What is the goal of Pilates
What are we trying to achieve for our clients when we teach them Pilates?
This is a big question, but it’s worth asking. There are lots of opinions, I’m not here to say I’m right and you’re wrong. I just like asking questions. I often used the analogy of the tracking or alignment of a car and the effect this has on the how the tyres wear to explain one of the goals of Pilates exercises, especially an activity like Footwork on the Reformer. If the tracking of my car is out of alignment, I can use the steering wheel to ‘correct’ this imbalance and keep the car moving forward in traffic, not moving sideways like a crab. What if the cueing we use when teaching an exercise like Footwork is no better than using the steering wheel to keep the car moving forward but does nothing to address the real issue of realigning the wheelbase of the car? What if it stops the tyres from wearing out but has no real effect on the true ‘tracking’ or ‘alignment’.
Pilates may alleviate symptoms but does it ‘correct’ anything?
I guess another valid question is should we be trying to ‘fix’ any of our clients? Bonnie and I have had a chat about this one, and she seemed to recall Classical teachers stating that they didn’t believe Pilates as a system was meant to correct anything and yet I remember stories of people from all walks of life with issues or injuries being sent to see Jo, ‘he would fix them’. That’s a discussion for another blog. I don’t know about you, but ever since I started teaching 20 years ago my clients usually arrive with a list of things that they would like to improve, alter or edit about their bodies. My initial training years ago emphasised we should only work with ‘well’, ‘fit’ clients but in my 20years of teaching they are the unicorns, let me know if you find one. So most of the people who walk through our doors want to make a change. Can we, or should we, ‘correct’ misalignments or ‘tracking’ issues? We aren’t cars, no s**t Sherlock. We are made up of complex parts, muscles, bones, nerves, and the most complex of all, brains. We are a community of a trillion cells that choose to work together to carry us from birth to our last day. Sorry, I went off on a tangent then.
Aren’t we really just facilitators?
Don’t we just facilitate for our clients while they are the ones really doing the work? We use our visual skills to observe our clients form. We listen to their responses to our opening greeting when they arrive – how are you? We tune in to their body language to get a sense if their reply matches to how they present themselves – are they relaxed, stressed, worried, nervous. All of these factors inform how we work with them from week to week. Some of us will use our hands to utilise touch to get a feel for how their tissue is which can reveal tension they aren’t aware they are holding. We use our voices to communicate the modifications we would like to encourage based on what we see while they are still and when they move. They trust us to guide them to move better, mostly so they can feel better, stronger and often free from pain.
What if we’re just teaching them to become masters of compensation?
Does all our well-meaning guidance just help them cleverly manage their issues but does this really change anything permanently? Are we just helping them to hold the steering wheel straight, so they don’t move through their days sideways like a crab? Over the years many of my clients were happy with the results we achieved and did move better, with less pain but sometimes after a while the old issues seemed to reappear, they came back. Did we just keep the wheel straight and made no real change to the underlying problem? Had they become really good at compensating? These were the clients that I found most interesting. Why wasn’t Pilates on its own resolving their underlying issues? Maybe I’m asking too much. Pilates ideally should be practised twice a week minimum, but this is often an unobtainable goal. How can we best support our clients in creating the changes they seek?
What drives me.
Those clients whose old back issue recurred or the shoulder that would settle only to flare up again months often years later, they were the interesting ones. It didn’t seem fair to blame them for not keeping up with their exercises or missing too many sessions. For many years my primary box of tools was both Contemporary and Classical Pilates choreography. I was lucky that I was trained as a ‘hands-on’ teacher early on in NYC with Kelly Kane. It was also early on in my career as a teacher that I learned the power of words and Ideokinesis to influence the quality of a movement with Eric Franklin. Many of my clients from those early years had great results with the skills I passed on to them. What has always driven me were the ones who didn’t see benefits. Years ago a teacher in a studio in NYC made a statement I’ve never forgotten. It was along the lines of ‘If Pilates could fix everything we could all charge what we like’. These wise words reflect the reality that amazing as Pilates (both Classical and Contemporary) are, we can’t change everything for the better for our clients.
So now what?
Bonnie and I believe introducing screening take away some of the guesswork when assessing our clients at the start and often during their sessions, it’s more objective and can usually confirm what we suspect or see or help us realise we are barking up the wrong tree. When we introduced manual skills into our sessions with our clients (basic massage, kinesiotaping, trigger points) we got better results with our clients. When we started to understand how the nervous system protects nerves, we could use neurodynamics to spot this, and ‘tight’ muscles suddenly release enabling freer movements, these nerve techniques could also be practised at home. We could use Muscle energy techniques (MET’s) safely to restore balanced movement to joints before exercises and could be part of our client’s homework so they could continue to reinforce the changes made during their sessions. Now we cue less as our client’s physical organisation seems to change, really change. When we teach Footwork we don’t need to cue the pelvis to level it, after screening and applying some of our therapy based tools, it finds a level on its own. We use our therapy skills to support the possibility of real changes for our clients, practical changes that last and if we are getting it right, our clients won’t find themselves moving sideways like a crab.