The other day, I was lunching at my favourite Italian hangout in Bondi. I go to the same place every day. Anyone who knows me will know the one. Without even asking, the barista knows what I want (a piccolo, of course) and exactly how I like it. And so it was, that with tiny glass in hand, I was approached by a fellow piccolo-fancier who inquired, Can Pilates actually change the shape of my body?
As I peered down at the caramel-coloured, caffeinated wonder in front of me, it occurred to me that what she was really asking was…
How can a once or twice a week session of ‘laid-back, no-real-sweat’ exercise actually do anything to a body shape?
Now, of course, Pilates is no silver bullet but, practised correctly, the simple answer to this question is YES. Pilates can absolutely change and enhance the shape of the body.
There’s a temptation in life to seek the easy path, find the nearest instructor, put your money down, complete the transaction and think it must be working. But if people were as picky about their wellness coaches as they are about their baristas, the results (just like my perfect piccolo) would be significant.
What I’m saying is that the deeper answer to this question is that Pilates needs to be personal. What works for me might very well not work for you, and vice versa. We all move differently. Our individual biomechanics are unique. Like fingerprints.
Like any taught physical activity, the instructor needs to know what the practise of Pilates feels like in his or her own body and how best to communicate this to a student. It is the challenge of the instructor to be able to recognise movement patterns that have been practised over time by a client (thus contributing to his/her current shape) and then work towards helping the client change or create new patterns of thought and movement.
In all my years of Pilates practise (both as a student and teacher) I’ve learned that every client has a completely unique body need that requires an intimate understanding from the Pilates instructor. You cannot simply walk into my studio, be shown a handful of exercises devised for another body altogether and expect the same results. Nearly 100 years ago, Joseph Pilates himself said,Contrology is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles. Nor does Contrology err either by over-developing a few muscles at the expense of all others with resulting loss of grace and suppleness, or a sacrifice of the heart or lungs. Rather, it was conceived to limber and stretch muscles and ligaments so that your body will be as supple as that of a cat and not muscular like that of the body of a brewery-truck horse, or the muscle-bound body of the professional weight lifter you so much admire at the circus.
When an instructor understands the way a client has been training (or not training) her body, the two parties must work together to help her achieve efficient and fluid use of control, so that her body will, in turn, work more efficiently. Once fluid and efficient movements become part of the client’s newbody strategy, new brain/body patterns have been established. This is where the magic happens. And it is incredible to watch the physical transformation.
It is when we breath correctly, work with the perfect amounts of precision and control throughout a Pilates session, and when the workout crafted by the instructor is not a haphazard choreography designed to simply fill an hour and make a client sweat, but a thoughtful and purposeful session, that we see change happen. Joseph Pilates’ words ring as true today as they did in 1926.
Like anyone you’re going to engage to care for your health and wellbeing, you need to take time to find someone who’s tuned into you, someone who can interpret the language of your movements. Someone who’s fluent in you. That’s right, even more so than your charming barista.