So what’s been happening?
I read an article recently written by a local Yoga teacher, in which she expressed a sense of feeling ‘lost’ in the world of Yoga at the moment. In a moment of time where people post pictures of themselves in extraordinary poses (which in itself seems very anti-yoga and extremely egotistical) on social media, a moment of time where people are ‘performing poses’ in heat or at speed on order to burn calories and get more flexible, she wrote about watching a practise she is passionate about become less and less about finding a moment of stillness and peace in postures and the evolution of strength on body and mind as a result, and become more about showing off and pushing the body further and further towards physical trauma.
I couldn’t have agreed with her more. Not only have I watched Yoga become lost in a fast and stress fuelled, ego-driven social environment, I have watched Pilates go the same way.
I first fell in love with Yoga in 1997, when I was attending classes with my Mum. Having suffered from profound anxiety, which I only found relief from in running; I felt that Yoga offered me a gentle and soothing hug type of exercise! Here I found movement that made my muscles feel relaxed but strong, and the attention given to each pose demanded concentration and stillness with deep and powerful breath work. During Savasana, I felt my poor tired body fall heavily into the mats and let go of the pressure to be skinny after suffering from an eating disorder for the previous 3 years.
In 1998 I had my head turned by Pilates while studying Sports Science. The biomechanics that became my life’s work seemed to be applied more to the Pilates practise than to Yoga and as such, I postponed my Yoga Teacher Training until much later and trained to be a Pilates Teacher.
But as I honed my skills in the Pilates studio that I established in 2003, I watched Yoga go the way of the fitness industry, with so much emphasis on getting skinny, getting ‘more bendy’, achieving the next physically challenging balance or contortion or worse, promises that participants could ‘get a better sex life!’ Hello?
I was upset with Yoga for letting this happen and I dug my heels into the world of Pilates; dedicating my work to supporting people develop the most functional, pain free and strong body that they were capable of. I have worked with the very young to the very old, from the super fit, to the very poorly and I have used the Pilates principles to adapt movement to suit the person or persons that I had in front of me.
But now, I see Pilates being stripped down and disrespected in the same way that Yoga has been. Recently I have heard stories of Gyms teaching Fitness Professionals with no Pilates qualifications, how to use a reformer so that they can run group classes. You can now learn the apparatus, before learning the mat work. There is ‘hot’ Pilates, for burning more calories, I saw an advert for doing Pilates on an angle so that you are working your body against gravity for increased muscle work and so on. I am not against progression, far from it; but in both practises, it seems that the original point of them has been lost.
Yoga is a peaceful and energising practise that gently strengthens both body and mind; while Pilates was developed for the same purposes, Joseph Pilates also adapted movements from Dance and Gymnastics as well as Martial Arts to prevent pain and discomfort caused by bad posture. He emphasised muscle balance and adapted exercises to suit the person or persons that he was working with.
I have also noticed recently, a misuse of the title ‘Classical Pilates Teacher’. Classical Pilates Teacher, does not mean just teaching the strong, powerful and dynamic exercises made infamous by Romana Kryzanowska and Lolita San Miguel et al. Classical Pilates/Traditional Pilates means, using the principles and adapting the exercises to suit the person you are working with i.e. exactly what Joe would have done. Now don’t start yelling at me about the classical repertoire, I am well aware of it; I just think that the language being used is driving some restriction in people’s methods and that they are hiding behind set sequences rather than adapting for each client.
The people, who participate in Pilates today, are not the dancers and the gymnasts that Joseph and Clara worked with in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. We work with people who sit for 8 hours a day, then sit in a car, then sit on the sofa. They may do a class once a week; they need movement adapted to suit their bodies and help them be the best that they could be using a ‘modified’ version of the original exercises.
Traditional Yoga is also guilty of ignoring science/biomechanics and some teachers are still trying to squeeze their participants into poses that are fundamentally unsafe. Twisting the knees and sending shearing forces running up through the spinal column. Yoga can also be modified to suit the participant. You may say that Bikram and the like is a modification for the super fit, but if the original principles have been lost, is it still Yoga?
I am not against an evolution of a practise to make it better; but I do have an issue with taking something peaceful and mindful and making it too fast, too soon, for most people. I have an issue with squeezing people into a room to participate in a technique which has long been considered appropriate for back pain, only to have the person leading the session be an unqualified individual teaching movements by rote with no accounting for individuality.
I finished my Yoga Training only so that I could start teaching a practise that I fell in love with so many years ago, in the way that it was originally intended; with postures progressing gradually as your body relaxes and strengthens, as your mind learns to settle and calm and your understanding of the practise evolves. I have returned to teaching Pilates privately and training teachers in both disciplines to understand the that the point of both was control and breath, in Pilates; muscle balance and in both, flexibility and strength.
I think here, in some cases, commercialism has overtaken the underlying principle of being healthy. Drinks to help build muscle, which otherwise probably wouldn’t be there because it would not be that body’s natural state. There are adverts for pills promising quick weight-loss, promoted by models of slim build. People shouting on social media that their technique will get your bigger muscles and less fat and a better marriage and more money…..
I digress. My point is, in this world that seems to be getting faster and faster, Yoga could be providing a moment to reflect and be quiet and be strong in order to cope with it. I don’t know if I would have developed the inner strength that I found to get better and dedicate myself to movement and helping others; if I had not been taken to Yoga at 17 by a Mum who was at her wits end dealing with her exhausted and fragile daughter. Pilates has the power to refine and balance the human body! How great is that? But, it is only going to do that if the technique is applied to the individual who has taken the step to include Pilates in their life.
I cannot stop either discipline from being stripped apart and re-packaged as being ‘the next big thing’ for weight loss or muscle gain, but I as I look around me; I am more and more sure of what both practises mean to me and as such I will continue to train considerate and knowledgeable teachers, and work respectfully with each of my clients. They are all different, after all.