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!

Everything is All Right

reminds me of the right and wrong stalement:  nobody gets anywhere but everybody works really hard.

Reminds me of the right and wrong stalement: nobody gets anywhere but everybody works really hard.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.
-Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi

My mind has been swimming lately as it is prone to do.  And I haven’t had time to write in weeks which always exacerbates the problem.  But today a few things clicked into place during my workout and I felt some sense of relief.  So here I am sharing.

In Pilates as in life, so often I come face to face with the notion of right and wrong.  And it always exhausts me.  I’ve been turning the two ideas around in my head for years and I feel that I might be coming close to arriving at a place of comfort for myself, a place that is very much like the field I imagine in the quote above.  Here’s how I get there, I think to myself that everybody and everything is right (or to borrow from Byron Katie, everybody and everything is real).  Real is right, right is real.  There.

In a society full of lawyers and their suits, this may be a hard idea to digest.  Perhaps with a suspension of disbelief I can get you, gentle reader, to understand what I mean…

In order to be okay with the idea that I’m suggesting, one has to be comfortable with the relativity of all things, with the weight that context, perception, and value put on our experiences.  From that point, it’s not such a far leap to see the rightness in each and every thing.

In the world of Pilates, as I can only assume with other enclaves of human culture, we have serious struggles going on in the name of right and wrong.  (And boy is it taxing.  Honestly, for that reason alone I wish that the players engaging in the debates would dial it back a bit.)  But then I must remind myself that they are right, we are all right.

I have completed two certifications and in so doing have been involved in various Pilates communities over the years.  I started with what I call a derivative program because the main content was far beyond the original work – so far that when I compared what I understood, and was doing in practice with what I read in Joe Pilates books I didn’t really see much in common.  That left me with a sense of incompleteness so I pressed on and I worked with Romana and completed the Romana’s Pilates program.  The cool thing is that now that I finally feel I have a thorough and clear understanding of Pilates, it’s much easier for me to understand what I learned first because I know where it came from.

I’ve come to see Pilates as a gateway to our bodies.  It serves as a gateway because of its completeness and because it is a system based in movement – Pilates creates room for us to explore our physicality.  There are so many opportunities to go off the beaten path with Pilates, to explore the many many layers of intricacy and complexity that make us up.  Many have taken those opportunities and developed new methodologies.  Some end up more interested in hands on bodywork, some end up interested in one aspect of the Pilates system, or how it applies to another activity.  A purist may indeed scoff at the idea such derivations and yet, it’s happened, and it continues to happen.  As far as I’m concerned, if it happens, it must be right.  I’m not interested in calling other people and their work wrong or monitoring it so closely as to grant myself some degree of authority to judge it.  But even more importantly, I’m interested in respecting my fellow humans.

Right and wrong create a rigidity of self that penetrates every layer.  A rigid body houses a rigid mind and inhibits expansion of knowledge and understanding.  So does focusing on one aspect of Pilates for an extended period of time.  Romana was often encouraging us to keep change constant in our personal and teaching practices.

Beyond a varied and dynamic Pilates practice, we have a wealth of other methodologies to explore.  Pilates is amazing in and of itself and I love my personal and professional practices.  But they are greatly enhanced by my explorations beyond the Pilates system.  It’s easy for me to suspend disbelief when learning something that doesn’t initially seem to sync up with what I know from Pilates because I know it will get me to some new level of understanding and experience.  Usually, once I figure out the new material, I can see it shining through in Pilates because Pilates is that complete of a method.  Perhaps for that reason, I’ve made a habit of being receptive and not calling other kinds of work wrong.  So far it’s working for me, I promise to report back here if I turn out to be wrong.  But I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen….

Good for the Body

Little Footwork

My son loves to meet and greet my clients.  Sometimes he likes to do some exercise along with them.  Sometimes he likes to do the instructing.  Lucky for me, my clients respond to my toddler with kindness and what I hope is sincere pleasure.

