Category Archives: Pilates FKA Contrology, the Art of Control

Pilates is my daily practice for body sleuthing and seeking enlightenment. Try it, you’ll like it!

My Thoughts on Self Promotion in the Pilates World

The Isle of Man looking far lovelier than as a prison

The Isle of Man looking far lovelier than as a prison

I started writing in this space for a few reasons.  A big part of how I chose to set up the space was to write under a pen name.  My husband has tried to convince me to drop the name many times over and yet I’ve stuck by it.  When I opened this space I was burned out on the Pilates personalities that I’d been working with.  Traversing the psychology of my teachers was an exhausting labor that I’d taken on in my quest for knowledge.  When I turned my attention toward being a mom, I no longer had the energy to hold other people’s stuff.  I am biased in believing that is what we ultimately do when we accept others’ personality quirks and stifle our own frustrations with them in order to complete some sort of task, be it learning or producing some sort of event in which we play host and organizer.  I also did not want to inflict my personality on others.  I wanted to have a place where I could share what I know and the insights that I’ve gained through experience without blatantly promoting myself.  I wanted the ideas to be enough.  Because I believe that while we must live out our lives in a series of actions and interactions, if we apply some analysis to those activities we can improve.  But the two things are often separate.  Having a space for ideas makes sense to me.  It gives me a place to put my thoughts so I can keep on living in the present.  And I hope that it offers others a place to do the same.

For what felt like a long while, I had very few people reading my posts.  That was fine on a couple levels since the space was in large part for me and my posts are sometimes more stream of consciousness than most readers would like.  But I am by nature ambitious and I wanted my ideas to be “out there”.  At least a little bit.  Somebody suggested that I post on FB and so I did.  And then somebody who had started another FB forum invited me to join it.  That is when I started to share my posts, only the ones that I felt were relevant to that community.  And people did start to read them.  I have little idea what they thought, but at least they stopped by and had a look.

Once I turned that corner, I came to realize that all bloggers with success engage in self-promotion to a degree.  In most cases, people are writing as themselves and so when they know people in the real world those people also know about their blog.  I had naively thought at one point that blog friendships could happen online.  Not so – they happen in the real world and are merely mentioned in the blogosphere.  I had effectively cut myself off from that avenue of promoting my writing through the nature of my blog.  Creating a space apart from the real world had some serious ramifications, as my husband had pointed out.

Following that thread of insight further along it’s fairly obvious that at a basic level we are all self-promoting.  Anybody who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves.  For a long time I held a romantic story in my imagination about how someday I would be noticed and supported in becoming something more than my lowly beginnings in the midwest.  It’s the story of fairytales and being “discovered” by some talent scout.  In all candor, I carried that romantic ideal into my adult life and my Pilates training.  It is in the Pilates world too – how many people tout that Romana or some other great teacher called them a star or honored them with some title of expertise?  Apart from the fact that I’m not that person, and perhaps because of that I had to learn through time and experience that I was the one that had to do the discovering of what I have to offer this world.  And then I have to have the courage to present it to the world.  No one is going to introduce me to the broader world, I have to do that myself.  Most of us do.  In reality even the stars do.  I’ve spent enough time in LA to see all the people clamoring for their moment in the spotlight to be seen and “discovered”.  We are all self-promoter in one way or another.

And finally, this discussion would be incomplete were I not to point out that Joe Pilates was a fierce self-promoter.  He traveled to a new country twice to do his work.  In NYC, he was a stranger in a new world, and for the second time he was living in a place that was at war with his nation of origin.  Germans were not popular in the US in Joe Pilates day, he had no choice but to self promote.  I think that’s important to remember.  The work of Pilates builds our confidence from the inside out.  It makes us into self-promoters because we become so impassioned about the work that has fortified us for living a productive and meaningful life.  While it is always important to temper ourselves and our tendencies and I believe in a constant process of self improvement which lends itself to being more cooperative than a purely self-interested person would be, I think it’s equally important to know our roots.  Pilates started with a passionate hot headed genius who carried out the work of his dreams in a sea of strangers who were bound to misunderstand him.  He did it his work and enough people got it to carry it on till today.  At some fundamental level, self promotion is the reason that we have Pilates today.

On one of the forums that I joined under my pen name way back when, there is currently a thread on the topic of self-promotion.   It hits a chord within me for obvious reasons.  I am very much of the mind that I want to participate in the community in a larger way than just promoting my own work.  But I’m bound by my choice to be anonymous and so I end up doing the very thing that I set out not to do.  I wanted to explain myself a little more thoroughly somewhere, and this is the place.  And to make a broader general point, that our actions are usually the result of complicated mental machinations.  We each have our reasons for participating in any given community the way that we do.  Which is all the more reason to practice compassion and maintain an attitude of curiosity.  We will learn far more from those perspectives than from quick judgements based purely on outward behavior.

Here’s to learning to accept the important role that strong individuals play in a thriving society even if that means accepting the reality of self promotion.

And to bring my point just a little further home, I’ll add a quotation from the Orson Scott Card novel that I’m currently reading because I love it when an idea I’m currently marinating on shows up in an unexpected way:
“‘I’ll tell you what I think, ‘ said Wiggin.  ‘I think you don’t grow up until you stop worrying about other people’s purposes or lack of them and find the purposes you believe in for yourself'”

My Plug for the Pilates MAT

open leg rocker

open leg rocker at Squam Lake, 2013

It’s time for March MATness again and I’m pretty happy about it because last year was the first time I caught wind of it and it was already underway when I did.  Not that I’m that much more on top of my game this year, but at least this post is going up on March 1st.  And I’ve already got a message out to my clients.  For me being an in-home mom and studio owner, it’s a great way to feel connected to the Pilates community “out there”  and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is constrained in that way.  Hooray for the internerd!

For people who are used to taking mat classes but want to build a daily home practice, I’ve got just the videos, Pilates I and Pilates II are the mat exercises in real time without the official Pilates Mat (that’s why I perform a version of the roll up that I teach to folks with sensitive backs or no strap).

And if you’re looking for a little inspiration, here’s what my Pilates Mat work did for me back in 2013.

Let the MATness begin!

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!

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.

Pilates with Personality

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

Now that’s a barrel with personality! ( 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.

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.

Stiffness and Pilates

chest cave

chest cave

I’m very lucky to be getting some excellent Pilates instruction these days.  It’s been a great while since I’ve had regular lessons and I’m grateful to let somebody else oversee my workouts.

All my peculiarities are on show now – the little things that I’ve figured out over the years as I sleuth my way back to wholeness and what Joe Pilates called “normal health”.  One thing’s come up in this process which I determined might be better to write about – at least as an introductory measure.

That little thing is my ribs.  How can I make this a short story?  Over the years I’ve noticed in photos that my ribs tend to be sort of pulled down and together in the front which makes for the rather unflattering posture of a collapsed chest and hunched shoulders.  The thing is that this posture really began to show up around the time that I was being told repeatedly to pull my ribs in, knit my ribs, and other such cues.  Over time I’ve come to realize that I had a tendency to brace with my ribcage (and pelvis and shoulders for that matter) which inhibited my acquisition of the Pilates Holy Grail – spinal articulation.  As I saw this personal tendency, of course, I started to see how my clients were often doing something similar.  Often my bodyworker finds the pain that I experience in my back or abdomen linked to my rib position and that’s not to mention how many times I’ve been in agony because a rib pops out of place.  Through these experiences and more, I’ve come to realize that getting my ribs to sit well and right is no simple task.  So I’ve resolved to stop fussing with my ribs and focus on my spine.  When I practice Pilates, I draw my stomach inward and upward for length and I try to leave my ribs out of it.  Which I realize in some traditions of Pilates instruction, my tradition to be specific, is blasphemous.

