Pilates Plus Life

Sometimes the only choice is to keep on going.

Sometimes the only choice is to keep on going.

I read something online recently that pulled at my heart and mind.  It’s a notion that I’ve heard over and over again throughout my years in the Pilates world:  that we Pilates enthusiasts must embrace our lives beyond Pilates because there is more to life than Pilates.  On the one hand I say, here here!  On the other hand I sadly say that sometimes my life feels all about Pilates.  There are a couple reasons why, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone which is why I’m inclined to share.

I am not wealthy now and I never have been.  I grew up with divorced parents and lived with my single mom.  I left my home state when I graduated from college and moved alone to a place where I didn’t know anybody.  It happened to be one of the most expensive places to live in the United States of America and I’ve been hustling ever since.  I have always been determined to follow my dreams.  Dreams first, everything else second.

This has meant that pretty much all my resources have gone into my Pilates training and little studio.  I don’t know from experience, but I imagine that wealth affords us a bit of distance between time and money.  We can luxuriate more in the fun of life because we don’t have to be earning every available moment to cover our bills.  For me, the link between the time and money has always been pretty short.  It’s meant that I haven’t had the spare time to build community around other pastimes.  I’ve done my best and have had pockets of fun here and there with dance, tennis, and other interests, and I do love my craft projects, but these days life is mostly about work.  And family.

Aside from work, I did also manage to find a mate out here in the wild west and we have a son.  My husband has his own business.  Between our businesses and our child, we are packed schedule-wise.  I don’t like it at all.  In my head or out loud, I complain about it most days.  Which I realize is a personal problem that I can address.  But there it is.  Dreams first.  Neither my husband nor I is ever ready to throw in the towel at the exact same time that the other one is so we keep on going.  With time I do believe that we have become more tenacious which is a blessing and a curse.  As a means of emotional survival, I keep working my mind to find the little nuggets of joy that sparkle up my days.

I tend toward the introverted side of the scale and along with that goes being sensitive to my environment.  I noticed something back when my teaching practice was really full and I was talking for several hours a day all the while engaging in the peculiar brand of relationship that Pilates instructors have with their clients (I call it intimacy with strangers).  I stopped listening to music or NPR in the car (I love music and have always listened to the radio) – I needed the quiet.  The fullness of my teaching practice and my sensitive nature demanded that I retreat when I wasn’t working.  Which was fine, but where were the fun social activities?  There weren’t many.  That could be fine for a span of time right?  We all have different phases of life.  I also live far from longtime friends and family so I don’t have those regular social interactions happening around me as I would if I lived back in Michigan and I have a sort of wacky spread out family anyway.  All that adds up to even less social time.

Then I became a mom and I tried to do it my way.  I was determined to keep my work with my little studio right under our home, and even more than that I was determined to keep connected to my son.  My dream of being a mom has always been my biggest and dreams come first.  I’m glad that I’ve done it my way even though it has been the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done – by far – and I’m not even four years in.  Compounding the challenges has been the extreme loneliness.  I never joined a moms group because I didn’t have time – I work when other parents play with their kids.  Unlike working moms who still have their colleagues, I work alone and I’ve become much clearer on the boundaries between professional and personal relationships thanks to a few instances of professional relationships gone “bad”.  Bottom line is that it’s hard and lonely to do things in an unconventional way.

Looking back I can see how it all fits together to create the life that I’m currently living.  The life that frustrates me.  My singular focus on following my dreams no matter the cost, the challenge of building a life far from my original home, how I needed to respond to the particular demands of my work, and how that all set me up for being even more isolated as a new mom than I would have otherwise been.  It’s true that it’s my design and that I have the power to change it.  But it is also a rather tangled web of desires and knowing which thread to pull free in order to loosen it all up is difficult.

I’m trying my darnedest not to feel pitiful, I’m trying not to whine.  But I’m also trying to understand.  I’m trying to figure out why I’m not perfectly happy living the life of my design because clearly this was not the plan.  I’m pretty sure that I’m close to cracking it, I’ve got almost all the pieces perfectly in place.  In the meantime I mull over the ideals and compare them to my reality and try to stay positive.

When I read that same old idea, one of my guiding lights in putting together my life I felt sad and compelled to dig a little deeper into the topic and shed some light on the complications that make setting up the perfectly balanced life such an involved project.  Against the odds, I do believe that we can all get there.  Sometimes writing it out serves us toward that end.

Pilates, Love, and Kindness

With Liberty Comes Responsibility

With Liberty Comes Responsibility

I was born and lived in Detroit’s city limits, I cut my teeth surrounded by underdogs.  After years of reflective thought I have arrived at a personal philosophy of kindness as a guiding light through this complicated and strife-full world.

