The word Pilates is not a regulated term and therefore is open to the interpretation of those teaching it. I believe that certain criteria must be met in order to maintain the integrity of the method. A true Pilates session should have its foundation in the exercises created by Joseph Pilates and use the equipment he invented.
All this while staying as true as possible to his order of exercises and respecting his intention for the method. Joseph Pilates designed his method to work as a system of exercise, and for each exercise to build on the one before it. He intended for students to get a challenging workout that improved their health and enabled them to live more active, fulfilling lives. There are a lot of great ways to exercise but doing true Pilates means much more than working out in order to look good, and therefore it is important to distinguish what is Pilates from what is not.
Before his death in 1967, Joseph Pilates worked directly with a group of first generation teachers. Unfortunately, Mr. Pilates didn’t set down a specific teacher training program and therefore we are left only with the history he left behind in books and video footage, as well as the first-hand accounts of those lucky enough to have worked with him directly. This information has been translated into many training programs that reflect different styles of those who learned Pilates from Joseph Pilates himself, or from the first generation teachers.
Some people argue about the merits of classical versus contemporary Pilates, sometimes referred to as east coast or west coast, respectively. Classical Pilates advocates staying true to Mr. Pilates’ original work without deviation. However, even within the classical Pilates teaching community there is disagreement as to what that actually means. Therefore, I believe in educating oneself in the classical method and then staying as true to these original roots as possible.
While the contemporary Pilates approach has changed things considerably, my real issue lies with those who changes things so drastically that they really are not teaching Pilates at all but are misrepresenting themselves in order to benefit from the popularity of the Pilates name. True Pilates is wonderful because it gives great results while being safe and beneficial for the body long term. I believe these benefits and the safety of the method decrease the farther it gets from the original method.
While my foundation is in classical Pilates, and I truly think it’s the best, I also know a lot of great teachers who have a more contemporary background and I do see the value in adding some variation, within reason. But because Pilates isn’t a regulated term (in 2001 a judge ruled that Pilates was a generic term, similar to yoga) how does one determine what constitutes a “reasonable variation”?
In order to preserve the method, one not only needs to stick very close to the original exercises and order (and understand the genius behind it), but these exercises must be done in a controlled manner while working from the center (abs, back and butt) to execute precise movements. This is what makes the exercises so effective. Joseph Pilates himself said “A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of doing sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.” When incorporating any variations it’s important to ask yourself what your intention is, and does it align with what Joe’s intention was.
First generation teacher Jay Grimes says “trust the work”. An instructor must understand that there isn’t a need to change the method and make it better because it’s good- it’s great- just the way it is. But if an instructor understands this and choses to add a variation here and there, then I think this approach allows for a little playfulness and creativity, while still respecting the integrity of the method. I certainly believe these variations need to be done carefully and sparingly because when you adapt it so much as to make it unrecognizable from what Joseph Pilates himself created, then why call it Pilates at all?