The most striking thing about Pilates, especially for those unfamiliar with the practice, is the equipment. It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to the equipment as “torture devices.” The history of the equipment is fascinating.
While interred in a camp for German nationals during World War I in England, Joseph Pilates took care of patients in the hospital who had sustained injuries during the war. Trained as a nurse, Joseph Pilates believed in the power of a healthy, strong body to heal and maintain optimum health.
Bed-ridden patients were encouraged to exercise even if they couldn’t get out of bed. Joseph went under the bed frame, removed springs from the bed, and then attached them to the walls, allowing patients to exercise and strengthen their bodies.
Over the years, Joseph built and created new equipment to assist in his method, then called “Contrology.”
The reformer is one of those creations. With all of the equipment, it’s important to note that the equipment serves as an assistant to the work. It helps us align ourselves in space, gives us resistance, assists with the range of motion, and generally acts as a support for all of the movements.
Mat work is where it all began. On the mat, we don’t always know if we’re aligned properly, we don’t always engage the correct muscles with proper resistance, and we usually compensate with other muscles when the work becomes too difficult.
The goal is to be able to do all of the exercises unassisted on the mat, but we can always go to the equipment as a means of practicing and focusing our work, periodically returning to the mat to gauge our progress.
Both Mat and Reformer work is a great way to get into your body and discover how the Pilates method educates the mind, wakes up the body, and allows us to live a more present experience with our body.
Here’s a nice video from Chantill Lopez explaining the differences between Mat and Reformer: