Starting a new activity is always a little confusing. There are so many choices and when you are just beginning it is difficult to know how to discern between the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are some pointers to help you find a pilates class that will teach you authentic pilates.
As Close Contact with Joe Pilates As Possible
The reputation that Pilates has is built on the original teachings of Joe Pilates, not one of the modern fusions which has been created in the last few years. Joe Pilates died in 1967, his wife Clara died a decade later. That means that there are still (a few) people alive who trained with him.
In terms of the transmission of the art, Romana Kryzanowska is by a very long way the most important of these figures as it was she who took over the running of the original studio in New York and she who committed to training teachers to continue his work. It is almost true to say that Pilates which has not been strongly influenced by Romana is not actually pilates at all.
Knowledgeable, Experienced Teachers Who Enjoy Teaching
A brand name is not enough. There are teachers, even in the most conscientious organizations, who are not very good. Sometimes this is because they qualified some time back and have stopped training, sometimes because they only learnt part of the system (e.g. only mat) without much depth, sometimes because they don’t like teaching people.
The difference a good teacher, with access to the full pilates tradition, who knows how to communicate can make to the quality of your training is huge.
Small Classes with Individual Attention
However, a good teacher from a good organisation still cannot work properly if they are teaching a huge class of 20 or 30 people which changes all the time. A level of stability and continuity is essential if you are to benefit from a group class.
If you do not have a teacher who is watching your progress, giving you individual corrections and pushing you to progress beyond where you would by your own efforts you may just as well buy a DVD and practice at home.
Classes Aimed at Your Needs
Even a small, stable group class with a well trained, dedicated teacher may not be appropriate for you have particular physical needs. Pilates is exercise. Very few pilates teachers are also properly trained physical therapists, though years of experience of working with bodies does give you a good sense of what is and isn’t possible.
People who are delicate due to injury or accident- that is people who need therapy – should go to a therapist. If your doctor or physio says that you can exercise then you may need to start with private sessions so that you can learn how to use the Pilates system to help you properly.
A Pilates Wall Unit
What is the Pilates Wall Unit?
The wall unit, sometimes (though incorrectly according to the Gratz website) called the “tower”, is a metal frame which attaches to the wall and enables you to do most of the exercises that can be done on the Cadillac. Some of the most commonly used and important exercises apart from the reformer are found on the cadillac/wall unit.
What Does the Wall Unit Do For You?
Within the classical Pilates system, all the apparatuses have a different focus and help you to develop different aspects of the Pilates body.
The wall unit, like the Cadillac which it is based on, does at least two main things. Firstly, it deepens the powerhouse through direct spring tension. With the chairs and much of the work on the reformer, contact with the spring is made through a pedal or a foot bar. These “open” springs on the wall unit give more immediate and obvious feedback. You can see if you are doing it right or not. I
Second, the special focus of the wall unit, as with the Cadillac, is on stretching and lengthening the body. Some of the deepest flexibility work is found on these apparatuses, which makes them ideal for people who are stiff from sitting or exercise.
Using Equipment to Deepen Your Pilates
Some of the basic exercises which we use on the wall unit from the start can help move your pilates training up to the next level
The Roll down bar is valuable to help you to learn to articulate your back with control whether your problem with the roll down is more to do with the articulation part (ie you are stiff) or the control (if you are flexible).
The leg spring exercises are extremely useful to help you to deepen the connection between the stomach and the legs as well as being one of the easiest exercises in which to engage the inside and back of your legs.
The arm springs and especially the “push thru” bar have their own challenges and benefits and at a more advanced level there are a number of very challenging standing arm springs exercises, including one legged squats.
Pilates Wall Unit Sessions
The wall unit is rarely used for an entire session on its own, but it works extremely well in a session combined with mat exercises. It is perhaps the apparatus which is most accessible to people familiar with mat work and there are a number of mat exercises which can be done in near identical wall unit versions, only with the added challenge of springs.
The mat work focuses a great deal on the stomach and as a result gets you very deep in that part of the power house. Many of the exercises on the wall unit get you deeper into the rest of the power house (the inner legs and wings) and this fact, combined with the greater emphasis on lengthening and stretching, makes a wall unit-mat session very balanced and enjoyable.
Golf tends not to give golfers the bodies of Olympic gymnasts, but, as pros like Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam who use Pilates in their training show, physical conditioning cannot be ignored if you want to improve your game and help prevent injury.
The full-body movement of the golf swing requires core muscle initiation, whole body strength, flexibility and shoulder-girdle stability. Pilates is able to help you develop all these skills.
Golf stresses one side of the body more than the other, making it easier to injure yourself or become so uncomfortable when playing that you no longer enjoy it. Pilates has a strong focus on equalizing the strength of the right and left sides of the body and connecting the upper and lower bodies.
