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Emphasising Quality of Movement in Pilates: A Guide for Teachers

The power of stillness: Preparing the mind and body for precision in movement
In the quiet before the flow: Embracing concentration to elevate the Pilates practice.

In the world of Pilates, the quality of movement is paramount, transcending mere physical exercise to become an art form that marries the mind and body. Joseph Pilates himself placed an immense value on how exercises should be performed, advocating for fewer, more precise movements rather than a multitude of half-hearted attempts. But what exactly defines quality of movement in the Pilates method, and how can we, as teachers, recognise and cultivate this in our sessions?

Understanding Quality of Movement

At its core, quality of movement in Pilates is the harmonious integration of the method's six foundational principles: Precision, Control, Flow, Centre, Breath, and Concentration. It's a symphony of these elements, where each principle is not just present but is executed with the utmost intention and awareness.

  • Precision demands that each movement is deliberate and accurate, contributing to the effectiveness of the exercise.

  • Control ensures that every motion is performed with stability and mastery, eliminating unnecessary or uncontrolled movements.

  • Flow embodies the smooth, graceful transition between movements, maintaining a rhythm and ease throughout the session.

  • Centre, or the 'powerhouse', refers to the activation and engagement of the core, which supports and stabilises all movements.

  • Breath is used to enhance movement, facilitate deeper concentration, and promote the flow of energy.

  • Concentration calls for focused attention on each movement, ensuring mindfulness and connection between mind and body.

When these principles are in balance and integrated within a movement, the quality of movement is achieved, elevating the practice from mere exercise to a form of moving meditation.

Pilates Philosophy on Practice and Progression

It's interesting to note, within the Pilates method, the more challenging a movement, the fewer repetitions are performed. This approach underscores the emphasis on quality over quantity, where the focus is on performing each repetition with greater precision and control rather than numerous imperfect attempts. Joseph Pilates famously said, "Every time you do a movement, there's an opportunity to make the movement better." This philosophy suggests that with each practice session, there lies the potential to refine and perfect the exercise further. It instills a discipline of continuous improvement, where the goal is not just to execute the movement but to enhance its quality with every repetition.

Identifying When Quality of Movement is Lacking

Recognising when a client is not working with quality of movement is crucial for teaching effective Pilates. Signs of compromised quality may include jerky or uncontrolled movements, loss of alignment, shallow or irregular breathing, lack of focus, or difficulty maintaining flow from one movement to the next.

Five Ways to Check for Quality of Movement

  1. Observe Alignment and Form: Start by observing your client's alignment and form. Misalignment or incorrect form can be indicators of a lack of control or misunderstanding of the exercise's intention.

  2. Listen to the Breath: Breath is a powerful tool in Pilates and can reveal much about the quality of movement. Irregular, shallow, or held breath suggests a disconnection from the exercise or difficulty in execution.

  3. Watch for Smooth Transitions: Quality in Pilates is not just about performing an individual exercise correctly but also how smoothly one moves into the next. Jerky or hesitant transitions can indicate a lack of flow or concentration.

  4. Notice the Engagement of the Core: The core, or 'powerhouse', is central to all Pilates movements. Lack of engagement or incorrect activation of these muscles can significantly reduce the effectiveness and quality of the movement.

  5. Assess the Level of Concentration: Pilates requires mindful execution. If a client seems distracted, frequently pauses, or is unable to maintain a focused gaze, it might suggest a lack of concentration impacting the quality of their movements.

Enhancing Quality of Movement

As Pilates teachers, our role extends beyond mere observation; we must guide our clients towards improving the quality of their movements. This can be achieved through clear, concise cues, demonstrating exercises, hands-on adjustments (with consent), and constantly reinforcing the importance of the six principles in every session.

In conclusion, quality of movement in Pilates is a comprehensive concept that encapsulates the method's six principles, underscored by a philosophy of continuous improvement and refinement. As teachers, our challenge and duty are to not only understand these principles ourselves but to impart this understanding to our clients, guiding them towards a deeper, more fulfilling practice. Remember, in Pilates, every movement is an opportunity to achieve perfection, embodying the true essence of quality over quantity.


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