How Do You Do Challenging Yoga Poses?


Because no matter what, in any positive movement experience, something profound happens, be it discovering a new sensation, developing a new skill, finding proper alignment, or simply feeling better. Teaching Pilates facilitates that process by way of curating the experience with select cues and exercises—and with touch.

“I invented all these machines…I thought, why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me.” I often reference this quote by Joseph Pilates (circa 1945) as an important link in understanding the comprehensive nature of the Pilates method. Mr. Pilates was referring to the Universal Reformer here; the apparatus he designed was intended to serve as an extension of the teacher, perhaps even as a teacher in and of itself with its tactile feedback and dynamic means of resistance. The quote also implies that, in the absence of apparatus, a teacher’s physical support can be a powerful tool to promote a better embodiment of the work.

How Do You Do Challenging Yoga Poses? Photo Gallery

No matter how well we can communicate with words or demonstration, there is something that only the right touch can accomplish. It is a kinesthetic sensation that is impossible to “unfeel.” Our personal movement behavior develops long before we can put it into words, which is why any student will benefit from teaching strategies that involve high levels of tactile feedback. As an extension of the senses we usually rely on, hands can feel what eyes can’t see and express what words can’t say.

If you are an avid practitioner of the matwork, you are probably already familiar with the exercises I have chosen here. Instead of delving into the benefits, breath pattern and nuances of each movement, I’ve chosen to show how I physically spot my students here. If you don’t have a friend on hand to help spot you, you can simply visualize the traction provided by these techniques; if you are a teacher, practice them with your students to unleash new movement potential.

When applying touch, be mindful of the amount of pressure you apply—less can be more—and pay special attention to the instructions that follow. Instead of “forcing” the body into a position or exerting pressure, use your touch to meet the mover’s resistance, evoke a movement direction, and invite effort and opposition. Of course, always ask for permission first, and try not to be in the way of the moving body.

Side effects include being more present and engaged in your practice and teaching, and your students might create new movement behaviors more quickly. You’ve been warned.


Lie on your back with your arms overhead, legs together and feet flexed against the spotter’s hands.

1 . Lift your arms, head, neck and shoulders to sequentially roll up, maintaining the pull with your feet.

2. Stretch over your legs, actively keeping the round shape of your back.

3. Roll down with control, maintaining the pull on the spotter’s hands.


Cup both of your hands around the mover’s feet. Rather than holding them down, merely offer your hands to the mover, and remind him/her to pull on you throughout the movement.



Sit with your arms and legs extended wide, feet flexed and spine lifted.
1 . Rotate your trunk to one side.

2. Round over the leg in front of you, stretching one arm forward and the other backward in opposition.

3. Return to the starting position.

4. Repeat the sequence to your other side.


SETUP Lie facedown with your legs together and arms out to your sides at shoulder height.

1 . Stretching your body in all directions, lift your head, chest, arms and legs off the floor. 2. Continue to lengthen—it’s a small lift—and then return to the starting position.

A . Place the fingers of one hand against the mover’s head to invite lengthening through the crown of the head.

B. Place the heel of your other hand against the sacrum, and tent your fingers against the bottom ribs to traction the lower back and remind the mover to find length (rather than crunching in).

A . In the setup, hold the mover’s arms, and pull them gently back and up.

B. During rotation, place your foot against the mover’s inner leg to help anchor the hip down.

C. During the reach, place one hand against the shoulder blade while gently pulling the back arm to create opposition.


SETUP Sit with your legs extended hip-width apart, feet flexed and hands cupped behind your head.

1 . Lift through your waist, and actively push your head into your hands and into that of your spotter.

2. Round forward over your legs, still pushing your head up into your hands as well as the spotter’s hand while avoiding sinking into the spotter’s other hand on your front body.

3. Restack your spine to return to the starting position

A.Place one hand behind the mover’s hands. Remind the mover to press the head up into your hands, and meet his/her resistance throughout the movement (don’t push down!). Use your other hand/ arm to give the mover something to bend the spine over (rather than pushing into the ribs or stomach).

B. If you do the full Neck Pull, refer to the spotting technique from The Roll Up for the articulation up and down.


Benjamin is the mastermind behind the annual social media campaign, March MATNESS, which invites everyone— from the newbie student to the master teacher—to share photos of Joseph Pilates’ original mat exercises throughout the month of March. We think it’s a fun way to get involved in our community and inspire others to do the same. For more information, visit; don’t forget to use #marchmatness2018 with your every post. Also, check out the Pilates Style Facebook (/pilatesstyle) and Instagram (@pilatesstylemag) pages for exclusive videos, tips and more from some of our favorite movers.


SETUP Lie on your back with your arms overhead and legs together on the floor. Pull on the spotter’s legs as you lift your legs toward the ceiling.

1 . Actively push your lower body into the spotter’s hands to lift your hips.

2. Once in shoulder stand, reactivate the pull of your arms, and then slowly lower your hips back down.

3. Lower your legs to the starting position.


A . Find a grounded position about an arm’s length from the mover’s shoulders.

B. Hinge at the hips—move them back as you lean your upper body forward—to grab the mover’s feet.

C. Meet the mover’s resistance and straighten your legs as he/she lifts the spine, then reverse the movement pattern and let go of the feet as the mover returns to the starting position.


SETUP Get into a kneeling position, and extend one leg out to the side with one hand behind your head and your other hand on the floor.

1. Keeping an active side-bend in your body and your head pushing into your hand (like Neck Pull), kick your working leg forward as much as possible.

2. Swing your leg back as far as possible.

3. After this set, repeat on your other side.


Kneeling behind the mover, place one hand on the top elbow, and cup your other hand around the outside of the hip of the supporting leg. Gently traction your hands apart to evoke length in the upper body and stability in the hip.

BENJAMIN DEGENHARDT has been involved in Pilates and movement training for more than 15 years, and is the founder of 360° Pilates, an online education platform and live workshop program for Pilates professionals. Upon completing classical and contemporary teacher training and continuously studying with experts in the movement field, Benjamin developed his perspective on Pilates by synthesizing historical research on Joseph Pilates’ thought process with a modern understanding of movement, health and fitness training. He presents his work at conferences and training facilities around the world. To learn more about Benjamin and 360° Pilates.

SHANNON BYNUM ADAMS is a classical Pilates instructor and the owner of the movement studio, Urban Body San Jose ( She’s also licensed to teach The GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® methods and certified in the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum. Additionally, she has completed Benjamin Degenhardt’s 360° Pilates program. Shannon believes in the healing and corrective strength of Pilates, having used the method to fully recover from orthopedic surgeries, including two total hip replacements.

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