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Pilates and Mindfulness: A Qualitative Study

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The Pilates method as Joseph Hubertus Pilates originally defined it in the early 1920s, was called “Contrology,” or the art of control, based on the ideal of attaining a complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Joseph Pilates's early writings emphasized the value of controlling the body rather than attending to the process of body awareness. This qualitative article investigates students' experiences in a semester-long Pilates mat class to address the question of whether students experience Pilates as a mind–body activity. Student responses (n = 63) were coded and four themes emerged: (a) body awareness and centering are fundamental to making changes in daily life; (b) increases in awareness and strength boost confidence; (c) awareness, relaxation, and positive mental attitude lead to improved stress management; and (d) concentration and intuition take time to develop. The article concludes with reflections on the integration of somatic practices and implications for postsecondary dance programs.
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Pilates and Mindfulness: A Qualitative Study
Marianne Adams MFA a , Karen Caldwell PhD b , Laurie Atkins MFA a & Rebecca Quin MA a
a Department of Theatre and Dance, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA
b Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling, Appalachian State
University, Boone, NC, USA
Published online: 16 Nov 2012.
To cite this article: Marianne Adams MFA , Karen Caldwell PhD , Laurie Atkins MFA & Rebecca Quin MA (2012): Pilates and
Mindfulness: A Qualitative Study, Journal of Dance Education, 12:4, 123-130
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15290824.2012.636222
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Journal of Dance Education, 12: 123–130, 2012
Copyright © National Dance Education Organization
ISSN: 1529-0824 print
DOI: 10.1080/15290824.2012.636222
Featured Articles
Pilates and Mindfulness
A Qualitative Study
Marianne Adams, MFA
Department of Theatre and
Dance, Appalachian State
University, Boone, NC
Karen Caldwell, PhD
Department of Human
Development and Psychological
Counseling, Appalachian State
University, Boone, NC
Laurie Atkins, MFA and
Rebecca Quin, MA
Department of Theatre and
Dance, Appalachian State
University, Boone, NC
ABSTRACT The Pilates method as Joseph Hubertus Pilates originally defined it in
the early 1920s, was called “Contrology,” or the art of control, based on the ideal
of attaining a complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Joseph Pilates’s early
writings emphasized the value of controlling the body rather than attending to the
process of body awareness. This qualitative article investigates students’ experiences in
a semester-long Pilates mat class to address the question of whether students experi-
ence Pilates as a mind–body activity. Student responses (n=63) were coded and four
themes emerged: (a) body awareness and centering are fundamental to making changes
in daily life; (b) increases in awareness and strength boost confidence; (c) awareness,
relaxation, and positive mental attitude lead to improved stress management; and (d)
concentration and intuition take time to develop. The article concludes with reflec-
tions on the integration of somatic practices and implications for postsecondary dance
programs.
Address correspondence to Marianne
Adams, MFA, Department of Theatre
and Dance, Appalachian State
University, Chapel Wilson Hall, Boone,
NC 28608. E-mail: adamsm@
appstate.edu
Within dance training there are various perspectives as to the role of somatic education.
Somatic practices cultivate mindfulness and aspects of body awareness that encourage
dancers to make wiser choices in the studio and possibly sustain longer careers (Batson
2007, 2009; Brodie and Lobel 2004; Kearns 2010). In addition, there are debates as to
what constitutes a somatic practice. There is also confusion in the research about how
to define a mind–body approach. Within the current research, there is “an implicit
bias that physical activities that are Eastern in origin, such as yoga and tai chi, are
more likely than Western forms of exercise to be classified as mind–body” (Gavin
and McBrearty 2006, 58). Inward focus, internal body sensations, mindful practice,
consciousness of intent, or even spiritual aspects are all terms used in describing various
mind–body approaches. Ralph La Forge, the managing director of the Lipid Clinic and
Disease Management Preceptorship Program at Duke University Medical Center, gives
five likely criteria for determining whether an activity is mindful or mind–body in
nature:
1. The activity contains a self-reflective, present-moment, and nonjudgmental sensory
awareness.
