Take charge of your Pilates practice

Posted by: PilatesITC

At a PMA Conference in 2004 we were all ushered into a theatrette for a “special event”. No one other than a few key PMA Board members knew the reason, but it was intriguing. This special event turned out to be very special, when we were introduced to Mary La Riche – or as may be more familiar – Mary Pilates. Mary is Joseph Pilates neice, daughter of his brother Fred.

It was a fantastic event for all of us there. Mary had not been active in the Pilates community at all, and was somewhat nonplussed by all the attention. Mary is the young girl in the ‘Original Studio’ photograph with Joe and Clara (shown at bottom). At this PMA event Mary was led through many, many questions and discussion of her life with the Pilates Method, and even brought along an amazing miniature Pilates Reformer that her father had made.

What was a stunning moment at this event was when at 83 years of age Mary got down on the floor and showed off her Pilates Matwork; straight pmaryrollbackinto the Hundred followed by Roll Over – and with great flexibility and form.

The even more excellent background to this is that Mary simply did “Matwork every morning like Uncle Joe taught me” to keep up her health and condition.

At the age of 18 Mary’s parents put her on a bus from St Louis to New York to stay with Joe and Clara Pilates, and to help out in the studio in return. For most of the next three years Mary learned the Pilates method and helped clients through their workouts at her uncle’s studio. With the rise of the second world war, Mary was sent back to St Louis and eventually married and moved to South Florida with her husband. Mary’s years in the studio were really as a family arrangement and she had never thought much more about it except that she would do the matwork every day to keep herself well. She really didn’t even know a lot about the explosion of the Pilates Method in recent times. She hadn’t had a ‘teacher’ or studio classes, but had taken the advice of her Uncle who said that for good health you had to do the Contrology exercises. So she did what she knew.


Taking charge

What was really striking was the strength, vitality and youth that Mary exuded, and at 83 was able to move with clear ease, get up and down off the floor easier than 30 year olds, and had not had a teacher for her workouts for over 60 years. She had just committed to doing the exercises the way she was taught and with mindful application to what her body needed.

For me the standout take away from Mary’s life commitment to Pilates is the need for everyone to be able to take charge of their practice of the work.

Absolutely, having a teacher to give you information and feedback on how you are moving is great, but around that and from that, it is crucial for everyone to take on that feedback for their own use and be responsible for continually applying it.

It takes a few years – and Mary had several for her own learning – to lock in the information about your own self and body and to realise what your constants are, but it should be a big part of the work you do with a teacher. Taking on board the consistent feedback and needs of your body so that YOU CAN TAKE CHARGE.



What are the constant cues you are given? What has your teacher told you about your habitual patterns, postural tendencies, movement needs? If you’ve had or have an injury, what are the guidelines for working on it – find out if it’s not already been told to you. How do you do the movement without discomfort or pain? What helps move your joints and feels good after you’ve done it? Lock in all this information for your own use. Figure out the jigsaw puzzle that is YOU.

Then just keep on working on it.

Pilates requires practice. A dancer doesn’t become good by doing the moves a few times – they repeat and repeat them their entire life. Same for a footy player or a swimmer – it is repetition, working on the moves, aiming to become more precise, that makes the movement easier and better. Anything you do in life improves with practice. Even if it’s just for conditioning and not a career, your life will be better if you can be in control of how you can keep yourself healthy and strong.
Take charge of how you practice and help yourself to get better.


But I can’t see myself what I’m doing?

Exactly. So feel it. Find the self-teaching cues that you can apply over and over. Learn what you do when it’s ‘good’ patterning; learn to recognise the feel or self-signals when it’s compensatory. Take charge of how it feels, the landmarks of your own body that you can see, and be aware of your common downfalls.


There’s more to it …

When your body is tired, unwell, stressed or otherwise under par, your compensatory tendencies will spring to the fore. At times like this you are best to pull back the intensity of self practice, know how to address your common patterns, nurture yourself rather than force an expectation on yourself. But by all means this is not a time to stop your practice. This is when you find out how to help nurture yourself back to wellness.

Our bodies have an innate ability to heal themselves when they are given the right environment for health. Create a good environment for your health by eating right, hydrating, eliminating toxins, and using movement in an appropriate style for what your body needs.

This is your job so that you can take charge of your own health – figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Get input, get in tune, and take charge.


There’s definitely something about Mary J

Let’s aim to be like Mary Pilates; just do what works every day. It doesn’t take very long, and you too can be throwing yourself on the floor into the Hundred and Roll Over like a spring chicken at 83 and beyond.

Mary is now well into her 90’s and no doubt still doing her matwork…



By Sally Anderson, 2017

Pilates Health