Just the other day a student asked me what my favorite piece of Pilates equipment was.
I didn’t have to think twice: “The Mat.”
He objected: “No, I meant which apparatus you like best.”
I repeated: “Hands down – the Mat.”
When I asked him to take closer look at the Mat and lead him through a workout on it, it dawned on him that he was training on a well thought-out invention, much like the Reformer.
The Mat is an elevated construction that includes important features such as the strap, handles, and boxes. The sturdy foundation gives the body support while the thick padding provides protection for the spine. Just like anything else in the Pilates studio, the Mat and its design and dimensions have specific intent and purpose.
Check out this picture (courtesy of Chuck Rapoport) of a student setting up for One Leg Circles on the Mat in the original Pilates studio. The handles and foot strap add support and create length and opposition throughout the body as the student pulls on both ends.
A Pilates practice always begins on the Mat, and it ultimately leads back to the Mat. In his book ‘Return To Life’ Joe Pilates describes and prescribes 34 movements that, if performed well, would help to establish and maintain ideal physical health. While he changed and reinvented much of his method over the four decades he ran his studio, the Mat sequence remained the same after he published ‘Return To Life’ and truly is the heart and soul of Pilates.
Many Pilates practitioners think that they first need to have a solid practice on the Mat to get strong enough to work on the other apparatus when in fact the opposite is true! At Joseph’s original studio, his students learned the Mat sequence so they can practice it at home in between studio sessions. But at the studio, students were to take advantage of the specialized apparatus he developed to fine-tune his students’ movement abilities – to get strong enough to do the Mat work properly.