United We Stand

by Mary Monroe on Jul 01, 2012

The Pilates community comes together to celebrate the diversity of ideas that are building the foundation for the future.

It’s unlikely Joseph Pilates would have imagined today’s multifaceted Pilates scene with its army of variously trained instructors reaching around the globe, teaching in a multitude of settings and embracing nearly as many styles as there are instructors. No wonder unity has been a central issue for a community that wants to retain the key principles of its founder while also encouraging innovation. After all, innovation was also essential to Joseph Pilates, who famously said, “I teach for the body in front of me.”

Rael Isacowitz, Inner IDEA® presenter and founder of BASI Pilates®, a Pilates education organization now in 20 countries with over 100 locations, says, “How united is the Pilates community? It all depends on the day you ask me! Some days it feels like the community is truly maturing and overcoming petty differences. For example, when my book Pilates (Human Kinetics 2006) received the readers’ choice award from the About.com website, there were four other winners in different categories, and it was gratifying to see how quick we were to congratulate each other, even though most of us came from very different backgrounds. I think it’s important that we share generously and acknowledge our legacy but still embrace the future by collaborating with colleagues and learning from each other.”

Kim Kraushar, Inner IDEA presenter and owner of one of the first STOTT PILATES®â€“licensed training centers in Canada, has trained hundreds of health and fitness professionals throughout the Atlantic region. “I think the community is more united now, and I see this through the conference setting,” she says. “When Pilates presenters from around the world with different foundational trainings come together, participants can experience our similarities and our uniqueness in the span of a few days. Participants [will sometimes] come to me after a session and say they are trained through a Pilates program other than STOTT, and they comment on how much they appreciate the different perspectives of all the Pilates educators. I know they will go out into their communities and encourage their students and peers to experience Pilates from different educators. Education and communication are the keys to strengthening a community.”

Isacowitz uses the music world as an analogy: “Great musicians are constantly collaborating with each other and praising each other’s talents. This happens in all genres, from classical to rock. I love it, and I strive to do the same in our industry.”

More Than One Way

Isacowitz notes that the most divisive aspect of the community is thinking one system is more legitimate than another—or that one person or school has ownership of the term Pilates, which in the mid-1990s was legally deemed generic and not the property of any one person or company. “When you look at the teaching styles of the first-generation Pilates teachers, the Elders—those living and those who have parted from us—the differences could not be more blatant. Is any one of them more legitimate than the other? No, they are just different, and each assimilated the work and teaching of Joseph Pilates differently. Each one of us should find a path that we believe in and follow that path, always being open to new ideas and information. As my friend and mentor, Kathy Grant, now gone, used to remind me, first and foremost we all need to see ourselves as students, constantly learning that there is not only one way; there are many paths that are legitimate.”

Isacowitz adds that a variety of forces are promoting unity in the Pilates community. “One reason we’re becoming less fragmented is that we’re being united under the banner of science and research. Science is proving so much of what Joseph Pilates intuited. Also, we are seeing how Pilates can be integrated into so many different arenas. Pilates has become mainstream in many ways, and people feel less threatened. The flip side of this is that some people feel morethreatened and see a need to preserve the status quo—which can tend to divide us. I am 100% in favor of preserving the legacy of Joseph and Clara Pilates, but evolution is inevitable, and it keeps Pilates alive, vibrant and contemporary.”

Isacowitz explains why unity is so critical to the future of Pilates. “Unity is strength, and through unity we will be better as a community and will be seen in this positive light by other professionals and professions. This does not mean there will not be different points of view, different styles and different approaches. Of course there will be. There should be. But we need to respect and embrace the differences, even celebrate [them]. That is the basis of a progressive industry.”

Marshall Eklund, MA, Inner IDEA presenter, owner of Marshall Eklund Fitness and Pilates, and president of MIX-mod Athletics, agrees that unity and inclusivity are crucial to the continued growth of the industry. “How united we are can be a loaded question. It really depends on which side of the coin we choose to view. On the one side, we are more united simply by the size of the community. On the other side of the coin, and this is my super Zen persona coming in, sometimes ego and lack of respect still keep us divided. Professionals who do not diversify often don’t understand the validity of different methodologies and are exclusive rather than inclusive.”

