The month of March is synonymous with the arrival of warmer temperatures, the return of Daylight Savings Time, and March Madness, the popular NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Since 2013, it’s also been marked by the arrival of “March MATness,” a deep dive into the original 34 Mat exercises featured in Joseph Pilates’ seminal book Return to Life Through Contrology. The brainchild of Pilates teacher Benjamin Degenhardt, the monthlong "Mat-a-thon" has grown into a worldwide celebration of Joseph’s original Mat work. Read on to discover what it is and how you can participate.
When Benjamin came up with the idea of March MATness, it’s unlikely that he imagined it would spawn a global movement of movement, complete with hashtags (#MarchMATness) and its own Facebook and Instagram feeds. After all, the black and white photos of a 60-year-old Joseph Pilates clad in his trademark white shorts performing the original 34 Mat exercises are pretty dry by today’s social media standards. The exercises themselves lack the sizzle of the Reformer and Cadillac repertoire with their intimidating straps, springs, and moving parts.
Although the Mat exercises are often considered a “gateway” to the other exercises, Benjamin points out that the Mat work is actually harder to master. With March MATness, Benjamin gives the Mat work its due. Each day in March is dedicated to a specific exercise, following the order shown in Return to Life. For example, March 1st celebrates the Hundred, followed by the Roll Up on March 2, Roll Over on March 3, and so forth, winding up with the Push Up on March 31 (to accommodate all 34 exercises, three days are assigned to two closely related exercises).
Benjamin's hunch that March MATness was a natural for social media proved correct. Every year since 2013, Pilates practitioners have posted images and videos of themselves performing the individual exercises. The result is a virtual conference that fosters the connection between Pilates practitioners all over the globe. The Pilates world becomes smaller when one realizes that a Teaser looks much the same in Minneapolis or Mumbai.
March MATness is open to everyone and the bar to entry is low. To participate, simply take a photo or video (or create a drawing or other artistic representation) of yourself or a friend doing the Hundred on March 1 and post it on social media. Think outside the studio; you don’t even have to be on a Mat. A quick scroll through the March MATness Instagram feed reveals creative Pilates fans working out at the beach, in the park, and on horseback. There are exercisers in leggings and tank tops but also street clothes and even tutus. Cameo appearances by eager pets, babies, and kids create the impression that anyone can get in on the action. The sense of fun, creativity, and spontaneity becomes contagious.
This year there will be an official “Caption Theme” sponsored by 360 Pilates, an online and live educational platform Benjamin created to keep the original Pilates work relevant (the "caption theme" for 2020 has not been announced yet). By tagging posts with the "caption theme," participants can amplify the impact of their individual posts and send a unified message to each other and the public. While there is no “winner” of March MATness (it’s a celebration, not a contest), select posts will appear on the official Instagram feed as well as on the March MATness website.
What if you’re not much of social media maven? There are other ways to participate. For example, if you struggle to maintain a consistent self-practice, March MATness can provide the motivation to get on your Mat every day, all month long, helping to form a healthy habit. And if you have let certain of the 34 essential Mat exercises drop out of rotation because you think you don’t like them or can’t do them well (and we all have some that fall into this category!), March MATness is the perfect excuse to pick them up, dust them off, and try them on your body once again. You may discover that an exercise that used to be frustrating and challenging is now within reach. March MATness also reinforces the value of performing each exercise in Joe’s original order, revealing the transitions between and the interconnectedness of the work.
Seeing so many different bodies performing these iconic and well-loved (and, let's face it, some less well-loved) exercises is a reminder that Pilates is practiced all over the world, by all types of bodies. Today, the official Instagram feed has nearly 8,500 followers. There are also YouTube videos and a robust Facebook community. The popularity of March MATness proves that Joseph Pilates’ hope that “the science and art of Contrology will live forever” has become a reality.
If you want to see what we're up to for March MATness, follow our Instagram page, @pilatesanytimeus!