2. It includes a perception of movement and spatial orientation.
3. There is a focus on breathing and breath sounds.
4. Attention is paid to anatomical alignment.
5. The activity has a quality of being “energy centric,” or involves an awareness of the
movement and flow of one’s intrinsic energy (chi or prana; Gavin and McBrearty
2006, 60).
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The purpose of our research was to examine these ques-
tions: Is Pilates a mind–body activity? If so, in what ways?
As researchers in mind–body methods, we were interested in
examining the connections among Pilates’s historical writ-
ings, recent relevant research, and our students’ descriptions
of their Pilates experience.
As teachers of the Pilates method trained from the lineage
of Joseph Pilates to Romana Kryzanowska, (also sometimes
called Classical, Traditional, or Authentic Pilates), we started
by examining some of the earliest writings directly from
Joseph Pilates. The Pilates method, as Joseph Hubertus
Pilates defined it in 1945, was called “Contrology,” or the
art of control. Pilates described his early method in this
way:
Contrology is the complete coordination of body, mind and
spirit. Through Contrology you first purposefully acquire com-
plete control of your own body and then, through proper rep-
etition of its exercises, you gradually and progressively acquire
that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your
mental and subconscious activities. ...Contrology develops
the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical
vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit. (Gallagher
and Kryzanowska 1945/2000, 53)
Taken at face value and starting with this early definition,
Batson (2007) suggests that the value placed on controlling
the body in the Pilates method would exclude the method
from being considered a somatic practice. Because there are
many different approaches to teaching Pilates today, there is
a need to consider the roots of Contrology to contextualize
the lens for this research.
Like most body practices developed in the previous cen-
tury, the roots that underpin the Pilates method came
out of Pilates’s lived experience. As a frail child, Pilates
suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. His
early efforts toward self-healing explored a multilayered
approach to building strength, body awareness, breath con-
trol, and increasing flexibility, all in a balanced way. Due
to Pilates’s previous work in various modalities, “his body–
mind approach to exercise makes Pilates particularly effective
as a rehabilitative tool, recognizing the role that kinesthetic
awareness, or mindfulness plays in efficient physical (and
mental) re-patterning” (Adams and Quin 2007, xi).
In developing his method, Pilates “combined the mental
focus of and specific breathing of yoga with the physical-
ity of gymnastics and other sports” (Ungaro 2002, 8). His
mind–body approach is further elucidated by the princi-
ples CCCPFB: centering, concentration, control, precision, flow,
and breath, which were first claimed as legacy from Pilates’s
own writings by Philip Friedman and Gail Eisen in The
Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, originally
published in 1980 (Friedman and Eisen 1980/2005). These
principles have been widely reiterated in later Pilates pub-
lications (Siler 2000; Adamany and Loigerot 2004; Ungaro
2004; Adams and Quin 2007). Adams and Quin (2007)
further describe the principles as:
Centering, as in Yoga, refers to the ability to focus the atten-
tion on one small sensation; in the Pilates method, it might
be a particular area of the core trunk muscles, awareness of
the ability to release tension, or simply the exertion of breath.
Concentration specifically refers to the mind/body connection,
the ability to focus one’s attention as the mind wills the body
into action. Control promotes injury prevention as well as giving
empowering benefits: physical control promotes mental con-
trol promotes physical control. Precision, or the ability to avoid
sloppy, mindless movements increases the likelihood of produc-
ing the desired results. Flow relates to transitional ability, the
ease from which one moves from one experience or exercise,
to the next. Breath awareness is a cornerstone in understanding
the Pilates method. Careful focus on breath control can lead
to increased lung capacity, efficiency, coordination of physi-
cal functioning, and optimal muscular patterning in everyday
tasks. (xi)
REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH LITERATURE
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Pilates method
increases core strength, body awareness, and the natu-
ral flexibility of the spine and range of motion in the
limbs. Gallagher and Kryzanowska (1999) contend that “the
method combines the best of Western and Eastern tradi-
tions, blending mind and body and viewing them as a unity
working in complete harmony with one another” (11). The
research literature on this is limited. Bernardo and Nagle’s
(2006) review of the research literature found ten clinical
studies on the effectiveness of Pilates exercise, and only
five of these were specific to dancers. Because of deficien-
cies in the research designs of these studies, they concluded
that further research is needed before any conclusions could
be drawn about the effectiveness of Pilates in improving
strength and alignment in dancers. Similar conclusions were
drawn in a systematic review of the four clinical trials avail-
able regarding the effectiveness of Pilates as treatment for
low back pain (Posadzk, Pawel, and Hagner-Derengowska
2011). Specifically in regard to whether Pilates develops
qualities of mindfulness, one study reported that college stu-
dents participating in a 15-week semester Pilates mat class
increased in mindfulness using a repeated measures design
(Caldwell et al. 2010).
