Pilates Community Forum > Fitness vs. Bodywork?

The Pilates world is changing and evolving faster than we thought possible. More and more I see teachers who approach the method as a bodywork modality, far more medicinal in nature. Many shun the fitness origins of Pilates altogether.

Where do you think our craft is headed? Might our training become more anatomically based and potentially longer to complete? Would a degree be possible one day? Or will there be a backlash of other bodyworkers, pushing Pilates back into the fitness arena exclusively?

Food for thought.
Leave a comment!

Alycea Ungaro, P.T.
Real Pilates, NYC

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlycea Ungaro

From what I understand, Joseph Pilates created his system as an exercise system. When you see old photos and footage of him and his studio, you see weights, all kinds of devices, and students doing some pretty advanced stuff. Remember, he worked with boxers and lots of men before the dancers took over.

I'm surprised sometimes to see how many Pilates studios and teachers operate at an almost therapeutic pace. I tend to think that if you're not dripping in sweat with body shaking at the end of your lesson, you've not done proper Pilates. Come on, it's exercise and hard work.

At a local gym, there is a Pilates mat class. I've walked by it and the students are all lying down listening to the teacher speak softly while New Age music plays in the background.

I can't imagine Joe having his boxers do this.

April 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

What if you have someone with a tight psoas, gripping hip flexors, extreme shoulder tension and possibly zilch for body awareness? Are you just going to have them hammer out 100's and create more tension? Like everything, Pilates has evolved. Live with it. There's no patent so people can do what they want and I think the slow, therapeutic mode is a hell of a lot better than the gym rat mentality of slamming it out to sweat. Our society has sped up since Joe was around and most folks need to slow down and tune in to their bodies.

April 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebelred

Yes, it's true. I'm one of those mean, evil, antiquated, militaristic classical Pilates people who believes that if you're not doing "classical" Pilates, you're not doing Pilates. Call it something else but don't call it Pilates.

Pilates is/should be a fitness regime and a workout. Long ago, someone told me to try Pilates for my aching body (from tennis, running, and various other things). My friend told me that I needed to do it at least a few times to reap the benefits so I plopped down my money for 10 sessions. The studio was of the therapeutic mode. To me, the first session was deadly boring. But hey, I was game. I'd give it a go. After session 10, we'd barely gotten to the point of lifting my head off the mat. The teacher even massaged me. I thought, "Here I am, a fit man, being subjected at outrageous prices to an intellectual activity (the teacher even got out her anatomy books) and massage." I didn't go back.

Fast forward a year or so when I met, quite by accident, a "classical" Pilates teacher. I told her about my experience with Pilates and she suggested that I give it another go. I took her up on her offer and WOW! what a difference. That's exactly what I'd been looking for. It fixed the bad parts and gave me a new body.

Since then, I've studied the classical method and become a "classical teacher." I have the opposite opinion. Many of my clients sit at a desk all day. The last thing they want and/or need is to slow down even more. They want to workout and that's what we do. They don't care about their psoas; they want a nice butt. Many have been to "other" Pilates studios and are quite surprised at how different/challenging/beneficial the true method is.

It's all in there if you know the authentic method. You have to trust it. It can change bodies and lives.

Having said that, doing anything is better than doing nothing at all and if you're a gifted teacher (and I'm assuming you are since you are taking your time to write on this website) you can help people with what you do.

But when I cannot recognize exercises or see all this bodywork stuff going on, I cannot consider or call it Pilates.

April 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

Good questions Alycea. After ten years of teaching, Pilates both as exercise and as therapy, I believe the teachers who will excell will be able to do both. One of my constant "ahha"s" about the work is how adaptable it is. We as teachers need to be as adaptable and keep current with our education in all areas of mind/body. As far as the direction of our craft, I can only speak for myself. Joe Pilates was a genius in his work. I pray everyday he will guide me to find the same genius inside me when I teach.