Today my client, son and nanny were in the studio a couple minutes before me and my son was talking about what they were going to do.  His plan was that they’d do the exercises together.  He got up on the reformer, waited for all but one spring to be removed, and started with his footwork.  Once he was done with that he bustled purposefully on to the next exercise.  All the while he explained what he was doing and the benefits that would follow.  He summed it up by saying it was “good for the body.”

At that turn of phrase I couldn’t help but remember how many times I heard Romana’s stories about Uncle Joe’s frequent answer to the all too common question, “what’s this exercise good for?”  According to her, his response was always the same, “it’s good for the body.”

These days as I’m enhancing my Pilates practice with studies of other methods and continually learning in my teaching practice, I’m seeing the method in a broader way.  Each and every intricacy makes up such a perfectly complete whole, that Joe’s answer becomes so much more significant than it once seemed to me.

These kids, they know some worthwhile stuff.  Maybe it won’t be too long before my kid is teaching the Pilates lessons.  For now, at least, he reminded me of something very important and for that I am grateful.

“If You Can Control Your Pelvis, You Can Control Your Entire Life”

One of my favorite dance teachers, Mary Carbonara quoted one of her teachers many moons ago and like so many pithy sayings, that one stuck with me.  Perhaps because my tailbone injury has made my pelvis the site of many investigations over the years, perhaps because nearly every person who comes to my studio has some sort of something happening with their hips.  Whatever the reason, it was long ago established that hips were a frequently explored topic of mine.

I’ve noticed that most of us are not even aware of what is happening with our hips, let alone in control of it.  When I watch clients perform many exercises it’s obvious that their hip position is foundational to proper execution, and yet folks have precious few tools with which to arrive at the ideal position.

I’ve come up with a few tricks that have proved helpful, some of these are very new and some are tried and true.  Any one, or all have the potential to give us more awareness and more control over our hips and as the saying goes, over our entire lives.

Know the bony landmarks of your hips and be able to tune into their position at any given moment.
For many years, thanks to The Franklin Method, I was really tuned into my sit bones, that afforded me a lot of pain relief and a good sense of control in seated exercises like the short box, pumping on the wunda chair, and even roll back on the cadillac.  Clueing into my tailbone position has also given me pain relief, as well as control over the motion of my spine in exercises such as the roll up, spine stretch forward, and the swan (I now know better than to toss my head, shoulders, ribs, or hips rather than truly mobilizing the joints of my spine).  More recently thanks to Holistic Biomechanics, I’ve increased my awareness of my pubic bone and that has done wonders for my awareness of my pelvic position with respect to my spine and legs, and refines my execution of footwork, leg springs, and stomach massage.

I carry the awareness of these bony landmarks out into my daily life.  When I’m sitting, I know the ideal point of contact between my sit bones and the surface on which I sit and after many years I can finally feel the effects all the way up my spine.  When I bend over, I think of the motion of my sit bones and the decompression of my sacrum.  That takes the load off the rest of my back and allows me to leverage the full power of my hip joints for lifting my toddler or a load of laundry as the case may be.  My pubic bone awareness has given me a whole new platform for bladder continence, and for that I’m very grateful.

Don’t sit in your hips, sit on your hips.
I already made the point about sitting on the hips, in this case the sit bones.  I think that sitting is a good place to start because there is some feedback from the surface on which one is seated.  Ideal pelvic position while seated eventually leads us to the bigger challenge of proper pelvic position while standing.  I’ve come to think of myself as sitting in my hips when they are sort of slumped back behind my legs.  Many many times in a day I catch myself slumping and bring my hips up on their rightful pedestals, atop my thighbones.  This is relevant anytime we are standing but particularly in going up front, swedish bar stretches, the foot corrector, and the 2×4, since in these cases the precise position of the hips influences which muscles will engage.

no no no

no no no

yes yes yes

yes yes yes

When duty calls, brace from the base.
Apart from being beneficial on a functional level, we can leverage all this knowledge when there is real work to be done.  Having a keen awareness of our pelvic position is at first therapeutic, but ultimately empowering.  Over and over again I’ve seen the effects of adding a boost of pelvic power to a Pilates exercise.  As with all muscular engagement in Pilates though, bracing from the base requires a delicate execution.  It is not merely a matter of squeezing the seat as that will disrupt the pelvic position.  Nothing short of the complete coordination of the musculature of the thighs, buttocks, abdomen, and back is our ultimate goal.  And I do believe that building an ever increasing awareness of our pelvic position primes us for such control.