METHODOLOGY AND PROCEDURES
To extend this small body of literature, we designed a qualita-
tive research project that was representative of what Merriam
(2009) defines as a basic interpretive study. We examined stu-
dents’ descriptions of their experience of Pilates to address
the question of whether Pilates can be considered a mind–
body activity.
Structure of the Classes
Appalachian State University offers semester-long Pilates
mat classes based in Authentic/Classical Pilates. The courses
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consist of 15 to 18 students and one comprehensively
certified instructor. The class meets three times weekly
for 50 minutes, and the students are required to main-
tain a personal practice outside of the classroom at least
two times a week. In this study, the instructors worked
with a healthy college-age population, teaching a progres-
sion of basic to intermediate and advanced mat exercises
following the Classical, Traditional, or Authentic style of
Pilates.
The Pilates I Mat class is experiential in nature. Students
have a concentrated workout experience in each class,
emphasizing the body–mind connection. The students are
encouraged to focus internally throughout their mat work,
so although the structure of the class remains with a large
group, the focus remains on the individual. Each of the
Pilates exercises can be modified to meet the needs of the
individual. Basic anatomy in relation to core muscles of
the powerhouse and postural awareness related to skele-
tal structure are discussed. Fundamentals of the history of
Joseph Pilates and his method are also a focus within this
course, grounding the physical practice within a historical
framework.
Pilates classes at the university are elective courses in the
BA Dance Studies major, as well as being open to any inter-
ested student across the university for General Education
wellness credits. Majors are encouraged to make connections
with their minor throughout the program; integrating their
secondary area of focus often results in students choosing to
double major. The culture of the department is also influ-
enced by the array of Bodywork classes that are offered to
students: Pilates I & II (mat and equipment), gyrokinesis®,
gyrotonic®, yoga, Floor Barre®, Alexander Technique, and
Somatics.
Assignment Prompt
Within the semester the students are assessed via written
and practical exams, and they are also required to com-
plete reflective writing assignments that encourage students
to articulate what they are feeling in their bodies. The final
assignment in the course is a self-reflective paper about their
discoveries over the course of the semester and their well-
ness goals for the future. The specific prompts used varied
slightly based on the semester and instructor. The prompts
were as follows:
1. Describe how Pilates has influenced your daily activities.
2. How have the principles of the method translated into
other areas of your life? For example, are you more aware
of your breath? Do you notice and try to correct your
habitual movement tendencies? Do you use the principles
in other exercise modalities? Do you know how to listen
to your body when it asks for rest?
3. As you reflect on your semester of Pilates, what will you
take with you? What seems important to you when you
think about a lifelong wellness plan?
The data for this project were students’ written responses
to these questions. The university institutional review board
approved the study procedures before data collection began.
Identifying our Subjectivities and Biases
As qualitative researchers, we were aware of the impor-
tance of acknowledging and monitoring our biases and
subjectivities. To become more aware of our own lenses
for interpreting the experiences of the student participants,
we wrote and shared with each other papers identifying
our primary “Subjective I” (Glesne 1999). Our interpretive
position was shaped by a number of factors. Three team
members were Authentic/Classical Pilates instructors with
dance training. One was a Tai Chi Chuan instructor. All
four team members had graduate degrees in counseling or
psychology.