April 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah McKeever Watson

Thank you Deborah I agree that a good teacher should have enough knowledge and insight to evaluate a client when they walk in the door, and provide a session that will accomidate what the client wants, and what we think they need. This is an art indeed, but we should be in the business of helping people both to be fit, and overcome their weaknesses. I will add that if what they need is beyond the scope of our knowledge we should refer them to other modalities and work as a team with others to help them achieve their goals.

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVicki Sullivan

Good point. But I have to add that I have two Type A desk workers that are wound tight when they get to my studio. They cannot handle intensity so I go slow with them and they love it. They claim to feel so much more relaxed and integrated and they now come twice a week instead of only once a week.
I do like and respect the Classical stuff but I don't believe it is for everyone. I do not believe in formulas. But that is my belief. I also think that the teacher has everything to do with it. I have experienced the New-Agey, process-oriented teacher that did not resonate with me and I have had sessions with Kathy Grant that rocked my world.
As with everything powerful, Pilates will probably always have that controversy. I guess we should agree to disagree, and just strive to do our best to help people. That's my main objective anyway.

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebelred

Excellent discussion. Eight years ago I joined a mat class that was of the music and low lights variety pilates. I thought it was great but what I didn't know was a lot. Five years into it, I decided to get a classical education (Peak) and I was completely blown away. The changes in my body over the course of 3 months far exceeded all that my body had accomplished the previous 5 years. What seemed so structured and 'militaristic' was actually the most transformational thing I'd ever done and not just on a physical level. I realize that pilates done 'classically' is not for every body initially BUT, over time, if a deconditioned client works within the classical system their progress will surpass there wildest dreams. I have seen this happen over and over again - it works.

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllison McPherson

I see no problem in bringing our individual skill sets to the service of those seeking help.... If we're qualified to do so. Doing 'bodywork' on someone simply because you looked in an anatomy book and found out where the psoas lays doesn't mean you have any business poking and prodding around to work on it.

If bodywork is of interest in ones practice then get the necessary education to pursue and utilize it. This way one can safely and effectively meet the needs of the client in a more comprehensive manner. Not all problems that people present with are the result of muscle weakness!

In fact, although muscle weakness can be a reflection of how one uses, or doesn't use, their body on a daily bases, it is most often a functional or compensatory response to more intrinsic problems. Strengthening alone will often just place one compensatory pattern on top of another, and that doesn't serve anyone well in the long run.

Adding manipulative work is only going to make the intention of pilates come to the surface more clearly.

I personally don't see the sensibility in sticking to an old ideology simply because 'Joe said so'. No pioneer, such as Joseph Pilates, would ever dream of putting a halt on the evolution and progress of their work. Aside from that, the human body will always remain our greatest teacher... despite what so-and-so said way back when. If it works, great! Use it. Better yet, understand why it works and you'll be able to take the work to the next level without the 'paint-by-numbers' approach.

Basically what I'm getting at is if practicing pilates by the book is what you're after... do it and leave it at that... an exercise program and general body tonic. If you're interested in getting more specific and effective when working with people then it is imperative that you step outside the box of classical pilates and expand your skill set. That doesn't mean you aren't doing pilates in my opinion... but then again, depending on where you've gone with it, maybe it isn't pilates... Is a label more important than effective work? That's the more important question in my mind. And if one wants to limit there skills and ability to help people by practicing 'true pilates', well then that's an individual choice... .
I don't see a need to 're-invent' forms of bodywork/manipulative therapies within an expanded pilates training. I think if one wants to add bodywork or such, there are plenty of options already in existence that can add valuable insight and skills. The only reason to add bodywork to a pilates training would be to create a 'new brand' of pilates, ...another economically motivated endeavor. Is this more about the business, or more about providing intelligent and competent care. The latter has nothing to do with labels and everything to do with sound knowledge, principle and a skilled practitioner.

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering

I believe the answer is both. I have been teaching Pilates for 9 years and I find myself going in both directions. I have a client who is in constant pain and for some reason, Pilates is the only thing that gives her relief. I have other clients that find that Pilates is the only thing that helps them to feel fit and strong so I use a slightly different approach with them.That's the beauty of this method!

