways:

  • Pilates is just a lot of stretching
  • It’s just like yoga
  • Isn’t it just doing a bunch of exercises on a ball?
  • It’s just for dancers
  • It’s just for women
  • It’s just for young people
  • It’s not for people with any physical issues
  • It’s just a fad

And on and on and on…

I am discouraged that Pilates has become such a mish-mash of confusion, and that the philosophy and benefits have been so elusive that it is lost on most people. What happened? I think that some of the confusion lies in the divide that has developed between those practitioners that hold strong to the traditional form of Pilates as it was designed by Joseph Pilates, those that feel that Pilates is a work in progress that can evolve, and finally those that choose to capitalize on the name to promote their new trendy exercise program.

I would be considered a teacher of the contemporary method of Pilates, but I was also taught the classical method as well. In my practice, I use the philosophy of Pilates as the primary means to access a person’s body and to address their biomechanical needs, and I marry a variety of functional movements with traditional Pilates exercises for the greatest benefit to my clients. My use of Pilates may not be “classical” as it would now be defined, but I adhere to the principles of Pilates in all forms of movement I use. I greatly appreciate what Joseph Pilates created and how it has evolved to be what I believe is the greatest, most functional and beneficial movement practice in existence.

To that end, I would define Pilates as a framework of concepts (not to be confused with the Pilates Principles) that guide all movement, as follows:

1) Inclusive – Pilates is possible and accessible for every body regardless of age, stage, size or physical ability.

2) Adaptable – Pilates can easily be adapted to any body by breaking down complex movements into their functional component parts, then teaching control and fluidity in the body to make more challenging movements seem effortless. The very design of Pilates equipment was intended to allow those with limited ability the assistance and resistance necessary to accomplish a movement with ease and efficiency.

3) Functional – Pilates movements encompass those very skills that we need to move ourselves around in our daily lives. Developing full and normal ranges of motion of all joints, building loads safely on the body to promote bone density and joint health, performing functional movements of sitting, standing, squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling and postural balance are all aspects of Pilates movements.

If Pilates is to stand the test of time, which I strongly believe that it will, I feel that recognizing and honoring the principles of this amazing method has to move far beyond the confines of a rigid definition or structure so that it can become a guiding framework for any and all forms of movement whether in the studio environment or in life. In this regard, Pilates is life. After all, isn’t that what Joe wanted?

Written by

Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

© 2018. All rights reserved.


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