Research Process
The question of what constitutes quality in qualitative
research is still a matter of ongoing debate, so we oper-
ated out of a position of “intense methodological awareness”
(Seale 1999, 33). To proceed we referred to the criteria pro-
posed by Lincoln and Guba (1985) to improve the quality of
our project. To establish credibility for our study, we triangu-
lated our four perspectives as well as triangulated students’
experiences with the original writings of Pilates. We made
decisions about the coding based on consensus. We also
searched for evidence that our hypotheses were incorrect
(negative instances) in the coding and were surprised that
more students did not refer to their experience in Pilates
as increasing their sense of “control.” We hope to establish
transferability through inclusion of details of our setting as
well as quotes from students for readers to judge the appli-
cability of our findings to other settings. The dependability
of our study is based in our audit trail of memos, coding
definitions, and student papers. To address authenticity, we
acknowledge that there could be other ways to represent
the experiences of students in the Pilates courses due to the
wide range of different realities individuals can experience or
choose to report.
Because two instructors of the Pilates classes were part
of the research team, a graduate assistant who was not the
instructor of record presented the written informed consent
document to students while the instructor was out of the
classroom. Instructors did not know which students agreed
to participate in the research until after the grading period
for the semester was over. A code number identified the stu-
dents who agreed to participate in the research project, and
their names and other identifiers were removed from their
papers. Sixty-three students’ papers were collected in the fall
2009 and spring 2010 semesters.
We developed an initial coding scheme from the widely
used descriptions of six principles gleaned from Joseph
Pilates’s writings (CCCPFB; Caldwell et al. 2009).We all read
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each paper, and based on this initial review, we added three
more principles articulated by contemporary instructors
and authors (Imagination, Intuition, and Integration) and
11 additional codes developed directly from the students’
papers. Using this revised coding scheme, team members
coded each paper, and a second team member reviewed
the coding and agreed or suggested changes. Decisions were
made by consensus. We used a computer program, NVivo
8, to assist in data management and analysis (Qualitative
Solutions and Research 1999). This program allowed us to
label texts with our codes, collect and retrieve all text seg-
ments for a particular code, and create displays of frequency
and overlap between codes. Coded segments were reviewed
and codes that were not as frequently used were examined
for the possibility of incorporating them into larger codes
(see the Appendix for a list of the Top Ten codes, definitions
of the codes, and frequency of the codes used). Finally, one
team member (KC) developed a set of themes that were then
reviewed and revised by the other three team members until
the following four interconnected and overlapping themes
were developed: (a) body awareness and centering are fun-
damental to making changes in daily life; (b) increases in
awareness and strength boost confidence; (c) concentration
and intuition take time to develop; and (d) awareness, relax-
ation, and positive mental attitude lead to improved stress
management. All students’ experiences were represented by
at least one theme. The responses of 60 participants (95%)
are represented in theme one with reflections on body aware-
ness and centering. One third of participants responded to
theme two. Three fourths of students’ responses addressed
both themes three and four. The Results section presents
the individual codes within each theme. We reviewed the
themes and compared students’ experiences with the original
writings by Pilates.
RESULTS
Body Awareness and Centering Are
Fundamental to Making Changes
in Daily Life
The most frequently mentioned aspect of Pilates practice
(49 individuals, 78% of participants) related to body aware-
ness. Participants mentioned becoming aware of previously
unnoticed aspects of their posture, muscles, mental life,
daily activities, and surroundings. In his early writings Pilates
speaks to this concept: “Contrology is designed to give you
suppleness, natural grace and skill that will be unmistakably
reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the
way that you work” (Gallagher and Kryzanowska 1945/2000,
53). Here is an example of this:
Physically, I have noticed how tight my lower back really is.
It hasn’t let go much, but at least the awareness is there for
me to continue working on this. I also am going to continue
to work on letting go of the tension in my hip flexors and
my hamstrings. This work has really helped me in my dance
technique. I just feel stronger and am able to do more because
I am developing the powerhouse to do it with.
