Book Review: “The Pilates Body”

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Title- “The Pilates Body: The Ultimate Guide to Strengthening, Lengthening, and Toning Your Body – Without Machines”

Author- Brooke Siler

First published- 2000

Edition- 1st Edition

Year- 2000

Format- Paperback

Pages- 208

Availability – Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ebay, etc. I actually found my copy in a used bookstore while on vacation.

Review-

I was drawn to Brooke Siler’s “The Pilates Body” mostly because I had heard it was a great book covering the Pilates mat exercises, but also because Siler has a wonderful reputation as a teacher. Originally trained by Romana Kryzanowska, Siler is known for her celebrity clients.

The book starts with the first chapter “What is Pilates?”, a brief explanation of what Pilates is, including the many benefits of the method. This introduction to Pilates is short and in no way meant to be an in depth look at the history of the method. Although, Siler does touch briefly on the history of Joseph Pilates, including his time spent imprisoned during WWI, his books and the opening of first gym in NYC.

The second chapter “Philosophies Behind the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning” covers topics such as reducing stress and fatigue, making the connection between Pilates and your daily life, and how the method focuses on quality over quantity. This section covers the ways that we use Pilates to find balance both physically and mentally. Siler sums up this chapter when she writes “Through visualization, physical strengthening and stretching of the body, mental vigor..” we can take the “first step toward stress reduction, grace of movement, alacrity, and a greater enjoyment of life”

The third chapter covers the Pilates principles,  such as the six we see often covered (Concentration, Control, Centering, Precision, Breath and Flow) and some that I believe are from Romana(?), such as Imagination and Intuition. I’ve covered the first six principles separately and in depth on my blog if you want to read more about those.

The next chapter gives some key points on how to get the most out of your practice, which includes the anatomy of the powerhouse, how we “scoop” the belly in Pilates, the Pilates stance and modifications for some common pains and injuries. This section is short but contains some great information, particularly for beginners.

The fifth chapter is Siler’s answers to some frequently asked questions. These all cover some great topics that will be helpful to beginners. This section also covers how to use the book. Siler suggests for people new to the method to practice the basic modified mat section for a few weeks before moving on. This section also introduces the models used in the exercise portion of the book, each one performing a different level of the exercises: beginner, intermediate, advanced.

The rest of the book is really the meat of the book, the exercises. The exercise portion of the book covers Modified Beginner Matwork, The Pilates Mat – Full Program, Advanced Extras, The Standing Arm Series and the Wall (Cooldown). I wont go into too much detail on each exercise section, but cover what I really love and don’t in the exercise sections.

The Modified Beginner Matwork section covers the following exercises: The Hundred, The Roll Up, Single Leg Circles, Rolling Like a Ball, Single Leg Stretch, Double Leg Stretch, and Spine Stretch Forward. It is a very short exercise portion as you can see. The book suggest to practice the Modified Beginner Matwork section for a few weeks before moving on to The Pilates Mat – Full Program. The full program covers all the other exercises we know in the mat series.

What I love about this book is the clear pictures that are posted along with clear and precise instructions for each exercise. Each exercise in the matwork is thoroughly broken down, and each exercise takes up two whole pages. In the “step by step” portion of each exercise, Siler concisely breaks down how to execute the exercise. I find these instructions very clear that even beginners will be able to follow along. Also included for each exercise is “the inside scoop”, where Siler gives you the goal of the exercise, key things to watch for, as well as modifications and how to progress the exercise.

One of my biggest take aways from this book is the great verbal and visual cues that Siler gives in the book. I’ve since adopted a lot of these into my own teaching of the matwork. One of my absolute favorite things about this book was the small graphics/drawings for each exercise that give you a great visual for the cues for each exercise. For instance, in Open Leg Rocker she gives the cue “Imagine you are sitting in a high-backed rocking chair that is about to tip over, and quickly bring yourself up to a balanced position”. With this is a picture of a person sitting in the Open Leg Rocker position in a rocking chair. So simple, but so helpful. I found these helpful to really articulate the point of the visual cues given. Great for visual learners!

Now for what I didn’t like about the book, mind you these are small and nit-picky, but they did stand out in my mind while reading the book. I did happen upon one or two exercises where the step by step description was a little confusing. For instance the exercise description would start off talking about one side of the body but shift into the other side of the body, mixing up the left and right sides of the body. Now, as a teacher I quickly caught the mistake and knew what was meant, but I can see this being really confusing to someone new to the method.

The other thing I disliked was that beginner, intermediate and advanced exercises were all blended into one section. Although, the exercises are clearly labeled what level they are, I would have preferred to see separate sections for beginner level, another section for intermediate, and yet another separate section for advanced level exercises. I think a beginner might attempt to perform all exercises in the full program without noticing the different levels of each exercise as you move through this section. I would have then maybe ended the book with a small pictorial display of the whole sequence of exercises in the full program together to give an idea of the order of exercises at the advanced level.

Overall, I really loved this book and can see myself referring back to it for many years to come. I found it very helpful, with great cueing and clear and concise step by step instructions. I would highly recommend this book, not just to teachers, but to those looking to start a Pilates matwork practice. It’s a very fun and informative read. I think even as a teacher, it’s always great to keep learning, and to view the exercises from another’s perspective. Especially, with Siler’s years of experience in the industry, it was wonderful to read this book, and pick up some great teaching tools.

To buy or to borrow? – Definitely a BUY and keep in your home Pilates library.

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