I have different types of training: I apprenticed for awhile with a classically trained instructor and went through a program she developped and then went through Polestar. I see many wonderful results coming from the method so I am not so quick to jump on either bandwagon.

I do recall, however, during my training taking some classes in NY. I had one instructor spend 20 minutes with me having me relax my Rhomboid muscle while I relaxed on the trap table. Oh my. Here I was already an instructor with several years experience and extremely fit yet she treated me as if I were approaching 100 years old. If I did that with my clients and charged $80 a session I'd be out of business and selling hot dogs in no time! So I think sometimes instructors can take too much ooomph out of the workout.

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDevra Swiger

We have to remember that Joseph taught 'contrology' not pilates. Pictorial evidence from archieves in Munchenglaadbach show photos of a group of instructors, including Josephs father,in 1880's. They are Controlologist, 'balanced body ,mind and spirit' is their motto. They are seen with barbells, barrels and parrallel bars. My point being that Joseph 'evolved' this method, learnt from his father and so we should not be afraid to 'evolve'the method also. Proper training and adhering to the basic principles is of far greater importance than teacher style or delivery.

May 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternibbles

What I see more and more are studios that go to extremes. On the one hand, there are the "bodywork," for lack of a better term, studios that treat clients, as if they "were approaching 100 years old" regardless of their age or fitness level. On the other hand, there are the studios and programs that jazz Pilates up too much -- music blaring, 10 people on reformers with the instructor shouting out instructions telling people, "this one's great for your hamstrings (or butt, or biceps, or whatever)."
As a classical devote, Pilates is neither of these extremes. In a way, it is "bodywork" because of the concentration and focus you are supposed to be practicing while exercising.

May 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

Joseph Pilates, when he was still in Europe convinced doctors to allow him into the hospital to work with injured soldiers (WWII). He attached springs and pulleys to hospital beds. The archival photos of this are terrific. In the US part of his studio was dedicated to the "medically infirm" including those who had polio - and there are photos of some wheelchair-based machines replete with pulleys and springs that he designed and used. As we know, he also trained dancers and boxers - athletes whose fitness was a must. It appears if we look at the global history, Mr. Pilates used his system along a continumn from "rehabbing/re-conditioning" those with medical/therapeutic needs, to building the fitness of high-end athletes. There are usually "swings of the pendulumn" in any arena. If Pilates is trending toward bodywork at present, the pendulum will likely follow with a swing toward fitness thereafter. Experienced instructors will be aware of the trends but will always suit their instruction to the client at-hand.

May 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Olson, PhD

"Experienced instructors will be aware of the trends but will always suit their instruction to the client at-hand." - Michele Olson

...And keep it within their scope of practice and abilities.

Although Joseph Pilates worked in hospitals it doesn't mean he was doing anything more than giving people an opportunity to exercise in a unique fashion. The setting does not make it PT, nor does it mean that Pilates teachers of today can pretend to be doing more than they were trained to do... which is 'teach' pilates exercises.

May 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering

I don't believe Pilates is "fitness" in the sense that we know it today. We have to remember that meanings change over the years and what we consider exercises today were considered activities to Joe. A good exercise program developed the body so you were able to participate in an activity such as running, biking, etc.Today the exercises we think are keeping us fit are technically only useing up what develpoment we have naturally produced.

Pilates was intended to be a program of developmental guidance in a sense. It is actually the only system that is capable of developing and restoring the postural structures that we weaken through our every day activities. Unfortunately time, money and egos have gotten in the way of placing it in its proper position in our world of physical development.

We keep trying to fit into the world of physical therapy when the reality is that physical therapy needs to fit into Pilates. Knowing the muscles and cause and effects of many activities is important information to know as a Pilates teacher, but really have nothing to do with teaching the work. That is why Joe didn't speak anatomically in the studio. He certainly knew the anatomy, because he studied an anatomy book, but his system is in actuality not anatomically based so it wasn't necessary to communicate that way.

