Control vs Flow

“Don’t bang the carriage,” my Pilates teacher said 11 years ago, the first time I attempted footwork on the Reformer, which I fumbled through clumsily.

“Keep up the pace,” she challenged when I tried to mitigate the crashing sound by slowing down. “Flow is one of the six principles of Pilates. So is control. Use your mind and middle to quiet the Reformer, but never stop moving.”


Lately, I’ve been reflecting on those earliest lessons when I was just a beginner because it helps me relate to new clients and is an exercise in humility, which is good for business and my humanity.

“Never stop moving?” No problem. I’m a person who’s always on the go. I typically work six days a week teaching Pilates, and when I scale back to just five, I busy myself with my hobbies—singing, writing, and taking Pilates—to fill my time. 

While controlling my body has never been easy for me—I nixed the DJ and the dance floor at my wedding, so I’d be remembered as a beautiful bride and not the one with bad moves—I’ve always loved being in control. With me (a big sister), bossiness is a given. And it’s a trait that’s served me well in the teaching field, too, although I’ve learned it’s paired best with a side of compassion. 

Yet, as much as I enjoy control, it’s hard for me to harness it even still. My parents often told me I was emotionally out of control as a kid. Control was an equally-frustrating, elusive matter when it came to anything physical, which explains why I was always picked last in PE.

Flow, meanwhile, is another word for continuous movement. When I was little, my mom called flexibility—the kind that means going with the aforementioned flow—the F-word. And it might as well have been a four-letter word to me because I was completely inflexible. Pilates has graced me with the other type of flexibility—giving me long, lean muscles that can move freely in any direction. But in my youth, a routine change caused a tantrum. Which is precisely why I’d be labeled “out of control.”

So how to make sense of these seemingly incongruous concepts: control, on the one hand, and flow, on the other? As my first Pilates teacher hinted at, control does not necessarily mean “at a sluggish pace.” Yes, it would be hard to find control when hurried, but one can certainly move with purpose without crawling. As far as flow is concerned, I think of Joseph Pilates’s famous adage: “Change happens through movement, and movement heals.” In other words, standing still—that thing I find so difficult to do, even as I continue to be a slower Pilates practitioner (it’s the perfectionist in me!)—is actually antithetical to change because change, like progress, requires activity and forward motion. It’s the opposite of inertia and can lead not only to growth but also to metamorphosis, which brings another famous Joe quotation to mind: “In thirty sessions, you’ll have a brand-new body.” And how right he was. Over a decade ago, I first noticed the shift in myself—an unmistakable lengthening, and I continue to see proof of the method’s efficacy in my students.

These two tenets, flow and control, aren’t as diametrically opposed as I initially thought but actually complement one another as my Pilates practice complements me. Three cheers for a brilliant pairing by the equally brilliant Mr. Pilates!

A dedicated Pilates student since 2011, Melissa Greenwood—a reformed couch potato—has been teaching the method since 2014. She holds a 600-hour classical, comprehensive Pilates certification from Strong Body Pilates in Los Angeles, where she lives with her Canadian husband who's also a teacher but of school-aged children. When she isn't using her MFA or Pilates credentials or busy with her hobbies (mentioned above), you might find Melissa enjoying a hard-earned night of TV watching—not binging—because: everything in moderation, even chocolate!



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