July 1, 2015
Misty Copeland's promotion to Principle Dancer for the ABT - against all odds, starting late in the game, and with a fierce determination that all athletes have tasted - has inspired me today to hit my Pilates workout with a deeper sense of purpose. I think of all her plies, passe's, and turns, practiced over and over again. I think we Pilates lovers can relate. I think of all the times we practice the Hundred, Teaser and the rest of the Pilates repertoire. All that practice so almost like magic, without thinking about it, we move with economy, grace, and balance. We start to hold ourselves noticably more regally. We use our body to the greatest advantage, making the most of our strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances. This is Pilates: Fusion of mind and body. The paradox is that in order to produce an attention-free union of mind and body, we must constantly pay attention to our body while we are doing the movement. And then we practice, practice, practice. The magic doesn't just happen though, it's our "attention-paying" which is so vital that it is more important than any other single aspect of a movement. Enter our Guiding Principles:
Concentrate on what you are doing with the entire body
Control every aspect of every movement – large motions & joint positions
Centering is the starting place and focal point
Flowing Movement outward from a strong center (Romana) not too fast or slow, not stiff or jerky
Precision of movement and precision of placement creates bodily fine tuning that carries over into everyday life as grace and economy of movement
Breathing full and deep in every exercise, properly coordinated with movement. Breathe in on the point of effort, and out on return or relaxation. Squeeze the breath out of your lungs during motions that squeeze everything tight, and inhale when you straighten up (ie. Spine Stretch)
BUT it doesn't stop there! The key is how we work inside the movement that matters. It's like learning a new language of movement. Enter the Game-Changers:
We find our center and our powerhouse in motion by drawing the abdominals in and up to make the distance between the lower abs and spine as small as possible. No problem when we are lying down, but add it into each movement and it's a brand new world.
We find the posture of our head and neck in multiple postions without tensing our chest and shoulders. Lying down the point of contact to the mat should be somewhere near the base of the skull, producing length in the back of the neck (and strength in the front of the neck). Now take it upright to sitting, standing and moving!
We strengthen our necks by properly lifting our head off the mat in a way that stretches the back of the neck which helps anchor the spine into the mat (think Hundred and Ab Series) which translates into being able to hold out head higher all day long.
We distinguish the difference between relaxing and collapsing; the difference between relaxing and over-controlling or over tensing. This stress-free movement is found by relaxing the muscles while maintaining enough tone to hold the position we want. Think quads overtaking the job of other muscles.
We stretch our arms and legs without locking the elbows and knees. We figure out how to reach the arms long from our shoulders and to stretch the feet long from the hips.
We learn to sit up out of our hips. Our chest is pulled up and our head is sliding up an imaginary pole so that our back is not arched, we can find an extra bit of straightness and uprightness that comes from lifting the lowest part of your abdomen, as if we are stretching our naval away from our hips.
We discover the cure for flaccid gluteal muscles, a chief culprit for poor posture and an ungraceful stride. It is as simple as pressing the buttocks together as if squeezing a dime between them. When standing up our thighs should turn slightly outward and the front of the pelvis is flat and open. It works like a charm and beats incessant reps of large strenuous leg exercises which miss point.
We find a two-way stretch in all movements, reaching the arms from the lower back in one direction while reaching the legs from the lower back in the opposite direction.
We roll and unroll the spine without jerking the body, one vertebrae at a time. And if we are stiff, instead of cheating, we use our arms to help.
A famous composer once wrote: Repetition is a form of change. So we practice the same exercises day after day and discover that we are always finding our body - on new levels, with new depth and insight.
If you are looking for a way to supplement your lessons, try my new program Pilates Avatar . If you are a studio owner or manager, learn how you can bring this program to your studio!
Filed under: Business Matters,Lifestyle Matters,Movement Matters
May 4, 2015
Yes, everyone can learn, yes really learn to practice their full system pilates work independently! Thanks Andrea Maida for sharing your voice with us! Inspire yourself, what are you waiting for?
The aim of Pilates Avatar, which is launching this June 2015 aims to support you in this noble endeavor. Read on....
March 21, 2015
This is an article I wrote for PilatesIntel.com to be published in early April 2015.
I came to Pilates in (what I thought was) the “usual way”. The year was 1995. The place was Drago’s Gym in New York City. Pilates was still beneath the radar in the US so most people had never even heard the word “Pilates”. Fast forward 20 years, and we can see today the “usual” experience for becoming a Pilates teacher is quite different. The world today is different.
I’ve been following the last few blogs from PilatesIntel.com and was not only impressed, but personally touched by how Brett Miller zeroed in on the importance of including Return to Life and Your Health (Joe Pilates’ books) as required reads during teacher training. Maybe Brett will re-title his series to “Finding Joe…”
I took for granted that Pilates educators would make the only books Joe Pilates penned a required reading. I also took for granted how the history, real life stories from Romana, and the richness of Joe’s legacy shared through Romana and other teachers who studied with Joe impacted me and would be woven into the fabric of who I am as a teacher today. Words can’t express what it was like to be around Romana and I am ever grateful for the layers of life lessons that filled my days under her mentorship. Perhaps they can best be shared as stories.