I’d love to hear what others have discovered with respect to this topic.  I realize that its sort of a hot one in the Pilates world what with the tendency for position to become our focal point.  Please share any relevant thoughts in the comments.  As always, thanks for reading.

My Favorite Ways to Warm Up in a Hurry – Before My Pilates Client Arrives

It’s cold and dark outside, I’m in the studio waiting for my client.  I’ve got 2-5 minutes to do something to get myself in gear for teaching, but I’ve probably got a full stomach.  These are some quick, whole body exercises that I do to get warmed up physically, mentally, and energetically so that I will give a good lesson that doesn’t leave me drained at the end.

1) standing arm springs with roll back bar:  skiing
2)  standing arm springs with roll back bar:  shaving
3)  wunda:  footwork tendon stretch with pull ups
4)  standing double leg stretch (use your imagination)
5)  ladder barrel short box series with swedish bar stretch
6)  foot corrector and 2×4

Here’s to getting through the last bits of winter…spring is on its way!

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
-Dr. Martin Luther King

I learned something interesting about St. Valentine’s Day yesterday.  That like so many Christian based celebrations, it began as a pagan one.  And moreover, that the underlying idea of the original Lupercalia was to clear out and make way for the new.  I find this interesting because I’ve noticed how love tends to do this.  I probably originally got the idea from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but now that it’s really taken root in my mind I am frequently seeing examples of how love paves the way for new possibilities.

This all seems apropos because of my newest project to get underway:  Pilates Love Stories.  Click on over to the new space and learn more about my idea.  Perhaps I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but I’ve come to see the internet as a place where some of our best stuff shines through.  I’m hoping that over time this little idea of mine will blossom into something like a cyber-love-force that bolsters up a truly amazing system of exercise while at the same time eclipsing some of the dark forces that beckon us Pilates enthusiasts.

A Fun Read for Pilates Enthusiasts

Laus Deo

Yes yes yes, I’m completely off track this year. At least as far as my blogging projects go (but I am managing to keep up with my workouts). Our boy spent 24 hours vomiting recently which was our first experience with that unfun-ness. But now he’s happily playing with his legos and trains and I’m sneaking a few minutes to share my latest read: The Lost Symbol.

With this share, comes a confession.  That I occasionally partake in reading books that do not demand too much intellect, that sweep me into a fantasy world for a couple of days.  I had been on a Bill Bryson marathon and when I read the last word of the last book that I had on hand; I was feeling desperate for something else immediately.  You know how that is when you have really been consumed with reading for so long and you don’t want it to end so you just keep going?  Well, the Dan Brown book was within reach on the shelf and I tucked right in.

If you know a little about my interests, it’s fairly obvious why I like Dan Brown’s books.  Especially when you take into account that I’m pretty easy to entertain with books, movies, and television shows.  I’m quite good at forgetting sense and just jumping into whatever world presents itself.  I tend to take these things all a little too seriously which leads me to ask my husband very concerned questions about the characters days later – because I’ve been giving the matter serious consideration – as if they are actually people we know.  And I’m quite gullible through it all, which often leaves anybody who is viewing along with me incredulous.  All these things make it easy for me to enjoy myself when I take the time to do so, and so it works for me.

Was it Andrea?  I think so…. Somewhere in cyberspace she mentioned something about how working with Joe and Clara Pilates was more of an exercise in self-realization than physical exercise.  I love those kinds of statements, they are guiding lights for me in my daily practice.  The more I think of them and aim my teaching toward facilitating others’ processes of realization rather than telling they what is right and wrong, the more I see the full magnitude of what Pilates offers.  This book touches upon such ideas and so I’m all jazzed on the magic that comes from simply applying focus to our personal development.

