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  • Marcia

The Value of Classical Pilates

I want to make it very clear, before you read one line more, I am in no way claiming superiority in one form of Pilates or movement versus another. I'm classically trained, and so I teach classically. My understanding of the work is classical, and so I speak from that place. I speak of and from my love of The Method. I think the differentiation of classical or not is important only in so much as it assists the Pilates student to determine what 'flavor' of Pilates suits their body and mind best, and to help teachers of all stripes understand the root from which all the work is created.

In the beginning there was a man named Joseph Pilates. He created a system of exercises and named them Contrology. He taught this system until his death in 1967, after which time things started to get a little funny in the world of Contrology. For starters, we stopped calling it Contrology and instead called it Pilates, an homage to the creator (though just as confusing a term to the outsider as contrology, in my opinion). Then his students began spreading out all over the world and teaching their experience of Pilates to others. Some stayed true to the original teachings of Mr. Pilates, some made changes based on their view of the work and the body. And thus the classical vs. contemporary Pilates argument began.

Here's my two cents. I've been a student of the classical work for a long time. I've been a teacher of the classical work for a long time. And in that time I have marveled again and again at the beautiful simplicity of Mr. Pilates' Method. The deeper I look the more I see. Every 'discovery' science and medicine makes about the body I find already there in the Method, waiting for me to understand it. Again and again I've been humbled, realizing that if something wasn't working it was my understanding of it, not the work itself that was at fault. This has allowed me to be a devoted student for decades while marveling daily as I slowly unwrap the mastery he enveloped into such deceptively simple movement. I study at the feet of the man who's work keeps him alive and vibrant and relevant in an age more in need of his knowledge than ever.

And his work was more than the body. That, I think, is the biggest misunderstanding of Pilates, be it classical or contemporary. Joseph Pilates' goal was nothing less than the seamless union of body, mind, and spirit. His aim was not mere physical fitness - the washerboard abs and tight assests that 'core' work is synonymous with today. Nowhere in his writings (Return to Life, Your Health) does he entreat you to perform his exercises to get a bikini ready body. Let's let him tell us what he was about:

"With body, mind, and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person? Moreover, such a body freed from nervous tension and over-fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind that is always fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living. Personal problems are clearly thought out and calmly met.

The acquirement and enjoyment of physical well being, mental calm, and spiritual peace are priceless to their possessors if there be any so fortunate living among us today. However it is the ideal to strive for, and in our opinion, it is only through Contrology that this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind, and spirit can ever be attained." - Joseph H Pilates, Return to Life

These do not sound like the words of a man looking to get you ready for swimsuit season. This is the manifesto of a man with the health of humankind on his mind - health that encompasses the whole person. So to employ the method purely for physical gains is to throw out half the benefit of the work. I'm already composing another post on this topic, I'm very passionate about it!

But this is my chief argument in favor of staying true to classical Pilates. In a world that needs wellness and integration of mind, body and spirit more than ever before, why would we choose to weaken the powerful benefits of the work? Benefits that I can personally attest to at every point (yup, more blogging). The Pilates Method achieves the goal set by its creator to "develop the body uniformly, correct wrong postures, restore physical vitality, invigorate the mind, and elevate the spirit." I'll take that over any kind of workout, any day of the week.

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