Sometime around the new year I was among many Pilates instructors to receive a solicitous email in my inbox promoting a 90-day online certification program.  I didn’t look carefully since I’m not in the market and sadly have hundreds of more pressing messages to attend to in my inbox.  I was drawn into giving that message far more thought than I would have otherwise due to a post in one of the online forums that I frequent where folks were lambasting the people behind that message.  I was embarrassed by the blatancy of other’s criticisms.  Especially when I learned about the source of the original email – a training program closely linked to my own separated only by one professional parting of ways (I don’t know the story and don’t care to, I only know that had I entered Romana’s program at an earlier date I would have known the senders of that message personally).  My feelings of discomfort only increased when I read their follow up message a few days later.  For the record I did not see the follow-up message, one that would have quieted any criticisms excepting ones addressing marketing techniques, mentioned in the same forum.  Somehow for me there was a line that had been crossed in all the critical remarks that had been made and it probably had something to do with the fact that the people who sent out the original email were in some way privy to them to the extent that they knew about them and were compelled to send a follow up email.  I’m pretty sure that the senders of that email wish that they had sent a test message to a sample group because the message they intended to convey was not at all the one that was received and harshly criticized.  I came away with a reminder at just how challenging marketing is.  And just how cruel we can be as individuals, but even more so in a group that has a certain degree of ephemeral anonymity.  I find myself saying, I must remember to be kind, it is so easy to slip out of that mindset when sitting at the keyboard.

I wanted to say something, to stick up for the folks who had been blackballed, but I wasn’t sure how.  Then this morning another post popped up.  A response from an organization that was mentioned in the original email.  (Boy, what a can of worms!)  I’m only sitting here in my apartment with a  sliver of free time because my son is sleeping late, with piles of more pressing TO DO’s all around me, and yet I must add something to this online exchange.  Because I feel that our humanity is missing and that concerns me.

The same old stuff is being raked over in this recent storm of furies.  With Pilates it seems to always boil down to the people and how the work is shared.  Who’s right, who’s the best, who’s legit, etc.  And while that provides us all with a lot of juicy drama, it also drives us crazy and certainly makes us look that way to those who do not share our fanatic passion for Pilates exercise.  I’ve settled into my own little sphere of influence here which involves a few clients and my family.  I have a small studio and enough professional training to keep it running respectably.  This situation has influenced my perspective.  I don’t have employees, I don’t train teachers, I don’t have a lot of overhead.  And I wonder if I’m part of the majority or the minority.  Just like Pilates lessons have evolved from an open gym, supervised workout format to individual lessons in which the student has the complete attention of the instructor; so it seems that more and more people are opting to purchase their own equipment and set up small studios.  The interpersonal challenges of working with others seem to be driving us apart.  I do think that we are losing to power of the collective in isolating ourselves and yet I see that we are not equipped to gracefully navigate collaboration toward an end that suits everyone involved.  Here in the US, the individual rules (and is lonely and depressed for it).  I think that this is something to keep tabs on and I think that it directly relates to the big looming legitimacy question in Pilates.

Legitimacy.  Some people want it, others (like myself don’t).  I used to.  I used to want the respect of professionals.  I used to want to be the one consulted when movement was a concern.  But then I realized all that I’d give up to be legitimate, all the extra costs, all the extra hoops I’d have to jump through.  Then and only then did I realize that I prefer autonomy.  I prefer following my intuition and allowing my intellect to catch up rather than the other way around.  I prefer to keep things small- scale and personal.  I prefer to remain clear about what is my responsibility and what is the responsibility of my clients – I do not want the power to know more than they do about their bodies.  Rather, I want to bear the more subtle and elusive power of helping them find their own internal power source.  In my case I partly wanted legitimacy in order to bolster my confidence.  But now I know that confidence only comes with time.  During the years of my most active learning, when I was laying down my foundational knowledge of Pilates, it was important to be a part of a particular community because the information that I wanted was in that community – Romana was in that community.  But now that I have learned, and now that Romana has departed I do not have a desire to be part of a group associated with Pilates.  I understand that some people do and that reasons differ.  But given the impetus for this post, I am compelled to point out the risks of groups, the very real danger of allowing oneself to be subsumed by a collective.

