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It's the principle of the matter...

One of the more common things for many Pilates teachers, studios and schools to promote, is that there are a set of ‘Rules’ or ‘Principles’ when practising this thing we call Pilates.

In fact, as a trainee Pilates teacher, it was one of the things I had to memorise to complete my examinations and training to become a qualified teacher.

Many studios, teachers and schools will list their principles like so:

We consider the Principles of Pilates to be central to how to approach the Method: These Principles are:

Breathing – Central to Pilates is the use of a specific breathing pattern that releases tension and makes every movement more effective.

Concentration – All Pilates exercises require thought, direction and understanding.

Centring – All Pilates movements begin from the centre of the body

Precision – All Pilates exercises are directed with precision to ensure maximum efficiency of both movement and energy.

Control – In Pilates, the control of all muscles is required for the body to work in harmony.

Flowing Movement – The smooth continuous movement during Pilates exercises helps to increase range of motion and strength.

Alignment – Pilates helps develop awareness of the body’s position and ensures a balance of the body and movement.

Commitment – To achieve results, like any sport or passion, requires dedication and practice.

Looking around at various studios you will see that some have six Principles, some have eight, some have 10. In the past, I have also promoted these Principles as a motivating force to the way I approach classes. 

Not what you think…

All are simply variations on a theme or an idea that Pilates is something that you cannot perform mindlessly. It may surprise you, however, that these Principles are not something laid out by Joseph Pilates himself. The idea of a set of over-riding principles came in 1980, just over a decade after Joseph’s death, from one of the first books ever published about the Pilates Method. This book, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, written by Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen, two students of Romana Kryzanowska (herself a student of Joseph), was really the first attempt to try to capture the essence of Joseph’s Contrology method. 

The Traditional Pilates Principles

It was a ground-breaking and important thing to happen for the industry as it brought the Pilates Method to a wider audience. In the book, Friedman and Eisen distilled the important points of the Method as they understood it into six Principles — concentration, control, centre, flow, precision, and breathing.

As is always the way, these concepts grew and morphed with different schools, studios and teachers having their own spin or take on these themes with different wording or emphasis. The ideas were adapted or expanded to suit local environments or situations, but the general agreement seems to be there should be basic principles or guidelines because… ummm… reasons. 

I usually find there is more emphasis on the idea that there should be principles and less on the reason behind them.

For me, the importance of these original principles has now waned. Some of these ideas are simply old fashioned and haven’t kept pace with science and our understanding of the human body. Some of these Principles are used as a stick to punish or admonish students. They are not inclusive. They do not promote learning.  Some are simply (and demonstrably) untrue. The wording is usually vague or self-serving. They come with subtext, history and bias.

Maybe it’s time to start afresh. Maybe each teacher needs to have their own ‘rules’ that they develop over time for their own style, fitting their own environment, history and bias. So here, resplendent with my own bias, I propose…

…the new Principles…

… for Pilates with Dan.

Awareness – Be aware of yourself, of what you’re doing and what the basic idea of the exercise is.

Know how to make a move more achievable or where it needs to go to. Be conscious of how your body is responding and where it feels the need to go.  Be aware of the history of the Pilates Method, the context it was created in and the environment that has sustained it.

Practise – the Pilates Method is a movement skill. All skills take practise.

Understand that to become better with physical movement you need to practise. The more you practise the better you will get. Be honest and accountable with this practise. Form a habit of your Pilates practise and show up.  Show up to your homework sessions. Attend classes. Be there and do ‘The Work’. Ask questions. Approach a session willing to learn.

Fail – to learn new skills mistakes will be made.  And that’s ok.

The important step is already made in the first attempt. You’re not expected to get anything right the first time you attempt it – ever.  In fact, there is no right or wrong. Only attempts. The 100th attempt will always look different when compared to the first. Learn the move and practise it – even if you don’t ‘get it right’.

Enjoy – You should not suffer through a practise or be bored by it.

To achieve great things I believe you need to enjoy them.  Enjoy the time you have set aside to practise these skills.  Enjoy experiencing how your body moves and responds to movement both with and without the Pilates equipment.  Smile, laugh, groove.

Move – The practise of Pilates is not a stationary one.

It involves moving. Moving in as many ways as you can and as much as possible. Within your session, we need to flex and extend, turn and bend, twist and straighten. It also involves change. Your sessions will change over time with your practice. What you do in your 100th lesson will be radically different from your first. The Pilates Method itself inherently changes and evolves over time, so can you.

What are your Principles? Have they changed over the years?

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