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.

In the Meanwhile

Michigan's Gone Green!

Michigan’s Gone Green!

It makes sense that my ten days home in Michigan which included my 20th year high school reunion would leave me with lots to think about.  It’s taken me a week or so to wrap my head around it all.

Up until now and especially back when I was a teen, I thought of myself as being in a holding pattern during my high school years.  Back then I was biding my time until I could get on with the work of my dreams and sort out the unanswered questions from my childhood within Detroit’s city limits.  I understand that many of us don’t know exactly what our interests are in high school, or we don’t have access to them, or we are completely caught up in the drama of being a teen.  For my part, I fear that my focus on moving on kept me from enjoying the goodness that surrounded me.  When I graduated, I hit the ground running.  It was only becoming a mom over fifteen years later that slowed me down.

As I process the impact that spending a couple hours with my high school classmates had on me, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my youth and the innocence of friendship for its own sake – there is such a sweetness to the affections shared when we are young.  I’ve found myself wishing that I’d had more appreciation for my friends, that I’d kept in touch with them, that I hadn’t forsaken them because I was so focused on getting on to my next endeavor.  I’m realizing that I’ve been given another reminder to enjoy the meanwhiles of life or maybe to just stop thinking of them as meanwhiles in the first place.

I’ve often thought of how a life takes shape, how there is so much happening before that thing that captures the attention of the masses.  I’ve wondered what was happening before that big accomplishment, what does it feel like to be a regular person living day to day with a passion or a dream as a primary motivator but not as symbol of success?  Why do some of us experience impatience and frustration at the difference between our aspirations and our reality while others are simply content to be alive?  I think that the answer is that we are thinking of things in terms of results and the meanwhile until the manifestation of those results.

The past few years have felt like a meanwhile time for me, while my passion for my work has only increased, my successes are few and on a remarkably small scale.  It’s been a let down for my ambitious self.  I’ve been forced to acknowledge and embrace that all I have.  In doing that, I’ve discovered the opportunity to enjoy the moments as they come, to stay present.  While I may be in the meanwhile of my aspirations, I’m living out the days of my life.

Toward the end of my college years I spent the better part of one summer in Cuba.  I’d gone with the plan of solidifying my Spanish language skills so that I could avoid taking a course the following year.  Lucky for me, my plan fell through – I was in such an excellent language program I can’t imagine now why I would have wanted to skip any bit.  (The truth is, Cuba really isn’t the ideal place to hone Spanish speaking skills, but it is a wonderful place to spend a summer.)  I kept company with other long-term tourists who were also on a vacation from life-as-usual.  While I did manage to keep in touch with some for a short while once returning home, I bid a final adieu to others on the island.  We knew that we’d met up in the meanwhile and that our paths would never cross again.  And yet those people and that time have left a permanent mark on my life.  Why did I put them into a particular category in the first place?  Why be in such a hurry to get on to the next thing?  In doing so I surely created some limitations on my experiences and the relationships that I formed.

One of my friends’ children doesn’t speak much due to a condition for which he receives speech therapy.  Spending some time with them and then fielding my mom’s inquiries afterwards made me realize that when some people see certain attributes as a challenge or limitation, I see an opportunity for something else.  While our young friend isn’t speaking, he’s doing plenty of other things and developing in a way that is ideal for his situation – his way.  If we think only of his speech then we put him in the meanwhile and risk missing all that he’s doing in the present.  I have no doubt that he is and will be all right living a life with a characteristic that might cause alarm in some people.  I can also see how lucky he is to have a mom that knows that.  If his primary caregiver were to look at him only in terms of his speech then all that he’s doing, being, and becoming while not speaking would be ignored.

It all just made me realize that some of us come up with lots of ways to create meanwhiles.  And that really meanwhile is a limiting condition we put on our lives.  The amazing work that we people do happens in the meanwhiles, friendships happen in the meanwhiles, life happens in the meanwhiles.  Even having the idea of meanwhile separates us from the fullness and joy of life because it holds us apart from what is happening in the now.

I wanted to write this for myself because my visit home was so full and I needed a way to process it all.  And I wanted to write it for my friends, family and classmates to share just how significant it was to see them.  And I wanted to write it for anybody who is on the fence about attending a reunion or going home, to encourage them to go and see what discoveries are to be had there.  There’s a lot of life in our days, as much as we are able to take in, this post is my way of celebrating that simple fact.

Thank you Doc Mike Evans and Benjamin Degenhardt!!!

Many Grateful Hearts

Many Grateful Hearts (a valentine wrapping job from years ago – I was quite pleased with the results)

I owe Benjamin Degenhardt a thank you for sharing these videos on FB.  Just this past week I heard of a local doctor who is repeatedly turning people away from Pilates because of the negative impact she sees with her patients.  I only wish that she knew enough about Pilates to realize that it’s not the Pilates that’s to blame for those painful results, but poor execution of the method’s principles and exercises.  Pilates is brilliant when practiced well; but like anything else when not completely understood and performed imperfectly – Pilates involves a certain degree of risk.  Time to remind:  change the body not the exercise (thank you Jay Grimes!)

Anyway, I really enjoyed the low back pain video, Dr. Evans gives sound advice and I’d venture to guess that his other videos on various health-related topics are just a good.

Now if I could just get that local doctor into my studio, maybe I could give her enough information about Pilates to convince her to stop turning people off to Pilates rather than advocating for finding quality instruction that truly helps each and every person find their own inner power….another day, another project awaits me!  Yet another reminder of why I visit this space so infrequently these days.

Pride and Sentiments

Railing cozies bursting with Pride

Railing cozies bursting with Pride

Our beautiful bay is abuzz with Pride these days.  And I’m feeling sentimental attachments to the gay citizens of humanity, but especially those who I know personally in and out of the Pilates world.

I’m grateful to live in a community that embraces everybody.  I’m grateful that there is no one human being like another and as we collectively advance we learn the depth of meaning in that common observation.

I’m grateful that Pride happens once a year and that I get to bear witness in the smallest of ways with my heart bursting with love for those who are bold enough to express their love in spite of the hardship that comes from being in a minority.

I’m grateful that the people in my life, who I love and appreciate so much and who happen to be gay, are free to be who they are.  Because I know that freedom makes each of us much more loving and wonderful.

Here’s to expressing our sentiments opening and freely – and to trusting that there will always be an empathetic person to receive us with open and loving arms.

PS.  Aren’t libraries the best?!  Ours is putting on the most amazingly entertaining series of events this summer and I am so grateful to have lots of free and fun outings for my son to enjoy with me and with his caregivers.