Individuals spoke to mind–body engagement as a way of
increasing enjoyment of exercise and in developing the
ability to engage muscles as needed. Another thread was
awareness of habitual patterns of movement such as imbal-
ances in posture and spinal articulation. Paying attention
created a sense of satisfaction through listening, noticing,
modifying, and adjusting.
Increased awareness and conscious control of the breath
were mentioned by 27 participants (43%). Pilates stressed the
importance of breath “so that they may consciously control
their bodily movements until good habits are formed and
they become subconscious, routine acts. The first lesson
is how to breathe correctly” (Gallagher and Kryzanowska
1945/2000, 36). In Authentic Pilates the emphasis is to
exhale upon the effort; however, the natural tendency is to
hold the breath in times of stress or exertion. This focused
breath work translates into dance practice and training. Even
experienced dancers increased in breath awareness. One
dancer who had ten years of ballet training noted, “There
were factors about Pilates that I wasn’t quite anticipating,
such as the breath control and articulation throughout my
entire body. The short Pilates-related exercises that I had
performed in the past were not as focused and in-depth
as the ones practiced in the course.” Another experienced
dancer noted:
I have learned to use my breath to assist with movement, rather
than let it hinder me. My dance teachers and peers have noticed
this change, and have commended me on my use of breath
while dancing. The other most important aspect that comes with
breath is control. I have noticed that I have more control over
my body now after taking this course. I notice my ability to
hold poses, or move seamlessly from one movement to another,
thanks to the control I have found through breath.
Levels of awareness developed beginning with awareness
of breath to initiate a movement. Next, students had the
realization that movement with the breath affects efficiency.
This awareness generalized to life situations that included
physical, mental, or emotional well-being. For example, one
individual wrote:
Another thing that I took from Pilates and applied to my life
is breathing. As I improved on breathing in class, I started
applying it more and more to other activities. Walking (up a
mountain) from the bus stop to my apartment, I always monitor
my breathing like I do in “the hundred” or “single leg stretch.”
One benefit of increased awareness was a reduction in
injuries. One participant wrote that:
The whole idea of listening to my body in general has really
become very important to me with the help of Pilates. When I
was younger, or even just last year for example, I would go into
a rehearsal with a deaf mind and would often push myself too
126 M. Adams et al.
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hard which would result in an injury. I am now very conscious of
when a certain part of my body needs a break, and I’ll vocalize
it to my choreographer letting them know I’m going to mark
the next run-through, or not move that body part as big for the
rest of rehearsal. By doing this, my injuries are less frequent and
when they do occur, I recover faster.
Increases in Awareness and Strength Boost
Confidence
Pilates articulated that increased self-confidence was one
benefit of his method. He stated:
It is only through Contrology that this trinity of a balanced
body, mind, and spirit can ever be attained. Once these goals
are met, self-confidence follows. ...Self-condence,poise, con-
sciousness of possessing the power to accomplish our desires,
with renewed vigor and interest in life are the natural results
of the practice of Contrology. (Gallagher and Kryzanowska
1945/2000, 63)
Several participants (22 individuals, 35%) wrote about
increases in confidence they experienced through the prac-
tice. One wrote:
I began noticing my posture in how I stood and moved. I started
to consciously engage my abdominal muscles and lengthen
my spine while moving through my everyday life. This realiza-
tion along with my new found strength and flexibility helped
raise my confidence and allowed me to willingly attempt more
difficult exercises.
A slightly different way of articulating an inner attitude shift
took the form of gratitude when one participant wrote, “I
started to appreciate my body for the amazing things it
enables me to do, and for the first time I felt grateful for my
body instead of bitter that I wasn’t a certain weight or size.”
