Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid obsession?

A curious phenomenon occurs when we bend to the side…

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

photo courtesy of Ben Bertucci of Vintage Pilates

The Mermaid is quite the smile-inducer. What makes this exercise supremely pleasurable?

And look at those hands of his!


Usually I am not so jazzed about the Pilates side-bending exercises.

Most notably: the Short. Box.

Who knew how difficult it could be to bend to the side?

It's no secret that I love the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

But love is complicated.

Swelling feelings of warmth juxtaposed with the moment you fear your love will destroy you.

And I'm not talking about the Tree.

Gray skies are gonna clear up…

The Short Box and I have had a stormy relationship.

When I began Pilates it was always amazing. Awesome. Invigorating. I loved all the stuff we did on the Mat.

I eventually got used to the apparatus and its benefits, yes, the Reformer was definitely growing on me.

Then. We sit on the Short Box.

There aren't even any springs…??!

The first thing I learned about Side-to-Side on the Short Box:

Oh yes, this is the one where she comes to fix me.

Gradually I came to understand that the side-bending exercises (of which initially I enjoyed exactly zero) are very beneficial for me.

I know, another Pilates ‘Duh!' moment. Oh there were lots of those…

We've got all those wonderful Mermaid exercises – clearly everyone loves them.

(evidently even me)

Torturous, I tell you.

Generally I find them to be torturous. So exactly zero of them got practiced by me.

For years.

Back to the Short Box

14 years later, (1) I understand at least intellectually what needs to happen to execute the Side-to-Side exercise with optimum form. And (2) I know I'll have the rest of my life to work on it a little bit each day.

What's changed? you may ask.

What's changed other than persistence, stubbornness and the super-helpful-in-this-case passage of time?

One glimmer in the hazy world of what goes on behind me (on my back) is semantics.

Love lifts us up

The word lift can apply to any Pilates situation. For years I have been caught up in bending to the side.

Let's translate bending to the side into lifting both sides up and reaching to the side!

Back to Jay's hands for a moment:

When assisting clients on the Short Box, I watch Jay's hands give a firm but gentle help in lifting the low back.

Usually I have been more preoccupied with discouraging the lift of the shoulders and all kinds of craziness going on up there, which may be appropriate as well for some cases I suppose…

But overall, isn't positive reinforcement (what you should be using) better than a negative correction (shoulders DOWN!)?

Pilates things that make you go Hmmmmmm…

Feline inspiration

Add a little stretching like a cat to the mix as well, it can't hurt.

Don't lose yourself in striving to be the perfect Side Bend. Sometimes we can get bogged down in the Pilates Dogma or the endless checklist we have in our heads that will make everything properly aligned, lifted, scooped, etc…

Move like the animal you are!

Read the iconic Sports Illustrated article on Joe Pilates and his method and be re-inspired.

Originally published in 1961 and accompanied with the famous photos of I.C. Rapoport, the author reminds us that Joe Pilates took inspiration from the animals, the cats he observed while interned on the Isle of Man.

He saw them, when they had nothing else to do, stretching their legs out, stretching, stretching, keeping their muscles limber, alive. He began working out an orderly series of exercises to stretch the human muscles, all the human muscles.

On a sad note, author Robert Wernick passed away recently. Photos appear below courtesy of I.C. Rapoport.

In the first photo Wernick works with Joe Pilates in the 1960s. I met him at the age of 95 when he lived on the 5th floor of a walk-up apartment building in Paris and proclaimed he did the Hundred every day.

“In my 80s I decided to omit backbends,” he told me.

His posture in his 90s is lifted and tall, and with a mischievous look in his eye he spoke of ladies in their 70s who puzzled to guess his age. They decided he couldn't possibly be over 90 because of how tall and upright he was standing!

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Joe Pilates works with client Robert Wernick

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Goxwa (neighbor), Robert Wernick and I.C. Rapoport

Short Box-related posts:

More on Robert Wernick:

Pilates Inspiration Delivered Every Week

Like what you read here? Get new posts, workshop updates + good vibes in your inbox.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  1. PAT sTEVENSON says

    Yes, the hand is a little high up on her torso!

  2. Julia Hilleary says

    Such a great picture of Andrea & Jay! I too have gotten this correction to alignment of the ribs in side bend. Seeing this photo brings Jay’s voice to mind. Even more stretch when the ribs are in & all is lifted. A gentle reminder of touch to keep that control is a way of speaking two languages at once, both for the group and for the student. Thank God for our Masters sharing the secrets, yes?

    • Julia! I agree – what a lesson Jay gives you just from how he uses his hands! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your comments 🙂 Hope all is well with you and yours. San Diego misses you!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.