Pilates is for Every Body!

For a long time, I thought Pilates was only for dancers. My first exposure to it was on a mat in a dance studio, surrounded by other students at a ballet summer intensive program. The second time I heard about it, “Magic Circle” was written on the list of required materials for my college dance program’s Body Placement class. Even upon moving to New York City to pursue dance professionally, I still thought of Pilates strictly as conditioning for dancers—after all, there were (and still are) Pilates Mat classes on the schedules at most major dance studios around the city, and many of my fellow dancers were pursuing or had already received their certifications.

With this mindset, I walked into my first day of teacher training at Balanced Pilates expecting to see a room full of dancers. I didn’t. Instead, I found a room of performers, athletes, yogis, artists, and only a handful of dancers. It is from that room and in my observations and teaching of classes at Balanced Pilates that I’ve come to understand one very important thing: Pilates is for everybody. Or, to rephrase that, Pilates is for every body.

Created by Joe Pilates and originally titled Contrology, the Pilates method focuses on building core strength and using resistance and opposition to properly align and support the body. Due to his sickly nature as a child, Joe Pilates became something of a fitness enthusiast and studied every form of exercise available to him. In the early twentieth century, while working in England as a self-defense instructor for Scotland Yard, Pilates was interned there with other German nationals during World War I. He worked as a nurse in the internment camps, where he started experimenting with the use of bedsprings and resistance to begin physical rehabilitation on bedridden patients.

These experiments were the beginnings of some of the equipment still used in Pilates today, and the principles of the Pilates method remain the same: building core and back strength, lengthening and leaning out muscles, improving flexibility, conditioning the body, preventing injuries, promoting efficient movement, and challenging both mind and body in a gentle, low-impact manner. This list of concepts brings me back to that important lesson I learned upon starting my Pilates training. Pilates is meant for everybody; I’d be hard-pressed to find an individual that would not benefit from a strong core and back, increased flexibility, and overall improved body awareness. Put simply, we use our bodies for everything we do, and improving the mechanics and efficiency of our bodies will always serve us well.

Even more than that, though, is the promise that Pilates works for every body. The equipment and props used in a class or private session are geared toward making the exercises more accessible to the clients present. Sometimes that accessibility will look like adding springs or putting an exercise onto the reformer to add resistance in an assistive way. Sometimes it will look like adding a Magic Circle, free weights, or other small props to further challenge a client. Pilates will work differently for everyone, depending on the body’s limitations, strengths, and imbalances. No matter what, I believe (and I assume my fellow Pilates instructors would agree) that there is a variation of nearly every Pilates exercise that will work for the client at hand—or, if a specific exercise doesn’t work for that client in any variation, the sheer number of Pilates exercises in existence means that the instructor will easily guide the client to a different exercise that achieves the same muscular activation and/or strengthens the body in the same places.

On any given teacher training weekend, I can be heard exclaiming “I love Pilates!” at least a few times. Usually, this exclamation comes in response to that “aha!” moment when I’ve personally discovered what an exercise activates in my body, or when I’ve discovered how to help one of my classmates achieve that same activation. Every individual’s “ideal” Pilates class will look a little different. But the satisfaction of finding the way the body can work—really, the way the body should work—is an experience that, thankfully, can be shared by anyone who studies Pilates.

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