One of my favorite stories, told over and over, was about how Joe ran his studio and how he introduced students to the method. This story (and many others) helped shaped my philosophy about Pilates.
Students coming to Joe’s studio found a no nonsense atmosphere where the expectations were clear and studio policies strictly enforced. For example, the men’s “uniform” was a pair of shorts with no shirt; women wore a dance leotard with (or without) tights. Joe wanted to see how the body was working without the hindrance of unnecessary fabric. There was no socializing and Joe made sure the studio was dedicated as a place to “work”. You would never see people lounging on apparatus and chatting.
Each person was expected to remember the exercises shown them, and be able to practice basically on their own. Framed photo strips of the exercises hung at the back of the reformers for study and reference. When you showed a degree of mastery (and not until then) and Joe saw you were ready to learn more exercises, he would add onto your program. He sometimes pulled over an easel which had a list of exercises written, and told you to come and get him when you arrived at a particular exercise. At that point he would introduce a new exercise. New exercises were like getting a gift. And everyone learned his or her mat work!
New students would tell Joe all about their ailments, and Joe would nod and show interest (perhaps feign interest?) until they were finished speaking. Then he would start them with the heart and soul exercises, now referred to in some schools as the introductory system. Everyone got those exercises. They were to be done in that order and they worked for everyone. If an exercise needed to be omitted out for now, he would add it in later. The point here is that Joe knew the work properly done, works! And it works for everyone. After a few sessions, students would come in and practice on their own, in a supervised setting, with Clara or whoever was teaching in the studio that day walking around to give an appropriate or well-needed push or pull.
Mat “classes” didn’t exist in Joe’s studio. Mat classes were reserved for the dancers at Jacob’s Pillow or the teachers. Your workout was a personal experience, a time dedicated to working on yourself to the best of your ability that day. Joe ran a disciplined studio, he made you want to try your best, and you benefited by seeing real results. It was simple.
My, oh my! The landscape sure has changed. Where’s the work? Where’s the discipline? What’s happening to Joe’s lifetime of work? He was a genius of the body (Romana’s words). Isn’t it fascinating how very same person who complains about their undisciplined children, are actually himself or herself undisciplined? Proof that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. They come in for a workout but where’s the “work”? They don’t remember the exercises, the order, the transitions, the spring settings etc.
But wait a minute… the blame needs to be shared with us, the teachers! My questions is this: are we opening the door for real learning and expecting our students to take ownership of their body and mind, or (sorry if I offend) are we making sure we set up a relationship with our “clients” to ensure they continue to “need” us so we can pay our rent? It’s our job to help our students become more independent so they can be more self-reliant. Let me illustrate this in a different way. When a child is small we show them how to tie shoes, brush teeth, bathe etc. so they can do it for themselves, right? Similarly, if we continue to change the springs, tell what exercise comes next, neglect to show the transitions, how can we expect our students to learn? Imagine tying your teenagers shoes? We wouldn’t get anywhere as a society if we continued that type of behavior into their young adult life.
We all get to decide what kind of teacher we want to be. There are ample learning opportunities for us today, yet ultimately it’s up to us to cultivate ourselves into the type of teachers we want to be.
Thank-you Brett Miller for allowing me to share my thoughts with your readers at PilatesIntel.com. I hope it sparks some open, honest conversation and perhaps some more stories in the future for everyone to enjoy.
Filed under: Business Matters,Lifestyle Matters
February 9, 2015
It doesn't surprise me, but somehow it still takes me by surprise, how much there is to learn about the work of Pilates.
Romana frequently told us to "learn something new each day" and "if you stay true to the method it will reveal itself to you", and it certainly has.
But there's nothing like a good old fashioned chat with a colleague, sharing experiences and perspectives, solutions and strategies, to bring me back to who I am as a teacher and practitioner.
Kathy Ross-Nash and I had a great chat a couple nights ago and our conversation led us to how we foster independence in our students. We've heard the many stories of how Joe ran his studio, requiring students to learn how to work the system for their bodies. Romana carried that idea asking the student "what's next" instead of spoon feeding information so we could develop our mind as well as our body.
We were expected to know our exercises and orders. And that was that.
In the spirit of sharing with our community, take a quick listen to Kathy Ross-Nash saying what she does in her studio to challenge the minds of her students and then giving a final reward to sweeten it up. Thank-you Kathy!
I hope you enjoy it and share it! I look forward to having more chats with friends and sharing the collective wisdom.
Filed under: Business Matters,Movement Matters
January 19, 2015
So many have asked about the order on the Refromer and Andrea Maida has done a wonderful job explaining it in her blog. So well done, and in simple terms that everyone can understand. I want to share it with you and encourage you to follow her writings. Thanks Andrea for adding this to our collective minds.
Totally worth reading!
Filed under: Movement Matters
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