What’s great about Pilates? Part 2

August 28, 2012 — 9 Comments

As may have been previously mentioned: It’s really safe.

I’m slightly disappointed to be revisiting this subject quite so soon, yet a couple of tales that I’ve heard recently of people ‘being injured’ in Pilates classes finds me dragged back to the subject. Paraphrasing a quote I’d noted down in relation to writing on another subject: “Pilates is not dangerous. Poor teaching is dangerous; poor movement is dangerous; ego is dangerous.” I can’t answer for how many people are out in the world calling themselves Pilates teachers and making poor/irresponsible decisions that may put their clients at risk – yet I suspect (and hope) that there aren’t very many. (Teaching that is less than entirely effective is, I suspect, very much more likely than teaching that is dangerous).

Injury: physical damage, or hurt (according to my dictionary). In what context might one be injured? I’d suggest a number of ways, such as: mishandling equipment, or being caught in the way of someone else mishandling equipment; collision with, or assault, or even ‘adjustment’ by someone else; continuing with an activity that your body/brain is signalling you should stop; failing to understand, or follow instructions that are given to you.

I like to attend a weekly intermediate/advanced level yoga class. When I started I had only limited experience but I’d heard good things about the class, and the timing suited me. So the first thing that I did was tell the teacher about my yoga experience, and ask his permission to attend the class. If I try to do a full backbend, and push through something that doesn’t feel right, it’s entirely my responsibility. If I attempt a handstand without properly watching the demonstration because I think I already know it all, and then strain my shoulder, it’s inaccurate to say that  I’ve been injured in a yoga class, it’s my ego and poor practice that has caused the injury.

By the same token, to say “I injured myself in a Pilates class” carries with it the implication that Pilates was somehow responsible for the injury. Were you assaulted by the teacher? Did a classmate drop some equipment on you? Could it be more likely that your ego persuaded you to take on a movement that you weren’t ready for? Or that you did something (through lack of concentration, or poor understanding, or misplaced zeal) other than that which you were advised to do?

I think I may have written this previously – I don’t believe it’s possible to hurt yourself doing Pilates. It’s the not-doing-Pilates that carries a risk, especially if you’re in a Pilates class.

There are probably as many explanations for what Pilates teaches as there are teachers, or practitioners. One of my favourites is personal responsibility. In affecting the way that our clients relate to their own physical selves, I hope that we can teach them that their health is something that they are in charge of. There may be an array of medical professionals and therapists who can help us to manage our health, but in the end, only we are responsible for our own bodies.

9 responses to What’s great about Pilates? Part 2


    I absolutely agree with you Mike. All too often we hear that an injury has been caused by Pilates/yoga etc. Look to thyself!


    It’s all good and well as long as you have a good and responsible instructor – I’d say it’s the instructor’s responsibility to make sure the level of the exercises you’re asked to do is appropriate – if I don’t know the client I won’t push him/her into a full back extension and I’m not going to shift that responsibility on the client. Part of teaching Pilates is also teaching body awareness – I can’t just assume people won’t try to do something in class cause they feel “it’s not right for me” if it’s part of the class I’m teaching… I agree ‘in the end, only we are responsible for our own bodies’ but as you said yourself, it’s part of the *teaching* we need to do – just pushing this on the client is hardly teaching. When I’m telling a client Pilates is safe, I take the responsibility of teaching them Pilates safely.


      “I can’t just assume people won’t try to do something in class cause they feel “it’s not right for me” if it’s part of the class I’m teaching” – does that mean your clients can always assume that you’ll take responsibility for them? I would argue that giving people responsibility for their own well-being is a part of excellent Pilates teaching….


        ” Does that mean your clients can always assume that you’ll take responsibility for them?” -During a Pilates class or session with me, yes. I believe it’s part of my job to keep them safe while they are in my studio working under my instructions. The responsibility for their overall well being is already theirs, I don’t need to “give it” to them. They came to me because they took that responsibility and are working towards moving better, manage pain etc. My job is to teach them, educate them towards better health and to do so in a safe way – then they learn to become aware, they catch themselves during the day sitting or standing or doing something out of a bad habit and stop to correct. It’s not about teaching them to take responsibility for their well being, it’s about what to do and how to apply that responsibility better for themselves and they are paying me to do so 🙂


    Hi Mike,
    I am extremely pleased to find another person out there in the shaded part of the Venn diagram illustrating the population of Pilates teachers intersecting with those exploring a Paleo/Primal lifestyle. I’m enjoying your thoughtful/thought provoking posts and feeling spurred into a more active fusion of these two areas of my life.
    For what it’s worth I too think that teaching our clients how to look after themselves in any situation is what we are about – so we should be at all stages encouraging them to be responsible and to take ownership of their bodies. So much of what ails people physically lies in the disconnect between mind and body. We are helping rebuild the connection, if we do our job properly.


    Reblogged this on pilatestree.com and commented:
    Second part to this fab blog…


    I agree, one of the great things about Pilates is that it teaches body awareness. I think if more people did Pilates with good instructors, injury rates would be lower in other exercises.

    But saying it’s ego that drives people to do exercises that don’t feel good or are right for them is inaccurate. People have a strong social drive that influences how they behave in groups. We’re hard wired to go along with the group. It takes work to learn how to modify or not do an exercise when you’re with a group of people.

    It’s wonderful that you have the confidence, knowledge and awareness to do what’s right for you, regardless of the class. That’s a fantastic skill everyone will ideally develop. But it’s unrealistic and irresponsible for instructors to assume everyone taking their class is like you.


      Thank you for taking the time to respond. I wonder if this not a problem of semantics – to me “social drive that influences how they behave in groups” sounds a lot like ‘ego’.
      I’ve seen in my own classes, and heard of in many stories from other teachers, relative new comers to the class ignoring explicit advice to stay with a modification of an exercise, rather than do the full version/progression – what do you call this?

      One of the things that interests me about writing this blog is that it is often a challenge to express myself as clearly as necessary. I will try again. For me, personal responsibility is one of the central tenets of Pilates. I will not behave in a way that I believe risks putting class participants in danger of injury; and I will stop someone who is doing something in my class that I believe is endangering them. At the same time, I believe that it is irresponsible of me not to assume that everyone in my class has ultimate responsibility for themselves. If they safely negotiate their way through life, including to and from the class, following the signs and signals around them, then I owe it to them to believe that they can do the same in the class.

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