For Many Participants, Concentration and
Intuition Take Time to Develop
The principle of concentration, mentioned by 33 partici-
pants (53%), is related to body awareness, and involves the
ability to focus one’s attention as the mind wills the body
into action. Pilates addresses the concept in this way:
Concentrate on the correct movements each time that you exer-
cise, lest you do them improperly and thus lose all the vital
benefits of their value. Correctly executed and mastered to the
point of subconscious reaction, these exercises will reflect grace
and balance in your routine activities. Contrology exercises
build a sturdy body and sound mind capable of perform-
ing every daily task with ease and perfection. (Gallagher and
Kryzanowska 1945/2000, 57)
One consistent thread in participants’ responses was that
this ability took time to develop. This helps explain why
only slightly more than half of the participants wrote about
this aspect of practice. For example, one participant wrote,
“Pilates gave me the ability to straighten my back and feel
separation in each one of my vertebra. I think it took me
almost two months of Pilates before I could actually feel any
of the vertebrae in my lumbar spine.”
Another participant wrote:
When I started doing Pilates I had [a] hard time just being men-
tally there. It made me anxious to be tuned in to my surround-
ings instead of distracted by music. It took me a while to be able
to concentrate fully on what I was doing. So many of the exer-
cises require strong mental focus in order to do them properly.
It is very hard to articulate each vertebrae of the spine or engage
your core while your mind is not present. Being conscious of
what I was doing was what made the biggest shift for me.
Another Pilates principle, Intuition, was mentioned by
29 participants (46%), and this also took time to develop.
Intuition refers to paying attention to the body in a way that
honors the limits of the body. This principle is difficult to
learn for a number of reasons. One participant wrote:
Even though I modified the mat work, I taught myself that if
I listen to my body, I’ll reinforce movements in a positive way.
I have struggled with stopping once I began feeling pain because
I didn’t want to feel weak. However, being in this class taught
me that it’s actually the opposite. I tend to listen more now
when my body tells me to stop. It’s still difficult at times, but
I know that if I listen, I won’t regret it in the morning.
Another participant wrote about the difficulty of changing a
pattern of overworking and linked it to an increased intuitive
sense:
First of all, I learned a lot about my body. Pilates has taught
me to respect my limits and modify exercises when necessary.
For years, I always tried to do the hardest version of an exercise,
thinking that someday my body would catch up with me. This
class showed me that in order to improve and grow in my prac-
tice, I must be humble and honest with myself every time that
I am on the mat.
Awareness, Relaxation, and Positive Mental
Attitude Lead to Improved Stress
Management
About half of the participants (30, 48%) wrote about stress
management in relation to their Pilates practice. Pilates rec-
ognized that: “Another important factor in this connection
is that of relaxation at stated fixed intervals throughout
our workday wherever it is possible to do so, since this
practice keeps us physically fit after we have obtained phys-
ical fitness” (Gallagher & Kryzanowska 1945/2000, 59).
Participants wrote about mentally checking and changing
their patterns of muscular tension as a way of releasing stress.
For example, one participant wrote:
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I can now tell I am stressed as opposed to thinking, like I used to,
that I was sore or tired. Also, I have learned different techniques,
which will help me to ease the tension I hold in my body. I never
knew how big a difference taking a few deep, cleansing breaths
could make.
Others wrote about using techniques learned in Pilates as a
way of coping with stress, especially awareness of breath (27,
43%). One participant wrote:
Pilates has been a major stress reliever for me this semester.
My class schedule and amount of homework have been insane
and Pilates has kept me sane. I have not been tense from stress
as I usually am which has made me physically feel better. I have
had more energy and have had fewer aches from muscle ten-
sion. Learning how to breathe has also helped me get rid of
stress through breathing.
Increased sensations of relaxation, mentioned by 22 par-
ticipants (35%), were an aspect of practice that reduced
perceptions of stress. Another aspect of stress management
was the concentration required. For example, one participant
wrote:
Dancing has always given me the same mind–body connection
that I have learned from Pilates, but I had never realized it
before. I was forced to think about every step I took and the
placement of my body through every motion. It was a way for
me to release body tension and mind stress.
