Forging a Path Beyond the Pilates Boundaries

Imagine for a moment that everything your professional career is built on – the things that defined you as a teacher – became irrelevant. Visualize the work you put into your practice coming to feel outdated or unable to resonate with today’s students. 

In 2007, I was completing my observation hours at a Classical Pilates studio and was approached by the owner after she had finished her class. Having watched her teach effortlessly, I inquired how long she had taught and what she felt her secret sauce was. She told me that she had been teaching for more than 20 years and that her strict approach to teaching and adhering to the method was the key to her success. I remember heading home for the day and pondering on how her style was so completely different than what I had been taught. I remember thinking how I was never going to fit into the Pilates mold, and that perhaps the method was not right for me. This chance encounter with one teacher had changed everything. 

Months later, after observing a few other classes, a visiting teacher who had just completed teaching a class sat next to me and struck up a conversation. She suggested I continue to learn from the best, explore movement, and forge my own path. Her comments were so contradictory to the studio owner. I felt that perhaps this Pilates thing could work after all. I took her recommendation and enrolled in one of the most highly regarded teacher training programs there was at the time. I loved every minute of it and absorbed everything. 

The training was brilliant, and I knew I was standing on a solid foundation. But strangely enough, I felt more like I was imitating someone else’s work than that I was being authentic to myself. What I did not understand until much later is that the education was a model to follow, not something to duplicate. It took me years to build the confidence to step outside the Pilates boundaries and forge my own path.

For decades, the consensus has been that to be true to Joseph Pilates’ original work, we must continue to teach exactly how he had, strictly adhering to what has been passed on from his first-generation students.  

Is it wrong of us to be sealed in our echo chambers, where we only hear from those who have taught and validated us? What happens when new approaches threaten our beliefs and methods? It can be easy to look at everyone else as pariahs. The kind of conviction that is a common response to external threats has suppressed our industry and kept many teachers form adopting new approaches. 

Complacency, fear, and apprehension that challenge our core beliefs tend to melt away when we look beyond the borders. Shaped opinions and strict methods hold us back, stifling not only our own growth but that of our students. Although the obstacles to growth are hard to overcome, the first few hurdles truly give us the freedom to improve our practice in measurable ways. 

Early on in my career, I began to explore movement in ways that defied the conventional wisdom of what can be done with the Reformer. I removed the springs, placed the box on the frame (rather than on the carriage), stood inside the frame, and discovered limitless ways to teach movement. Today, I have discovered the power of movement exploration, how paramount it is to growth, and how crucial it is to share this discovery. 

When you learn something new and are surprised, how do you react? What I have discovered is that students feel self-assured with their abilities when they do not have preconceived notions about Pilates. However, some seasoned teachers and students trained in the Classic method – when first experiencing my teachings and noticing only the stark differences between my approach and what they have been taught – are often highly critical.

Why are we apprehensive about exploring new ways to teach movement? Why do so many teachers subscribe to a strict model of “Classical only”? It is said that we must unlearn what we have learned if we are to become an innovator. My quest to connect with teachers who explore movement and trust in the process has been a remarkable experience. The innovation and creativity continue to inspire me daily.  

The key question is how much change is necessary. Should I completely overhaul my practice, or can I simply altar a few of my exercises? Although fine-tuning and adapting will always vary from teacher to teacher, with each student/client situation presenting its own unique challenges, trial and error is truly the only key to success. 

Remember that those who define themselves as the authority, viewing movement explorers as disruptors, will continue to perpetuate an elitist and nonconforming Pilates industry. The more we learn and explore, the stronger we are at removing our blinders to our own limitations. The ability to think outside the boundaries in a rapidly changing world gives us an edge. 

When we surround ourselves with people who agree with our teaching principles, unfortunately, this prevents us from challenging our own thought processes. The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our clients’ bones do. 

Joseph Pilates was an inventor, creator, and movement explorer. What he created in his lifetime has given us a brilliant model to follow. He was a progressive thinker, someone who broke past the current boundaries of movement. Why shouldn’t we follow in his footsteps? To be the best, continue to explore, further develop your skills, and improve upon his original work. Never put movement in a box, claiming it should never evolve! Always question what you know, be authentic and adventurous, and dare to explore!

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