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On Neutral Ground
Fear of falling in Pilates, be it off the Reformer or Chair, is an issue that many clients face. Here’s how to maintain the integrity of the method’s more challenging balance exercises while forgetting the height—and the worry.
By Emma Kumley

I HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF OWNING THE MOVEMENT STUDIO, LOCATED VERY NEAR THE VILLAGES, FLORIDA, WHICH IS THE LARGEST RETIREMENT COMMUNITY IN THE U.S. ( IF NOT THE WORLD). But before you get visions of whitehaired ladies spending their days slowly rocking on front porches with bottomless lemonade, know that retirement here is anything but slow and boring. My clients are active! They play endless golf, hours of pickleball and walk miles upon miles of trails, dance nightly—all with zero intention of stopping anytime soon. They come to the studio to continue to be able to do the activities that they love, and to do them better.

My clients are strong. And they are motivated. But one thing that I see consistently is a well-founded, and very understandable, fear of falling. We do a good amount of balance work on the floor, but that healthy fear of falling, rooted in self-preservation, can produce a nonnegotiable “no,” when it comes to taking exercises off the ground.

As instructors, it's our job to help clients do more than they think that they can. We help them build strength and organize movement, so that more and more of the repertoire is available to them. Sometimes, however, the strength and the organization is there, but fear isn’t ready to recede to make the exercise possible. I find this especially true with exercises that are designed to take place atop the Reformer and the Chair. Fear creates tension, and tension corrupts movement. Corrupted movement can lead to the inability to derive benefit from the exercise, misdirected muscle involvement, or worse, injury.

It's my objective, as a teacher of movement, to help my clients find freedom in their bodies. I want to encourage them to move with confidence, to feel brave and secure as they challenge themselves, and to leave their session with a satisfying sense of accomplishment. For all of these reasons, I’ve taken some of the advanced repertoire and modified it for my clients who don’t want to go airborne.

These are not beginner exercises. These exercises aim to honor and maintain the intention of the original, but simply bring the movement closer to the ground. Even in their modified form, the following exercises require clients to have a good grasp of the Pilates principles and basic, balanced strength and body awareness.

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January - February 2020