Instructors debate the benefits and drawbacks of using mirrors as a teaching tool. According to a small study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2009; 13, 283–90), taking Pilates classes in a room with mirrors will not necessarily enhance the subsequent performance of a skill when mirrors are not present.
Researchers at Western Washington University in Bellingham recruited 20 subjects to learn the Pilates star movement (a mat exercise) over a 7-week period. Eleven participants trained with a mirror, nine without. Both groups improved similarly. Investigators concluded that using mirrors to provide immediate visual feedback during learning did not enhance skill performance.
According to Gordon R. Chalmers, PhD, one of the study authors, use of verbal and tactile cuing was kept very similar for both groups, to ensure that the presence or absence of mirrors was the only difference.
One benefit of not using a mirror as a teaching tool is that individuals must rely more on kinesthetic understanding of a movement rather than on visual feedback. This can improve students’ overall sense of position in space and enhance their continued skill development when visual tracking is unavailable.