A Rethink About Pilates as Just a Rehabilitation Method

Tue,Mar 24, 2015 at 01:20PM by

Many of us recognise that Joseph Pilates developed a very strong conditioning program for people that required mastery of mind and body. We forget that it took many years for him to develop the program and the mental and physical strength to perform to the precision and control he demanded of himself and others. Eve Gentry decided that the work needed softening and adaptation in order to be performed appropriately by those new to the work, which led her to develop the “pre-pilates work”. I understand that the work has been described as “pre-pilates” but I feel we need to remember that the ability to perform pilates should not be the end in itself. Rather, pilates is a means for us to achieve an ability to live and move freely, without pain. Accordingly we should be searching for another name for the preparatory work so that people can enter the conditioning stages of pilates.

What is probably more difficult for people to grasp is that pilates is described as a rehabilitation method by many people. However, when we talk about “rehabilitation” we need to remember that its definition is:

Rehabilitation is the act of restoring something to its original state, like the rehabilitation of the forest that had once been cleared for use as an amusement park. The noun rehabilitation comes from the Latin prefix re-, meaning “again” and habitare, meaning “make fit.”

My concern is that in pilates we are looking to do more than return someone to their original state, as often their original state was faulty. Rather we are looking to improve a person’s original state through improving their underlying physical and neural patterning responses.

Let me elaborate. Many of our clients need to understand their own bodies more, understand posture and their placement in space in order to move with anything akin to precision and grace. I know that I, too, was one of those who (to quote my teacher at the time) fell into the “does not have a clue” category. I was a person who was uncoordinated as a child and continued to be so, until after years of pilates practice and discipline I managed to achieve the muscular and neural control to move with balance.

Occupational therapists will quickly explain to you that our ability to master our senses and integrate our movement patterns in to correct postural placements happens through our early childhood years. Ideally this integration of the senses occurs by the time we are six years of age. After that we develop our postural placement on the basis of our somatic nervous systems responses.

Many adults come to us with motor patterning problems that have resulted in all sorts of postural dysfunction. This lack of “somatic integration” can arise because of failure to fully integrate as a child, trauma, medications or just habitual patters as an adult. In my work and practice, as well as for many experienced movement teachers around the world, the preparatory work is called the integration stage, during which clients are encouraged to find a new relationship with their own bodies through the exploration of the fundamentals of posture and movement. It is through this process that we have been able to help them feel their bodies and to respond to the verbal and tactile cues that we use with them when they are doing pilates at the conditioning level. In other words, the integration stage is the point at which we teach the grammar necessary for communication with our bodies.

Accordingly, there needs to be a greater focus in our teaching and evolution of the method in how the patterns of movement are broken down and are reflective of the somatic responses of our sensory system to movement patterns. Breaking movement patterns down is important as part of the planning and development of programs for clients in an integration stage. They can be broken down into:

//     Basic concepts of homolateral and contralateral movement patterns.
//     Sensory organisation of the body including all eight of our senses namely vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, interoceptive, vestibular and proprioceptive.

I want to make it clear that I appreciate there are different learning styles of visual, aural and kinaesthetic, and these will impact on how our clients may learn. What I am saying is that we have to create the framework for them to feel and learn about their bodies so we can help them through to the conditioning stage of movement. Furthermore, we have to be able to use the appropriate cues to deal with the mental and internal focus needed to achieve movement. I appreciate that imagery and complex visual cues can be useful but, in the end, I find them too distracting for those clients who are needing greater “integration of their postural responses” when they first start and that we need to find ways to integrate the work incorporating all of their senses so that the person can become kinaesthetically aware of their body.

In other words the early stages of movement education is more than just a list of “pre-pilates” exercises. It is about teaching a person a relationship with their body and with space. Our achievement of this is by appreciating how to break movement down through a proper understanding of biomechanics and our own self-mastery of movement.

Carla Mullins pilatesCarla Mullins is co-director and co-owner of Body Organics, a multidisciplinary health and body movement practice with 3 studios in Brisbane. Carla is a Level 4 Professional Practitioner with the APMA and has also studied pilates with PITC as well as Polestar. She also has a LLB (QUT), M. Soc Sc & Policy (UNSW), Diploma Pilates Professional Practice (PITC), Gyrotonic Level 1, CoreAlign Level 1, 2 and 3 and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

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