Kraushar adds, “I think an issue that divides our community is one that all industries grapple with: competition for market share. We’re all trying to survive in this industry, and we can fall into thinking, ‘This is who I am, and this is what makes me a better choice than the place down the road.’ But we need to realize that there are so many people out there who need our help—more than enough for everyone.”

Says Eklund, “When we all focus on the good attributes every individual brings to the party, greater unity will follow. Continuing the melding of art and science will support the long-term success of Pilates training. For long-term growth and success in the fitness environment, Pilates professionals need to understand how Pilates training integrates into a complete mind-body fitness and wellness program—and how Pilates training supports all other methods of movement.”

Diverse Views on Hot Topics

In IDEA Pilates Today, the column “Uniting the Industry” has explored diverse perspectives on a variety of topics close to the heart and soul of Pilates instructors. Here’s a collection of excerpted highlights that reflect the variety of ideas and techniques that define today’s Pilates community.

Can True Pilates Thrive in a Fitness Setting?

Is it possible for Pilates to maintain authenticity in the fast-paced, high-energy world of fitness? Norma Shechtman, MEd, MA, Pilates and fitness instructor for The Sports Club in Los Angeles and Orange County and for Equinox® Newport Beach, believes that a key factor is cuing. “Instructors need to have a good understanding of Joseph Pilates’s philosophy. His execution of movement and breath is critically important to performing the exercises properly. Instructors need to use this as a base and then use their creative choreography to complement his work. Integrating breath and movement is key, but I think lots of instructors may not cue [this] because they either don’t understand the concept or don’t know proper cuing for the integration of breath and movement. Instructors [must] not only understand the principles but also know how to cue them before they can teach a true Pilates program.”

Cathleen Murakami, director of SynergySystems® Fitness Studio in Encinitas, California, also believes communication is key to maintaining authenticity: “To ensure Pilates programs stay true to Pilates principles is difficult in the fitness setting. Even within the Pilates industry itself there’s debate on how exactly exercises are explained and taught! Pilates for me is an approach, a methodology, not simply a series of particular exercises practiced in a particular way. We need to educate the traditional fitness community by communicating both the goals of the Pilates movements we teach and how the movements work to achieve those goals. Informing fitness professionals about the specific goals of a Pilates movement (exercise) and then describing how [the move is] accomplished in traditional fitness terms—with anatomical and biomechanical explanations—is the approach I take with clients and convention participants, as well as in my instructor certification programs.”

It’s not just what we teach, but how, says Kevin A. Bowen, director of education for Peak Pilates®, a division of Mad Dogg Athletics Inc. in Boulder, Colorado. “In Pilates, the overriding principles are whole-body health, whole-body commitment and breath. A comprehensively trained Pilates professional should have a clear working understanding of the principles that make the Pilates method unique and be able to explain that information in a fitness setting. Even fitness professionals who have taken a shorter Pilates education program should have been taught these principles and their importance in the safe, effective and systematic delivery of the Pilates method. Pilates is not only a system of exercises; it is also a ‘healthy’ lifestyle commitment. Any professional delivering a Pilates group class, small-group class or private lesson needs to also communicate this to students.”

Adds Bowen, “Pilates teachers should be taught not only what to teach (choreography), but how to teach. Pilates professionals, and for that matter all fitness professionals, should have a deeper understanding of the stages of learning so that they can be sensitive to their clients and their unique needs, even in a group setting. Pilates is truly a movement system that is linked intelligently and with purpose. Pilates teachers who have this type of comprehensive understanding are able to work intelligently and effectively with everyone, from the deconditioned to the athlete.”

Does Creativity Dilute Pilates?

