People can be understandably nervous about starting Pilates practice. Stepping into the unknown can be daunting for anyone, especially if it involves joining a group class full of people you have never met before. However, there is one particular worry that I hear a lot, and it is one that I think needs addressing…
“I’ve never done Pilates before and I’d feel too self conscious going to a group class. Everyone will be better than me / slimmer than me / I don’t have the body for Pilates”
There is a misconception that everyone in the Pilates world is the next LuluLemon model, preened in their active wear and effortlessly gliding from Teaser to Boomerang with balletic grace.
This misconception is hardly surprising. Type “#pilates” into Instagram and you will be greeted with a wall of images of people in crop tops, demonstrating beautifully held Teaser positions amongst exotic backgrounds or in pristine white studios. But these images rather miss the point of what Pilates is all about.
When I’m teaching, I can often be heard explaining that it’s not about the destination or final position – it’s how we get there that matters. That much Instagrammed Teaser, for example…it isn’t all about the perfect V shaped sitting position. It’s about how we use our bodies to correctly draw us up into the position and then, with control, lower us back down. Engaging the correct muscles and executing the movement with complete control. That’s where the real work happens!
When we start Pilates we are all beginners. It doesn’t matter if you are a trained athlete, hobby exerciser or have never stepped into a gym or studio in your life. When you step onto the mat for your first Pilates session I am still going to make sure you can achieve your single and double knee folds with correct technique, maintaining neutral spine, engaging transversus abdominis & pelvic floor, and avoiding rib flare or abdominal doming, before we even contemplate the full abdominal series. And guess what…it’s not always the experienced exerciser that masters it the quickest!
People often ask “Will this exercise give me a flat stomach?” or “Will this exercise give me slimmer thighs”. Pilates works the whole body; you will gain strength, stability, mobility and most importantly an understanding of how to move well. It’s not about zoning in on a single area, but about developing the body as a whole to help us move better and feel better. When we focus on a flat stomach, or the seemingly coveted “thigh gap”, I question whether we place too much emphasis on how we look as a marker for physical fitness, rather than how we feel and move.
Internationally respected Pilates teacher Anula Maiberg hits the nail on the head when she points out that you will not find terms such as “thin” or “long & lean” in Joseph Pilates’ writing about his method, nor a chapter on how to get flat abs1. To believe that this is the goal is rather missing the point of the method and what it sets out to achieve.
In Return to Life Through Contrology* Joseph Pilates writes:
“Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the sprit…..As we mature, we find ourselves living in bodies not always complimentary to our ego. Our bodies are slumped, our shoulders are stooped, our eyes are hollow, our muscles are flabby and our vitality extremely lowered, if not vanished. This is but the natural result of not having uniformly developed all the muscles of our spine, trunk, arms and legs in the course of pursuing our daily labours and office activities.”2
I believe this quote shows that he viewed his method as being for all people from all walks of life. The every day person, and not just the preserve of the slim and physically active. The Mum, the beginner, the improver, the career person, the retired person...whoever you are, whatever shape you are and whatever your motivation. Real results for REAL people.
The point I am trying to make is this: Pilates is a method for each and every one of us. Step into a Pilates class and you will be greeted warmly by a group of real people, just like you.
So go ahead, make that booking, join a class and take your first step with confidence that you will be warmly welcomed into a community that is there for EVERY body!
*”Contrology” is the term Joseph Pilates used to describe his method, that we now refer to as “Pilates”
Anula Maiberg blog in Pilates Style 09Oct2017 https://www.pilatesstyle.com/anula-cc-blog/JH Pilates & WJ Miller. Return to Life Through Contrology, 1945