I’ve mentioned The Biography many times here, and I will continue to do so as it offers so many guiding lights for those of us working to honor and fully understand the work developed by Joe Pilates.  Today I’m thinking of how Joe chose to be a Mason.  Of how the philosophical underpinnings of his work reached far back in history.  And of how he chose to come to the United States of America to pursue the development of his exercise system.  Apart from the facts of what he did, we cannot know his reasoning.  But I still find it interesting to ponder these truths about Pilates as I read The Lost Symbol.  All that and the fact that the concluding ideas in the book are quite close to the philosophical underpinnings of Pilates add up to make this a fun read for Pilates enthusiasts who are in the mood for a page-turner that also happens to fuel their passion for living a more fulfilled life through a disciplined practice of Pilates.

I’d say that such a book is perfect for a vacation read.  Although in my case it was perfect for a sick day.  Either way, it’s good to have these reads at hands reach and I was happy that I did!

Start the New Year Off on the Right Foot

baby on foot corrector

(In thinking about how I wanted to be a mom, long before it actually happened, I knew that I wanted my babes close by, especially in my little Pilates studio.  What better way to give them a foundational relationship to the work that is intended to be a foundation to everything else that we do?  My boy has taken to the equipment like a fish to water as the above photo from over a year ago demonstrates.  Just yesterday we three were in the studio for some play time and he was showing me his exercises on the ladder barrel, reformer and the mat, but of course he started with his feet – such a smart boy.)

toddler toe corrector

In my studio practice I got a jump start on new year’s resolutions a few weeks back.  I’ve always been a fan of checking in with clients to learn about what goals they may have for their practice in the year ahead.  As of now, everybody has at least one thing to work on, be it new exercises, memorizing an order, or finally giving appropriate attention to an oft neglected corner of the Pilates system – which is to say that everybody is working on their feet these days.

It’s ironic that Joe Pilates’ first patented invention, the foot corrector, should be the first one that we forget, and yet I can understand why.  The work on the feet is subtle and that quickly gives way to tedium.  My frequent attempts at sharing the valuable information have mostly been thwarted by clients’ lack of interest and my lack of stamina.  But it’s such foundational work.  As Javier Velazquez points out in the recent biography, Joe Pilates’s understanding and emphasis of the importance of the feet is indicative of his genius.  So it seems to me that those of us who are inspired to pay our due respects to the originator of the method that we now happily practice have something of an obligation to continually face down the challenge of engaging with our feet and getting our clients to do the same.  I’m certain that if we keep at it, we will cross through the tedium into an enlightened awareness of just how important our feet are to the whole of our bodies.  And the more earnest we are in our presentation, the more willingly our clients will follow our lead, much to their own benefit.

Once again, Happy New Year!  Let’s get to work!

My Pilates Body Boost Part Two: The Cadillac of Pilates


Happy New Year!  It is rather uncommon that our contemporary calendar syncs up with the moon’s, but today it does.  Today we begin a new year with a new moon, which in and of itself seems promising.  Furthermore, it seems a perfect time to begin phase two of my personal Pilates project.

As promised a while back, the next phase of My Pilates Body Boost is finally in the works.  Because November and December are a challenging time of year to make such things happen (especially if you are a crafter buried under craft projects), and our family has been hit with a vicious and unrelenting viral attack, it can’t happen soon enough.  It turns out that I tend to do much better with a framework for my workouts and I’ve been missing that.  Given that there is such an easy breezy routine all in place, I was thinking that the reformer would be my next frontier in bringing my body back fully into the Pilates fold.  To my way of understanding the system of Pilates, the reformer and the mat have the most established sequences.  But as I lay in a meditative state one morning, I realized that I’m not quite ready for the full reformer.  And if I gave myself a couple months to really dig into the cadillac, perhaps I could get myself a little more ready.  (Yes, I realize that I could just go ahead and begin with the reformer and it would be absolutely great, but I’m looking to address longstanding patterns of tension and limitation in my body and so it makes sense for me to approach the complete reformer sequence in the best possible condition).  The main reason the cadillac is the place for me is because I’m looking for more space.  I addressed this topic recently and have been continuing to think on it in the studio and I do believe that I’m on the scent of something good.

