Now before you all jump down my throats and point out that I do still teach, I would like to point out that this article is in response to a post by Carol Robbins on ‘PilatesIntel’ last week, which has the same title and many points within, that I can relate to. Please, let me explain.
Like Carol, I had a strong background and passion in sport; hers was equestrianism, mine; athletics and dancing. You could say that I had a strong ‘movement’ background and where Carol focussed on horses, I was fascinated by human mechanics and human capabilities. When my own function became impaired through overtraining and injury, I sought advice from physiotherapists and found myself at the mercy of a sports massage therapist. Despite the profound discomfort I experienced during treatment, I did find that my body felt more my own again and I was inspired to pursue training in the discipline, in order to help my team-mates and fellow competitors.
I trained with the London School of Sports Massage in 2001whilst undertaking my Sports Science (Biomechanics pathway) degree and was ready to set myself up as a therapist until I was asked to attend a Pilates class as a favour to a friend who was undertaking training. I was young and fit; I saw no reason why I wouldn’t be able to cope with lying on the floor and making a few shapes. The morning after the class I felt, weird. I couldn’t really define how my body felt but it was certainly different to how it normally felt any day of the week let alone after ‘training’. Colour me intrigued!
So I trained to teach Pilates and over the next 12 years I established a fully equipped studio and treatment centre with a team of staff and a loyal, regular client base and good reputation in the area. I then worked with an established training provider to offer Pilates (and subsequently Yoga) teacher training, biomechanics workshops, equipment training and CPD courses.
Now at this point, I should address the elephant in the room (if you like). I had an accident in 2014 and fractured my spine and damaged my pelvis leaving me with debilitating chronic pain and a great big question mark over my career. I sold the business because of my back injuries, but you know what? I had questions about what I was doing and why I was doing it for quite some time before that.
My main passion in life; has always been the way in which people move. How they are doing it and what the point is, functionally. Like Carol, I believe that moving for life has more value than moving for an hour. However, since the start of my career, I have noticed the industry change in such a way that I began to question whether I still had a role to play and whether there was still a space for me in an industry that seems to have become infused with ego, competition and goal-oriented participation (need I remind you of the 30 day plank competition?!). The advent of social media and the accessibility for all to information online has saturated the mind/body world with images of very slim lycra-clad young women and muscle bound men in cacophony of contortions accompanied by hashtags and marketing for pills and products promising health and vitality. My systematic and mechanical approach was looking a little obsolete against the enormous power of big business branding and marketing along with the availability of ‘Pilates’ to members of gyms, 20-30 people squeezed into a sweaty space all following a series of instructions with no possibility of correction or individualisation.
I always used to say, that I would personally train the 8 people I had in my class. Each body has its unique set of habits, genetic compositions and structural anomalies; the Pilates technique has the ability to address each and every one of these traits, but only if used appropriately and mindfully. The choreographed class leaves no time for that kind of refinement.
And thus I found myself drowning in an discipline that had moved away from Joe’s original concepts and my own enthusiasm for human function and was moving much more towards the fitness mentally of ‘faster and more, must be better’. I had to question my values and in the end, decided that I did not want to meet the demands of the masses and so with that and my own physical vulnerabilities (or maybe I just became ‘ring sour’ – look it up), I walked away….mostly.
I now ONLY take participants who have particular needs i.e. injury rehabilitation, pre and post operations, neurological disorders and dysfunction and illnesses such as cancer OR a willingness to accept that ‘good things come to those who think’! I can coax and guide and nurture my participants (often 121) towards being the most functional that their bodies will allow and more than that, I can TEACH (rather than instruct). Interestingly enough, my own back problems and the pain I was experiencing has diminished spectacularly since I stopped teaching ‘Pilates’, strengthening my belief that working the body with respect to its individual needs has a greater long-term physical health benefits than simply following a routine of muscular contractions with ‘questionable’ breath practises. (I have put that in quotations because I often find that many teachers, let alone the participants; are unsure of the rationale behind the breathing technique which in turn, often leads to it being used incorrectly or without benefit).
So have I given up teaching Pilates? Is what I teach actually Pilates? I adhere to the 6 principles and like Joe, I work with people in their unique individual form, but; it doesn’t look much like the Pilates that is being taught out there today.
So, you tell me.