Have you ever heard a Classical teacher say, “Mat is the Method”? Or “Pilates is a system”? In Mr. Pilates’ book Return to Life through Contrology, he wrote, “Contrology (Pilates) is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Through Contrology, you first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body. Then, through proper repetition of its exercises, you gradually and progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities.” He outlined a series of exercises that could be done daily, without any additional equipment except maybe a mat, that promised to bring this complete control of your body. Mr. Pilates believed that people should become autonomous with these exercises to reap the benefits in their lives. But these exercises are challenging – and not always appropriate for every body. Pilates teachers struggle with teaching these exercises and often leave them entirely out of sessions.
Mr. Pilates recognized the difficulties people had in mastering these exercises and consequently designed contraptions and equipment that would aid in the progression to the Contrology exercises. Yet it was always his intention to keep his matwork as “The Method” as it was; practicing these exercises daily, the student develops that “natural rhythm and coordination” in which he believed.
In Classical Pilates’ beginner session format, 20 minutes is devoted to the mat, 20 minutes to Reformer, and 10 minutes for “individual needs”. This session format progressively builds strength, stretch, stability, and increases stamina. Many beginner matwork and Reformer exercises are challenging for some students. The 10 minutes of Individual Needs address issues that the teacher saw needed work from Part A and Part B. The remaining time for Endings is to cool down, stretch as needed, and generally bring the workout to a vertical position.
So how do we accomplish those exercises that seem out of reach? Take The Hundred, for example. There are many reasons why a person cannot, or should not, perform this exercise. If someone with neck issues, lower back pain, or general weakness tries to perform the “ideal” form of this exercise, there is almost a guarantee of a crash and burn.
As teachers, we can progress students through a myriad of “modifications” on the mat. But how about using the Cadillac trapeze to take the weight of the legs or the shoulder blocks and headrest of the Reformer to support the forward curl to alleviate neck strain? These tactics keep the student in the “ideal” position while learning the skills necessary to perform the exercise safely.
Rolling exercises are also challenging (and often discouraging) for students. Using the Roll Down or Push Thru Bar on the Cadillac as support and assistance go a long way to build the sequential articulation of the spine and the strength necessary to accomplish the beginner exercises The Rollup, Rolling Like a Ball, Teaser, and Seal.
Pelvic stability is a typical beginner problem that can quickly lead to injury. A student who rocks and rolls their hips in One Leg Circle can learn pelvic stability by using the Wunda or High Chair as proprioceptive feedback in the seated or standing pumping exercises. Students learn the actions necessary to stabilize their pelvis and move their legs independently in a safe and supported position. Then, they can take that knowledge and use it in One Leg Circle successfully.
Swan and Swimming are also very challenging for beginners. Getting the lift necessary from the upper back, rather than relying on the lumbar extensors, is a skill that challenges even experienced Pilates students. Teaching this extension with the assistance of the Roll Down or Push Thru Bar allows the student to successfully lift the head/neck/shoulders without depending on the lower back.
Teachers should always include Matwork in their sessions, but for many reasons, leave it out. Classical Pilates stresses the requirement to “teach the body in front you” while working towards mastery. Using the equipment can assist the student in the “ideal” positioning of the body in the matwork exercises while progressively and safely building the strength and learning the skills necessary to perform the “ideal” execution. So don’t be afraid of teaching mat because “Mat is the Method”!
Check out our Contrology (classical) apparatus!