About a third of the participants (19, 30%) wrote about
using a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) when encounter-
ing stressful situations. Although not specifically a Pilates
concept, PMA is an attitude of positivity, a “can-do” atti-
tude that involves taking things a step at a time to do things
that initially seem difficult, a concept that instructors at this
university stress. One participant wrote:
The course has helped me gain insight in the ability to under-
stand my own feelings, the importance of emotional stability
and positive mental attitude. PMA and emotional wellness
implies the ability to express emotions appropriately, adjust to
change, cope with stress in a healthy way, and enjoy life despite
its occasional disappointments and frustrations, [and not to]
defeat yourself before you try.
One of the surprises in students’ descriptions was how few
used the term “control” to describe their experiences (15 par-
ticipants or 24% of the sample). Our definition of control
was as follows: “promotes injury prevention and is empow-
ering, mindfulness helps to produce coordinated results.”
Often students reported that their experience of control
inside the Pilates method was related to the process of body
awareness. Historically, control was defined as a product
of the Pilates practice, and emphasized the importance of
the end result. The principle of control remains integral
to the method, but the student responses indicated that
their experience of control was a means to deepening body
awareness. The students linked the concept of control with
the intention, mind–body connection, intuition, strength
development, increased balance, and confidence. For exam-
ple, one participant wrote about the sense of control she has
developed through Pilates practice:
Mentally, my thoughts are more controlled. I am more likely to
stay calm in aggravating situations. For example, while driving,
I am able to think before encouraging my road rage. This con-
trol has much to do with the peace of mind the Pilates program
identifies with. Furthermore, my thoughts are constantly focus-
ing my energy where it needs to go physically. So when I move,
it is intentional and controlled. Of course, some days I forget or
my mind is tired and lazy.
DISCUSSION
Certainly Pilates’s early writings describe his method in
terms of products and outcomes. Pilates had an early
twentieth-century prescriptive writing style; there were pos-
sible translation issues stemming from writing in a second
language; and he had a founder’s zealous passion to make
exuberant claims. If we contextualize his quotes by fram-
ing them with these influences and characteristics, we can
begin to see the historical threads from original writings as to
what is happening in Pilates education today. In contrast to
Pilates’s use of the word control, students didn’t write about
control as often as they wrote about body awareness.
Pilates education at this university weaves historical foun-
dations within a mindful, somatic-based approach to the
method. Elements of concentration and intuition take time
to develop and might be best fostered in semester-long
courses. Perhaps the instructors’ counseling and psychology
background and emphasis on PMA influenced our teaching
methods to accentuate a somatic educational approach that
Brodie and Lobel (2004) describe as “Shifting the focus from
product (skill acquisition) to process (what is actually hap-
pening in the body) can promote optimal functioning” (80).
Our findings meet four out of five criteria regarding
mindfulness reported by Gavin and McBrearty (2006). The
criterion that our students did not write about was the
notion that the activity has a quality of being “energy-
centric.” This concept was not articulated in Pilates’s early
writings, nor is the term used in the method today. In Pilates,
as skill mastery increases, transitional flow between exercises
is stressed. This involves an awareness of energy expen-
diture, which is different from the concept of flow as
related to intrinsic energy that Gavin and McBrearty (2006)
identified.
Our findings must be considered in light of several lim-
itations of the research. First, our use of written documents
as the primary database has inherent limitations. Students
writing a paper for a class are influenced by the prompt and
the evaluative nature of the grading relationship they have
with the instructor. Even though students were assured that
the instructors would not know whether they were partici-
pating in the research until after the grading period, students
128 M. Adams et al.
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might have been influenced by this knowledge to either
elaborate or conceal their experiences. In addition, student
written responses were generally brief, running only two to
three pages. This limitation was offset somewhat in that the
interpretive frame of the instructors included their infor-
mal interactions with and observations of students in their
classes. This provided an additional source of information
for understanding students’ written responses. Although in-
depth interviews with a small number of students could
have been helpful, the sample size of 63 provided a breadth
of possible responses, which we deemed a useful starting
point to explore our interest in the possible mind–body
connection facilitated by Pilates practice.
CONCLUSION
An important theme in somatic approaches is the inte-
gration of the practice into daily life. There was a clear
thread throughout students’ writing of body awareness
developed through integrating Pilates into daily activities.