Our system of training teachers needs to have a new set of standards. It is obvious that the system we have now has not been succesful in producing competent teachers that are able to produce the anatomical and posturally correct specimens that Joe was capable of producing. He never fully told his secret to anyone as to how he did it, and I had a hard time figuring it out until I stopped looking at the obvious.

I now teach Pilates as the bridge between physical development and physical fitness. I treat it as a seperate category of exercise that guides the posture through the stages of growth and development and then continues to monitor it as we age and activities begin to alter its function. If we are going to control the destiny of our industry we need to stop teaching Pilates the way that we do. I am currently working on new standards for teacher training to hopefully make that happen.

May 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Dreisbach

"It is actually the only system that is capable of developing and restoring the postural structures that we weaken through our every day activities."

I have a very hard time accepting that as I know of other approaches that are more effective and accurate at addressing these issues. Not to say that there isn't truth to the statement, but it's a bit extremist in my opinion. Why can't we see the value in the many disciplines out there and recognize their place in the grand scheme? (weaknesses and strengths alike)

I have to say that I feel that it is extremely important to know your anatomy to effectively and safely teach the work. Especially if one is to achieve the claim of guiding development and growth. I think it's imperative that we understand what we're doing to people, and it's potential effect on their structure and health.

I'm a little lost on the idea that pilates is at the core, no pun intended, of growth and development. When children learn to stand and walk they do so from the ground up... not the core down. Our feet feed us with information and provide the basis for our dynamic stability... not the core. The 'core', as defined in pilates, needs to be adaptable and resilient to accomodate and adjust to what lays beneath. An infant doesn't prepare to walk by doing abdominal strengthening...

And what effect are we really having by countering the negative forces of everyday living and occupational strains with further ratcheting,tightening, contracting, constricting and compressing the system into the middle of the body? Why not first free the region that have become restricted, constricted and compressed and see what's needed after that? Strength will and does surely return when you restore proper function and balance... but most problems are not the primary result of muscle weakness. Muscular strength imbalance is almost always a result of more primary dysfunction, restrictions or postural distortions. The muscular system is completely controlled by the central nervous system. The muscular body responds according to the demands requested of these higher centers/systems. No doubt the muscles are important, but they are more-or-less slaves to the larger more important systems. Certainly positive effect can be achieved by strengthening muscles and re-educating their use... but to fully understand why muscles show discrepancies we must know our anatomy and physiology. Is it of muscular/postural origin that is causing weakness or inhibition? Or is it a functional compensation/adaptation that we're seeing in the muscular body to accommodate or protect something more intrinsic/important (nerves, discs, cranial system, organs, old injuries, etc.)? And what would happen if the latter were the case and you tried to 'muscle' your way through those protective mechanisms?

Just food for thought since so much emphasis seems to get placed on the muscular body as a means for primary correction in pilates.

And a quick thought on anatomy training... I see a lot of teachers trying to treat or work with pathologies/musculo=skeletal injuries and conditions without adequate understanding of anatomy. It's simply not enough to research the condition one by one as they present and hope to fully understand it. It's a good start I think... but to fully understand peoples bodies when they come in we must know our anatomy. If you know your anatomy then you can easily work with most any condition, as and if it's appropriate.

May 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering

Hey "Just Wondering,"

You rock. Do you teach workshops?

May 24, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebelred

Movement develops from the top down not from the ground up. Babies lift their heads, then they roll over, they sit up, they crawl and then they walk.

Paralysis does not occur from the ground up, it happens from the top down.

If Pilates is not about the physical growth and developement of the body than what would you consider it?

May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Driesbach


"Paralysis does not occur from the ground up, it happens from the top down."

Actually, it's both. Paralysis occurs from the "top down" primarily because of anatomic orientation... motor signals traveling from the brain down the spine are disrupted. HOWEVER, sensory signaling is also disrupted equally... which originates distally. Meaning from the 'ground up' so-to-speak... or more accurately, from the periphery to the central NS. Without sensory input, the motor control you're referring to serves little or no functional purpose. It would be occurring with spasticity, randomness, etc... incapable of producing any form of functional or controlled movement.

