I am officially an OG in the Pilates world. I got thrown into Pilates years ago. At the risk of dating myself, the year was 1999 and I was hooked before I could barely even pronounce the word “Pilates.” My introduction to the method was on the west coast where the work can be found with audible exhales and little, if any mention of the man himself. It wasn’t long after receiving my certification, that I was teaching out of a Beverly Hills studio, and got my first taste of what is known in my industry as Classical Pilates. I became obsessed with finding out as much about Pilates lineage as I could, and learning about this crazy man in tighty-whities named Joe Pilates. Does all of this sound like Greek to you? Never even knew there were different styles of Pilates, or that there existed a man behind the method? You are not alone, and frankly, it’s all our fault.
A controversial article about the death of the Pilates industry-The Pilatespocalypse–was published in New York Magazine recently. The article talks about Pilates industry’s need to get trendy (and quick!) to stay relevant. While the rest of the world licked their fingers and, well, just turned the page, in my community it was an uproar. A few of my colleagues circled together to start a dialogue about the supposed demise of our industry and what, if anything we could do about it. In typical Pilates instructor fashion, what started as a benign conversation on how we can educate you folks, ended in a debate about what Pilates really is. These instructors-certified, qualified, over 600 hours of training and observation between them, couldn’t agree on how to explain Pilates to a layman in 140 characters or less. Shocking you say? Read on.
Since the rise of both the Pilates industry and its training programs, we teachers have kept our heads down training and learning, with little concern for how to make something that can be deemed difficult palatable for the rookie.
We worked for a good 50 years prior to Pilates landing on American soil to have an official industry association (although some teachers still don’t recognize it), and still to this day have no governed, regulated or standardized teaching training programs. The Pilates industry can feel, to a teacher, like the wild west (sans guns and horses). And while we as teachers spend so much time infighting about the use of the Pilates name or the authenticity of the methodology of our neighbors, the world turns round without truly understanding what Pilates is.
So to clear it up, let me start with what Pilates is not. It is not yoga, or for dancers only. It is not girlish or feminine. It does not have separate methods for mat vs machine. What it’s not is, like anything else. When someone asks me what is Pilates I simply reply: “A method of moving your body to make it optimal for anything you want to do in life, created by a man named Joe Pilates, using both mat and spring bound machines.” Seems simple doesn’t it? Well, Pilates really is.
We’ve vastly overcomplicated the damn thing and, gotten so wrapped up in the cherished work, that we’ve alienated the people we want to reach-you. So next time you take a Pilates class, private session, or video, remember this: not all Pilates is created equal or is one size fits all. Don’t settle for an explanation. Try the thing and see how your body feels afterward. If you don’t see a difference don’t fault the message blame the messenger.
Now it’s time for us to hear from you! Tell me what your idea of Pilates is or your experience with the damn thing. Trust me my fellow teachers are foaming at the mouth to get your feedback!