Does the explosion of innovative programs and props jeopardize the teaching of authentic Pilates? It depends on whether the creativity is functional or simply a marketing ploy, says Ton Voogt, co-owner of Zenirgy LLC. “The versatility and adaptability of the Pilates method are what make it a perfect fit with other fitness modalities. However, the greatest pitfall is to create fusion classes that are not really fusion classes. Are fusion classes that use the word powerhouse instead of core, and C curve instead of round back, really incorporating the Pilates method? In order to fuse [formats], you need to truly understand each [one] as a separate training method and to keep the integrity of each. The term Pilates, or -lates, seems to often be used primarily for marketing purposes. The Pilates principles, concepts and philosophy are not truly fused with the other modality. The Pilates and fitness worlds have each worked very hard to create well-recognized industries, and both have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of their modalities.”

But props can make classes safer, says Leslee Bender, creator of the Bender Ball™ and Bender Method™. “I think props such as balls can be very helpful in protecting the back during roll-ups or straight-legged sit-ups, movements that can distribute a lot of pressure on the lumbar spine. Gliding™ discs can also be very useful to facilitate standing exercises, which activate the core more efficiently than exercises done while lying on the back. Tubing is another prop that is great for utilizing the entire body during standing exercises.”

Michael Fritzke, co-owner of Zenirgy LLC, adds that props need a specific function. “Props can be very effective as the silent teacher. They can intensify, assist or give direct feedback to the client. The biggest pitfall is the use of props without a functional purpose. In these cases, the prop becomes a distraction and can hinder the movement pattern rather than add something to the exercise or experience.”

Props need to deepen the work, not fill time, says Murakami. “Fusion programs, such as yoga-Pilates, cycle-Pilates, Pool-Pilates, etc., are fun and creative ways for a seasoned instructor to continue teaching and avoid burnout. They give participants a way to take part in two [formats] they enjoy but perhaps don’t always have the time to participate in. What is challenging is finding teachers who truly understand and are experienced in both systems, so that the class is as authentic and true to each modality as possible. Props are always fun, and they add both variety and modification options for less fit participants. What I find annoying is the use of props without any thought process as to why they are being used! When a prop deepens the work, it is useful. If a prop is simply used as a distraction or time filler, I think it does the Pilates community a disservice.”

Says Kraushar, “The demands of the fitness industry dictate how we grow and shape our programs, and I think we can all agree that the industry is looking for blended or fusion programs. In order to survive and meet the demands of my community, I have brought new programs and equipment into my studio. This has kept my existing clientele stimulated and has enticed more potential clients to walk through the door. However, I do believe it is critical that I stay committed to teaching the fundamental principles of STOTT PILATES in every one of my classes and not let the integrity of our fundamental Pilates message get watered down.”

Diversity Makes Us Stronger

Inner IDEA presenter Kathy Corey is the director of Kathy Corey Pilates in Del Mar California. Her certification program is taught across the United States, and her continuing education programs are taught in 20 countries. “Over the last three decades I have seen the Pilates community unite and fragment several times. It seems to be a dynamic process that continues to challenge us both personally and professionally. While the Pilates method has been around for over 100 years, we have been [experiencing] this phenomenal explosion of popularity for only about 12 years. With growth, there are always challenges and growing pains. I believe that we have been able to come together and unite, then separate and rethink our direction, only to reunite again—but I think the process makes our community, our goals and our future stronger.”

Corey notes that the Pilates community still faces many issues that divide it into different schools and approaches to the work. “The foundation of these differences lies in the fact that Joseph Pilates taught the master teachers as individuals with different injuries and needs for their bodies. Different approaches continue to divide the community, but I think we are strong because of these differences, not in spite of them. With different schools and approaches, we have the ability to reach a greater number of clients in many different fields. The community has also come together in the realization that we all want the same thing—quality teaching and the best results for our clients. How we approach these goals may [depend on our] backgrounds, but relying on the Pilates principles and respecting the many ways they can be applied to the work are key to continuing to come together as a community.”

For more discussion of hot topics in Pilates, see “Uniting the Industry,” a recurring column in IDEA Pilates Today. Rael Isacowitz, Kim Kraushar, Marshall Eklund and Kathy Corey will present sessions at the 2012 Inner IDEA® Conference, October 25–28 in Palm Springs, California.



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About the Author

Mary Monroe IDEA Author/Presenter

Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area.