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.  Joe Pilates was a self-learned, self-made man who beat his own drum.  In large part that is why we have the situation that we do, he didn’t manage to pull together a functional organization around his work in his lifetime.  The reasons are theoretical, but the reality is there.  What he did do was inspire others completely, along with passing on a remarkable body of work and the apparatus to go with it.  That is the substance of the work and the reason that we still have it.  And the reason that I just had to write all this out is because some of the people who uphold that tradition have come under fire.  In that way they have become the underdogs, at least for January 2015.  I prefer to stick up for the underdogs.  I prefer to extend a bit of kindness toward anyone who is receiving a lot of something else.  Just as a balancing measure.  Just to steer the conversation back toward our humanity, back to the place where we all started.  A love for one man’s work:  Pilates.

bigger, Better, BEST

The Cadillac:  After

In all honesty, I’m in a rather sour mood lately.  It’s the sort of mood that comes along in the wake of a very full and busy season of crafting and merry making.  This makes it either the most or least ideal point at which to finally close chapter two of my Pilates Body Boost:  The Cadillac.  This space has always been my place for finding my way out of the blues, so I’ll hope for the best and I’ll try and keep this short (as if).

The good news first:  my body sleuthing efforts are really paying off.  In 2014, I managed to find my way out of chronic pain thanks to the help of a very talented bodyworker.  I have also learned how my diet impacts my skin and how my habit of overeating was affecting my figure.  Right at this moment though, I’m feeling achy and stiff, I’ve got a small colony of blemishes on my face, and the frigid weather (I know, I’ve got nothing to say in a conversation about cold weather that includes anyone outside of California – but it’s still c-o-l-d here) is keeping me entrapped in a dull frame of mind.  Just about the only cheery thought is that we’ve started a new year ripe with possibilities and I’m primed to cash in on a few years of diligence when it comes to work, health, and happiness – so here’s to optimism!

As I’ve reported before, my cadillac phase just seemed to go on and on, I eventually gave into the idea that it would endure for the entirety of 2014.  The full year turned out to be necessary because it was meant to set me up for the reformer and I really wanted to address the tension that has held my body captive for over 20 years so as to get somewhere new on the reformer.  I haven’t maintained the same routine throughout the entire year and in truth, Pilates has served as a maintenance regimen for substantial periods of time as I’ve navigated some pretty big stresses.  During those periods the time that I have set aside for my Pilates workouts went to various therapeutic exercises, what we call Mami’s self-care in my family.  About mid-year, I was very heavy and pimply but out of pain.  That was the bigger and better part of the year.  At that point I resolved not to continue to put on more weight as my body seemed inclined to do – adding a pound a week really doesn’t work for me or my non-existent clothing budget.  And the pimples were driving me crazy – if I could figure out how to get rid of those, I’d be soooo happy.  True to my historically proven approach, I started with exercise.  I added 20 minutes of quick walking every day and got back in to a rhythm of Pilates workouts that gave me a minimum 20 minutes of sweating and heart pumping in the studio.  Just to prove that I was serious, I cut back on sweets a lot and made sure to eat a little less.  After six weeks of that I weighed the same.  THE SAME.

That’s when I got serious.  That’s when I decided that something with the food I eat was going to have to change.  I started by cutting out sugar.  I still eat honey, maple syrup, and fruits – I haven’t gone all the way with cutting out sweets, so that eases the challenge substantially.  Excepting several “off” days that I can count on my two hands, I have not eaten cane sugar since mid-October.  That’s a lifetime record and I have been amazed at how easy it’s been for me.  My dedication has made me realize how motivated I am to find a way to stay slim through adulthood.  But I wasn’t there yet, I discovered something else when I cut out wheat too….

After a week of no sugar, I realized that I’d have to cut wheat flour too.  Because with no sugar, I somehow managed to eat way more bread than usual.  And that just didn’t seem right.  Once the sugar and wheat were out of my diet, I did start to feel some positive changes, I wasn’t quite as achy, and I generally felt lighter and more energetic.  Avoiding wheat and sugar meant abstaining from lots of snacking and eating for emotional rather than physical impulses.  It made every food choice more deliberate, has helped with my overall intake, and has taught me a lot about how I eat.  It wasn’t until nearly two months in that I realized the pimples on my face were associated with my eating wheat and sugar.  Case in point:  after one of my days off to enjoy the most delicious-pancakes-ever at an annual neighborhood party, a big red prize popped up within 24 hours.  That is why I attribute the current cluster of red dots on my face to my Yuletide indulgences.  And that is why, I’m bound and determined to keep clear of sugar and wheat for the next few months with the hope that after a good long break my body will be able to handle some treats without a complete freak-out such as I am now experiencing.  I’m afraid that I’m also going to have to cut way back on cow’s milk because it’s become clear to me after hearing from my aesthetician, and Rupam that my skin reveals my food choices nearly instantaneously.  As of now I have assessed that limiting my food choices is primarily taking care of the pimples.  I’m glad that my determination to slim down has given me some insight into what I need to do to care for my skin.  But what about the extra weight?!

