did you do your homework?

September 8, 2009

I recently received a wonderful compliment from a client of mine. A few years ago, her husband took lessons with me for almost a year. He loved his Pilates workouts and would have continued them had it not been for the relocation of my studio. (The distance made it difficult with his busy work schedule.) Recently my client noticed that her husband had been getting up in the morning and going into their spare room. After a couple days, she decided to ask him what he was doing. It turns out that even after a few years of not doing Pilates, he remembered enough to continue his own practice and he was doing so a few mornings a week. Now she joins him on those mornings, and together they are filling in the blanks when their memories fail and helping each other feel better on a regular basis with Pilates. I could not be more proud. As Gidget would exclaim, “This is the ultimate!”

I’ve always encouraged my clients to do their homework. Despite my frequent queries, I’ve come to learn that a home-based practice emerges naturally. Just as Pilates works from the inside out on a physical level, it does so on many other levels as well. A practice can begin with just one or two stretches that feel especially good and eventually evolves into a whole routine. Sometimes it is a conscious choice and other times it just happens without the person even realizing it. Regardless of how or why, it does seem to happen frequently. Once a person really begins to understand the work, it becomes a regular part of his or her life. And that is the ultimate goal.

Jay Grimes has made this point to me at least once and I tend to harken back to it as a guiding principle in my daily work of sharing the Pilates method with my various clients: Joe Pilates’ end goal was for his clients to do their mat series three times per week at home. Homework (the work on the mat) was always assigned in the Pilates studio.

This is why I call matwork the Alpha and Omega of Pilates. If a person can do matwork, fine. They don’t really need the support and guidance of apparatus to help their body operate correctly. On the other hand, for the more typical (mortal) client, the apparatus is a very necessary tool to help build the Pilates body and aspire to reach that gold standard of only needing a quick routine on the floor three times per week.

To be honest, most of us will never reach that goal. Still, a little time on the floor with our instructors’ voices ringing in our ears would not undermine the effort. And boy, would we feel better!