In January this year, the New York Times Magazine published a controversial article entitled "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body". In the article, Glenn Black, a yoga teacher of almost 40 years, discusses the harm yoga can do when taught incorrectly. Most yoga articles and discussions highlight the benefits, not the potential damage.
Mr. Black makes a bold statement, saying, "Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class."
Why am I telling you all this?
Because Pilates has a similar dilemma.
In the NY Times article, Mr. Black discusses the history and evolution of yoga--poses developed as an extension of the traditional positions of daily Indian life: squatting and sitting cross legged.
Teaching yoga poses to a Western demographic who spends the majority of their time sitting at a desk is vastly different. Trying to twist oneself into a pretzel when you're inflexible and have physical limitations is an invitation for problems. Yoga, says Mr. Black, has become an ego-driven quest to push oneself physically while ignoring the intent of yoga--as an exercise in awareness and consciousness.
The article goes on to discuss the many serious injuries that are occuring due to yoga. Mr. Black himself has a spinal fusion which he relates is a direct result of doing extreme backbends and twisting.
There are many parallels between the points made in the NY Times magazine article and what's happening in the Pilates world.
Joe Pilates saw his work as a mind-body-spirit practice, recognizing that we cannot separate these aspects of ourselves. He taught that Contrology [his name for the method] "...develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit."
In many modern Pilates classes, the physical exercise emphasis has moved front and center, and we ignore the practice of awareness, consciousness and elevation of spirit.
And just like yoga, Pilates taught purely as an ego-based physical exercise practice, with little or no consideration for awareness and consciousness, leads inevitably to problems.
Pilates and yoga can be joyful, expansive, and uplifting--but not when practiced by obsessively pushing our body to extremes.
- Seek out practitioners who are knowledgable, careful, and who understand the integration of BodyMindSpirit Pilates, and are attuned to your unique needs.
- Because Pilates is not regulated, you have to eduacte yourself--at the very least, find Pilates teachers who have completed a full comprehensive course with a minimum of 450 hours of training, and who have a certificate of completion to show for it.
- And just like yoga, Pilates should not be taught in large classes--6 students maximum.
- Be curious about your instructor. Ask questions. An instructor who teaches Pilates a couple of times a week at the gym has far less experience than someone who works at a dedicated Pilates studio and is immersed in the work. Who would you trust more?
Glenn Black stirred up a hornet's nest in the yoga community when his article was published. He had some additional comments in an interview soon after.
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