The above title may not mean anything to younger people; I have no idea if that old tale is ever told anymore. It relates the tale of a foolish king, who was duped by an unscrupulous tailor into believing he was being made a suit of clothes from cloth that only very intelligent people could see. When he finally went out on parade in his new suit, everyone pretended to be intelligent and admire the suit of clothes on the naked king, except one small boy who yelled out the words above.
Well, I’m going to step on some toes. I’m not trying to paint everybody with the same brush, but I feel the need to comment on something I’m seeing more and more of the time, and I’m going to quote Leon Chaitow, and use a term I first saw him use: ‘bad Pilates’.
Lately I’ve had several clients, and several students, who are Pilates instructors. Some of them are in horrible shape, and have no idea what a healthy body is supposed to look or work like. They focus on strengthening the core, but actually tighten the core, anger the sleeve, and begin to not be able to even move their bodies. It’s movement that’s important!
I’m reminded of an Ida Rolf-ism: “Strength isn’t strength; flexibility is strength.” It’s true. Those who are focusing single-mindedly on building a strong core are, I believe, doing serious damage to themselves, but more importantly, to clients who are buying into the concept that they’ve got to condition and over-condition until they have a stainless steel core. The emperor has new clothes—a strait jacket.
Perhaps Joseph Pilates is turning in his grave; perhaps he likes the way things have turned out with his work. We’ll never know. What we do know is that since his death, nobody owns the right to define Pilates work specifically—it’s now a generic term, such that I could bill myself as a Pilates instructor with absolutely no training…I could read a book and set out a shingle. Now, this lack of ability to regulate the profession is not my beef; I believe most of these instructor folks have been trained, and overtrained, and overtrained badly.
When clients ask me about whether to work out, run, do yoga, or continue activities of daily living after a session, I always suggest it depends: Can they do their activity in exploration mode, or must they go into achievement mode? If they have to achieve, I tell them to take the day off; if they can explore, I say ‘Go for it.’ Too many Pilates instructors are encouraging too many clients to try to achieve too much without truly paying attention to the client bodies and their bodies’ needs! This is only my opinion, but it’s borne out by the number of instructors and clients who come to see me with wrecked out bodies. We don’t need to tighten the core; we don’t need to lift the serratus anteriors. We don’t need to tighten the abs; we don’t need to sharpen the quads. We need to find these muscles, explore their functions, and work to make them resilient, not strong.
And when clients tell me they’re ready to work with Pilates, I bite my lip and suggest they choose carefully with whom they will work, and that they pay attention to form and finding resilience instead of choosing someone who drives them to work harder, achieve more, and strengthen every cell of their being.
I’m reminded of one instructor who wants to study with me, but had to miss courses to have a hysterectomy. In the one course she’s had, I spent lots of time trying to create resilience at her core. I’ve wondered: if I had been able to convince her to soften the core and explore it, would she have needed surgery? We’ll never know, and perhaps I’m shouting at the wind, but, the emperor has no clothes. Pilates is not a bad thing; bad Pilates is a truly bad thing, and there’s some bad Pilates out there.
How to stay away from bad Pilates? Common sense. If you are feeling driven, abused, and actually find your body feels tight and doesn’t move as well, you’re paying for bad Pilates. Stop. Put on some clothes!