Here are two more stories from my days of study that put me on this track in the first place.  While I was observing Pamela Pardi with one of her regular clients one day I ventured to ask him what he felt when doing the leg spring exercises.  His answer surprised me and opened up a whole new world to me:  stretch.  I had never felt such a thing while doing leg springs!  I set out to discover what I was missing.  That along with the idea that regular leg springs are key to keeping hips working well has done me a great deal of service over the years.  Thanks Pam!

During one of her visits to our bay, Kathi Ross-Nash chose to address a couple folks’ issues on the cadillac with a whole lot of opening up and lengthening out.  It was enlightening because rather than nitpick at all the little details of alignment that were apparent, both people had a list of body happenings, she let the exercises do the work, and toward a very good end too.

I realize that many of the stories that we’ve heard in Pilates are not historically accurate, and again express my gratitude to those who have enlightened us, but we all have a choice as to what to do with those stories.  To my mind, even the potentially inaccurate stories have little lessons in them, lessons that I value.  Here’s one such story.  According to what somebody told me, Joe and Clara had a client who had a fair number of concerns and who was so greatly helped by his work on the table that he proclaimed it “the Cadillac”, which in the heyday of Cadillac Motor Car Division was to say, the best apparatus ever.  Like that legendary fellow, today I’m placing my bets on the cadillac.  I’m giving myself till March 29th to see what this miraculous apparatus can do for me.  And like always, I’ll share the results with anybody who cares to have a look.

In the spirit of new beginnings, I’ve got a few more posts lined up for the next several days.  Each one has to do with resolutions, good intentions, positive changes, etc.  Perhaps it is my transformative Scorpio nature coupled with the fact that I’m a Pilates instructor, but I’m sort of a resolution buff.  So off we go into a new year rich with promise and possibility!

Pilates is About….Stretch


I read somewhere recently that Joe Pilates was often heard saying that there’s no stretching in Pilates.  This sounds so funny to me given that in my time Pilates was defined as Stretch, Strength, and Control.  Apparently his point was that the stretch is always part of a whole which included strength and control.  Okay, point taken.  But today, I’m inclined to focus on the stretch part of the definition.  Partly because it’s next on my list and partly because I’ve got a new project in the hopper and my thoughts on stretch have a lot to do with how it’s coming together.  But there I go getting ahead of myself again.  Today, stretch.

First, a little story:  there was a period in my training where I was doing a lot of pelvic tucking.  The point of this particular position, as I understood it for the brief time that I worked with it, was to create an opening in the low back and at the front of the hips.  And indeed, I did experience a sensation of the musculature in those areas opening and releasing – for a time.  I also experienced muscle spasms in my pelvic floor (thanks to my tailbone injury) and two massive spasms in my psoas and surrounding muscles that lasted for several weeks in each occurrence – not good.  During this period of pelvic tucking I was working diligently on balancing my asymmetries in my hips (yep tailbone injury strikes again).  Despite lots of cajoling and focusing and just plain trying my absolute hardest under the watchful eye of a teacher for whom I hold deep respect, I had no luck.  The muscles that didn’t fire couldn’t fire.

An alternative view on pelvic position was presented to me by another teacher for whom I have an equal amount of respect.  This view jived with the other material I was learning at the time (from Jay Grimes, this book, photos of Joe himself, this other book, this technique, etc) .  This view was based on a simple goal of creating space internally with the muscles engaging in a two-way stretch.  It proved to be the antidote to the consequences of all the tucking that I’d been doing and it gave me access to the entirety of my musculature like nothing else had before.  I was sold.

