This week I had a new Pilates student come to the studio for her initial session. As always, we began by discussing her body, if she had any Pilates experience, and any issues I needed to be aware of before we began. She mentioned that her Doctor had told her she should be doing Pilates. (This makes me happy – not all Doctors get it yet – but many are seeing the light!) She also mentioned she’d tried mat class at a larger Christian chain of gyms. She let me know she did not have a great experience and then began to tell me her limitations. She informed me that she has some disc issues in her back. Given her specific issue, I let her know that I believed we should and would avoid flexion (forward bending exercises). These could exacerbate her issues. I could see she was relieved to hear this and maybe a little surprised that we could do Pilates without flexion.
It was later in the class as we were moving through double leg work on the footbar, single leg work on the footbar and a lats and abdominal series with the hand straps – none of these require flexion, that she exclaimed, “This is just what I need!” She was pleasantly surprised with what we could do without c-curve and flexion. At that point, she informed me while at the larger Christian gym, she had been told after a mat class full of flexion, “Pilates is not for everyone and maybe Pilates is not for you!” I was horrified to hear that! Pilates is for everybody! Pilates should meet the student where they are and work with their abilities and limitations. It is not the student’s job to adapt to the Pilates routine of the day.
What that statement from an instructor I do not know told me was this instructor either did not know how to modify the standard mat Pilates exercises or was not interested in taking the time to do so. This is not acceptable in my book. There are many fitness programs out there that pre-program and teach set workouts. THIS IS NOT PILATES. It made me sad to learn that several years ago this woman took her Doctor’s advice and sought out Pilates to help her back and was pushed away. It made me sad to realize that it took the coaxing of a friend and several years for her to give Pilates another try.
I don’t mind admitting, when I was first certified and began teaching Pilates, my knowledge was much less than it is today. I, too, would have been initially stumped by what to do with no flexion. BUT the big difference here is I would have made it my job to figure ought a solution. This is how we learn in Pilates. We take on new and different bodies and we learn what works and what does not. We do research. We reach out to our peers for suggestions. We take workshops and read articles online. We don’t discourage students from trying because of our lack of knowledge or experience. We learn together.
That is one of the parts I love about my job – the challenge of a new student. Sometimes I need to figure out how to challenge a particularly fit student or modify for a knee replacement or reign in a student who wants push the pace and over recruit the larger muscles. There is always something if we are in tune and looking for it. That is part of the job in my opinion. This is why I will always be learning.
I am pleased this woman found me and had a positive experience with Pilates. I’m pleased she’s excited to come back and keep getting stronger in a safe, encouraging environment. That is what Pilates should be … for everybody!