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The Toughest Pilates

March has come to a close, and with it, the end of March Matness. At quick glance, you may have read that as March Madness, the yearly national college basketball playoff series, and thought, “Wow, Juliet, I didn’t know you were into sports!” Or you may have assumed it was simply a typo on my part. However, neither would be the case. March Matness is a yearly celebration in the Pilates community, during which we commemorate our forefather, Joseph H. Pilates, and his original work, the Mat Repertoire. Over the course of 31 days, Pilates teachers, students and enthusiasts from around the world post their expression of these original exercises on social media— Pilates sans Reformer.

You see, it is widely misconceived that Pilates, or rather, “real” Pilates is done on the Reformer. The true foundation of The Method comes from the original 34 Mat exercises. Mr. Pilates created these 34 moves and sequenced them in a specific order to give ALL bodies strength, balance, function, and health. He believed, and proved in numerous bodies over the lifetime of his work that these moves, done daily, along with a healthy diet would perfect health in the body and mind. His desire was that even all children be taught these exercises in school to ensure their physical and mental capabilities well into adulthood.

The machines, such as The Universal Reformer that’s now become synonymous with the exercise, only came into existence after Mr. Pilates immigrated to NYC in 1926, post WWI. During the war, he was interned in the England, where he worked in the hospital and witnessed young men atrophying as they lay in hospital beds recovering. He wished these patients could perform his exercises to regain their strength, but they could barely lift their limbs, let alone their whole bodies. This sparked an idea— what if he attached ropes and pulleys to their beds to support their bodies? They could then do the exercises, and so, the experiment of the beds began. When the war ended, Joseph came to the States and set up home and shop in the Van Dyck Building on 8thAvenue in NYC. For the next 40 years, he continued to perfect his method and invented many types of “beds,” chairs, and various other apparatus pieces to assist people in strengthen from their “powerhouse” outward.

Today the Reformer is the most common of these machines, especially with the explosion of group Reformer classes over the last 10 years. But do not be fooled. The Mat is where the real action is at. A strong Mat Pilates practice done consistently is as equally challenging, if not much harder then a Reformer workout.

Recently I had the pleasure of teaching the original Mat repertoire to our new teacher trainees. It was after one of these classes that one of our veteran students said, “I had no idea how hard Mat work was-I always assumed it was for beginners”. A common misconception I assured her.

To check out the original Mat exercises, which can be done in the comfort of your own home, click here and take a look at our March Matness posts on IG. I’ve given detailed instructions to go along with each one. You can sign up in the months of April & May for $10 Mat classes at the studio. Click here for schedule.

*Fitness model is Zen client and Pilates teacher in training Valerie Heckel

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