We can´t promise to knock stokes off your game, but we can teach you how to develop and then use core strength to drive the movement of your arms and legs and improve flexibility in your shoulders and hips.
When you are able to connect the strength of your whole body – legs and torso – into what your arms are doing then you will be able to create significant power with ease.
Your Body is Your Instrument
Every musician knows that their body is part of their instrument. What you do with your whole body changes your tone, often quite dramatically – the difference between the sound that Rostropovich or Oistrakh could get out of a Strad as compared to the average seminary student is nothing to do with the violin or cello (or even the Richaume bow) and everything to do with the player’s use of their body.
Playing an instrument to a high level is serious, long term work which makes many demands on the body. Some of these, such as inappropriate tension in a pianist’s forearms, can be dealt with by a good teacher teaching efficient technique, but some of them are unavoidable. No teacher can get rid of the hours of sitting in bad chairs, carrying heavy instrument cases or the standing which are part of the terrain. ficar.
Joe Pilates standing on the opera singer Roberta Peters
Pilates Alignment and Strength For Musicians
What is more, there are postural imbalances which can develop from how you hold or sit at your instrument – no matter how well you do it you will still hold your violin on your left shoulder, your cello bow in your left hand, your flute will always be on the right side of your body and unless you have strength in your core simply being told not to slump at the piano won´t stop it happening.
There are several ways that Pilates can help a musician look after his or her body. It can help you to become aware of, and then work to improve, your alignment and your ability to isolate parts of your body, relaxing in one area while working in another. You have spent countless thousands of hours with your instrument and, like the good fairy in Sleeping Beauty, while pilates may not be able fully to remove the toll that practice can take on the body, it can do a lot to soften the spell.
The Advantages of Pilates for Musicians
Many of us are not terribly sporty, spending our teenage years practicing scales and studies instead of doing exercise, and often musicians who do pilates have never done any serious exercise before. Pilates is very appealing as it is a precise, non-competitive system where you are not going to hold anyone back by not being as fast as them.
The strength that you can build with pilates often has an effect on you beyond your playing, helping you to feel better in every day life too.
Pilates Prepares Your Body for Riding
The most basic level at which pilates is useful for riders is that it can do a great deal to get your body into good shape. Whether you need work on improving your body alignment and posture (which has a direct effect on your horse), develop greater flexibility or more core strength so that you can find and maintain your seat on the horse, doing a straightforward pilates class can do an immense amount to help.
These priorities will not only have an effect on your riding, but will be noticed in your everyday life. The process of learning Pilates will start to get your body in shape and, once you have learnt the exercises, can also be used as a quick warm up before you ride.
Pilates While Mounted
However, Pilates can benefit your riding at a level above simply getting your body into better condition – it can teach you how to use your body to understand and communicate with your horse.
Senior Romana´s Pilates Instructor Janice Dulak describes Pilates for the equestrian as “the lengthening and collection of the human spine through engagement of the “powerhouse” muscles [Dulak 2006, 20]. This deeper understanding of engagement in your own spine and back helps you to feel it in your horse.
Pilates also enables you to use your body more effectively when riding as it trains you to use the power house “in order to use the correct amount of muscle tension in other parts of [the] body for [your] to be effective aids” [Dulak 2006, 18]. This more efficient communication means that you disturb your seat less.
Whether you play polo, do dressage, show jumping, cross country, ride to hounds or just ride for exercise pilates can help you both to keep your own body in shape and teach you how to use it to speak more clearly to your horse.
For more detail on how pilates can be used in dressage riding see Janice Dulak Pilates for the Dressage Rider (2006)
Pilates mat work is meant to be practiced at home. That was Joe Pilates´ plan and intention. However, a great deal of what makes pilates special is the precision
with which you do it and some people worry about practicing on their own at home in case they get it “wrong”. Why Shouldn´t You Do Pilates At Home?
If you only ever learn from a book or DVD then there is a real danger that you simply go through the motions, perhaps not even correctly, and this, it is true, is not particularly useful. The movements are the shell that you put the “pilates” inside. Just done on their own they won´t change a body.
The other “risk” is that you won´t work as hard as you will in class, though of course getting 75% of the results is better than getting none. Why Should You Do Pilates At Home?
One of the benefits of doing Pilates at home is that if you do “homework” then you will progress faster and get stronger.
However, and more importantly, if you do pilates as home then you will become independent and have something that you can use to keep your body in shape long term. Of course continuing to go to a teacher is important, but you may not always have access to one. By practicing at home, even if only for 15 minutes twice a week you will absorb the exercises more deeply.
Basic Pilates Mat for Beginners
Here is a recording of Jean Claude Nelson doing the basic mat exercises. He shows different versions of the exercise: chose the one that you normally do.
If you do our basic mat classes the exercises will be familiar and the video should remind you of the order. There a few minor differences to how we do this at Kinetic, but nothing important.