I persisted and have finally clued in to what the slender people of the world have known all along.  The real drops in pounds came from another project that links back into the Pilates world – 80 Bites.  A colleague returned from the PMA conference with a copy of The Body Biz – thanks for sharing  Joan!  I borrowed it and finally read it through.  I recommend it, there is some solid Pilates intel within those pages.  But what really got me curious, was one of the author’s more recent businesses, 80 Bites.  I downloaded the app on my phone the evening that I finished the book and within a few days I’d ditched my over-eating habit.  That was back around Thanksgiving.  I haven’t been overly full since and am finally on my way to dropping the extra 20-or-so pounds that I’ve been lugging around everywhere I go.  On average, I’m dropping a pound a week.  What’s interesting to me about 80 Bites is that it helped me to understand my particular brand of over-consumption and constant eating.  Before my few days of revelation, I would eat several small meals throughout the day and then a way-too-big-but-healthy dinner.  In the evening, I would eat way too much of something like a salad simply because I felt it was good for me.  Between the frequent meals that didn’t give my digestive system ample time to focus on its singular duty, and the great big dump of nutrition that I’d load in at the end of the day, I was creating weight gain.  Now I’m careful to eat enough at breakfast to really sustain me until my next meal.  I may have a snack or I may not depending on what my three meals consist of.  It turns out that I can enjoy food and not overeat which somehow I hadn’t really understood before.  I believe that part of my lack of understanding around portion control has to do with my rebellious response to my mother’s obsessively small portions given her previous line of work as an RD.  It’s also possible that it boils down to getting the appropriate information at a point when I was receptive because it’s not as if I hadn’t caught wind of the calories-out-calories-in concept before.  Speculations aside, 80 Bites forced me to look at my eating habits in a way that no other previous program had and I can’t help but wonder whether my eating habits would have changed earlier had I learned specifically what the 80 Bites program teaches.  I’m very grateful to have found it now, and I’m happy with the idea that I’ve got a plan for staying slim for the duration of my life.  Because while I know that there are merits to cutting out wheat, sugar, and dairy, I can’t see it as a permanent solution for me and I really like food.  80 Bites has given me a way to savor food for as long as I live.

(So much for keeping it short, I haven’t even gotten to how I found my way out of chronic pain.  That’s HUGE for me.  2014 really has been a very productive year despite what currently appear to be lackluster results.  It’s a good reminder that sometimes life is like that.  The good stuff happens in the meanwhile, didn’t I write that a while back?)

I just had this feeling that Stephanie Wilger could help me when I met her.  It took a couple months, but I eventually scheduled a session with her, not with any particular agenda.  When she asked what brought me there, I started with my tailbone since I’ve learned that so much of what ails me started with that fatal bump on a sled in the bleak Michigan midwinter.  In that first visit, Stephanie got my tail unstuck and determined that it had indeed broken off many moons ago.  She’d had a similar injury as a teen in the midwest and has since become an expert at unfurling tailbones.  She gave me homework that I have diligently practiced daily since our first session.  During our next session the topic of mouth guards came up and Stephanie told me about Spino-Mandibular Equalization.  I was soooo excited at the prospect of a new mouth guard that would not leave me achy and desperate to be rid of it after a night of sleep.  (My dentist fitted me with mine back in 1999 and I’d worn it every night for fear that I’d wear down my teeth by grinding – he checks for tight jaw muscles every visit and always confirms that I clench.  Turns out that old guard was keeping me in knots.  Each and every night it was reversing any progress out of pain that I’d made in the day.  I’ve learned that getting out of pain and staying in pain are both daily projects.)  The new mouth guards worked miracles.  When I first got them, I’d pop them in my mouth whenever I felt that old familiar tension arise in my abdomen.  Within minutes the pain would be gone.  For the past several months, I’ve witnessed my body unwind layers of tension as I reset every night to a relaxed and productive state of self-repair.  I still have a long way to go and it’s clear that my tension patterns need support to keep unwinding, but I am heartened by the progress that I’m making.  For as long as I can remember I’ve been at the mercy of muscle tension.  I’ve always been amazed at how other people will not get worried about a muscle spasm because for me once a muscle seizes it’s always been days or weeks before it lets go.  But now, muscles seize and muscles let go.  It’s a whole new world of ease in my body.

