What is the Pilates Method?
A Rebuttal to James Crader’s Article
By Amy Alpers
“What is the Pilates method?”
Most of us in the field of Pilates have tried to answer this question many times but have often fallen short. As one who has committed to a deep exploration of Joseph Pilates’ work for over 30 years, I’m still struggling with this question. Is it simply a philosophical idea? Is it a collection of interesting, unusual exercises? A group of unique pieces of equipment? Or more? To me, it is definitely more. Much, much more! But how do you describe it?
In nature, the organic integrity of an entity is created by being suspended in a connective force of energy. Tensegrity. Whether you’re talking about a cell, an atom, or the entire universe. Picture our solar system. Is it a random set of rocks haphazardly floating around in space? No, it’s a “system” of planets organized around a star via a suspension force of connectivity. In this way, it becomes a singular whole. Separated from other planets and stars by its organic connection. Remove or change any one part of this perfect design, and all parts must reflect that change. Its integrity is altered. You can’t simply remove the Earth and have the solar system continue as it once was. It would have to entirely reorganize into a new structure, and it would end up being something else altogether. A totally different system. Every single atom of it would be affected by this change. It’s a complete, integrated whole, created by the suspension of its parts in a tensile force.
To me, the Pilates method is this – a complete, integrated whole! An organically evolved, uniquely designed set of exercises and specialized equipment held together by a powerful organizing force – its philosophy. Change one aspect of this organically organized entity and you destroy its integrity. It was developed over decades of exploration and creativity, by a singular mind, to achieve a particular result. A result only its creator fully understood. None of us have had the opportunity to live inside his mind. We are only guessing at what he truly saw and meant as he designed each aspect of his system over his lifetime, growing and expanding its possibilities organically to achieve a desired result he seemingly felt in every cell of his own body, mind and spirit.
The human body is a tensegrity structure. Joseph Pilates innately understood this long before the term was coined. And he knew deep in his soul that the body’s ultimate, true, organic health existed in the ideal balance and integrated suspension of all its parts. Pilates then went about developing a systematic approach to enabling this journey back to tensegrity. His method comprises unique and specifically designed whole-body movements, and perfectly engineered equipment that, step-by-step, if used correctly and done as he described, produce health – “returns” the body to life. Change the equipment, the exercises, the order or sequences, or the progressions of advancing through the system, which are all perfectly designed, then you alter the entire tensegrity of the method and its ultimate intention – full body health. Homeostasis.
As Romana Kryzanowksa, one of Pilates’ main protégées, and my teacher, often said, “Uncle Joe [Pilates] was a genius of the body!” George Balanchine, himself an exceptional genius of movement, agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, he coined that phrase. I believe this as well. I am absolutely not a genius. I simply strive to better understand his genius. I’ve been working on this since 1987. How about you? Are you a genius of the body? If so, great. Create your own system and call it by your own name. Don’t ride the wave of popularity of this amazing method while offhandedly destroying its design – not to mention confusing the marketplace. Do not change something you really don’t understand. Learn it in its fullest truth, then strive to understand it instead.