Try to remember the corrections you normally get (do you need to drop your shoulders down from next to your ears or keep the weight even in your hips?)
Make mistakes, forget things, but have a go and next time you come to class you will have specific gaps you want to fill. You´ll find you learn faster.
Here is another video of Classical pilates, this time the advanced reformer workout, done by Jean Claude Nelson in the studio in Holland where James trained.
The two easiest ways of kidding yourself that you are getting better at pilates are that you are doing more exercises and that it feels like it’s getting easier. Of course, as you improve you will add more exercises and aspects of the training will get more familiar, though, if you do it properly, it will never get “easy”.
How you measure whether you are getting more advanced at Pilates depends where you start from – a stiff 50 year old man is going to look different from an injured female ballet dancer in the way that their physical training will develop. Nevertheless, there are certain more general aspects in common. Pilates Improves Your Relationship With Your Body
When you start training you probably don’t have much powerhouse strength or alignment and we start by working on this and also by beginning to re-establish correct movement in the back. For some people that means the back needs to get stronger to stop slumping, while for others it is about loosening up so it can move naturally.
This initial stage of training will start to create changes in your body as well as alter your perception of your body. You may start to notice a difference in your body shape, become aware of your everyday posture and even get comments from people you know.
When Pilates gets out of the studio and into your body like this it is a sign that you are advancing. This may be that you no longer slump when watching TV, that you have more strength for golf or carrying the baby or that you just feel better and less achy. Pilates Improves the Relationship Between Your Mind and Body
At the basic level we find your power house, at the intermediate level we deepen it and at the advanced level we increase its stamina. However, being advanced is not simply about being physically strong enough to sustain your power house for 55 minutes without interruption. It is as much about progress in the principles of pilates, so that you can keep your mind concentrated in your body for that long.
In terms of the “pilates principles” concentration is maintaining precision
and control from the centre
with increased flow and focus on the breath. This concentration is how the pilates method achieves the mind-body connection.
With increased concentration you become wholly focused on and committed to the present moment, moving without rushing or resting and with no thoughts beyond what you are doing. This “meditation in movement”, as our students will testify, does not have much of the airy float that the word “meditation” often suggests.
This complete coordination of body, mind and spirit is the sign of advanced pilates and when it becomes subconscious and its rhythm carries through to all your movements then you know that you have got better at pilates.
In Classical Pilates we have an order of exercises which we follow week after week, which generally changes only as we add new exercises. There are a number of advantages to this and one main disadvantage. A Set Order of Pilates Mat Exercises Helps Your Progress
There are several advantages of following a set order of exercises. It helps with memorization if the same exercises always follow each other and this subconscious learning of the order enables your body to absorb the exercises without your brain having to think too much about what happens next.
This enables you to add in layers of depth and sophistication as you progress through the intermediate level, and by the time you are advanced you can surrender to the practice in a way which can create a very special state of mind – the “movement as meditation” which is typical of advanced pilates practitioners.
Some teachers work hard to entertain their students with new exercises. We don’t think this is necessary. After all, never making progress because you never stop working on new “choreography” and never feeling or seeing changes in your body is much more boring than doing the same exercises all the time. A Set Order of Pilates Mat Exercises Gives You a Balanced Workout
The sequence that we use is balanced and progressive, containing its own warm up within the workout itself and building over time as you add in exercises to progress from basic to intermediate and intermediate to advanced
This means that every part of the body is worked and you don’t only do the things you like and do well, and ignore the things which you need to do, but dislike.
A set order gives you a structure to work inside, meaning that even if you are feeling uninspired then you have something that will give you the discipline to have a productive and transformative time on the mat. Disadvantages of a Set Order of Pilates Mat Exercises
Surprisingly, after years of practicing the same order of exercises I do not find boredom an issue. The deep connection between mind and body that is possible when you follow a “ritual” order is far more interesting than the superficial stimulus of changing the exercises all the time.
There are, in fact, many ways of finding variety in the exercises: different tempo, different focus (e.g. breath, working the wings, lower stomach, stretch, strength, flow, concentration etc.), different forms of the same exercise and the use of the magic circle means that the mat work can be done in many different ways.
The mat can also be done with different endings (e.g. the wall, standing arm weights, rowings on the mat, magic circle and other standing exercises).
The main disadvantage with simply doing the mat exercises all the time is that there are fewer resources for dealing with any particular day’s issues and needs. It is, of course, possible to omit or modify exercises if they are going to create problems for your body on a particular day, but the mat is not the whole system, it is a part of it.
As important as the mat work is, it really helps the body to use the springs and have the different focus of the apparatus.
Here is a great video of the full advanced classical matwork that we teach. Normally the exercises have more repetitions, but here there is just one to demonstrate. James trained in the same studio as Jean Claude.