Yes, you can learn a lot of Pilates exercises online as well as from books, DVDs and other media. After all, I've published more than 100 free Pilates exercise instructions here at About.com Pilates. However, I also think it is essential that you work with a qualified instructor, either privately or through a class -- preferably on a regular basis and at least from time to time. Let me tell you why:
Pilates Instructors Offer an Experienced Outside Eye
To reap the full benefits of Pilates you must practice the exercises correctly. Doing Pilates exercises incorrectly will not provide the quick results or the long-term body/mind integration that Pilates is famous for. Worse, doing Pilates exercises incorrectly can hurt your body. There are many adjustments to alignment, and techniques for fulfilling an exercises that are difficult to get, except through instruction from a live teacher.
One of the problems with learning exclusively through videos, etc., is that we can't see ourselves, and of course, a virtual instructor or a teacher on a DVD can't see us either. Even a mirror is a poor substitute for the eye of an experienced instructor. What often happens is that we think we are doing things right, but we're not. Then poor movement habits set in and if we don't get them corrected we compound the very problems we are trying to overcome. A Pilates instructor can spot the ways that we are not "getting" an exercise and help us fix them.
Pilates Instructors Teach New Exercises
As with any method of fitness, a Pilates practice needs to stay fresh in order to stay interesting and to continue to challenge the body. If you depend entirely on DVDs or exercises you know you already know, you will surely miss out on many exercises and variations an instructor can provide for you.
Pilates Instructors and Classes Motivate
The example set by a sincere instructor can go a long way toward inspiring your own practice. Picking up on an instructor's skills, enthusiasm, and experience-informed insights can help you make them your own. In addition, learning from other students is a fantastic way to support your own progress.
Pilates Teachers Introduce New Props and Equipment
One of the big ways that people go awry on their own is getting equipment and not knowing how to use it or not knowing how to use it fully. The Pilates exercise repertoire for various pieces of studio equipment, like the reformer, chair and tower is extensive. A professional can teach you the exercises that are best for you, and make sure that you are using the equipment correctly. Getting good instruction will make an investment in Pilates equipment more worthwhile.
Even when it comes to the smaller Pilates equipment, such as the magic circle, exercise balls, and stretch bands, it is still important to learn how to use them with proper Pilates technique, and to have an instructor expand the range of exercises you know.
Pilates Teachers Offer Personalized GuidanceI've saved the most important point for last. Every body is different. As you develop your Pilates practice it is very important that you get help (at least occasionally) that is tailored to your needs. Without knowing what an instructor knows, it is hard to do this for yourself. A qualified instructor will teach you how to modify exercises, making them easier or harder, so that they are appropriate for you. An instructor who gets to know you can help you design your overall workout plan. And, finally, an instructor will help you decide what aspect of Pilates training to pursue next - maybe a new equipment class, maybe Pilates teacher training.