The Difference Between the Pilates Method and a Pilates Style

difference between pilates method and style

Guest Blog Post written by Galina Geissendoerfer

My name is Galina Geissendoerfer, professional instructor of the Pilates Method for about 20 years. In my teaching I additionally incorporate Egoscue, BodyMechanics, and other styles, but today I want to focus on the classical method as created by Joseph Pilates, why it works and why it is very effective. 

When I originally was introduced to the Pilates method, its six principles sounded simple enough and accessible, however, understanding these principles is quite involved and complicated. Their real understanding comes through years of practice and seeing their interconnection and interaction. This presents us with a way to see and realize the brilliance of the Method.

Although Pilates exercises are used around the world in many studios and by many health professionals, only the Original Pilates Method with its distinct order and focus, as designed by Joseph Pilates, will yield the results we desire. Not following the Method as it was designed and only picking exercises for one reason or another, weakens the outcome not only of the specific exercise, but achieving the desired long terms benefits for the client. The importance lays in uncovering the abilities of each layer of tissue and muscle and balancing their movements and building on the abilities achieved, step by step in order to master the idea of Contrology. Like in building a house we cannot and must not overlook the necessity to create a most sturdy foundation and then continue the creation brick by brick.  

The six principles are: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow 

(Credit: Philip Friedman & Gail Eisen)

The instructor looks at the individual person and focuses on their imbalances and unnecessary muscular compensations. Every exercise created by Pilates is aimed towards waking up the central muscular system and connecting the peripherals to the powerhouse. 

Let’s define these terms: 

The Powerhouse is formed by the pelvis, ribcage and everything in between those structures.

The Peripherals are the limbs, fingers, toes and even eyes and ears.

The Center is the very deep musculature, closest to the bones of the skeleton, and very important, bones of the spine. 

We commonly do not concern ourselves with the anatomical names of the muscles and bones as they do not matter for teaching and often would only confuse the client. When we talk about the human body, or simply the body, in the Pilates method, we mean the whole system and how it works in interconnection, not the individual muscles. 

When we do mention individual muscles, it is to make the client aware and try to feel them and their function within the whole system. The concept of motion initiation is very important for the client. This is referred to as Isolation.

Centering is helping the client to locate the center and how to connect to it. The mind and body awareness, is the goal in centering. 

After finding the centering in your body, the next step is finding the Stretch throughout every movement while doing original exercises. 

Any movement in the Pilates method is not just mechanical exercise, but it is a stretch. 

The next important aspect is the Flow of energy in the movement and the whole workout itself.

Ideally, the entire cycle of exercises should take place as one exercise that is constantly changing. Flow is why the Transitions, the precise moves between exercises, are very important. 

The rhythm of the workout is dictated by the breath.

Breathing is important for the energy flow and thus, for the flow of the workout altogether.  

In the Method we are talking about Concentration. What do we mean by that?  Any Pilates workout is a Meditation.  We are listening to our body while moving. Trying to find control for every movement in the center, the Powerhouse. 

To be clear, awareness of the mechanics of movement in the body allows you to find control and ability to move in any way effortlessly. That is why any music accompaniment for Pilates classes is not appropriate, because it is distracting for meditation.  It is well known from different sources that very often there was a radio playing in the Original Pilates Studio.  That could be considered as background noise, which is not as distracting for Meditation.  

Application of Pilates exercises differs depending on how people see them.  Anyone could make an observation that the same exercise performed by two different people does not look the same. If we ask fitness professions about their concept of a particular exercise, their answers will vary. They will be talking muscle groups or specific muscles, participating in a given exercise. They will describe the goals in different ways. 

In the Pilates Method, we do not talk about muscle groups or goals, every exercise in the Method is made “for the whole body”.  

In the Pilates Method it is very important to follow the special order of the exercises, designed by Joseph Pilates. The instructor is choosing necessary exercises for each individual client from the described Original order. Precision in the execution of the exercises and following the original order is essential.

Everything in our body is connected. If a person sustains an injury, the entire system alters in order to bypass the injury. Even the fact of acquiring certain habits or simply aging changes the way we move. Pilates Method practitioners discover new ways of movement to minimize pain. Every exercise created by Mr. Pilates, is aimed towards waking up the Central muscular system and connecting the Peripherals to the Powerhouse. Therefore, during your Pilates training, it is necessary to relax all the muscles. 

Work on Apparatus, (Pilates machines), is not designed for strengthening particular muscles, but working the whole body.  Pilates built his apparatus based on the principle of finding a Reaction Force

 When there is the force applied to the springs on the Apparatus, there is a Reaction force in the Center of the body, born to create stability and balance.  Our body is designed to withstand the gravity of our planet.  When we walk, our foot creates a force into the ground and the ground reaction creates the response in the center of our body, lifting us up, propelling (springing) us off the ground. This is how our healthy core muscular system and bone mechanics must work. 

During the course of life, with inhibiting certain habits of movements, our core musculature is weakening. Our bodies are losing the ability of creation responding force in our center thus we are losing stability and balance.

 Our limbs, arms and legs, are designed to create a force and the Powerhouse is there, to provide Counter reaction force for stabilization of the body, for its protection. While using apparatus, while we are pushing the resistance (stretching a spring) with arms and legs, the center is responding and becoming stronger. 

What about the Mat work designed by Pilates?  Not for nothing, the Mat work is the most difficult work in the Method.  In the Mat work we are working with gravity force and our own weight. Apparatus was designed to help us to find the reaction force and stabilization applied in Mat work. 

When a New Pilates instructor gets certified to teach the Method, it means this person got the “Ticket” to start an adventure of continuous learning of the Method. There is no final destination, the way is the goal. The Method opens up only through practicing it on your own body and years of teaching. The more the instructor learns about the human body, the more interesting it becomes to work with the Method. 

Definitely Joseph Pilates had the mind of an engineer.  He brilliantly applied the laws of Physics, Biomechanics, Kinetics, Facial connections, Physiology and much more in his Method.

Written by Galina Geissendoerfer 

Help with editing by Sunni Almond


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