Pilates, Somatics & Embodiment

Beth in Pilates mermaid exercise on gray Pilates mat with black leggings and teal top.

Written by Beth Sandlin

April 5, 2022

“That was such a great somatic experience.”

Years ago I received this comment after teaching a slow paced, explorative Pilates class, following the classic 34 exercises. My first thought was, ‘I was never trained to teach somatic movement. Was that really somatic?’ 

Since this time, I’ve opened my perspective on Pilates, embodiment and somatic movement. With so many different understandings of each of these terms, it’s understandable that there’s overlap, confusion and varying viewpoints. 

This brief musing is a rambling of my current professional and personal relationship to each of these terms. Some may resonate with you, others may not. And that’s all okay. Take what works, leave what doesn’t. 

Many times Pilates, teachers and movers alike have a very narrow definition of what the Pilates experience is. I’ve had people tell me the class I taught was too fast, therefore it’s not Pilates. I’ve had other people tell me the class was too slow and that’s not Pilates. Though someone may not have enjoyed a certain type of Pilates class, it doesn’t rule it out as being Pilates. 

Pilates is a a deeply personal experience and should offer different options


There are times to lean into working out, learning, exploring and experiencing. Sometimes these can overlap and other times they are different but they all add to your pot of knowledge and understanding.  

When you have a narrow definition of Pilates it can feel stifling and set you up to be more inconsistent with workouts. (this was a lesson learned from professional teaching and personally moving with Pilates.)

The Pilates Method can have an immense amount of variety. When we are new to Pilates, we may not be in a place to explore this because of where we are in learning the method. There may also be life stages where Pilates means one thing to you and other times when that will shift. 

A shift occurs by ditching the “right way” and eliminating comparing your practice to others. Where we all are in our Pilates practice as a mover, and possibly as a teacher, is individual.

For me this has been shaped by embodiment practices and somatic movement. 

I haven’t embodied Pilates by sticking to the Pilates “rules”,  always moving with the most challenging variation, the fullest expression of an exercise, or by listening to someone else. 

It’s moving with my body, my full experience and centering myself in my practice. It’s allowing my body to lead, to find options that I may have formally learned as a good “option” for an exercise or what my experience leads me to. 

This past weekend I was teaching a Pilates class and came up with a new brain/body teaser for the double leg stretch exercise. (Note this had nothing to do with the actual Pilates teaser exercise.)  I could only create that new variation of the movement from being fully present while teaching and connecting to the energy of the class, so teaching from a place of embodiment. 

And this leads to the term somatic which is referring to the body. Someone recently told me that all Pilates is somatic. Although I agree that Pilates is movement of the body, I don’t necessarily concur with the statement that all Pilates or even all movement is somatic… and this is referring to a distinct definition of somatic. 

When we are striving to reach perfection, we are evaluating the mechanics of the body. When we are in a challenging class, it doesn’t allow for the space needed during a somatic experience. I also want to clearly state that I am not referring to Somatic Experiencing which is a therapeutic practice. 

Somatics is a mind-body practice. Many times a workout alone isn’t somatic. It’s about moving slowly with awareness, focusing on patterns, offering shifts. 

Watch the short video below for more information on Somatics and Pilates. 


Being in the experience of Pilates, embodiment and somatics can overlap. Sometimes I come to Pilates with the intention of a workout. This is not my embodiment or somatic practice. 

Other times I come with the intention of exploration, ease, integration, inquisitiveness, this is how I use Pilates as a form of embodiment and somatic movement. 

I’m not a fan of, “Pilates must always challenge you”, or “You must always strive to be better.”

This won’t always help you unwind patterns that no longer serve you. It can also lead to burnout, overuse, guilt or shame around working out and positive movement. In addition, only focusing on one type of Pilates workout doesn’t take into account current knowledge of Neuroscience. 

What I can support is that Pilates is far more expansive and flexible than just being done in one way. It can and should support you where you are. 

Some days that will be with an inquisitive, slow, nourishing session. Other days it will be a challenging workout. 

As you continue to move with Pilates it can become more of an embodied and somatic practice, as long as you practice in that way. 

I hope that you give your Pilates practice time to unfold, being open to new experiences and expressions.

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