Pilates

Pilates: mat work versus studio?

I am often asked what is the difference between Pilates Mat Work and Studio classes?
I started Pilates whilst living and dancing in New York in the seventies, a class then consisted of a warm up with mat work, progressing on to the rest of the apparatus. There is some old footage of Pilates teaching mat work at the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, Massachusetts. To my knowledge, there were no regular mat classes in New York at that time.

It was not until the late eighties that mat work classes became popular. Here in the UK, they were being taught in some Dance schools as part of the curriculum. There was nothing available to the wider public until the early nineties when they became more popular in Health clubs and gyms due to media and press exposure on the benefits of the Pilates Method.

Pilates mat work classes vary depending upon the experience of the teacher, the depth of their training, their background whether it be dance related or that of a personal trainer/ gym instructor. They are more affordable than a studio session which generally tailors the session to suit the needs of each client. The studio ratio of teacher to student is much smaller (four or five clients to one teacher). In some studios, each client works separately with the teacher changing their class content as and when needed. The ideal maximum number for a Mat work class is 12, anything larger makes it much harder for the teacher to pay particular attention to each student as their main focus is to keep the class moving, maintaining a steady flow with everybody moving together. Classes within a group setting like this can be fun, challenging and or relaxing depending on the level and focus of the class. A smaller mat work class with an experienced teacher is highly advisable but unlikely to find in a Health club or gym where they need healthy numbers in order to make in financially viable.

If you are injured, want to work on specifics or extend and deepen your practice, then a studio session is advised. The equipment enhances the work and can be used either in a rehabilitative context or, as a way to challenge the clientʼs balance, stamina, strength and flexibility. It adds more diversity in choices of exercises due to the different apparatusʼ. Having said that, some advanced mat work classes can be equally challenging because there is no equipment to rely on.

Whichever you choose, both promote the Pilates principles of breathing, coordination, stamina, flow, precision, centering and promote a sense of grounding and a better aligned body.

Pilates for injury rehabilitation

Often it is injury that brings our clients to us for the first time, and it is true to say that of our teachers the majority have experienced some sort of injury before coming to Pilates, and ultimately incorporating it into their lives.

Because Pilates has become so renowned for promoting trunk stability it is increasingly being recommended by GPs, by surgeons, as a rehabilitative approach to people who have been injured.

The core is key. We see sportspeople, dancers, as well as regular people who have neither background – even sportspeople might not necessarily have a good core because if you have a given sport in which you train habitually you tend to build up certain muscles and overlook others; it creates an imbalance, and that makes you vulnerable to injury.

The first thing we do is make people aware of their alignment, and then to change the way they move – their biomechanics: it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at a desk or swinging a golf club, acquiring this sort of understanding – of movement from your own perspective – has to be done by slow, careful, sensory work.

As with most things – prevention is better than cure, and regular practice will make people less vulnerable to injury in the first place. Really what we try to do – try to facilitate – is make people responsible for their own bodies.

With rehabilitation the aim is to restore normal everyday movement…whether that’s walking the dog; going to the gym, or playing sport at a given level. In more elderly people it’s about improving balance; enhancing their confidence and quality of life.

It’s always good to work with physiotherapists on the specifics of a given injury, to have that connection. Then, when that’s been established we can go beyond it and work holistically, determining in the process why an injury happened; what went wrong; what can be learned and ultimately preventing it from happening again.

Timing is crucial, if you begin Pilates too soon it can be detrimental: in the acute phase, when there is pain and inflammation, what’s needed is rest. Only once your practitioner has given the go ahead should a programme of rehabilitation begin.

Sometimes people come in and have an expectation that they will be ‘fixed.’  That’s not what Pilates is about – it’s about working together to understand what the body needs, with the teacher facilitating that process. It’s also about achieving dynamic stability and learning to move with ease, with freedom, towards a natural grace.

Everyone that walks into the studio is unique: their posture; alignment; age; life circumstances and other variables are particular only to them. That’s what makes teaching Pilates so interesting – it’s about working with the individual and ultimately finding ways for the body to heal itself.