It’s easy to practice blasphemy when teaching on one’s own studio and not having lessons.  My practice has led me to pose questions that I would not have dared ask in the company of others.  Questions that have ultimately led me to truly figure things out for myself.  I value that immensely because going forward, I know what I know from deep within, not just because somebody told me and I believed them.  Taking what I was told on faith was my starting point as it is for most of us at this day in age.  But to really understand something from within, we must face ourselves honestly over a long period of time so that we can sort out all our ideas and conceptions.

If I am to be completely candid, then I would admit to entertaining the possibility that Pilates might have caused me injury and actually I’m sure that it has, but that’s another story for another post.  I’ve come away from such thoughts quickly because either I’ve realized the fundamental error in them or I’ve come to understand that I was not practicing properly when the injury occurred.  As Jay Grimes has said, “don’t change the exercise, change the body”.  Such a statement is much more difficult to fulfill in practice than it is to appreciate in theory, but it is an excellent directive for overseeing our own practices and those of others.

As is the case for everybody, there is something to understanding just how I need to practice Pilates because of my specific body.  I tend to be slightly hyper-mobile.  I have been in pain every day for nearly twenty four years.  I have to be careful with stretches because they can easily lead to muscle spasms (I have had some muscle spasms that have lasted as long as six weeks, where I literally cannot move my back.  These things are no joke and so I have learned to be careful and gentle with myself).  I build muscle quickly and easily.  I have a tendency to grip my muscles, to engage more than necessary for the sake of engagement – I’ve always been keen to have tone muscles.  As I was considering how to explain all this to my new teacher, I realized that my body tends to hold muscle engagement like egg whites that have been whipped to hold stiff peaks.  I think that this is most likely due to the constant tension pattern that my tailbone injury holds my spine in.  Or maybe it’s just how I am, it’s hard to know what is innate and what is learned through experience.

Apart from honoring myself and my own personal tendencies, which is clearly important for my daily comfort and for making  improvements, this new teacher of mine has reminded me that not everyone is like me.  It’s such a blessing to see how Pilates translates onto each body differently – it’s like seeing the many facets of a sparkling diamond.  While I’m pretty sure that I’m never going to be too enthusiastic about pinching my ribs together, I can see how I’d be open to trying to do so without grasping onto the holding pattern so tightly as to keep it forever.  This is a thing that I tell my clients, after all.  What we do in Pilates is not a prescription for how to move and carry ourselves all the time – it’s a way to exercise our bodies so that they will be strong and functional outside of our constant monitoring and control.  Because we’ve got lives to live 24/7.

Pilates has been and continues to be a blessing for me.  Movement has kept me from being far more stiff than I would be otherwise and it’s given me a framework to work with and understand my body.  Pilates cannot fix every aspect of my injury and I’m lucky to have found some really wonderful body workers to help me slowly shed layers of tension and holding patterns which make Pilates that much more accessible and understandable to me.  If I’m completely honest with myself, I have caused myself some agony because of my various Pilates exploits, but I’ve managed to learn so much from each one that even those feel like a blessing.

Truly, I wrote this for my teacher.  But it seems like the sort of thing that’s worth sharing because I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that has experienced what I have.  The more we can help each other to understand ourselves and our bodies, the further forward we all progress together.  Thanks for reading, please share this post with anybody who you think might appreciate it.

The Tenacity of Pilates in the Face of Injury

tenacious by nature II

tenacious by nature II

Recently a client of mine showed up five minutes early to class, to show me her freshly broken wrist and explain her upcoming absence.  I assured her that she’d be able to return to her Pilates practice just as soon as she recovered from the initial shock and swelling.

As we parted ways, I marveled yet again at how cool Pilates is.  It truly is a complete system of exercise.  I’m pretty sure that there’s no other sort of exercise out there that can get a person out of pain, into their once-too-tight clothes, performing better at just about everything else in their life, and not miss a beat when injuries or other situations occur.

