I’ve primarily taught alone in a little private studio for eight years. (This has shaped my teaching practice in some ways for the good and in some ways for the not so good. But I’ve come to understand that there is no point in chiding myself for reality, so I’ll just leave it at that.) One thing that I have consistently done during that time is invite other instructors to teach my clients. We all learn something in the process and I am always grateful for the sharing that happens. On one occasion, an instructor – I honestly do not remember who – told a client – exactly who, I also forget – that we always keep our eyes open in Pilates. This client told me about the correction and I’ve been pondering it ever since. I’d never made a big deal about the eyes open thing, because I didn’t understand the purpose behind the rule. I love teaching because in practice, the things that we don’t really know or understand all eventually rise to the surface. If we are diligent, we go ahead and figure those things out as they come up. Or sometimes we just quietly think about them for a few years….eventually though, the opportunity to really become informed presents itself.
A while back I asked my body worker what she thought about it since eyes open and eyes shut is part of how she checks in with my body at the beginning of every session. She said something to the effect that we experience our bodies differently based on whether we are looking outward with eyes open or inward with eyes shut. That got me thinking about how Pilates gives us an opportunity to inhabit our bodies fully while being present to the world around us. Which is no small feat. Indeed, it is a very human challenge, bridging this gap between heaven and earth as we do in every living moment. Now that I teach in a primarily group format, my clients are constantly having to practice self-awareness while interacting with the entirety of the studio (babies, toddlers, equipment, other students, nannies, husbands and all). For some this may seem less than ideal because it is so important to focus very carefully on their bodies, especially in the case of injuries. While I can understand that point completely, I actually think that having a place to practice holding one’s own in a somewhat complicated, but controlled environment is a really great and unique opportunity.
As I said it’s a great challenge of our life in the United States: to care for ourselves in the face of a busy and stimulating world. While it’s one thing to go inward and cultivate a sense of self in stillness and tranquility, it’s another thing all together to do the same while moving through a bustling environment. To me this yet another demonstration of what sets Pilates apart from other forms of exercise. Pilates is intelligent exercise for people living in a contemporary urban environment. Pilates is designed to help us balance out the complications of such a lifestyle. And it does so beautifully.
What with My Pilates Boost in full swing amidst the bustle of our little family’s days sometimes just doing the exercises feels like a real accomplishment for me, especially given the complicating factor of cross country travel – only now do I feel my normal daily rhythms taking hold again. When my workout serves me more as a respite than anything else, I might allow myself to close my eyes here and there. But recently I’ve been catching myself and watching carefully the resulting change in my experience. On a subtle level I have detected a change when I keep my eyes open. It reminds me of my beloved dance teacher who would often have us all move around the room making eye contact and tracking the spaces in between the other dancers. It all seemed rather artsy to me at the time. But then as now, I do detect a slight enhancement of the movement experience. Sort of like all the colors brightening a bit in a digital photo editor.
And of course, The Fajardo Method of Holistic Biomechanics ™ has an answer for me. Did you know that our eyes connect to each and every one of our internal organs via connective tissue? They do! This means that on a subtle level when we use our eyes to look around we are stimulating our viscera. Our organs are in constant motion and they are naturally disposed to be involved in every movement that our bodies make. Consciously looking with our eyes is a basic way that we initiate movement from the very depths of our bodies. Isn’t that cool?! I tell you, this body sleuthing stuff is loads of fun!
There are other ways that Pilates stimulates all levels of our bodies for a truly integrated exercise experience. But these days I’m enjoying this subtle way in which Pilates enriches our human experience. Now, I know a couple very good reasons to keep my eyes wide open while I practice my Pilates.