Given my mood and the overwhelming list of things on my my TO DO list, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about taking another round of photos to officially close this phase of my personal care project.  But as I was in the studio one day I realized that my body does feel different than it did a year ago and my ever-supportive husband was ready and willing for a quick shoot and photo processing for the upload.  Boy am I glad to have these photos!  The changes aren’t necessarily huge, but all the same it’s quite satisfying to see the increased openness in my upper back and shoulder position.  Now I have proof beyond my own feeling that the past year has been one of improvement.  And I can’t help but think of Joe’s words:
“…Rome was not built in a day.  Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”

Circle Frog: Before and After

Circle Frog: Before and After

Kneeling Ballet Stretches:  Before and After

Kneeling Ballet Stretches: Before and After

Thigh Stretch:  Before and After

Thigh Stretch: Before and After

Roll Back:  Before and After

Roll Back: Before and After

Monkey:  Before and After

Monkey: Before and After

And now, it really is time for a jumpstart with my Pilates workouts.  I’m eager to see if I can make any gains on flexibility especially in spinal extension – though I still have a limited amount of time to dedicate to my workouts.  Keeping track of my progress is satisfying for me so I’ll keep My Pilates Body Boost going since I’m now two for two with progress made (here’s the concluding post for phase one for any curious newcomers).  I’m just going to get comfortable with 2015 first and then gear up for Phase Three – The Reformer.  Hopefully I’ll report back here before summer!  Putting this post together, photos and all, has indeed improved my perspective:  I am happy to conclude that 2014 was the year for bigger and better.  That sets me up for getting to my personal-best-yet in 2015.  Sounds like a happy new year to me!

Recent Thoughts on Being a Working Mom

backyard chalk doodles

backyard chalk doodles

I’ve realized in the past few months, another reason why writing has been such a salve for me in my first years of motherhood and I’m inclined to share – for myself, for others who have had or are having a similar experience, and for those who have noticed some curious tendencies in new moms.

New moms can be rather demanding of attention.  Has anybody else noticed this?  They can keep on talking beyond the standard social cues that would have previously silenced them.  They keep on writing in the same fashion.  They keep on pushing forward against obstacles that would in other circumstances be considered significant enough to alter their course.  Why?

I think that it’s because becoming a parent has the effect of simultaneously making us the most relevant person in the life of our child and the least relevant person on the broader playing field of our life.  Parents tend to disappear from the public view.  Some of us take this in stride and simply abandon whatever endeavors interested us before becoming parents.
I wish that I could be that person, because it seems like it would be a lot easier to maintain a state of grace with that approach to parenting.
Others of us keep trying, keep pushing, keep talking, keep writing.  We probably have different reasons for doing so, but I’d guess that some of it has to do with how much we’ve married our identities to our work.  Those of us who have invested a tremendous amount of our energy in our work will find it very difficult to relinquish those ties in exchange for the fulfilling intimacy that we have with our children.  We just can’t quite imagine that it will be enough for our hearts and minds, because we thrive on the sense of accomplishment that we get from our work.

What we get for trying to have all-that-and-heaven-too is a nearly constant state of trying to-do-the-impossible.  Eventually we come to accept that we are going to do pretty much everything half-baked and not really look our best in the meanwhile.  I’ve spoken to enough working moms to have a sense that this is the norm within my little sphere.

I’m learning to have compassion for myself and constantly working to strike that perfect balance between all the aspects of myself that I feel are important to my happiness.  My life is a constant work in progress.

In that practice I’m also learning to have compassion for others.  It’s easiest to have compassion for others who are having a similar experience to me and in doing so I find some portion of healing for myself and I hope for those others as well.

Please share this post if you are a working mom, or you care about one.  A little compassionate understanding goes a long way.

What exactly, precisely is Pilates?

More and more steps to climb...
More and more steps to climb…

The many types of Pilates that are currently on offer (Classical Pilates, True Pilates, Traditional Pilates, Contemporary Pilates, Stott Pilates, Winsor Pilates, Romana’s Pilates, Fletcher Pilates, Authentic Pilates, Real Pilates, Power Pilates, Basi Pilates, to name but a few), beg the question that I’ve been seeing online lately about different types of Pilates.  I wanted to put down my thoughts on the topic in this space which is more permanent than forum threads.