Therefore, it's my opinion that it occurs in both directions simultaneously, whereby it's the coordination and proper relationship of the two that is of most importance.. not just where the motor signals are originating from. Motor signaling coming from the "Top" is rather useless without the sensory/mechanoreceptors sending information from the periphery.

"Movement develops from the top down not from the ground up. Babies lift their heads, then they roll over, they sit up, they crawl and then they walk."

As I watched my own daughter develop it was very clear that babies roll over by pressing their foot into the floor and spiraling/rotating their pelvis and torsos until they land on their bellies. I've never seen a baby move itself through a roll or to standing using their head for leverage, support or locomtion. I do agree that much occurs at the head, or at the "top". Much of our balance and proprioception happens here as well obviously, through the vestibular system... And obviously the eyes are important for leading many of our movements (as in a baby rolling over). However, it's not one over the other, each are necessary and important. As a baby initiates a roll they lead with the eyes to turn the head and palantonically extending through the legs into the feet to ultimately meet the floor and create meaningful and purposeful movement into the desired direction via expansion of the body. The core is undulating and rotating through the movement.. it's the 'in between' of the head and the feet... lock it down through constrictive movement in that region and you can begin to imagine the consequences.

So movement, in my opinion, develops through the delicate interactions between proprioception 'above' and below'. The cerebellum and cortex send motor responses down from above based on information perceived in the vestibular system above as well as the peripheral sensory system 'below'.

How do you suppose the human form would develop in space, with zero gravity and consequently no real 'ground' to work from? We do know that human physiology deteriorates in that type of environment... which tells me that if the "top down" theory were entirely accurate then that wouldn't occur, despite a lack of gravity/ground.

Our nervous system is ultimately responding to the downward force of gravity, from infancy onward. Without a 'ground' to respond and interact with, we would have no hope of moving.

Also consider babies in the womb... when they want to move they press through their arms/hands or legs/feet against the intraabdominal wall to reposition... How else would they move otherwise?

It's about expansion outward from embryologic development onward... why does make sense to compress and draw that intention 'inward' into the supposed 'core'?

One last thought comes to mind... The enteric nervous system (abdominal viscera) contains far more sensory receptors traveling to the brain and spinal cord in contrast to the motor nerves traveling from the brain to the viscera. This says a lot about hierarchies and such... If the top were in ultimate control, wouldn't it have many more motor nerves traveling to the lower region???? And what is the consequence of constricting this intra-abdominal space that contains what is commonly called the "second brain"? Just a thought...

May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering

"If Pilates is not about the physical growth and developement of the body than what would you consider it?"


May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering


I hope some of the comments on this board answers your question as to where our industry is going. I have been teaching for 8 years and have watched our industry being absorbed by a flawed medical system and an extreme fitness industry. Most teachers have no idea why a Magic Circle was made to a 16 inch specification, nor do they understand why that dimension is important. Over time,the circle has been made smaller and is no longer effective as a piece of equipment originally designed to strengthen the respiratory muscles. I am finding more inconsistencies in the equipment and have to reconfigure standard spring settings in order to induce the same results I had been getting on my old machines. In the case of one company the changes happen yearly so every time I order a new machine, it is different.

We educate outside of our scope of practice and hide behind medical ease so people think we are the equivalent of a physical therapist. It should come as no surprise when physical therapy starts to absorb the Pilates industry when as a community we rely on heresay and consensus as a foundation for what we teach. We ignore the fact that Joe developed a system that made those exercises effective. Without knowing the secret to that system you are only teaching exercises and calling it Pilates.

To me Pilates is a "system of corrective exercises that will revolutionize the field of physical education" as described by Joe Pilates. Pilates develops the posture. It corrects hollow backs, stooped shoulders, hollow chests, bowed legs, knocked knees, flat feet and curvatures of the spine.

Has anyone ever looked at Joe's body and wondered how he got it that way? He developed it doing Pilates.How many teachers are able to deliver that physique?