Our research findings indicate that students are making
connections that go beyond physical fitness through their
Pilates practice. Reports of increased body awareness, con-
scious use of breath, increased confidence, increased ability
to concentrate, the use of intuition for injury prevention,
improved stress management, and relaxation imply that
their experience in Pilates is indeed a mind–body somatic
practice.
Dance students in the study found that these connec-
tions translated into their dance practice, indicating that this
somatic approach to Pilates is beneficial to dance technique
and performance. One implication from this study suggests
placing an emphasis on mindfulness might encourage the
students to make connections to habits of consciousness in
daily life, be it in a technique class, in performance, or in
heeding signals before an injury becomes chronic.
Given the growing interest in somatic methods as com-
plementary practices that integrate well with dance training
(Ahearn 2006; Batson 2007, 2009; Caldwell et al. 2010; Eddy
2006; Kearns 2010), more and more dance programs are
choosing to offer an array of somatic classes such as Pilates,
gyrokinesis®, yoga, and Alexander technique. There is also
increasing interest for these types of classes from the general
student population for wellness literacy.
The growth in the field of somatic practice at the sec-
ondary education level could lead dance programs to con-
sider further curriculum development in this vibrant area.
As mind–body approaches are researched and integrated into
the training of dance students, the implications for curricu-
lum are multifaceted. For example, the number of credit
hours given to these type of auxiliary courses, the academic
training that certified practitioners need to teach at sec-
ondary institutions, and the emphasis that dance programs
want to place in training “the whole” dancer could shift.
Somatic courses focusing on mindfulness promote body
awareness and increase confidence and a PMA; they are an
essential factor in the training of well-rounded dancers for
the future.
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Pilates and Mindfulness 129
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APPENDIX Ten Codes Used Most Often
Code (Number of participants with
text coded/total number of times
the code was applied) Definition Examples
1. Body Awareness (49/78) Aware of muscular imbalances in body.
Consciousness of alignment of spine.
Consciousness of habitual patterns;
muscular holding. Related to
concentration.
I know where I hold tension in my body.
I’m more aware of the relationship of
my body with the environment
(example of sitting in chair).
2. Centering (44/66) The ability to focus attention on one
small sensation.
I can move from my core strength. I can
maintain correct posture. References to
strength both mental and physical (i.e.,
confidence from feeling physically
stronger).
3. Integration (39/56) Awareness that everything in the body
is connected, whole body awareness,
integration of the practice into daily
life. “Use of every muscle
simultaneously to achieve your goal”
(Siler 2000, 18).
My daily activities are easier. I am aware
of how interconnected my body is.
4. Concentration (33/45) Ability to focus one’s attention as the
mind wills the body into action, or the
mind–body connection.
I can feel the articulation of my spinal
column. I can visualize myself doing
the exercises correctly. I can sense how
I am doing the exercises by using an
internal focus. I can modify the
exercises as needed. References to the
mind moving the body to action.
5. Stress management (30/41) “Creating a habit of relaxed effort for
the body to follow” results in
reduction of perceptions of stress
(Siler 2000, 8).
I don’t feel as stressed. When I feel
stressed I use what I learned in Pilates.
6. Intuition (29/34) Paying attention to the body in a way
that honors the limits of the body.
I am aware of when my movements
become painful and I can stop at that
limit. I trust the messages from my
body.
7. Breath (27/33) Awareness and control of the breath
can lead to increased lung capacity,
efficiency, coordination of physical
functioning and optimal muscular
patterning in everyday tasks.
I can focus completely on coordinating
my breath with body movements. I am
aware of using my breath efficiently.
8. Relaxed/relaxation (22/27) Sensations of ease, softening in the
body, release.
I feel more relaxed.
9. Confidence (22/26)
10. Positive Mental Attitude (19/22) An attitude of positivity, can do, taking
things a step at a time to do things
that initially feel, seem, or appear
difficult.
I tell myself “you can do it.” Focus on
accomplishment rather than what I
have to get done.
130 M. Adams et al.
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