Pilates Auto-Pilot

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As I continue to teach and be exposed to more and more bodies, I have begun to notice some patterns in Pilates practitioners. Those who are new to the method are often uncertain and timid, but enter the room as a blank canvas with few preconceived notions. The seasoned connoisseur, on the other hand, brings confidence, expectations and established “Pilates habits” to the table.

Some of these Pilates habits are positive, such as knowing how to articulate a 100’s curl or stabilize their pelvis. These types of learned habits are what allow bodies to progress and help develop the principle of free flowing movement. There are some habits, however, that put experienced practitioners at a disadvantage compared to beginners. Once we learn choreography and feel like we “know” an exercise it’s difficult to return to a blank slate and respond to present cues. We tend to hear the name of an exercise and take off like a rocket, perhaps missing an instructor’s helpful prepping cues which get us ready to do the movement more successfully. I call this condition “Pilates Auto-Pilot.”

Because strong neural connections have already been created in the brain, unlearning can often be more difficult than learning. Pilates exercises become so familiar to us that we lose our ability to feel how the exercises could be changed or improved. We are too busy moving through the motions and miss the beauty of receiving direction on how we should enter, execute, and exit an exercise.

I challenge you to notice the times in class when you tune out and put your body in Pilates Auto-Pilot. Even if an exercise is familiar, try to think about how you can return to a beginning state, approaching a movement as if it were novel and listening to cues with fresh ears and no expectations. Stay as present as possible and let the current class sculpt your experience. Take time to listen, really, and let your body feel the exercise as if it is for the first time.

As teachers, we need to stop letting bad habits in Pilates Auto-Pilot slide. Cue something differently, or maybe start with a different side, to test who is listening. Don’t be afraid to stop and break something down if necessary, and point out areas that can be improved. Don’t simply call out exercises – look at the bodies in front of you. Stay just as interested in your students as you expect them to stay in the movement. Only then can we push past plateaus and continue to learn and grow.


About the Author:

Rachel recently finished the teacher training program at Streamline. She is excited to continue to develop her passion for Pilates through teaching and personal study. She is mentored by Eva Kauffman, Lise Fischer, and all of the other talented instructors at Streamline. You will see her around the studio teaching classes and posting articles on the Streamline blog.

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  1. Marci Crane  March 22, 2017

    I really want to improve on this. Listening to verbal cues has never been my strength. I “hear” the cue after it’s important to apply it. I guess the skill is something like the art of the “chess game” in which you have to be present in the game but simultaneously planning two moves ahead.

    I would be interested in an additional post that touches on strategies related to being present in our pilates classes! 🙂 Thanks Rachel!


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