I believe this is a reflection of the unfortunate reality that anybody can label themselves a Pilates expert and pass on what they know as Pilates from that assumed position of authoritative knowledge.  It follows from that reality that Pilates professionals would want to differentiate their offerings by putting a descriptive label in front of Pilates.  These labels are about marketing and risk drawing people into more confusion than anything else as indicated by the many questions of similar theme currently being raised.  Since the labels are used by anybody regardless of how much they know about the intention behind the name, they take on whatever meaning the general populous assigns to them which soon renders them no more clarifying than they were to begin with.  It is quite a feat to stay in control of your brand, if Pilates professionals know anything about marketing that should be it.  If the type of Pilates really is important to know, then it seems to me that getting to the intended meaning of the name would require asking whoever it was that trademarked it.  In some cases, the person behind the name is actually offering eduction about Pilates and they have merely chosen to play by the generally accepted rules of branding that currently dictate such things, in other cases what they are offering is not actually Pilates.  The substance is not in the name, it is in the people behind the name.  All that being said, my personal bias is that Pilates is Pilates and if you don’t know what Pilates is and you want to, all you can do is keep studying and investigating until you arrive at a complete sense of knowing.  And you are probably going to arrive at that place through working with somebody who has undergone a deep and longstanding study of the original work.

Clearly my bias comes from my personal experience which boils down to three phases of investigation.  Initially, I accepted Pilates as what my dance teacher in San Francisco called Pilates.  I grew interested in learning to teach because I thought that it would enhance my performance as a PE teacher in schools.  I entered a local program that was recommended to be by a man who I served breakfast to every weekend in my job as a waitress.  I did not have to prove what I knew in order to be accepted into the program, my minimal knowledge of what I was soon going to learn how to teach was not ever brought up as a cause for concern.  Interested in learning as much as I could, I read Joe Pilates original writings.  As I neared completion of my first certification, I realized that in spite of learning a lot of very interesting and seemingly beneficial exercises, I still hadn’t learned Pilates because what I had learned was not at all reflected in Joe’s writings.  Lucky for me, a dear friend had completed her training with Romana Kryzanowska and was teaching in Berkeley.  I began taking her class.  Eventually we traded a session on the apparatus and upon completion looked at each other in amazement:  we were teaching completely different things and calling them by the same name.  Within a month or so, I was taking regular lessons with her to prepare for my audition for Romana’s program.  My training with Romana’s Pilates was amazing and transformative, but it was not the end of my journey.  I still had questions.  Little pieces of the work seemed to be absent from what I’d learned and I really wanted a complete and thorough understanding.  (I wanted that Pilates magic at full strength.  I want to be able to transform a body in 30 sessions, heck I am still working on transforming my own body into a normal healthy one!)  I believe that this mostly had to do with the challenge of bundling the incredibly large and layered body of work in a certification program.  These days, I’m mostly alone in my studio but my investigations into the original Pilates system continue.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Biography because it confirmed many of my theories and gave me inspiration for my ongoing investigations.  I may be alone in my studio but thankfully I’ve got the internet and I know that there are others who are working on the same project and that gives me encouragement and a plan for the future.  When I’m more able to travel, I know where I’ll be going.  (In the meanwhile, I’ve got our conference to keep new information informing my practice, so things are looking pretty good these days!)

But that’s me and my personal relationship to Pilates.  While I do feel that it’s important to acknowledge ourselves in these questions because we all have a bias, I also think that it’s important for every Pilates instructor to arrive at her / his own professional code with respect to the work and business promotion.  That inevitably involves tackling the big questions surrounding Pilates and having an opinion that may very well set us apart from other professionals.  I do not mean to be divisive and I certainly do not have any interest in policing others – indeed I believe that we all are best served by minding our own business and leaving others to speak for themselves.  But I do believe that we have to “police” ourselves if we are to adhere to any particular form.  And part of that process means gaining a clear and definitive understanding of just what is and isn’t acceptable for ourselves.

Consider this line from Joe’s Spine Corrector Poster, it’s one of my favorites:
“‘Just doing’ the exercises will prove of tremendous benefit….’Doing them with careful deliberation and thoroughness’ will gain for you that ‘extra something’ you are searching for” 

Much of my understanding of Pilates is based on those words.  I think of the work as layered.  There are the moves, the choreography; and there is the internal coordination of the body’s contents (muscles, bones, and fascia primarily) to perform those moves in the specific Pilates way.  To me, the complete and consistent integration of those two layers is what determines that one is doing Pilates.  I’ve seen impressive results from clients just doing the moves and clients have often reported great results from doing the internal work in the movements of their daily life.  But to really integrate it all takes dedication over a long period of time – ten years at minimum.

In real terms, it boils down to this, Pilates has a reputation for getting a certain set of results.  How can we guarantee those results?  Only by knowing Pilates.  And the only way to learn Pilates is from a teacher.  So you want to pick your teacher wisely.  To me that meant getting as close to Joe Pilates as possible.  But then we do also need to do our own due diligence, we need to be able to discern what is the teacher’s personality and life experience and what is Pilates.  Over time, this becomes easier.  With dedication, our sense of the work becomes clearer, until that is all there is to our understanding.

