Your neck should never hurt during Pilates!
One of the first things I tell new clients when they are starting Pilates is, "Pilates should not
hurt!". If something hurts then we need to adjust the exercise in your body in a way that it can be effective and help you create balance and strength so you can continue to progress without pain.
One of the most common places people find their neck hurting is while doing any exercise called an upper ab curl. This movement specifically involves lifting your head off of the mat and curling toward your body as you roll to approximately the tips of your shoulder blades. This movement is fundamental in many traditional Pilates exercises, although can be modified as needed for individual bodies.
If someone is brand new to Pilates and they jump into a large group class without any specific training on how to do this movement properly in their body, they end up feeling like they are straining their neck and not feeling the work of the movement throughout the rest of the body.
Since Pilates movements are designed to integrate the whole body, figuring out where you need to work more or less so you are not in pain is often not as easy as simply changing an exercise to an "easier" version. Sometimes just changing how you think about an exercises or what you focus on can change completely how an exercise feels in your body and make it more effective. This is where working one on one with a trained instructor can be highly beneficial. An instructor can help you try different variations or even just change your focus on an exercise and this can completely change how you do an exercise.
If you've tried Pilates and have experienced pain consider working one on one with an experienced instructor. Often times just one or two sessions can give you enough insight into how to improve your body movements that you'll be able to continue your practice without pain and with a better knowledge of your own body and how to adjust it.