Working in a Tensional Network

What makes Pilates so unique from other fitness programs or movement techniques?

For me it is the tensional environment created by spring resistance used in all Pilates apparatus.

This equipment provides an environment where the body, in standing, seated, lying or hanging positions can work within a tensional system. The connection to the spring comes through handles, foot straps or a bar – where the body pushes, resists, suspends and/or is lifted within this tensional system.

The effect of working with these apparatus is a bit like suspending the body – as in space travel – gravitational force distributes through moving equipment and the moving body. And this is unique because it slows the client down and gets them to focus on deeper muscle groups that they need for key postural support, effective muscle recruitment and correct muscle firing along a chain, or in sequence. 

Because the client needs to control their body in this 'sprung' environment, because they are 'suspended', it also brings them into a unique situation of having to think about their entire body all at once. They need to control themselves inside of the system - to use their mind and their body to achieve the tasks set by their instructor and get the full benefit of the technique.

These conditions create a perfect environment to re-pattern – to heal post-injury, to prevent injury, to enhance performance, to move pain-free and to enjoy grace and ease in daily movements. 

But this environment is nothing without a teacher who understands the system fully, which is of the utmost importance. Not only does the teacher need to cue and 'spot' to make sure exercises are conducted safely, an instructor also gives corrections that allow a client maximum benefit from the technique.

When a client has trained regularly on equipment, exercises on the floor take on a higher level of quality. From the sprung environment, clients can re-create that resistance in their own body, making for more accurate muscle cueing, deeper support and more presence and harmony in all actions.

That is why it is important that a teacher wanting a Pilates education, even if they only want to become certified to a mat level, attend a school that is engaged in a comprehensive education which includes education in all Pilates apparatus. That way, you are ensured that the education program teaches within the context of those tensional networks and therefore teaches their students how to re-create that quality of resistance within the body of the practitioner. I would be wary of Pilates programs that are only for mat, or only for reformer, and don't carry with them the entire history and understanding of working within these tensional frames. The analysis of the moving body within this context is a rich study and leads to a unique body of knowledge to 1) learn and 2) continue to discover more within a lifetime of work. 

This is one of the keys to maintaining quality within our profession: to rely on the schools and master teachers who understand these tensional systems in their full complexity and let them be our guide to excellence, to recognize the teachers that graduate from these high-level programs and present them with a mark that ensures the public of their quality, and to help each certified teacher deepen their knowledge, research and be a part of raising the level of our profession yearly.


Written by Amy Cox, BASI Pilates Benelux

Edited by Cheryl Franks, Pure Pilates

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