By design, life is full of distractions.  If we are to keep a body of work alive through generations, we must have a system of accountability in place to keep us from getting distracted and we must establish a trust in the people who do the work day in and day out through the years so that we have a blueprint for the maintenance of the work.  We the people, individually and collectively, hold the only way of sustaining a body of knowledge and / or work – dedication and accountability are how such a feat is achieved.  Because it is really a daily practice to keep the actual work of Pilates consistent to the original, I’ve come up with my own way of monitoring how well I’m keeping true to the original.  I keep tabs on what is happening in every move in my studio – either we are working on the choreography, the internal coordination, or we are clear that we are not doing Pilates but experimenting with something that we hope will enhance our Pilates practice.  As an aside, I’ve noticed that the sharper my understanding of Pilates gets, the less I’m inclined to dabble in other modalities.  Pilates is complete, but it takes years of dedicated study to understand that because it is such a deeply layered system.

On a personal policing note, I’d like to frame the choices that we all make around branding within the human aspect of Pilates that I think we often forget now that there is a broader business dimension to the work.  Pilates was invented and practiced over the the course of four decades by one person, Joe Pilates and his partner, Clara.  Over many years, they developed a close and strong bond with Romana Kryzanowska, who carried his work with clarity and devotion into the next century.  Rebranding the name or calling other things by the same name is highly personal to those people who have dedicated the most of their lives to developing and preserving the Pilates method.  What would possess someone to alter its name or worse, use it to describe something else that is quite different in practice?  I can imagine feeling a great sense of offense were I the person whose life’s work was pirated or renamed because the name I gave it wasn’t deemed suitable by someone in the next generation.   These branding choices are easy to make when time or circumstance have kept one from knowing Joe, Clara, and Romana personally, but such actions have impacted them during their living years and continue to influence the broad perception of their contribution to the whole humanity through Pilates.  Ultimately, on that point alone (I realize that there are many complicating factors in these scenarios don’t get me wrong) the case could easily be made that such choices are disrespectful.  If one choses to say that Joe Pilates’s system was flawed and they have made the necessary improvements, would it not be better to simply drop the name of the imperfect original and go with one’s own new and improved name to match the new and improved system?  It would seem not.  In truth, Pilates is a remarkably effective system and so it’s name actually does count for something.  At least for now, in some places.  The more that non-Pilates is associated with the name Pilates, the more it is in danger of losing its stellar reputation.  Despite the illusion of individuality, we are interdependent – any lack of respect for the humanity that we all have in common has a negative impact on all of us.  Pilates is brilliant, it would be a shame to lose it on account of our excessive and completely unreal notion of individuality.

I cannot help but think of Romana’s consistent and sensible request that summed this all up so neatly:  teach what you want, just please don’t call it Pilates.

A Question Worth Asking

I love it when a city gets behind its people.

I love it when a city gets behind its people – Go San Francisco PRIDE!

If you’re anything like me you have some voices way in the back of your head that are rather critical and have a tendency to question your choices.  I’m increasingly interested in quieting these voices as responding to them wastes my time and energy.  I’ve come with an idea which I  am inclined to share – maybe because I think that might help me along in my endeavor.

First off, I’m going to remember the mantra:
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.
I have found it to be very helpful in resolving unproductive thoughts.

Secondly, I’m going read more of Mary Oliver’s poetry and think of her question often:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Somehow I think that question will help me keep things in perspective.

Pilates with Personality

Now that's a barrel with personality! (pilatesrigger.com will get you Vil's number)

Now that’s a barrel with personality! (pilatesrigger.com will get you in touch with its creator, Vil Shaynurov)

I’ve just returned from the most extended time with Pilates colleagues that I’ve had in nearly six years.  My husband and I got married shortly after my professional organization went through a dramatic revision that left me without my continuing education and the economy went bust.  Soon, I was pregnant.  All together, those happenings kept me close to home and granted me many important personal lessons upon which I’ve often reflected in this very space.  But it has also left me lonely for the sense of collegiality and the learning opportunities that come from working with my far away teachers.

This spring a really cool thing happened when Siri Dharma Galliano visited me – we started talking about putting on a Pilates conference in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We are doing it, and soon I’ll have a pretty little button over on the right side of this blog page to prove it.  In preparation for our project, I did some on-the-job training at Siri’s recent conference in Big Bear.  It was a really great weekend, and I’ve come away with all sorts of insights and ideas that will be distributed amongst my various avenues of expression.  I created this space for the sort of personal reflection that clears my mind in order that I can perform the many tasks-at-hand that fill my days, so it’s here that I will delve into the thoughts on Pilates and personality that came home with me.