Even more than that (and all the rest that doesn’t come to mind as I type quickly during my son’s shower), Pilates puts the practitioner in the power seat.  Injuries do happen along with everything else that comes up in the course of a lifetime.  How we respond it all is up to us.  Injuries in particular can be an impetus either to diminish or enhance our body awareness.  They can be a call to action or a reason to shut down.  But that’s not Pilates, that’s us.

Pilates is always available.  Pilates is tenacious by nature.  That’s just one of the many reasons that I love it so and feel so grateful to have had Pilates as my primary form of fitness for the past decade or so.

In celebration of Pilates Day 2014…

Does the internet need another springtime bouquet?  I do believe so!

Does the internet need another springtime bouquet? I do believe so!

I’m going to share my insights thus far into the second phase of My Pilates Body Boost.  Here’s what’s happened in a nutshell so far:

1)  Off and Running…I started doing my prescribed workouts with the Cadillac as my focal point.

2)  Space takes time…I quickly realized that with my particular goal of creating more space in my body, the workouts were getting longer and longer, just as my available time was getting less and less.

3)  To find the perfect balance…Unfortunately, I did not get the balance of stretch and strength right in my workout plans and so I ended up with overly sore muscles that were sort of uninspiring and longstanding because the nature of my workouts didn’t have as much flow as regular mat and reformer workouts (in my experience, sore muscles dissipate with a light flowing workout).

4)  MELT…I got really hooked on MELTing and started putting more time into that because I was sore and without my usual degree of physical support I needed to be careful about pushing myself too hard.  And the MELT method is totally awesome.

5)  Hooray for cyber Pilates friends…Thankfully March MATness came along and gave me an inspirational boost.  I started doing a daily mat before my cadillac exercises, always hanging at the end, and MELTing.

6)  Groove or rut?…After about a 6 weeks of that I realized that my body was getting pretty large – pants not fitting again.  I’m currently operating under the assumption that my body is so accustomed to regular and rigorous exercise that it goes haywire without it.  If I dial back my routine I don’t just plateau, I start expanding.  For sure, something else may be at play but for now I can attend to myself by keeping my workouts regular and invigorating.

7)  Ready for action…With my daily pain much lower than it’s been in over two decades, I revamped my workout to a daily 30 minutes that involves sweat, heavy breathing, and each piece of apparatus.

8)  Definitely groove…I’m happy with my new regimen, inspired and feeling sore in places that give me a sense of having done something productive.  I’m still MELTing daily and loving it.

9)  Uh oh, forgot to hang…Today is day seven of a muscle ache in my upper back that returned after a couple month’s hiatus.  I’d attributed the relief from MELTing, but given what I’ve been doing the past week, it dawned on me that perhaps the thing that was actually keeping my upper back loose enough to be pain free was hanging.  Pretty much every time I hang I get a pop or two in my middle and upper back.  So hanging is now back in the daily mix.  (By the way, my interest in hanging took a rather sharp dip when one of my feet slipped out of the fuzzy while I was head to the floor – yikes!  That was really scary.  Those feet must be in just the right place!)

10)  Business as usual…I’ll putter along for a while, until I feel that I’ve actually got something to show for my efforts at which point I’ll call phase two done and take a set of photos that I hope will show a longer and leaner me.

* On the topic of MELTing, I’ve got a fix-my-feet project going (“before” photos have been snapped, daily exercises are in progress).  I’m figuring this project is going to be at least six months in duration.  In the meanwhile, I’m so enamored with MELTing that I’ve joined their affiliate program.  If you look to the upper right of this webpage, you’ll find a MELT button.  Click there to learn more and if you decide to begin your own MELT practice with a purchase in their online store, I’ll get a little piece of the pie.  The way I see it, it’s a triple win, with anybody who takes up MELTing as scoring a big-time-life-changing set of balls.