Pilates For Self Empowerment

pilates boost 08-17-13

WEEKLY STATS  Weight: 151.5   Waist:  32.5″  Hips:  40″  Thighs:  22.5″

This week’s food for thought, at least in my little world, is weighing the benefits of self practice vs having regular lessons.  Sometime in the past few days, I had a look at this post and I totally agree when one is laying the foundation for a personal Pilates practice or a teaching practice – this will take about ten years, by the way.  And I myself spent just about ten years adhering to Andrea’s line of thinking.  But then my life happened.  Mainly, I had a kid.  And everything changed.  Except my passion for Pilates.  (And a few other things but I will resist the temptation to digress).

I’ve come to see Pilates as far more accessible that I did before, because now I think of it so much more in terms of movement rather that a precise expression of an ideal form.  If I think about how the original Pilates’ studio operated, I imagine the work infused with a different sort of zeal than how it is performed today (instructor-supervised, rather than instructor-guided workouts).  I know that there are very good reasons for having individual attention and for how we have evolved to the point that we are at now with Pilates – but clients always received individual attention in Pilates.  Now it’s just undivided attention for at least forty five minutes, which frankly, is pretty intense.  I know that in many ways we are each desperate for attention and individual lessons give us that.  But we are also desperate for movement.  And we are also desperate for being more of who we are.  When I teach individuals, I have trouble keeping people moving at the more vigorous pace that they can maintain when movement is the initial focus and I tend to dominate the arena.  That’s me, my style, my personality, etc.  And it’s my job to keep myself in check to be the best that I can be.

When I talk to clients who have had lessons for years and still feel incapable of putting together their own workout I have the sense that they haven’t really had the benefit of learning Pilates.  While clearly they were experiencing benefits from their lessons (they would not have continued otherwise), I think that perhaps the forest was lost for the trees.  There are pitfalls in any methodology of learning.  Knowing the pitfalls and employing a method of checks and balances is the key to overcoming them.  In my teaching practice, it was time for a change.  It was time to focus on movement.  It was time to focus on the learner.  It was time to put each and every client in charge of their workouts.  Eventually things may swing back the other way.  But for now this is working.

While I can completely understand the assertion that books and videos are not the best way to learn, we are living in a world where many people are doing just that and thriving.  I find it remarkably exciting.  Given that these days I’m mostly in home, but also highly motivated and engaged, learning over the internet is great for me.  I read a lot, and it affords me the opportunity to engage with what I’m reading personally and integrate the material into my life in a way that is appropriate for me.  When we learn from another person, in person, their persona is part of the equation.  It is easy to lose ourselves in that experience.  Especially if we admire the teacher.  While this makes for a really wonderful experience that is bursting with enthusiasm and love, it can be limiting in terms of how deeply the work can really effect us because while we are in the presence of brilliance, we are effectively in the shadow.  Pilates is full of brilliant stars, people who came to the work after careers in the limelight.  These beautiful people offer us lots of wonderfully useful information and inspiration, but they can also outshine some of us who don’t burn quite as bright.

In terms of my work having a kid did three things for me:  I completely revamped my teaching format, my self-practice became my only practice, and because it quickly became clear that I was at risk of losing my mind, I began writing regularly.  These three changes have all had a tremendous impact on how I look at Pilates because more than ever before I am in the power seat.  (I also believe that becoming a mom called me to be everything that I am which is also a contributing factor to putting me in the power seat when it comes to living my life in general.)  When we teach, we learn, so revising my teaching practice and writing about Pilates also keep my personal practice stimulating.

I had to reorganize how I teach because above all I want to be a hands-on mom.  I gave careful consideration as to how I could do both the work of my profession and the work of being a mom well.  I thought long and hard about how to optimize my teaching practice.  I managed to eliminate what was draining and challenging to me and maximize what I feel is most important about Pilates:  empowering each and every person who practices the method to be more fully alive.  This meant emphasizing the learner and de-emphasizing the teacher.  In my studio, everybody learns the system from day one.  This means that within a fairly short period of time, clients know the exercises, the order, the set up, and they can perform them all in the desired amount of time.  With all that out of the way and with their bodies trained to move, I can do my real job which is to continually introduce concepts which help each person to refine their workout.

Taking lessons is costly in time and in money.  While I have enjoyed the benefits of individual lessons for years, at this point in my Pilates practice, I know enough to give myself a proper workout.  It’s more important for me to be close to my boy than to have a lesson.  What’s more is that I have hundreds of pages of notes to peruse.  I am not without information to constantly be improving my Pilates practice.  Additionally, I’ve dabbled in other methods recently which has enhanced my understanding of Pilates.  I took my first Pilates lesson in August 2000.  I truly have not been bored since.

There is one aspect of lessons which is quite important and that cannot be replaced by any amount of knowledge or enthusiasm:  the external feedback.  Frederick Mathias Alexander was a contemporary of Joe Pilates and in his studies he came to realize that our sensing of our bodies is woefully inaccurate.  I am missing that piece for now, I rely on my memory and notes from hundreds of lessons, and I have mirrors when I really need to have an accurate idea of where I am in space.  Because of my injuries and perhaps just because of who I am, being a mom involves a considerable amount of physical strain.  Keeping myself relatively pain free and optimistic was the mainstay of my practice until I started My Pilates Body Boost.  I was not trying to constantly get better with Pilates, I have been doing that sort of expansion in my family life.  For now Pilates is my source of personal comfort, it is not my cutting edge.  But as I said, it still affords me daily inspiration which is part of how it comforts me.

Writing generally really has pulled me back from the brink many times over the past year.  Now that I’m writing more consistently about Pilates, I’m enjoying another expression of that age old truth that we learn as we teach.  Putting my ideas about Pilates into writing, with the hope that some others will experience some benefit from my thoughts, gives me a structure for my work in the studio.  Given that I do not work amongst other teachers, it keeps me engaged with broader world of Pilates in some small way which is good for morale when I have a sense that my career is on hold while I do the very important – but shamefully under-acknowledged – work of mothering the next generation.

All this is to say that there is not one way.  This is a most exciting time in the world of Pilates, the work has been shared with so many wonderful people that we each have many ways to access this amazing method.  We can put together a personal practice that is enhanced by a wide variety of informational sources.  The most important thing is always that we honor ourselves, reflect honestly on our work, and allow our practice to evolve as our lives unfold.  With those cornerstones, a Pilates practice can help us to be more and more of who we are.  I can’t imagine a better result than that.

2 thoughts on “Pilates For Self Empowerment

  1. Andrea Maida 


    I could not agree with your line of thinking more, actually. I have been on a similar journey (sans child) with my teaching – making it more about the client learning their workout and continuously moving and less about me leading the client through all the way. They are in charge of their workout and it is so rewarding to see the knowledge grow in their minds and to watch them make the connections in their bodies.

    Thank you so much for the link to my post, and I hope we can have more posts in the future that offer an exchange of ideas. I very much enjoyed your post and want to cheer you on!

    All best to you,

    1. elizatwist Post author

      Well Andrea, you know the saying about great minds ;). I think that Jay Grimes has something to do with our common evolution. It’s great to know that I am not the only one doing this in the real world, and to have a supportive friend in cyberspace!

      Here’s to cheering each other on!


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