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.