The research that I have done supports Joe's writings and the system I have developed delivers those results.

To continue to place Pilates in the exercise and or physical therapy category is only going to continue to dilute it's intended purpose which is to fix the posture. If we focus on learning to do that then our options are endless or we can continue the way we are until the next "big thing" comes along and Pilates disappears along with the Jane Fonda Workout.

May 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Dreisbach

"I have been teaching for 8 years and have watched our industry being absorbed by a flawed medical system and an extreme fitness industry."

Seeing pictures of Joseph Pilates reminds me a lot of that "extreme" mentality. Straps around his head... neck straining to resist... what purpose does that serve in human development? Arms and hands clenched tightly.... neck bulging... barrel chested... ????

"Over time,the circle has been made smaller and is no longer effective as a piece of equipment originally designed to strengthen the respiratory muscles."

Why the need for such 'strength' in the respiratory muscles? What's wrong with simply removing the obstacles that may lay in the way of it's proper, autonomic and fluid function?

"To me Pilates is a "system of corrective exercises that will revolutionize the field of physical education" as described by Joe Pilates. Pilates develops the posture. It corrects hollow backs, stooped shoulders, hollow chests, bowed legs, knocked knees, flat feet and curvatures of the spine.

Has anyone ever looked at Joe's body and wondered how he got it that way? He developed it doing Pilates.How many teachers are able to deliver that physique? "

"Corrects hollow backs" by flattening the lumbar lordisis and creating a posterior tilt in the pelvis and a counter-nutated sacrum... not very healthy for the spine. Correcting "hollow chests" by giving people a barrel chest and flattening their thoracic spine... again, not a good idea. Not to mention what that does to the cervical lordosis.. gone. And spinal curvature corrections... ??? That's a bit dicey for me. I haven't seen a single case study, let alone a control, that demonstrates it's ability to alter a scoliosis for the better.

Since when did Joseph's body become the archetype of 'good posture'? If anything, that's precisely the model that our fitness crazed society is seeking.... solid, stiff, buff, rigid, controlling... all with unfortunate consequence. Why is it good to want to control ones body in such a way???

I'm seriously not trying to be antagonistic or rude here, but I have a hard time accepting these types of claims and beliefs when their is plenty of evidence that shows its inherent flaws. We really have no idea what pilates, as joseph taught it, is going to do to people's bodies in the long run. And seeing as I've seen a fair amount of pilates teachers and students alike in my practice who have many similar problems with the low back,SI joints, sacral and pelvic issues, hip problems, sciatica induced via the piriformis, upper back and neck problems..... etc.. I can't help but question just how 'healthy' this all is in the manner it's being utilized. And I would like to have a conversation about it with some of you experienced teachers and get your reflective thoughts on these issues rather than throw out arguements tit-for-tat.

May 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering

Dear Just Wondering (and others):

In a post Just Wondering made regarding some of my comments on this issue, you wrote:

--Michele Olson ("said")--

"Experienced instructors will be aware of the trends but will always suit their instruction to the client at-hand."

--To which Just Wondering replied/added--

"...And keep it within their scope of practice and abilities."

To which I say, ABSOLUTELY! Point made and agreed with. The history of Joseph Pilates being in the hospitals while in Europe was to get the injured "moving" and "re-conditioned" (to re-gain lost fitness). And, it does not mean that he was qualified to nor delivering "medical" physical therapy. Because of this bit of history, coupled with the fact that some Registered Physical Therapists are also Pilates teachers, other instructors, I have personally observed, often venture toward bodywork.

Experiences teachers (I believe and trust) will note the swings in trends and stick to providing what is most suited to their clients (the assumption being that experienced teachers DO KNOW what is within their scope or practice and that is does not include physical therapy/rehab).

As far as Pilates being a method of bodywork versus a fitness and exercise system, it is exercise; a system of exercise that one can use to develop certain aspects of fitness. Pilates teachers are trained to teach that system (of exercise) and Pilates is a form of exercise. It's exercise.

