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Where’s Joe?

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

Chat Sessions:  Kathi Ross-Nash

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.
Love, Clare

Filed under: Business Matters,Movement Matters

Catch the Spirit

December 10, 2013

Early this fall, I was introduced (thanks Kathy Ross- Nash)  to a woman who is a real blessing in the Pilates community. Her work is creating history by documenting the teaching of classical Pilates through many talented teachers. I am excited 

to introduce Alisa Wyatt, founder of Pilatesology.com.  Alisa and I share a common philosophy in our mission to help people Age Strong with Pilates and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share the filming of my first few classes WHICH ARE BEING RELEASED TODAY!   On the birthday anniversary of Joe Pilates!

Happy Birthday Joe, this one is for you and for all the students and teachers who inspire me. Sharing the love of Pilates is an honor, privedge and joy!

I hope you enjoy my classes and the other fabulous teachers on the website. Happy Holidays and a Healthy New Year!  We are all connected to Joe in one way or another and our lineage brings us into the future as one family.  

In the interview below, Alisa takes us through the backstory of Pilatesology, sharing history and future aspirations for her work.

What was the genesis of Pilatesology? 

Alisa:  My Pilates journey began as a student who fell in love with the method so deeply I knew I wanted to take a teacher training program before I had even taken my first real lesson. I was there for all kinds of personal reasons and was lucky to begin in 1997 with Romana and her incredible team of teachers whose passion for Joe's original work was contagious.

Over the course of my apprenticeship with Romana I met and learned from people who made deep impressions on me including her daughter Sari Mejia Santo and Bob Liekens. I also got to work out with and observe others who were destined to be the next generation to carry on the work like Kathryn Ross Nash (who I will never forget gave me a brilliant tip on an exercise I was practicing while she was waiting for a workout with Romana), Brooke Siler (whose first book I relied on as much as my own notes), Moses Urbano (who lit up the studio with his fun and warmth), Brett Howard (who gave me my first lesson), Mari Winsor, Dorothee Vandewalle, Juanita Lopez, Cynthia Lochard, an amazing trio that Romana taught every week with Jerome Weinberg, Peter Fiasca and Tiziana Trovati (Tiziana earned the nickname 'Mighty Mouse' in this trio because, despite her tiny stature, she performed all the same exercises as the men with absolute ease) and so many more in my own seminar group. I took regular lessons at Alycea Ungaro's studio where I met more amazing instructors and when I was finished with teacher training I felt I had just begun learning so I quit my corporate job and started teaching.

The first mat class I taught, I took over from Jennifer Kries who was leaving the local gym in my NYC neighborhood to open her own studio. I continued taking lessons with Romana, Sari and Bob and found another student of Joe Pilates: Kathy Grant, who I went to twice a week at her studio at NYU and got to experience her wonderful assistant Blossom Leilani Crawford there. I've attended countless workshops and conferences and could write pages of names of teachers who inspire me and that is exactly how Pilatesology came into being. I've always been a connector; if I like someone or something, I want others to know about it (my corporate job was as a book Publicist) and Pilatesology is a means of bringing this method to the world.

My husband Jack is a photographer and we had been making videos for my clients to travel with when a tech-y friend of his told us we should be putting the videos on the internet. That seemed way over our heads until I reconnected with college friends who had just started Pilates Anytime. I loved what they were doing and envisioned a more specific site, focused on preserving and spreading the original method through workouts that regular people can enjoy and instructional videos for pros. Even our name is intended to recall the original work that Joe Pilates called Contrology.

What draws people to Pilatesology.com?

Alisa: What are they really excited about?
I think when people experience the depth of the work in the original Pilates style of teaching it's almost impossible to resist. Pilates might attract people initially because of how they want to look but they stay because of how it makes them feel, which is strong, powerful, flexible, in-control, and calm. Personally, I'm excited about preserving the classical method for future generations.

What makes Pilatesology unique?
I made a decision early on to limit our teachers to those who were either trained by Joe Pilates himself (ie. Jay Grimes) or  trained by Joe's protege, Romana Kryzanowska. There were many reasons behind this decision. I wished someone had recorded more of Joe and Romana teaching and realized we have an opportunity to create a living record, and I wanted to distinguish the work that I learned from Romana and pass it on in a form that is close to it's source. It's the basis of the method for me, like when you want to become a dancer, you study classical ballet in order to have the technical ability to be a modern dancer. We are inviting people in and trying to uphold the mission of the original work, to keep the original work alive and to make it accessible at the same time.

How do we reach people and develop a passion that is unstoppable?