I’ve come to think of length first when it comes to Pilates because of this learning experience.  Time and again, with my own body and with the bodies of my clients, I see that more space gives access.  When we are compressed and condensed we are more likely to stay stuck.  When we create space within our bodies we also create an opportunity to find a more ideal skeletal alignment which gives our muscles the opportunity to activate.

What’s more, space is essential for movement (think of how little you move sitting between two people in the coach compartment of an airplane).  The two-way stretch creates space in our joints enabling them to actually articulate.  When we are compressed, the movements in the joints are significantly hampered, at least that’s what it feels like.  (Try jamming the fist of one hand in the palm of the other and moving them.  Then put a little space between them and see how they can articulate individually).  In the studio, I am often saying that the word for joint in Spanish is articulación.  It just seems to bring the point home.

So it would seem that without stretch, opportunities for strengthening would be significantly minimized.  And while we may experience a sense of control over a stable and tight body, without stretch we really don’t have access to its full capacity.  Come to think of it, I’ve talked myself into the idea that stretch might very well be the most important component to Pilates, sort of a gateway to the depths of the work.  (How ironic given Mr. Pilates’s assertion.)

Which brings me to one other point about stretch that I feel compelled to make even though this post is getting longer by the minute:  less is more.  In order to activate the two-way stretch, most of us are going to have to give up a fair amount of muscular engagement initially.  There is a controlled and deliberate release that is essential in Pilates.  That release gives way to a depth of engagement that is strengthening and empowering to the whole self.

Okay I think I’ve made my point.  Happy stretching!

Paula Scher Makes a Good Case for Being Serious

A while back my husband mentioned a TED talk that he thought might capture my interest.  He was correct.  One of the many pearls of wisdom that reading Joseph Hubertus Pilates:  The Biography left me with was the description of the atmosphere of the Pilates’s studio.  It was apparently a serious place with a singular focus:  exercising the body.  I believe that it was Joe and Clara’s passionate enthusiasm for their work that created this environment of intense and singular focus.  As I was considering this idea, I thought about Jay Grimes’s stories of trembling his way out of a lesson with Joe and / or Clara, and of my similar experience in working with Romana.  While I believe that much of our common experience can be attributed to the people involved, my recent read has me thinking that the environment is due some credit as well.  And so it seems that I’ve stumbled upon yet another reason to hold my tongue in my Pilates studio:  we can each put our best effort toward creating an environment infused with focus and passion in which to practice Pilates by refraining from speaking anything but the most essential information pertaining to the work at hand.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll make some interesting discoveries in doing so.  And I admit that it will be a big challenge for me, a person blessed with the gift of the gab.

There are some other aspects of Scher’s talk that I think bear mentioning.  Starting with some thoughts on the joy of work for work’s sake.  Back in my twenties, I had a brief stint of sewing for money.  I quickly discovered that I would never be adequately compensated for my efforts.  Sewing for me is a pleasure and I must preserve that aspect of my hobby by keeping money out of the equation.  (Back then I managed this by naming a price and not worrying about how that related to how much time I spent on any given project.)  There is something to be said for engaging in a creative endeavor for the pure joy that the work brings us.  For those of us that do something creative for money, I believe that it is all the more important to have some other creative outlet for its own sake.

Lastly, rolling around in my head is the notion that consistently cultivating serious engagement is something of a fountain of youth.  There is a particular benefit to ignorance and I believe that Scher has done a fine job of identifying it.  With a practice such as Pilates that only deepens with time and therefore requires years of investment to experience all the potential returns, I believe that her insight bears frequent consideration.  I’ve noticed that with Pilates and with teaching Pilates, remaining curious leaves me open to new possibilities.  The more sure I am of what I know, the less likely I am to be curious.  And so it would seem that cultivating a lifelong sense of being a student is a good strategy for remaining serious in what I do.  The alternative, being all-knowing and having no sense of my own ignorance, is nearly impossible anyway.  So I’ve got that going for me.

Today I say thanks to Paula Scher for the reminder:  there’s a good case to be made for being serious.