Lastly, as far as motor development/neuromuscular development and other "back-and-forth" dialogue related to that, development is:

1.) "Cephalocaudal" - it proceeds "top-down" but, is gravity driven. Infants first exhibit (if they are developing correctly) their head and neck righting reflexes (against/correcting for) gravity. They then pull-up (pull up their upper bodies away from gravity with their arms in the prone position) ...before they then sit-up, stand-up, walk, etc. Thus, development is cephalocaudal understanding that it is gravity-dependent.

2.) Development is also "Proximodistal," and

3.) "General to Specific"...

I hope this post aids in better clarifying that good discussion, too...Because as "Just Wondering" has written, it can be very valuable to have "conversations" about key issues such as the bodywork versus exercise/fitness issue, development, etc. ESPECIALLY when experienced teachers provide sincere reflection.

Thanks to each of you!

June 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Olson, PhD


I like the way you phrased you're interpretation of development. It brings to mind a couple of thoughts.

Given that development in its infantile stages is dependent on sensory input from the periphery (first the hands/arms followed by the lower spine, pelvis and legs/feet) it makes me question the belief that we could accurately consider development as something that occurs "cephalocaudal". As without peripheral sensory input the 'upper domain' would have very little to "develop" around and respond to. So 'chicken and the egg' scenario comes to mind here. It doesn't truly appear to be top-down... despite a the baby lifting its head first in the prone position... much of that development in infants occurs in part due to inadequate muscular, osseous and articular formation. After-all, we see many quadrapeds such as horses stand immediately within the first few seconds following birth. This is primarily due to reaching more advanced development within the womb prior to birth. Humans are said, and I tend to agree, to go through their 'fourth trimester' extra-utero (outside the womb).

All of the movements of proper infant development described are not necessarily 'top-down' representations... As pushing the hands into the floor to raise the torso/upper body is as much a coordinative movement of the arms hands as it is the upper body. The major difference being that the hands tend to be the 'fixed' point and the torso moves in opposition to gravity. In the womb, the fetus is doing this already via pushing against the intra-abdominal wall in an effort to move and re-position itself. The 'kicking' we often refer to is a bit more than random jolts to mums tummy... it is the only way for the baby to move about in a 360 degree enclosed capsule... push out through the limbs to move the torso in the opposing direction.... Not very different than the way we move as infants, children and adults... .

So in reference to pilates, it doesn't make sense to me that we would want to encourage a retraction of this palentonic action back into the supposed 'core'. Much of pilates involves 'pulling' straps and drawing limbs into the center of the body (as little contact is made onto the external surroundings).

Consequently, I have a hard time conceiving how pilates imitates and fosters development.

I agree that development is general to specific... but 'proximodistal' is basically the same as cephalocaudal... which isn't truly the case from a neurologic point of view. The central nervous system is fully engaged in movement about the periphery even before birth, as I mentioned above. One cannot exist without the other. The CNS requires input from the periphery (distal/caudal regions) in order to have something to process. As an example, before a baby learns to sit crawl or stand it is already using and developing its coordinative movements from the feet all the way up (and back down) as they learn to roll over by BOTH turning their heads and pushing into their foot/leg.

I think it's also important to note here that development in a larger sense is governed by the connective tissue, not the nervous system... that is a known fact that is often under-recognized and appreciated. Due to the characteristic of neuro-plasticity, the CNS will adapt and follow what is put forth.

Bottom line for me on this, ...developmental movement begins long before we're born.. and does not contain a hierarchy of dominant origination... Maybe it would be useful to consider a little paradigm shift in the way that we think/analyze these things. As it's certainly not a linear process by any stretch of the imagination.

Kind Regards Michele,
Just wondering

June 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJust Wondering

I don't believe that Pilates imitates developmental movement either. The brain does send out signals that "coordinate" with peripheral feedback. I am not debating that whatsoever. The latest research on the spinal cord and gait shows that the brain sends out a sort of "primer" signal that the spinal cord "uses" to "master" the input from the periphery and then does a great deal without the brain per se'.

Best wishes, Michele

June 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Olson, PhD