By personality I mean the inconceivably complicated web of characteristics that make up who we are:  what motivates, upsets, and challenges us; what draws us to certain people and what repels us from others, and all the other stuff too.  It goes without saying, that I’m using the term as a lay-person and that the terminology is not as important as the idea that I’m attempting to convey:  personality matters.

Joe Pilates himself had a pretty big personality.  From the stories I’ve heard and shared, some have remarked that he’d be in jail for some of his antics if he were alive today.  It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch to consider that some of his failures could be linked to his eccentricities.  Indeed, along with the stories of Joe’s intensities often come follow-ups showcasing Clara’s social grace and ability to smooth things over.  Given that personality plays a role in any human endeavor, and since the Pilates method is less than a century old, it is even more likely that the Pilates community would still be caught in the quagmire of personality dynamics that have been there since the start.

I’ve attended six large-scale conferences and many more small-scale workshops.  I always leave inspired to do better, full of admiration for others, and fairly overwhelmed with all the associated emotions because there is a layer of self-criticism within all that.  As I’ve written before, Pilates is based on empowering each and every individual on their own terms.  I’ve observed that when we train in groups it can be easy to lose sight of that fundamental aspect of the work – I think that the performance part of Pilates eclipses the personal empowerment part in the group setting.  The performance aspect of the method is challenging to navigate without experiencing any self criticism because there is always somebody on show who is thinner, stronger, more flexible, more able, with more personal and professional connections, with more success, etc.  The answer is always that there is no reality in comparison and yet it is so easy to do in the performance intensive settings of conferences and workshops when we are mostly in the role of audience member.  If we fall into comparing ourselves to others we are bound to suffer because our performance is a result of our uniqueness and so it is impossible to replicate anybody else’s greatness.  Conveniently enough, the antidote to comparing ourselves to others is the same thing that gives us access to our own unique greatness:  knowing and honoring ourselves.  The good news is that Pilates does this by design, the bad news is that we still have to navigate the whole personality thing because we all have to learn from someone, and most of the learning of Pilates happens in groups.

Here’s a quick list of areas in the life of a Pilates professional that I believe are almost completely determined by personality and how we relate to others:  who we pick to learn from, who picks us as their teacher, who we prefer to teach, who we prefer to mentor, who we like (and don’t like) to work along side, who we chose to collaborate with on professional projects, who we build professional and business alliances with, who we are comfortable sharing ourselves with enough to transcend collegiality in order to form a true friendship.

I think that perhaps some of us take a while to sort all that out.  While we are in that process I think that two things tend to happen.  First off, there is the notion that there is something wrong with us because we didn’t fit with a particular person in a particular way that somebody else did.  If we allow the notion to take root in the depths of our thinking we are likely to project it outward with judgement and criticism which tends to conflate someone’s personality with their skills, knowledge, professionalism, or any other attribute that is considered more acceptable to analyze.  Such analyses, of which I’ve witnessed a fair amount, cause more harm than good and really boil down to us airing our dirty laundry.  If we keep those judging thoughts close enough and run them through a battery of mental tests that refuse to entertain any self-abuse, and we share with no more than a few trusted confidants who support us in finding true relief from what causes us upset, we are eventually bound to arrive back at the beginning thought with the capacity for disarming it.  In completing the disarmament, will have granted ourselves one more opportunity to free expression and saved our community from a lot of unpleasantness.

Put simply, if we were all to follow a general rule of keeping our opinions of others contained within our own mental machinations until we arrive at an understanding of what those judgements are telling us about ourselves, our professional lives would be free of a considerable amount of drama.

Over the past few years, my clarity of thinking on the role that personality plays in Pilates has sharpened.  Previously, in my judgements of myself, teachers, colleagues, and clients, personality wasn’t clearly demarcated in my thinking.  For me it has taken the development of my personal reflection skills to recognize when a personality is expressing itself.  That has allowed me to avoid getting caught up in the drama that can so easily surround our personalities.

The older I get, and the more days I log as a mom, the more I respect myself and advocate for my own best interests.  As my vigilance for self-care increases, so does my ability to see others more clearly.  I can distinguish their skills and knowledge from their personality.  With that clearer view, I can pay him or her their due respect.  Yes, personality determines so much of how our lives take shape; and yet the more we can keep it as a thing unto itself, the more we can appreciate what others share with us in spite of the limitations of our personalities.  We all have some good to share even when it comes out all wonky because of our personality.  I prefer to focus on the good and take the personality merely as part of the theater that surrounds our lives.  As far as I can tell once you see it for what it is, Pilates with personality is a lot more fun.