This is an excerpt from Pilates-3rd Edition by Rael Isacowitz.
It is important to view Joseph Pilates’ original body of work in the context of the time and place it was created: the early part of the 20th century in Europe and New York. The habits, occupations, and lifestyles of society at that time and those places were very different from those seen today. Computers were nonexistent, cars were scarce, air travel was a dream, the Internet was decades away, and recreational activities were simple and low-tech. The evolution of this system and its adaptation to the needs of people today is justified and should be celebrated.
But as we progress, we must not lose sight of the value of Joseph Pilates’ work. I’ve seen people create variations of Pilates exercises simply to be different or to avoid boredom. Others choreograph variations because they are unfamiliar with the original exercises. I do not support changing an exercise for any of these reasons. The essence of the exercise should not be lost in a mass of choreography, ceasing to have any resemblance to the original exercise or its intention. Rather, it should be refined according to advances in scientific knowledge and the needs of the individual—but always build on the foundation of the original work. The goal is to promote growth, keep the system alive and contemporary, and to adapt the work to individual and societal needs while still preserving the legacy of Pilates.
Modifying exercises is necessary at times in order to achieve the desired objectives while avoiding negative movement patterns, compensations, and contraindications. However, maintaining the essence of the exercise is critical, which means that one must know the original movement and understand the intention and mechanics of the exercise and its possible contraindications. Creating necessary modifications is an integral part of being a creative, innovative, and interactive teacher.
This approach to modifications also applies to assists. Assists are external aids such as springs, rubber bands, cushions, balls, or adjustments to the apparatus that help achieve the goal. Again, complete understanding of the exercise and the exerciser is essential, as well as being well informed about the many choices of apparatus and which would be best suited for each scenario. In short, intimate familiarity with the Pilates repertoire, the human body and its movement, and the myriad choreographic and apparatus options available make this work an ever-evolving process.
In the first edition of Pilates I intentionally abstained from offering modifications and assists. Too much information and too many variations can lead to confusion and I wanted people to gain knowledge and understanding of and experience in the original repertoire.
In the second edition of Pilates, following the requests of students and readers, I included variations for many of the exercises. Now, in this third edition, I have created three distinct categories of exercise variations:
- A modification changes the choreography with the goal of making the exercise more accessible (easier).
- A variation changes the choreography of an exercise without meaningfully changing the level of difficulty; it simply offers variety.
- A progression changes the choreography with the goal of making the exercise more challenging.
An assist (small apparatus) can be employed in any of the three categories.
By offering modifications, variations, or progressions for most of the exercises in the book, I hope to spark ideas for alternative choreography while never losing sight of the original exercises and their intentions. I stress that each person is an individual with unique needs, restrictions, and personal goals that must be considered when selecting or creating a modification, variation, or progression of an exercise. In addition, body type, suitability of apparatus, and desired outcome are also important factors. Finally, safety must always be at the forefront of every decision. Choose or create movements that will allow you and your student to perform the work safely and enjoy years of Pilates practice.