The Message of the Mat

Throughout my Pilates journey as a pupil and teacher, I have had the opportunity to practice in studios in the United States, South America, and Europe. Each experience has brought new learning as well as an appreciation of the international ethos of Pilates. And although I thought I loved nothing more than honing my practice on the equipment, the genius of Joseph Pilates and his belief that “change happens through movement and movement heals” has led me back to the Mat.


  1. It was the beginning of Pilates; Joseph Pilates began with thirty-four Mat exercises.
  2. Everyone can access the Mat. All you need is a Mat (beach towel) and a flat surface!
  3. It offers a wonderful community-building opportunity for instructors.


The original 34 bodyweight exercises as presented in Return to Life through Contrology (Pilates, 1945) highlighted the movements without the support of any apparatus. The beauty of Mat and the sequence presented by Joseph Pilates is that each exercise does not stand alone, but rather builds upon or enhances a previous exercise. Students see their progress building strength, length, and confidence as patterns are repeated within many exercises.

I have taught Mat in a Department of Defense gymnasium and a field in Athens, Greece. Currently, I teach on my patio in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and in a nearby active retirement community. Each class follows our six Principles: Breath, Concentration, Control, Precision, Centering, and Flow, while improving functional movement patterns, strength, and balance. Whether in the gym providing young sailors with a fun(challenging) alternative to traditional physical training, in the field working with first-time marathoners to stay injury-free, on the patio nurturing moms as they recover from birth, or in the retirement community activities of daily living, all Mat Pilates classes are done with consistent goals in place, progress noted, and programs adjusted as needed.

As a movement instructor, Mat is a great way to introduce Pilates to your community while giving back. Offering a donation-based class targeting a local charity or school brings people to you. Although a community center, school gymnasium, or church is ideal, the beach, local park, rooftop, or a backyard work just as well!


Finally, it is worth noting that the practice of Mat is highly inclusive and open for most. Balls, bands, magic circles, and rollers add to the work and fun, but they are not needed. The original thirty-four exercises were prop-free and aligned with Joseph Pilates’ belief that “Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.”


Dr. Elizabeth Kirby Fullerton, NCPT, NBC-HWC, has a Ph.D. in special education and is a national board-certified health and wellness coach and Pilates instructor. She is a member of the PMA Board of Directors.

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