Alisa:  Once people get bit by the Pilates bug, they can't stop. Aging strong is a huge topic, particularly preventing injury and overuse commonly occuring in media-hyped trendy training methods that beat the body up, instead of building the body up. The less anyone has to work out the more we can enjoy a great life. With wellness and health so big in our national interests it's a great time to refocus on wellness. It's not about putting on a Pilates 'suit' so that you 'look like you do Pilates' you actually want to get the deep strength that Pilates provides!  The discipline, the depth, the strength makes you feeI complete. 

It's a lifestyle choice that you make because it's a good way to live (like brushing your teeth) and creates a basis that makes the rest of your life easy. In a conversation we had, Clare made a comment that was absolutely on target. She said that people discipline their kids but often not themselves. When you come to Pilates you do it a certain way and you get to feel proud when you get it right.  it's thoughtful, disciplined, feeds your body, mind AND spirit because it requires you to be engaged! This is a huge appeal, it's not haphazard, it leads to a fulfilling method.

There's nothing wrong with starting because you want a tighter butt or flatter abs because in the end, you're going to end up with stronger character and that's far more enduring than how your jeans fit on any given day.

What is in the future for Pilatesology?

Alisa:  We are growing like crazy and as our classes and members become more diverse, our challenge is to make it easy to find what you're looking for within our site. We have more than 350 videos with 3 new ones added each week so beyond continuing to record the highest quality workouts and instructional videos for teachers we want to help people find answers to individual questions through weekly live 'office hours' with our teachers, live feeds of classes, and more.

What a great way to honor the birthday of Joe Pilates!

Filed under: Business Matters,Lifestyle Matters

Plugging In

November 16, 2013

Staying connected and plugging into your resources as a teacher, business owner and Pilates enthusiast is extremely powerful.  Take time out to enrich your practice, expand your horizons or just to connect and remember who you are in the work.  The bottom line is that we need each other.  A famous saying comes to mind:  Alone we go fast, together we go far.  I'd like to introduce you to Jennifer Deluca - an amazing teacher, mentor, and studio owner - we went through our teacher training together and recently reconnected at Romana's Memorial service. Here's a glimpse into our weekend reunion.

Filed under: Business Matters,Lifestyle Matters

Teaching Ruts

June 11, 2013

Ever been stuck?  Stuck teaching in a similar fashion, cueing with the same words, seldom varying lessons, and working on the usual apparatus day after day.  In recent conversations with several teachers, I was curious to hear how they keep workouts fresh for their clients, how they planned and built progression into their sessions and if they truly worked with Pilates as a full “system”.  Remarkably, each person shared the tendency to shy away from equipment they didn’t understand well or didn’t personally practice on, or found they regularly got in a rut teaching the same way with the same tempo using the same cues and the same exercises with their clients.  Without a plan or a map, how can you get where you want to go?  It is no surprise they periodically felt “flat” and uninspired in their teaching.  I personally related to their stories as I been there before myself.  While workshops were inspiring and I got plenty of information and new ideas, it wasn’t until I did my own homework and applied what I learned that transformation ensued.  Here is what I did to develop a strategy for each client. 

1. Take inventory of their current Pilates goals.
2. Prioritize current body issues, exercises or movement patterns currently challenging them.
3. List the exercises I had given them on each piece of equipment. 
4. Ask if they were progressing and if so, in what way and how that looked. 
5. Write this for each person, using it as an opportunity to check in and reset goals.

I was amazed at the insight this process brought seeing everything written down in black and white.  It enabled me to create a plan and purposefully construct a workout strategy that targeted their needs.  I decided to zero in on one or two priority issues at a time.  I pulled out my exercise lists on all the apparatus and created a complete list of all the exercises that could help each issue, fully realizing that I would tackle each issue in stages.  At the top of the list were mat and reformer exercises.  Then I listed the remaining exercises on the cadillac, chairs, barrels, and accessories that could help my client.  Now I was ready to get creative.

My goal was to plan five different workouts that specifically addressed the areas I identified.  I developed a template with 7 columns and enough rows to list each exercise I planned to cover over the course of six sessions.  The first column listed the exercises either beginning with mat or reformer then 2-5 exercises on 2-3 other apparatus, and an ending.  The remaining six columns represented 6 sessions where I could take notes after the session.  I took care not to introduce more then 1-2 new exercises or variations per apparatus in a given session, indicating which exercises I would introduce each session.  This allowed both me, and my client, to grow into the full program over the six sessions.  I discovered it was much easier, with the full lists in front of me, to come up with five different workouts and created a theme for each session. 

By spending the time to invest in my client’s progress and success, I found I had invested in myself as well.  This process pushed me out of my comfort zone and re-opened my eyes to the beauty and vastness of the Pilates System.  I also realized how important it was for me to actively continue exploring the possibilities available within the Pilates system and keep on seeking greater depths of what it has to offer, remaining wide open to the unfolding its mysteries.  Romana was right when she said, “stay true to the system and the system will stay true to you.”

Filed under: Business Matters,Movement Matters

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